Transmedia Storytelling is a social experience

Transmedia Storytelling is a social experience

One of the defining moments of my early career as a writer-producer occurred in 2001 when I was working on a collaborative primetime series with Portugal’s TV Cabo and Microsoft. At the time, Microsoft was exploring the technical feasibility of interactive television and they were road-testing their products in Portugal before launching a product to a global audience. As the project progressed, I became more and more interested in how different types of content attract different types of audiences and provoke particular responses. When you present your audience with a format that is slightly more engaging than the typical television series, more often than not they’ll form an emotional connection with the narrative and respond to it in a way that is both more profound and enduring.

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The interactive card game we developed to promote an existing TV show is a case in point. The multi-player game employed a simplistic design and allowed each player to interact with the game itself, as well as other audience members. Players could challenge other individuals in the viewing community, partner up with other players, and chat. Over time, the game became more successful than its primetime counterpart because its players could interact with one another and actively participate with the content. This social element created a sense of conversation amongst the players, which enriched their experience and spurred further interaction. The game’s success convinced me that, in a world saturated with media, you can still capture an audience by telling your story in a way that brings people together.

Storytelling is a social experience. We’ve been telling stories for millennia to establish connections between others and ourselves and to make sense of the world around us. As producers, we shouldn’t forget how important this need to interact and participate is to telling and experiencing a story. The most effective stories therefore are inclusive, not exclusive. They create a community of viewers engaged in ongoing dialogue. Unlike the ‘choose your own adventure’ style of storytelling, transmedia enriches stories by activating our human affinity for shared experiences. Whatever your take on a television show or film, that perception is enhanced in conversation when you can share and revisit the story with someone else. Certainly one of the pleasures of watching a big name show is the opportunity for discourse that it creates. Mad Men is all the more relevant to me if my friends or coworkers are always watching it and we can discuss the show collectively.

Before the age of digital media, when you watched a television show, you could only talk with the person beside you on the couch, over the telephone, or at work the following day. It was impossible to have the sort of global, real-time conversations we have routinely today. When I was in school, for instance, I would tune in to watch the latest hit animated show at six p.m., but I would have to wait until the following day to chat with my friends about it, and even then my voice was limited to a very localised audience – my classmates!

The interactive TV card game, mentioned above, was ground breaking in that allowed players to communicate remotely (and in real time) with people they more than likely didn’t know. The actuality of the story was made all the more palpable by its ability to create the occasion for conversation between strangers. Nowadays, new digital technologies and social media have created platforms through which communication between individuals and audiences occurs on a global scale and in real time.

Article originally posted on MipBlog on April 7, 2015.

 

The New TV Pilot Season: Bringing YouTube Stars to TV Screens

The New TV Pilot Season: Bringing YouTube Stars to TV Screens

Hollywood is in love with YouTube. Last year, DreamWorks Animation paid $33 million for YouTube channel AwesomenessTV, Warner Bros. invested $18 million in the YouTube channel Machinima and most recently, Disney purchased Maker Studios for $500 million. At this point, many other studios are probably negotiating acquisitions of these multi-channel networks. The explanation for so much love is simple: These channels reach an audience bigger than any TV network, especially to a target demographic that proves hard to connect with TV.

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It’s a fact that new generations spend more time on the Internet than watching traditional linear television. This success has prompted some Internet-based web series or YouTube celebrities to cross to TV, but for many Hollywood executives, these new Internet sensations become an easy way to pilot new material that can be later transformed to a hit TV series, and some even say this is a cheaper way to pilot new shows. Just seed a few thousand dollars to new talent, let them shoot these shows with their friends, see the ones that can build an audience and then bring the YouTube hit shows to the TV screen.

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Since the NBC experiment with Quarterlife, transferring it from Myspace to the 10pm TV slot, hundreds of producers and creators are still trying to find the secret formula for how to create a successful TV show out of a popular YouTube star or web series. Many tried and most failed and the reason is simple: Not all successful entertainment brands can translate really well to other formats, because what makes it unique on one platform may not work in other media.

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The problem of using YouTube to pilot new TV concepts, characters and hosts is that we are talking about two different media and two different audiences. Both media have totally different languages, rhythms and experiences. This is why YouTube audiences can’t be bothered with TV content repurposed on the Internet, and television audiences can’t understand the buzz about these new Internet stars. A 3 to 5 minute piece-to-camera with a teenage kid shouting into the microphone, showing something “cool,” with a lot of jump cuts and text on the screen is not what TV audiences expect.

That is not to say that YouTube can’t be a valid platform to pilot and test new TV concepts. As we live in a world where there’s more and more content available each minute and fewer and fewer loyal eyeballs to follow it, it’s natural that the adaptation of an established brand (with a huge following) presents itself as a clear path to success in the very competitive TV market. Nonetheless, executives and producers need to understand that to get a hit show out of a YouTube sensation, it’s still necessary to develop the TV concept, adapt it to the format of the medium and to the expectations of a more “broad” audience.

In the case of scripted content, more and more engaging characters need to be added and plot and backstory needs to be extended. All the hype and excitement that you can show on a 3 minute video will not hold up in a one-hour show, week after week. Then it’s necessary to think about the format: the length and the pace of TV, the ad breaks and the cliffhangers. TV is another beast completely and although successful on YouTube, TV shows based on these properties will still need to be piloted for TV Audiences.

Article originally posted on TechCrunch on August 9, 2014.

 

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