Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hollywood Agent on Future Entertainment

Here is Hollwood agent Ariel Emmanuel talking about the future of entertainment content:

What is good about this video is that he is at least aware of the situation, and that things are going to change, and importantly, is open to change. Two issues I have with his opnions - firstly, his harping on about 'stealing'. This is a modern concoction of the concept of theft to serve the powers that be. For most people what makes theft bad (aside from the stupid people that only think it's bad because they might get caught) is that it deprives someone (the original owner) of something, without justification. Modern copying of content does not deprive anyone of anything, and big industry's hard sell that it's 'theft' is ludicrous.

Secondly, it's the often repeated idea that something or other needs to be 'monetized'. I think this comes from an underlying conservative attitude which is essentially - I have a lot of something (friends in a network) therefore I should be making money. Capitalists should not be asking themselves 'how do I make money from all this stuff I've got' (which ultimately leads to 'let's try to make people think it's valuable') rather they should be asking 'how do I create value for people', from that proposition come true wealth.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

King's 'The Dark Tower' to be Simultaneous Movies and TV

This is very exciting. Although I haven't read them, Stephen King's The Dark Tower books are being adapted by into complimentary films and tv series. From NYMag:

The project, based on seven books, will kick off with a movie, which will quickly be followed by a TV season of undisclosed length that will lead up to a second movie. That film will be followed by a second TV season that will be more of a prequel, focusing on Deschain as a younger man, before the third film finishes up where the second film left off. If that sounds like a lot of The Dark Tower, it is. Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the series is going take over movie theaters and your television in what will either wind up being a genuinely new, much bigger way of telling and selling stories or a hugely expensive fiasco.
 It's really wonderful to see big studios put a lot of cash into a new transmedia way of storytelling. I hope they are just as innovative with their marketing efforts for this production, creating more spin-off content in different mediums. They have some decent talent behind the project, they are taking a centralised, unified approach to the production, and Stephen King stories are generally a good yarn, so I've got my fingers-crossed that this will be a success. That wouldn't just mean a great transmedia narrative to enjoy, but also it would set a great example for other media companies to follow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Copyright not the only way to incentivize creativity

It's about time I posted a video or even a picture on this blog, and this TED talk from Johanna Blakley about creativity and copyright is a great start. This was such a wonderful eye opener for me, as I have long been thinking about how creativity plays out in the digital era, but have always been focussed on the obvious candidates - music, film and the printed word, worrying that transmedia will never gain traction until copyright is sorted out. Blakley reminds us that there are many other creative industries that have virtually no copyright law that are doing more then just alright, thankyouverymuch. Her essential point is vitally important, that rather then turning to more draconian copyright laws, media industries should be learning from industries like fashion to evolve their own business models. This video has inspired me to look at the fashion industry with much greater respect, more then 'The Devil Wears Prada' ever did.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Transmedia redefines media forms

Many of the traditional forms our media take, including their narrative structure, were determined by the technology that delivered them. Communication technologies have since broken down many of the distinctions between these delivery methods, although we are still stuck with these legacy narrative structures. This of course is the gap or problem that transmedia steps in to fix. Currently transmedia works in the same narrative forms of traditional technological delivery, ie you can make a movie and an accompanying soundtrack, but rarely would you make a movie that can also be listened to purely as audio on your ipod, say (unless you're Daft Punk). For effective narrative transversal across mediums what is needed is a new way of considering narrative forms.

I would suggest that narratives take three different forms that are consistent across media, or if you rather a continuum with three distinct sections. We can consider narratives as presented as either short form, standard form or long form. In the case of moving image, short form would encapsulate ads, youtube videos, short films, sketches, even up to entire 'episodes', basically stuff under an hour, though I would say over half an hour it would be rapidly sliding into 'standard form'. Standard form moving image is simply a film - it's requires a certain dedication of time, but could be digested in one sitting. Long form moving image would include mini-series, entire tv series/season, and movie trilogies/series etc.

Next lets consider text; short form would include tweets, blogs, brief news articles. Standard form would be longer news coverage or blogs, reports, articles, short stories, comics etc. Long form is the book, graphic novel or series of books. Sound and music is fairly straight forward; we have sound effects, catch-phrases, sound bites, right up to whole songs could be short form, then longer pieces to entire albums would be standard form, with longer albums (ie double albums, etc), or series of albums or podcasts, and concerts as long form. Games seem a little tricky, although they definitely map onto the same structure, short form is casual games, typically puzzlers, and social games, standard form is an entire game 'episode', with longer form being a long game, or series of games, and also MMORPGs, etc.

Clearly there is a lot of cross over in these forms, hence why they should be seen as a continuum, but this has always been the case. Just as Dickens released short/standard form texts in the form of chapters, which were later then sold as a long form novel, so too do tv producers release short/standard form episodes which are later sold as box sets. Often the longer form media are constructed from elements of the shorter form media, just as a MMORPG might include missions or mini-games. The important point here is not to pin down different media into neatly aligned categorical boxes, but rather to use this consideration of length forms to understand how users/the audience consume narrative across different media.

The essential idea here is that what is important when considering narrative structure is the amount of time and attention it will take in individual to consume it. In the over saturated, easily copyable content market, scarcity no longer determines value for the consumer. Rather the standard mode of value assessment, on a monetary level, seems to be necessary time for consumption. We happily pay more for an album then a single track on itunes, yet no matter how great a song is, even if it were uniquely brilliant, we would likely stifle at paying as much as a whole album for it. Similarly we happily accept that the cost of DVD box set of a tv series be more then that of an individual movie, even if the production costs (for the content) and quality of the film vastly outweigh that of the tv series.

As we consolidate the technological means with which we consume various media (ipad anyone), it becomes imperative from a business point of view that content producers understand the innate way content is valued by the consumer in this space. Likewise, those values are an important consideration for the transmedia producer as she constructs narrative elements across multiple media. My initial advice to a transmedia producer would be this - give away your short form content for free. Most consumers already view it as discardible and of little monetary value, so use it to convince them of the quality of your content, and to draw them in to the standard and long forms of your narrative, for which they will most likely be happy to pay and invest their time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Iron Man and a Comic Template

I recently watched the new Iron Man movie, efficiently titled 'Iron Man 2', and thought it was pretty enjoyable action romp. What intrigued me was that some of the criticism I had read before seeing it said it wasn't very good, as the plot was too complicated, the film was too 'wordy', etc. Most of these criticisms seemed disingenuous - the critics seemed to like Robert Downey Junior's performance, but deemed the story too 'complex' for an action movie audience. Not surprisingly, it has done very well at the box office, and the story really isn't that complex, it's just that it has a lot of characters, some of whom are minor and are clearly being set up as cross-overs with other productions within the Marvel universe. This is primarily where the criticism of complexity came from; in old world thinking, crossovers equal tacky franchising and are therefore 'bad'.

This of course got me thinking about transmedia. I enjoyed the introduction of these minor characters in Iron Man that may have screen time in their own films or others coming up, and when I got home afterwards I immediately looked up the characters and their back stories. I came across the very useful site SuperHeroDB,  where you can find a biographical history of comic book characters, including which books they have been in and which other characters they have a history with. It's all interlinked, so I had fun clicking through different characters back stories as they related to each other. Comics have a long history of not locking characters into a single narrative. There is a well understood ethos of character and narrative overlap in the comic community, and it happily crosses into other mediums, like tv and film.

When Alex Leavitt asked 'Where Is Our Transmedia Mozart?', he questioned from what discipline the first great transmedia creator would emerge, and bucked against the automatic assumption is would be from film. While a diverse technical understanding is needed in film, and thus it would seem they are suited to create work across a variety of mediums, film is still very much about linear narrative. I think comic authors, with their flexible narratives that cross and overlap but can also be enjoyed individually, and their combination of both textual and visual narrative skill, are more poised to be our transmedia mozarts. The 'classic' transmedia example, The Matrix, was produced by a couple of comic book geeks, and of course comics were an essential part of the canon. Marvel is currently trying to develop it's universe of characters in much the same way as Disney, with an intelligent eye towards franchising and product overlap, and I can only hope that in the process they might produce some of the first truly great transmedia stories.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Transmedia is a paradigm change

The new PGA 'Transmedia Producer' credit and it's ensuing discussion in the blogosphere has got me thinking about the fundamentals of what Transmedia actually is again, a favourite topic of mine. The article about the credit over on NewTeeVee notes that Steve Peter's of No Mimes implied that he think a whole new guild for Transmedia Production might be necessary. To me this both captures and misses the point - Transmedia is far more significant then one credit amongst a bunch of others in a production, yet it isn't served by separating it out into a whole new field of production. Transmedia is not a new, separate field cultural production, it is a paradigm shift in our current fields of cultural production. It's the significance of this overarching change that get so many people enthused about the topic. In the future all media will be transmedia. We won't be asking 'Is your media transmedia?', we will be asking, 'How trans is your media?'.

In our contemporary culture, all media bleeds over into other forms, whether it is a conscious decision of the producers or not. Transmedia is simply a recognition of the producers / creators attempts to control, direct and utilise that transversal across media forms in order to better shape the viewer/user experience. Cultural producers, whether they are film-makers, tv producers, writers, musicians or game designers, don't get to decide if their work will be 'traditional' or 'transmedia', their work will be transmedia. They just get to decide whether they acknowledge that and work with it, or ignore it. This is why ultimately creating separate categories for transmedia, whether they are new credits or new guilds, is somewhat futile - transmedia is the new medium that replaces all others. From here on it's only going to become harder to ignore the transmedia properties of your work, and personally, I think that's a good thing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New PGA Transmedia Producer Credit

There is some buzz on the transmedia blogs at the moment because the Producers Guild of America, under the guidance of Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner Entertainment, have announced an official new 'Transmedia Producer' credit. The official description of the credit (which I've grabbed from Christy Dena's great blog) is:

A Transmedia Narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms:  Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.
A Transmedia Producer credit is given to the person(s) responsible for a significant portion of a project’s long-term planning, development, production, and/or maintenance of narrative continuity across multiple platforms, and creation of original storylines for new platforms. Transmedia producers also create and implement interactive endeavors to unite the audience of the property with the canonical narrative and this element should be considered as valid qualification for credit as long as they are related directly to the narrative presentation of a project.
Transmedia Producers may originate with a project or be brought in at any time during the long-term rollout of a project in order to analyze, create or facilitate the life of that project and may be responsible for all or only part of the content of the project. Transmedia Producers may also be hired by or partner with companies or entities, which develop software and other technologies and who wish to showcase these inventions with compelling, immersive, multi-platform content.
To qualify for this credit, a Transmedia Producer may or may not be publicly credited as part of a larger institution or company, but a titled employee of said institution must be able to confirm that the individual was an integral part of the production team for the project.

It's seems there was some consternation over the absense of video games as a platform in listed as one of the media here, but this has since been corrected by Jeff Gomez as an oversight. While the debate about what is covered by such a credit is important, ultimately squabbling over credits is always going to happen in Hollywood, and the details of a transmedia credit will inevitably be smoothed out over time. What is significant, and exciting, is that there is a new ego motivation for transmedia production, and ego seems to go a long way in Hollywood. Who wouldn't want a fancy new credit after their name?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Social Media Drama

My last post was a little social media negative, so I thought I'd talk about some of the cool things that could be done with social media. Social networks could be utilised in really interesting ways in popular dramas. During the Australian comedy 'We can be Heroes', the chracacter Ja'Mie had her own myspace page, and you have to wonder why this hasn't become more common in other youth oriented shows. Characters could continue to play out the interactions initiated on tv, filling out the gaps of the story, backstory, and general details that can't be fit into the show. It would offer the opportunity for fans to interact directly with the characters, and for writers to get immediate, specific feedback on their narrative.

In fact, I would love to make a fiction drama that exists entirely in social networks, told through Facebook pages, blog posts and uploaded videos of the characters. The audience would organically follow the chain of events in the drama, piecing them together to construct their own interpretation of the story. If provided with enough depth of information to dig in to and online space to share their thoughts and opinions with other fans, you could make something really engaging. Social media drama - something I really want to try when I get the chance...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Social Media has to be about something

What fascinates me about all the companies that are rushing to have a social media presence is that many of them are simply overlook the fact that social media is a means to an end. The users of Facebook, or Bebo, or any other social network are not interested in Facebook per se, but rather their friends, or topics of interest, through Facebook, etc. Corporate marketing departments are obviously obsessed with the product they are selling, as they should be, but can forget that many of their customers probably aren't that interested. So even if they grasp the key concept of interaction, allowing the customer tangible input, which is vital to a successful social media campaign, they still often overlook the equally important question 'Why would the customer want to?' I recall reading some years ago that Coke set up a social network for customers to share their experiences and ideas about Coke, but why would they want to? I like drinking coke, but in day to day life I'm not that interested in talking about. This is not to malign Coke, this was before many other companies were even aware of social media, and obviously first movers are going to make some mistakes - I'm not sure whatever happened to that. Coke have done some great social media stuff since then, particularly some great viral videos.

If you have a company selling a product, presumably you have identified the market you're selling it too - ie the group of people whose wants or needs are being met by your product. Unless the product looms large as a cultural icon already, like an Apple iPod or Nike shoe, then people probably aren't going to want to spend much time talking about it. To successfully utilise a social media campaign to draw attention to a product then, you need to essentially identify a new 'social' product, something that meets a social need and which you can tie to your actual product, like the Ford Fiesta Movement campaign, giving 'social agents', people with a personal mission, cars and getting them to share the results of their endeavours via social networks. With this type of thinking you move beyond your core fans to get average people talking about your product - because you provide them with something in return. It's a tricky balance, finding the social media need to match your product, but it's the only way to be truly successful, and hopefully more agencies will take up this approach.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cultural Navigators

My thoughts on this topic in written form are well overdue, so here goes...

The quantity of media in our culture is expanding at an ever increasing rate. As communication technologies allow us not only to access content from further and more disparate sources (imagine how much more news you'll be able to read when automated translation services become really usable) but also allow an increasing number of people access to the tools to create and distribute content. So we're basically drowning in content, much not very good or personally relevant, and it's only going to get worse. For a culture junkie it's great, but also overwhelming. How is anyone going to find the content of value, both meaningful and entertaining, in this deluge? They need good cultural navigators to guide them.

Whatever topic I might be interested in, it is quite possible for me to spend all of my time trying to keep up with it - let alone should I be interested in more then one topic. So I find those people who know the topics I'm interested in, who keep up with them, and who have the similar tastes and values to me, and I allow them to point me towards the content I'll probably like. I'll let them do the leg work, that is what bloggers do. What critics do. What celebrities, or more often 'personalities' do. So it means that I don't have to try to watch every movie that's released, rather I can cut down the potential number of films I'll watch based on Margaret Pomeranz's opinions. Or David Stratton, or Roger Ebert. I don't have to read through all the gossip magazines and websites for my celebrity fix, I can just pick a few blogs with similar tastes and interests, perhaps with a style that I like, and let them point me to the good stuff. I don't have to try to figure out what it means to smell good, or what scents are 'in', I can just take Britney's word for it.

The cultural navigation function of bloggers is why that have risen in prominence so rapidly in the last decade. What they are doing isn't new, it's just that the medium in which they do it is particularly suited to cultural naviagtion. Critics in all fields have been doing it for years, but as the volume of content increases, so does their need to specialise. So we are moving away from 'book reviewer' to 'children's book reviewer' or 'sci-fi reviewer'. Previously, when cultural dissemination was more limited, when people had fewer choices for the content they consumed, the demand for cultural navigators was much smaller. Hence, with this proportionally smaller number of people offering their cultural guidance, they needed to offer guidance that appealed to a broader base (ie all music listeners, not just punk listeners) to be successful. This meant that cultural criticism/guidance aimed to be objective, impartial and therefore broad in it's appeal. As we move into a denser cultural, with a higher proportional need for cultural navigators, we are seeing that those that wear their values, tastes and bias on their sleeves become more successful - it differentiates them from the others. The other form cultural navigation has taken in the past is celebrity endorsement, and it works on the same principle. Whoopi Goldberg may be far from an expert on incontinence, yet her fan base trust her values and tastes because they like her (or maybe they like her because they trust her values and tastes?), and hence accept her guidance on a product they probably don't wish to spend a lot of time finding out about themselves.

There is so much more for me to say about the concept of Cultural Navigators; It's an important concept to consider and use in analysing our culture. There are overlaps with the worlds of cultural criticism, journalism, education, celebrity, with marketing concepts like 'Influencers' and of course new media and social media trends. I'm going to get to all that hopefully, and ultimately thinking about cultural navigators might just give us a powerful way to understand the dynamics of our culture. To survive and thrive in the ever increasing deluge of content that we face, we are going to have to rely on our Cultural Navigators.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pay-walls, News and the Public Interest - Does Journalism Exist?

Just read a brilliant lecture from Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian, "Does Journalism Exist?" in which he eloquently and diplomatically covers the major points and concerns facing the newspaper industry as it finally wakes up to the digital era. I've blogged some of my thoughts on newspapers before (and it seems this blog is going to be my main forum for media analysis now), however Rusbridger's lecture inspired lots of new thoughts.

I am so glad that a major media voice has finally challenged Murdoch's awful idea of pay-walls, and his evangelism for the 'end of free'. Rusbridger makes a neat argument about the short-sightedness of Murdoch's attacks on the BBC, and points out the hypocrisy the his media empire also expanding into free content, while simultaneously criticising it. In response to News Corp's demands for pay walls from everyone, Rusbridger concedes "There is probably general agreement that we may all want to charge for specialist, highly-targeted, hard-to-replicate content. It's the "universal" bit that is uncertain." I think he is referring here to the success of the Wall Street Journal charging for online subscriptions, yet it needs an important caveat. The market for specialist, highly-targeted, hard-to-replicate content is contingent on that content being uniquely valuable when it is not shared. For example with the WSJ, financial insights are more valuable the less other people have them. In fact, in the reputation economy online, the reverse is true - you gain value from sharing information, not with-holding it. Online there are many specialist communities creating highly targeted content for themselves that are not turning a profit, and probably wouldn't dream of making themselves exclusive through paid access, because there is little value to being the only one with the content, hence no one would pay for it. There would seem to be few cases where content or information access gives such a competitive advantage as in finance (commericial scientific/medical research perhaps, but thats another issue altogether). Most endeavours are more successful and productive when information is shared. So other then a tiny handful of examples, I don't think there is much of a future for the pay-wall model.

Of course this all neglects the fact that pay-walls just won't work anyway. Has Murdoch not heard of 'Copy - Paste'? In the current link ecosystem which the papers like to whine about, if they block the content with pay -walls then people will just move it onto their own sites. It only takes one person with access. As has happened with music, tv, movies - basically all other content, all of which is actually harder to copy then news (text essentially). The only way to prevent this would be an aggressive course of litigation, suing the customers that share, and we've seen just how successful that strategy was for the MPAA. Pay-walls just won't work Murdoch - let it go and move on!

Rusbringer uses a great term for the newspaper business model that is currently crumbling- "the Walmart-Baghdad subsidy theory – that it is retail display advertising that pays for the New York Times Iraq operation, not the readers." So why doesn't this model translate online? It's simple, online advertising has better metrics then the old system and can be much better targetted, offering vastly greater value for money to the advertisers. In the past advertisers had to saturate the market with their message to reach the right people, and newspapers where essentially soaking up the excess to cover the costs of the important stuff they wanted to do. Now, advertisers can target so specifically, they don't need to be wasteful, and there is vastly less excess value for funding the rest of the papers' 'public service' activities. One way to consider it is that corporations were indirectly paying for the public service of information dissemination. The corporate mindset is notoriously callous about the public interest - they only care for it when it's also directly in their interest, and newspapers where a handy way of making them pay for something they otherwise wouldn't have. To play devils advocate for a moment - so in the emerging cultural space, if corporations are better able to target their sales, at reduced costs, then it seems only fair to increase taxes on them, and funnel the revenue into the production of news in the public interest. I don't mean in the form of bigger budgets for public broadcasters, but in tax breaks for the individual - for the citizen journalists that are picking up the slack for the media empires, and doing it for free. Surely they should get a little something for their efforts.
I'm not saying this is necessarily the way for the news industry to move forward, but I think its an interesting angle to consider it from.

Phew, that will do for now. :P

Monday, January 25, 2010

Westboro Baptist Church a bizarre new media narrative?

If you were to describe the Westboro Baptist Church to someone that hadn't stumbled upon them in the detritus of pop culture, they might think you were talking about a mockumentary or perhaps some edgy new sitcom. A 'church' which is really just an extended family all living in one big house under the leadership of an insane old patriarch, who fly around the country to protest at the funerals of dead servicemen because 'God Hates Fags'- it's a concept that has to be met with incredulity. Yet they are real apparently, even the awesome documentarian Louis Theroux has spent time with them, though I only know this because of the bizarre transmedia narrative of their existence.

The latest WBC stunt, in their typical, strangely attention-seeking way, is to protest Lady Gaga! I'm a little late coming to this because I've been travelling, but I mean Lady Gaga?? Good Lord! She's a singer, she's popular, and she likes the gays... so burn her at the stake? You could make an argument about the social, cultural and hence political power of celebrities these days, but that would imply far too much reason, intelligence and general sanity on behalf of the WBC. No, there can be only one explanation - they must actually be a fiction, a piece of performance art, an elaborate and ingenious media event.

Their reputation is such that now when they protest they are typically out-numbered several fold by anti-WBC protesters telling them to go home, and supporting whatever they are against. They have cultivated the ultimate anti-fan following. (There really should be a term for anti-fans) I quite liked Lady Gaga before, but now that I know the WBC wants her to burn in hell, I absolutely love her. By being the perfect, quintessential example of cruel, stupid, mean-spirited pig-ignorance the Westboro Baptist Church produce a sort of inverted golden seal of approval. It's pure marketing brilliance. The 'WBC' even sounds like some cutting edge media agency, whose dedicated performers could demand top dollar for their stamp of hate. It seems like just the sort of avant-garde chutzpah that her Ladyship Gaga would condone.

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