How do you choose (a) platform(s)? Passive or active? Network TV, Cable TV, DVD, download, mobile, 3D, hologram, book, comic, pdf, toy, lunchbox, stop motion, etc? How do you build a story and keep these in mind? How do you differentiate between traditional "merchandise" and a true platform?
It turns out it's pretty easy if you prepare for it up front (just like most things). Take a giant leap back (something I encourage with just about every project you may work on) and look at your property holistically. What do you want your audience to experience? How immersive do you want the experience to be? How often do you want them involved with your brand? How long do you want the brand to exist? What's the demographic for the brand and what platforms do they frequent? What's on the emerging edge of technology and who are the early adopters?
Star Wars is the classic example of a Transmedia property. Think about the longevity of the brand, the broad demographic, the range of merchandise and experiences available. For instance - you can wake up on the day of the Star Wars convention in your Star Wars bed with your Chewbacca sheets. Put on your Darth Vader costume, grab your R2-D2 Droid 2 phone, dress your kid in a stormtrooper t-shirt and hat with their Millenium Falcon lunch box and get in the car. The little one plays Lego Star Wars on his PSP while your significant other watches Return Of The Jedi but decides that the cartoon is better.
So in addition to me obviously knowing way too many things about Star Wars, you can see how almost every area of your life can in some way be affected by a particular brand. And you can actually carry it with you for decades. This is why thinking through how your audience is actually going to engage with your content is critical. The passive experience is gone. You have to surround, immerse, and provide multiple facets of that your audience can involve themselves in. You have to give them a reason to tell their friends about it, and you have to give them a reason to keep coming back!
How do you choose a platform? Passive or active? Network TV, Cable TV, DVD, download, mobile, 3D, hologram, book, comic, pdf, etc? How do you build a story and keep these in mind?
- Dave "Tarzu" Ludwigsen, April 2011
Content is king. It is the most predominant facet of any entertainment vertical. Actually, it's the most important aspect of any conversation or form of communication as well. We want to be drawn in to content. We want to consume so that we can be consumed by the stories presented to us. The actual content could be dry, dull, and bore us to tears or draw us in by not only appealing to us from a content perspective, but by "invading" every aspect of our life. That full experience is called a transmedia story.
In order to expose the consumer to an eveloping experience - we must think through all the ways a consumer will interact with our story. The content and the delivery of the content are so interdependent, that unraveling them hinders the possibilities. Consumers nowadays want to be drawn in and take more of an active role in the story. They want to feel. They want to relate to the characters. They want the story to go on indefinitely. So we as storytellers need to prepare for that.
To develop the framework of your transmedia story, we need to identify the types of experiences we want to enable for the participant in our story. Do we want a passive one-time experience? Or do we want them to be able to read, play, watch, interact socially, and wear and consume merchandise? Do you want your participant to be able to use their mobile device and keep the story with them, do you want them to be able to play games, to interact with the characters in Facebook? By thinking not only about what your story is, but in how the participant is going to consume the story, you lay the framework for what you need to do in the development phase.
The framework should consist of the following things:
A dark & gritty horror story showcased in a theatre has a much different impact on an iPhone that someone is consuming midday in sunshine in between breaks at work. Angry Birds works well to pass the time during that 5 minutes, but unless properly thought out, may hit the bottom floor on rotten tomatoes. World of Warcraft is great for teens with lots of time on their hands, but the experience is currently constrained in a specific genre.
Each of these is vastly different in its approach to the market and needs to be different. You can't be everything to everyone, after all. But what you can do is think through the entire process of how you want to deliver your story, then phase it out.
- Dave "Tarzu" Ludwigsen, Mar 2011
The approach to commercial story development has evolved rapidly over the past few decades due to a number of reasons and thus has forced story tellers to rethink the way they intend to distribute a story. Something critical to understand is that the audience for the story has not changed in any way other than their expectation as to the level of engagement with the content. Individuals have always wanted to engage with the content they enjoy in a much greater way, but technology and product development has traditionally only allowed one to engage passively (other than the developers and distributors of the content). As we progressed through the industrial era products gave an individual a greater chance at interacting with the content - from lunch boxes and t-shirts to board and other types of games, theme parks, etc. As we progressed into the computing era, we have been able to consume content much more easily as the distribution systems have evolved, however, the experiences have not changed all that drastically until just a few years ago (consumer-grade experiences in the home, at least).
These new experiences truly spring out of science fiction novels. Robots that sweep the floors, that perform surgery, that build cars, that can walk around and are starting to interact with us; consumer flights into space; game machines that you can interact with with just your body; handheld devices that you can watch tv/movies on, make video calls on, and connect with anyone, anywhere in the world; Holograhpic conferencing systems; virtual music stars; even this subset of experiences boggles the mind and the next iteration of consumer experiences will be completely unique.
As technology and innovation continually evolves at its current rapid pace, the expectations of consumers will also continue to drastically evolve. Due to the rapid changes, it becomes increasingly difficult for storytellers to stay on top of the ways they can distribute their content. That's the single greatest reason that it is imperative in today's industry for technology companies to join forces with content providers (or vice versa - depending on who you ask first). It's also the reason why many incredible pieces of content never make it to consumers effectively.
By the way, this new paradigm is prevalent across all entertainment sectors, not just film & tv. Everything from modeling (new photoshop "touch ups" include inserting entirely digitized models), to film & tv, to music. Actually, music was one of the first sectors to undergo a drastic change. And unfortunately, being first is not always best. There are numerous aspects of change (think torrenting, availability of songs vs albums, etc) that we've seen in this particular sector that enable us to cope and adapt a little bit better in the other sectors. However, even as buying patterns change due to new and easier types of distribution, so does the increasing need for more interactive types of content. That particular aspect of the breakdown of these sectors is just now beginning to be addressed. I'll cover that in my next topic "Building Transmedia Experiences From the Ground Up."
- Dave "Tarzu" Ludwigsen, Mar 2011
From an outsiders point of view, if there's one thing they've coined (okay, they've probably termed a million things), Apple has changed the way the average consumer talks about a piece of software - specifically the new "app" fad. In the 80s, if you heard anyone say "app" you immediately stigmatized them with the "geek" branding iron and went about your merry way, but with the smartphone craze, the "app" has become ubiquitous and has slightly changed in it's intended meaning. All of this aside, the real question is - do you need an App in order to effectively distribute your content? That answer, in a nutshell, is most assuredly "maybe."
Apps exist for everything (and I mean everything), and it seems there is no end to the creative thought that has gone into some of them. There are "face melting" apps, there are apps to record voice & text memos & notes, there are apps to give directions, there are apps that have questionable "noises" that you can create, there are apps for flight and travel management, "emotion management," virtual comics, games that you can play with your friends, and more. There are literally millions of mini apps that enable endless experiences. I'm a strong believer that if you want your content to survive, you have to be backwards platform compatible with the technologies that are just becoming passe, you have to be on every platform you can with the technologies that are hot right now, and you have to have to be cognizant of and developing for all the platforms coming down the line or you risk being outdated when they arrive.
Apps are best suited for micro content as opposed to your entire library for a number of reasons. I believe the primary reason is the size of the device and the available time the user has to interact with the device (Er...Yeah, Dave - that's pretty much how a user interacts with any content)? What I'm getting at is that apps are primarily on smartphones and the user is either using it for a specific purpose (check a flight, get a map of something, etc.), or they have a quick 5 minutes to consume something (funny YouTube clip or a quick game of Angry Birds). Although the smartphone is something that we carry around with us all day, it has yet to replace tvs and gaming consoles, and is not the current primary source of entertainment or education. The menu systems are still cumbersome and the display is still a lot smaller than our big screen tvs. However, as these miniature devices become more complex and the display technologies change to incorporate wearable screens and virtual screens, THEN the vast libraries of content will need to be available. It IS coming soon, so plan for it.
Anyway, back to the point - Apps are a great way to get consumers to interact with your content (either freemium or premium) in digestible chunks, and you should absolutely be thinking of how to engage your customer through this medium. They expect you to be there.
- Dave "Tarzu" Ludwigsen, Feb 2011