Extending or crossing stories to different media and platforms is not a recent activity. The movie industry has been taking advantage of this approach to create movie stars since the beginning of the 20th century, and Disney has been very successful extending characters and properties to multiple platforms for decades. However, the way in which audiences consume content has evolved, and the media experience is no longer defined by the device it is consumed on. Audiences are in a position to choose the content they want and the devise they want to consume it on.
The implications for the content producer are financial and practical. In terms of finance, with increasingly fragmented audiences across the globe, the traditional television broadcasters’ business model is under threat, with falling revenues and shrinking budgets. Consequently, the independent producer faces greater uncertainty as TV commissions become harder to secure.Production companies really need to consider alternative revenue streams independent of the traditional broadcaster model. In practical terms, audiences are no longer confined to one medium. They are already accessing content on alternative platforms and, as a producer you have to follow the audience.
If you are using a transmedia approach to producing content, then you are working to meet the expectations of today’s audience, which is: information anywhere and on any device. Being able to communicate with your audience through multiple platforms means that content is not only viewed, but is experienced. Audiences also have the opportunity to play an active role in their online viewing and if you are successful, to feel part of a ‘community’.
For every opportunity however, there are significant challenges for those new to transmedia production. I want to discuss five of these issues here.
1. The market is crowded
Audiences today are exposed to a greater amount of information on a wider variety of platforms. Digital and online viewing, however, has offered different audiences limitless amount of viewing options. Audiences are dispersed and they experience a lot more ‘noise’. Subsequently, creating a brand is much more challenging today than it was 10 or 20 years ago with a TV show on primetime. Because of this noise, it is important to successfully utilise social media and other web services with pre-built audiences to activate your brand. These audiences can generate buzz around your content and effectively publicise it for you, at almost no cost.
2. Properties need to be able to expand fast
If a production company is lucky enough to achieve a level of success with a new property or character, they need to be in a position to expand quickly and bring it to the next level. If it takes too long to bring the property (the characters or the brand) to other platforms, when that is done maybe the audience already have moved on to ‘the next big thing’. This is whya well developed transmedia strategy and an integrated distribution plan from the outset is essential. It will provide producers with a sufficient amount of content and will ensure that your extended property is consistent and true to the original product.
3. Audiences are more sophisticated
Audiences are without a doubt more sophisticated in their viewing expectations and standards are high. Especially when accessing content across platforms, audiences expect consistency and authenticity in the product. For example, a spin-off mobile or web series to a successful TV series should be of the same high standard as the original TV series.Today’s audiences will not settle for a sub-standard product and it would only serve to damage the original brand. Authenticity across platforms is dependant on the quality of the transmedia strategy.
4. Bypassing traditional gatekeepers
Being seen by an audience today while it is certainly more competitive, it is more democratic and easier to do so. Through online viewing the traditional gatekeepers, (broadcasters, publishers etc.) have been bypassed, and anyone can produce their content online. Digital viewing also means there are greater opportunities to bring creative work to a global audience and potentially become, as many have done, a global phenomenon over-night. But producers will have to learn how to stand out from the noise.
5. Access to audience feedback
The audience and their views are, for the first time, accessible to the producer in real-time. This potentially presents producers with a very effective marketing tool as they can communicate with a global audience and get feed back at the same time they craft the story or are producing the film or the TV episodes. While this can work to producers’ advantage, it’s good to remember that the audience and their voice can make or break a series or movie globally overnight.
Nuno Bernardo is the founder and CEO of TV, film and digital production company beActive, and a regular contributor to MIPBlog. He is also an Emmy nominated writer-producer and the author of The Producer’s Guide to Transmedia and the forthcoming Transmedia 2.0 books.