How to find an interactive partner for Digital Media Components

This is a common question from television producers many trying to generate Digital Media Components for television projects going through the Canada Media Fund (and for film producers those creating digital marketing concepts for Telefilm Canada funding).

Here are a few tips:

1)      Start early!!!

The time to find an interactive partner is not 3 weeks before a Bell Fund deadline or the moment you learn your broadcaster won’t process your CMF Television Component documentation without a Digital Media Component, it is as soon as the television program has some traction behind it – about the same time it gets a development greenlight.

By involving interactive partners early in the production process, there is an opportunity to keep the interactive costs down as production assets and processes can be planned for and shared.  In some cases, the involvement of the interactive team early can actually help strengthen the television concept and help shape settings, characters, and situations.

2)      Review previously funded projects.

Bell Fund, CMF, and various provincial agencies list past recipients on their websites, usually within press releases or annual reports.  To get funding, these interactive studios and independent interactive professionals involved in these projects had to “get” what “rich and substantial” means since their work has previously been funded, and will be able to help you create a meaningful user experience for your target market.

Also, look beyond the funded project lists and into the actual credits of these projects. For various reasons, even the largest and most established interactive studios sub-contract features to other studios.  Many of these smaller studios are interested and available to support the conception and creation of digital media components, especially if your budget is on the smaller ($100K-$200K) range.

3)      Pick a company that makes the kind of content you want to make. 

Would you go to a documentary Producer to produce an animated children’s TV show?  Likely not.  So why would you go to a digital media marketing consultant if you are looking for an immersive interactive experience or mobile games?

Consider the credentials and previous projects of the interactive digital media studio and/or consultants as you short list partners. Have they produced the type of project you are envisioning for your television series?  Do they have experience in producing content for your target audience?  Do they have experience working within the budget range for your digital media component?

4)      If you are making webisodes, why are you looking to outsource to an interactive studio instead of intending to produce them yourself?

Yes, webisodes as packaged, additional footage are eligible “rich and substantial” content, as long as they are NEW content (not just re-cut of the official TV episodes).  I had a television Development Manager once get very upset that I wouldn’t connect her with an interactive Creative Director to write up her webisodes synopses.  She felt because it was online, it was out of her realm (even though, she knew exactly what she wanted for this content, which really was a great idea).  In reality, only a small handful of interactive studios fully understand video content and can produce it well.  However, if you are looking for someone to advise you on how the webisode story format works, why not connect with some of the previous writers/producers who were recipients of the Independent Production Fund Web Series Program?

5)      Explore your local market.

Toronto and Montreal are the main hubs with interactive studios with convergent interactive experience.  However, there are many very capable studios located in cities like Vancouver, Halifax, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Ottawa. Local providers give you more opportunity for face-to-face meetings which will likely be helpful.  Both film/TV and IDM are visual media.  Trying to explain visual concepts over the phone/via email can get complicated especially if you, as a television producer, are entirely new to digital media.  How to find studios in your region?  Connect with the digital regional associations for your province.  Some of the local film and television associations are also working to build ties with the interactive community in the region (ie – AMPIA, SMPIA). Some regions have municipal-level organizations (Ottawa-Gatineau).  Others have global trade groups like IGDA.  Head out to a few of their socials.  Say hello, ask questions, and get to know the interactive folk (contrary to popular belief, IDM studios really don’t bite – they are usually happy to network with people who might bring them business and new partnerships!)

6)      RFPs are not always the way to go.

There seems to be an increasing default to “I’ll just run an RFP” when television producers are stumped for interactive support.  The catch to this is that to get good RFP responses from companies that can do the work to the quality that you want, you still have to research studios and short list who is best to submit.  Do you want to cast a net to 50 studios? That means you’d be reading about 20+ proposals. That’s about 3 weeks of work just sifting through those 20+ proposals and contemplating pros and cons.

When you are hiring Writers or Editors for your series or film, do you research their sense of humour, portfolios, etc. – or do you make them write or edit mock-ups for you and then you evaluate 20+ specs for your show to determine the aesthetic of your film/series?  Beyond the ask likely being a little offside the WGC and DGC IPAs, it does seem a little odd in that context, does it not?  So why would you do this for interactive studios?

Where an RFP could be very handy is if you have shortlisted three studios and are stuck with deciding who to partner with.  In this case, run an open and transparent RFP process, explain what you are looking for, tell them as much as you can about your show (offer the show bible and perhaps a sample script), and be up front about what the budget is.  Then see what they come back with in the form of a two to three page concept (anything more is like asking three Writers to write you a bible for your television series and you’ll pick the vision of your series from one of these three bibles – or, if you do go this route, you are likely paying them appropriate writing fees for their work).

You are welcome to join the discussion and share what you feel is important when finding a partner.  Is there anything I left out?  Do you dispute my recommendations?  Please share your comments, or contact me directly, to update this post with your suggestions.

4 comments:

  1. Great article.

    I just wanted to mention that if any of your readers are looking to get in touch with an experienced web series writer and producer, as well as an IPF fund recipient, they can feel free to connect with through my website: http://www.scottalbert.com

    They can also connect with other web series creators through the Facebook groups, Toronto Web Series Community or the Canadian Web Series Community.

    Thanks for posting this guide!

    Scott

  2. Hi Sasha – Great article and no doubt an important resource for many. I’m writing a few thoughts from another perspective, and it’s important to declare my bias: My company, Stitch Media, is one that is hoping to be one of these ‘interactive production companies’ working on your future television series.

    1) Couldn’t agree more. In fact, J Joly said recently at NXNE: “You should look for an interactive/marketing team before you start your script.” We have shown significant savings in production for both sides, the earlier we can talk about content strategy.

    2) I understand this advice, but I do find it creates an echo chamber – people usually tend to review LAST year’s funded projects and those teams find themselves the ‘flavour of the month’, getting an abundance of requests. Funding agencies do look to see how many simultaneous projects a team has in production, and going with an over-taxed team can cause harm. (I’ve been on both sides of this situation) There isn’t a third-party organization that can list companies/figures like the Indie List compiled by Playback for Television. TV producers would likely love to have something like this, but no one has stepped up in this arena.

    3) Again, this technique promotes the ‘echo chamber’ effect. For example, our early successes were in primetime drama & documentary. We don’t have the legacy of children’s production, but we’d LOVE the chance to work in this area. I’d recommend checking with the production teams in conversations – their recent portfolios may not precisely match their hopes for next year’s portfolio (and working in an area that excites them may be worth taking a hit on niche experience).

    4) This one for me is a ‘case by case’ basis. I agree that video production differs from interactive production, and you should be looking for the right skills (even within your own team). Some projects involve a level of interactivity that shifts it away from ‘linear video’. Another big reason I’m seeing outsourcing is simply price point. Some production houses aren’t built to create video under $5K/minute, and it’d cost significantly more to do the project in-house rather than outsource to a leaner team. We’re seeing shifts in this area all the time.

    5) I have to accept that there’s a perceived benefit to ‘face time’ in business. We’ve proven over the years that we work well with European and West Coast markets – being present for kick-off meetings and having an embedded producer on location are a big plus. There are also regional incentives that make financing reasons to work remotely. All to say – being close is an advantage, but I’d ask producers to consider if it’s the main criteria when considering your BEST team.

    6) RFPs make work for everyone. You’re right to say that we may not even put our hat in the ring if the RFP requirements are onerous. Usually we’re happy to write up a few pages of strategy but I think your assessment is dead on – creative work takes significant effort and shouldn’t be undervalued. Those who are busy may never get on your radar!

    Just some thoughts – always appreciate your writing on this subject.

    1. This is a very late reply to your message Evan, sorry, but all great points!! :) I’m looking to write some follow-up posts, will incorporate your notes in a future post.

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