We have a brand new this year Television and Film – Business post-graduate program at Centennial College at the Story Arts Centre campus. While the program covers important changes in digital distribution and new financing models for film and television producers, we’ve been trying to sort out how much detail to get into about interactive media content.
It’s a tough call, because the business (operational and distribution) models for interactive media are very different than that of just video content. Also, the television industry as a whole seems to be loosing interest in true convergence of interactive media and television content. Students were shocked to hear about the robust history Canadian television has with convergent projects (Bell Fund first dished money out in 1997!!), asking “why have we never heard about these projects?” That’s a whole other topic, but what I found interesting is how much the students today don’t see digital as the future, but as the now.
They aren’t looking at digital media components as something throwaway that just needs to get done for funding; they see it as an opportunity to reach audiences in new ways because “of course” people consume all types of content across different platforms. Because this shiny group of new film and television producers have a glowing view of the role of convergent projects, of course I’m happy to share with them all the knowledge I have!
One of the very pointed questions asked was one I hadn’t heard in a while, and one that I was surprised to immediately have a personal response to. And that was: “How do make a successful convergent project/digital media component?”
My answer to their question:
1) Involve the TV key creative where appropriate.
If you’re making a complex game to companion the television series, hire the actors to do voice work. If it’s an interactive narrative, hire the writers to help consult on the story lines. If they’re web videos or some sort of animated prologue, consider pulling the director(s) / editor(s) in too. Even if the writers/directors/editors are too busy to actually write/direct/edit, have them involved as creative consultants to help guide, and get their recommendations on who else on the team to include. Sometimes these tasks can be a great opportunity for the Script Coordinator in the writer’s room or an Assistant Director or Assistant Editor to get a credit under their belt, and they typically *know* the series.
2) Consider the opportunities for fans to interact with the brand when the series isn’t airing.
In my opinion, too many people are focused on “second screen” and encouraging their audiences to multitask during broadcast. We need better ways to engage fans between the weekly broadcasts. A few years back, CTV had to pre-empt The Listener due to the Summer Olympics. I thought it was very cool that at the time slot that would have been The Listener, they ran on-air ads basically saying “if you miss The Listener, go online to CTV.ca and watch our web series!”.
3) Don’t underestimate your audience, but also don’t try to change their habits.
We immediately assume women aged 35-54 don’t do anything online. Actually yes, yes they do. Then sometimes when folks realize that demographic also plays games, they confuse puzzle/brain games with widget/trigger “whack-a-mole” reflex games and create the wrong type of experience.
Reflecting on the session and how it could be handled/taught differently next year, I realized a bonus tip I missed:
Bonus 4) Don’t try to reinvent a tool/application that already exists.
While there is more money in the system for convergent projects now than 10 years ago, it is being shared around to more companies. Be smart about what you’re making. If you’re doing a doc project that requires mapping, look into the API tools for online maps. If you want users to share pictures, look at curation tools pulling in user posts based on a hashtag instead of making your own photo upload portal. Building new technical solutions costs money, and are complicated to maintain. Be reasonable with the funding you can raise.
Any important tips I’ve missed? I’d love to hear them!