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.