My video game guru Keith Boesky, whose company is responsible for selling the most intellectual property and developers into the game business, has some food for thought for Hollywood agents about the future of entertainment. He says UTA, CAA, Endeavor — all recently quoted on this subject — just don’t get it. Read it or lose out:
“I was traveling the other day, so I picked up USA Today. The front page, center picture article was devoted to Hollywood efforts, specifically, those of CAA, UTA and Endeavor on-line. According to the article, all three agencies are focused on piloting new linear content, and looking for talent. It is nice to see the paper telling middle America the future of entertainment, because if it didn’t, the country would never know what they really wanted. Apparently middle America is crying out for television on the Web. Never mind the dual tuner TiVo enabled, surround sounded 60″ plasma screened home theater experience they just purchased with their stimulus checks, when they want content from the Coen brothers, they are going to watch it in tiny 2 minute segments on their computers. With broadband, they can even make it full screen! Forget what Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google says about fighting the Internet. In the future, people aren’t going to want their content to take advantage of the unique attributes of the interactive, lean forward medium, they will be over the novelties of connections to others, and the mouse and stuff, they are going to want to see the same stuff on the new, smaller, screen. Hence our broadcast of radio over television. Oh yeah, that’s right, we don’t broadcast radio over television because it would be stupid.
“By viewing the on line world through the lens of traditional media, the agencies are advocating unidirectional content for distribution via channels owned by other people and subsidized solely by advertising. During the original dot com days these same people acknowledged it was the people who made the shovels got rich during the gold rush, so why are the agencies making the shovel makers rich again? They are supplying the content upon which to build distribution channels, and they are ignoring the connections among the audience, as well as the pipe coming out of the home. Worse yet, this model does not ascribe the same value to the content as television. Like television the model equates eyeballs to revenue, but the eyeballs, even on the most popular content, do not rival eyeballs in the media in which the agencies already excel. The undisputed eyeball champ on line is Evolution of Dance on youtube, which has garnered 87 million views over two years, but the thing is only 6 minutes long. After two years on line, it captured as many viewed minutes as 4.5 airings of Gossip Girl. From a value standpoint, it is not very exciting for an agency, and that is the most successful. Finally, the content is not what the consumer wants on line.
“Value on-line is created by consumer engagement and community, not eyeballs alone. People are turning television off in droves. Audiences are falling. But when people ignore the 150 plus channels on their big screen, it is not for Funny or Die, or Prom Queen and it is not always for the Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii. They are playing Facebook apps, listening to music on Myspace, or starting their own communities on Ning. When they consume filmed or pre-produced entertainment, they are joining together to play Alternative Reality Games (“ARGs”) which, leverage community, interactivity and various delivery media. They have to. You can only watch so many “America’s Funniest Home Video” style clips, even if they are made by Will Ferrel. When people who came of age with a vibrant Web in place look at the Web, they see a pipe out. They want to use both. The winner in this market will be the one who figures out how to maximize consumer engagement and harness community. They will figure out how to make consumers use the technology to invite their friends to share an experience with them every day, rather than pass on a link to a dog saying mommy which is viewed once and trashed. Some valley types –silicon, not San Fernando – are starting to get it, and in the process, opening the door for Hollywood.
“Hollywood and Silicon Valley view engagement and community differently. Hollywood views engagement as watching a video and community as the people who watch the show coming out at the other end of a pipe, or group of pipes – one to many. They only hear from them when a small percentage decides to write letters, or start an on-line petition. The Valley views engagement as interaction with the audience via web based tools and forums and community as a network built by its members – many to many. They call this “Web 2.0.” A Web 2.0 consumer is also a distribution point, kind of like the old Herbal Essence commercial. Community members not only see the content, but interact with it, share it with a friend, impact it and through a social network, build a distribution channel around the content. Their interaction establishes the distribution channel, or “value.” Each new member brings not only herself, but potentially, every one of her connections. Each new member enters the channel via trusted agent referral, so they are more likely to feel connected to the content, and stay.
“Companies like widget creator, Slide, are planting the seeds. The company is responsible for three of the most active applications on Facebook. They operate on many social network sites, but on Facebook alone, and only counting three applications, the network is used by over 4.1 million users daily, and the users built the network. These users access the application more often and longer, than anything coming out of Hollywood. Moreover, when they want to access it, they go to their Facebook, Myspace or Bebo page, not some website. Based on their last round of financing, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price believe the company is worth $550 million- and that is without a lick of what Hollywood calls content. Slide applications let you share pictures and information with others in an entertaining way. As Slide and other applications build out, their consumers become hungry for the kind of content coming out of Hollywood
“Some Valley companies are threatening to take this next step into content creation, but they will soon learn they are not as good with narrative as Hollywood. This is the place for the agency focus. I am not talking about a lunch box equivalent license grant to an on-line game. It is an implementation of a core IP, designed specifically for the media. This is, something people like Heroes’ <a href=” http://www.globalcouch.com/”>Jesse Alexander </a> and MIT’s <a href=”http://www.henryjenkins.org”>Henry Jenkins</a> refer to as “transmedia,” The IP exists independent of all media. Each media exploitation is tailor-made for the extant media. Rather than a Coen brothers video releasing on the Web and then being stitched together to show up on television. The Coen brothers IP would be interpreted by an ARG creator and turned into an on line experience, the Coen brothers would direct a film or television show, a novelist would write a book, a graphic novelist does a Manga or graphic novel, People magazine covers the production and more. Each element is unique and stands on its own, telling a different story, which points back to the core IP, thereby making the IP stronger and the consumer commitment deeper. The consumer need not touch the property anywhere other than the media they love best, but if they so choose, they can enjoy a rich experience by consuming them all. This is a stark contrast to linear story creation which may have a story bible, but is really only developed as far as the next episode. If we graphed the IP, the Hollywood folks are building a single circle, growing in circumference to reach audiences in all media, transmedia folks build a venn diagram of media exploitation, overlapping on the the IP.
Creators like Matt Wolf, Jordan Weisman use this model to build ARGs. You may not be familiar with these names, but you will. Disney knows Matt, he was responsible for the only Emmy in the history of ABC Family when his ARG beat offerings from NBC and CBS last year. Steven Spielberg knows Jordan, he worked with him on the Beast 7 years ago. ARG viewers receive content and story bits via all possible media and in the physical world. Viewers may find pieces of the story in <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/user/trinstod”>youtube videos</a>, but they will also get Twitter messages, read <a href=”http://thehumanpet.blogspot.com/”>blogs</a>, find facebook and Myspace profiles, fake <a href=”http://www.ibelieveinharveydent.com/”>websites</a>, and in some cases, even get <a href=”http://www.argn.com/archive/000716having_a_ball_with_the_joker.php”>phone calls</a> or items in the mail. They engage communities in ways no unidirectional media can and can accept sponsorship better than video content because the medium defines itself as reality emulation. Rather than the sidebar ads, or ads preceding content like the Hollywood sites. A blog created soley for an ARG will have ads in the normal positions for an ad. Simulated webcam pickups can integrate consumer products consistent with the character. There is nothing unusual about a girl picking up a coke and drinking it during the video, it happens all the time in real life.
“By no means are these the only options, but if they continue on their current path, the agents can rest assured their unidirectional content will be more entertaining than content created anywhere else, but they can also be assured they will be building networks owned by other people. They are painting themselves into the same corner they stand in today – all the content, none of the access.
If the agencies want to profit from the new opportunities, they have to stop thinking evolution and more revolution. Television is a solo experience. A show can build an audience, but it does not build a connected community, and with very few exceptions, the community has no impact on the show. The audience watches, and then shares around the water cooler the next day. The web is about community. Real time community. I can feel impotent in real life, I don’t need my computer tell me I have to sit and listen to what someone else has to say. My computer empowers me and let’s me join in, the entertainment on it should as well.”