From left to right: Connective Media TV managing director Jesse Cleverly (also moderator), The Company P CEO Christopher Sandberg, beActive Media general manager Nunu Bernardo, Bigballs Films founder Luke Taylor, Hoodlum CEO Tracey Robertson, Polar Productions president/creative director Matt Costello.
Each of these companies has their story of transmedia success to tell. The projects at first seemed much the same: fast-paced, with links to online and offline, copious mentions of Facebook and mobile gaming, young people-oriented, slick and gritty.
But when the panelists started talking, what manifested most clearly was a tension between two different approaches to transmedia: from the perspective of television, and from its opposite extreme.
Hoodlum set the stage for this. While current projects include transmedia adventures like “Slide” (developed alongside Playmaker Australia), Robertson confesses that the company’s roots are TV. And that approach appears to inform much of how they perceive business, from the start of production to the end of a show’s life.
Robertson admitted that for Hoodlum, the “ultimate success is to have big audience numbers.” There’s nothing more “heartbreaking” than putting heart and soul into a project and having it be seen by only about a hundred people, she lamented.
Prior to this, Cleverly had marveled, “We’re so used to dealing with such vast demographic groups, suddenly we’re dealing with local niches.” To which beActive’s Bernardo pointed out it isn’t just people that are fragmented, it’s media too, and even that started with television: you can access hundreds of digital TV channels today, not even including your gaming, internet and mobile options.
“We live in a world that is fragmented,” he said simply.
But the market isn’t really ready for transmedia pitches, Robertson said. It’s best to “do the TV part first.” This way you have a creatively stable and sound foundation that people are familiar and comfortable with.
Sagely, she also warned against letting others decide the transformation of your content.
“We’ve made a business out of multiplatform for 13 years, which is pretty unusual.” For Hoodlum, the trick was to find “champions” – people among your clients and partners that believe in a story or strategy long before others are ready to risk doing something different.
“You just need to know that the story has potential to live on many platforms, then find the experts who do that,” she went on, because if you wait for others to decide, the “digital guy” is going to bust in and say, “we’re gonna do six webisodes.”
Taylor of Bigballs took an anti-TV stance that seemed dramatic in comparison. “We were searching for people brave enough to deliver the content the way it wanted to be delivered,” he said.
To do this, you need a nucleus that isn’t TV. For Bigballs, “we think of the story with the audience at heart … every project we go into … we grow it from [that core].”
He went on to say that it’s powerful to be able to grow an audience online, for example, before taking it to another platform.
The Company P‘s Sandberg cut into the dance by elegantly describing “how you can bridge the real world with this new world” regardless of what camp you start from.
“The common denominator, the easiest way to talk about creative so [everyone involved]understands, is to talk about the people [in the story],” he said. People understand people who share stakes, care about the same things. It’s the heart of a story that works anywhere.
Bernardo developed the anti-TV stance in the extreme, going so far as to condemn agencies for being obsessed with impressions, perpetuating a pro-TV-metrics attitude, and adding, “Our goal is to create projects that possibly never end because this is a longtail business.”
Perhaps that’s an easy thing to say when the majority of your revenues no longer come from traditional sources, but from books and other materials loosely tied to the content’s sprawled universe.
But who should be “owning” the transformation process of a story? Who should take responsibility for transmedia development? One method for scaling this wall has been “digital” people in charge of transmedia production, a concept Robertson frankly said was foreign and even unnecessary.
A producer should have the vision to make the transmedia leap on his own, she said, to which Sandberg interjected that he has “yet to find a person that can handle deep drama, deep participation and all the technology involved.”
Polar’s Costello calmed nerves with a zen approach to the matter. “You can’t let your creative idea be married to ‘we have this and this is how it’s going to work’,” he said.
“The future is seeing that the series itself and the digital series are not separate worlds. They are one world to work on.”
In closing, Robertson reminded the audience that whatever medium you’re on, poor creative still gets punished by loss of interest — something she compared to channel-switching.