Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Adventures in Storytelling

Adventures in Storytelling
By Brian Seth Hurst

Not long ago I received a call from a television producer of dramas. “I know television, I mean I really know television but when it comes to this cross platform stuff… well… that’s why I am calling you. I am at square one. I have no idea where to begin.” Welcome to the new world; a world where the audience is demanding more from television programming; where fans can become a powerful interactive community that actually exercises influence over each other and even over network decisions; a world that is virtual, that is mobile, that extends across a myriad of devices and activities. We have moved from network entertainment (traditional broadcasting) to the era of networked entertainment where a piece of content becomes the gateway to a web of connectivity that becomes both personal and communal. This is the Web 2.0 and it presents television producers with new opportunities to involve and evolve the audience, to extend the brand and even to create new revenue streams.

Mastering this world for traditional producers really isn’t that difficult because, save some revolutionary tools, it is still storytelling. Cross media is built on four foundational pillars: technology, distribution, content and social behavior. Yesterday’s kids weaned on video games, born with a mouse in their hand are now today’s viewsers. They just don’t view television they “use” it and literally can become a part of it. We’ll talk more about how to master cross media in future posts but first, I wanted to give you a few examples. I can write about them... but it is like trying to describe a brilliant VFX moment in a movie. You really have to see it. Or in this case you really have to be “in” it. So I urge you after reading this post to go play!

This “new world” actually started in non-fiction programming which stimulated people to interact with the shows and each other. Perhaps the best known example is American Idol where in version 1.0 fans got on cell phones and landlines to make sure their favorites continued to the next round. But those same fans got on the net and built discussion groups, fan sites, and blogs fighting to turn their favorites into stars. As the seasons progressed, the producers of Idol began to give that community a place to gather, a town hall if you will, where all those visits to the net would come under the fox.com domain and eventually americanidol.com. This is a place where fans play alongside Idol’s advertisers rather than being outside the tent on their own. Over the years more features and ancillary content were added to the site and now of course there are the requisite mobile applications, behind the scenes, downloads etc. During Season 6, producers of Idol motivated that same community for “Idol Gives Back” raising over $75 million for children’s charities in the US and Africa. CBS’s “Big Brother” with its robust Big Brother Goes Mobile, “House Calls” talk show on the net, wikis, message boards and, of course, full episode viewing at CBS.com is a good illustration of what most non-fiction producers are doing to extend their show brands. At BravoTV.com, which covers all of Bravo’s original programming, virtually the same bill of fare is available albeit very well done.

Next "Birth of Cross Media Production" post

Brian Seth Hurst is CEO of the Opportunity Management Company, Inc. a cross media strategy and production company. Hurst served two terms as Chairman of the Producers Guild of America New Media Council (’03-’05) while simultaneously serving on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Board of Governors. Currently, he is Second Vice Chair of the Television Academy and sits on the National Board of the PGA.