What's the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT of Emergent Media?Complications Ensue
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'm trying to learn more about emergent multi-media -- the online content I keep hearing so much about (and which, in Canada, Telefilm is so anxious to fund). I've seen viral YouTubes of course. Hunter is very fond of online games like Mastermind World Conqueror. I've spent a fair few hours on physics games like Diver2 and the almost evil Fantastic Contraption.

There are the ARGs, like the one for REGENESIS and the one for LOST, and the seminal The Beast.

But I don't have a sense of what the parameters of the medium are. I don't know what the medium-defining examples are. What is the FRIENDS of multiplatform? What's the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT of emergent media? What's the SOPRANOS of online fictional content?

Oh, and double props to anyone who comes up with the names of seminal multiplatform content that actually made money. Or, for that matter, resulted in cost-effective promotion. (Spending who knows how many million bucks to reach, say, 40,000 fans for the movie A.I., does not seem as effective as a TV ad. The problem I see with most ARG's is they don't automatically scale.)

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3 seasons online. 2 DVD sets. A comic book. A multi-million view music video. Song download on ITunes. Sponsorship on MSN. Guest stars like Wil Wheaton, David Blue, and Brea Grant.

Not swimming in money. Not going broke. Owning it all and everyone gets paid.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 3:29 PM  

Also - Trent Reznor's YEAR ZERO which is more in line with your thinking than THE GUILD (although it still qualifies).

By Blogger Cunningham, at 4:45 PM  

To a certain extent, in the way the Telefilm pitch might be most successful?

Look to animation and to tween.

Total Drama Island Interactive is one of the most successful new media extensions to shows seen to date. It had a contest that ran simultaneously - but TDI is a survivors type show. It lends itself to that form naturally, yes. But they were smart with implementation.

The Guild, for sure, is very successful, but it's a question of where you're putting your worth. Dr. Horrible - a film for the web as opposed to a TV show is another example of that form of emergent styles. Dr. Horrible and The Guild are, to a certain extent.

RED VS BLUE is going strong years after its inception - but it's machinima, so there's another question there. RvB is a solid model, where money making has happened - but they don't pay for any actors, and they can make an episode in a minute.

College Humour is generally the easiest site to see as a "network" online, as well. It's been a place where a lot of videos have jumped into full series from.

The issue with emergent media forms is that it's hard to quantify fully. Harder still to tell

By Blogger Elize Morgan, at 6:56 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Mallet, at 5:53 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Mallet, at 5:53 AM  

First, I don’t think Dr. Horrible really counts as emergent multi-media, all Joss Whedon did was take a 45 minute short film and release it in 15min parts online. Steven Speilberg could take his next two hour film and release it in 8, 15min chunks online (at $1.00 per) and still get the $8.00 (average US ticket price) as if he released it in movie theaters. In these cases they are just using the internet as a different distribution source, not as a multi-media tie-in or extension of other projects, like telefilm wants.

The Guild is another example that doesn’t quite fit the mark as “emergent multi-media”. It is a series, in and of itself, a webseries for sure, and one with a big following and now a soundtrack, etc… but it exists as its own entity. And again, only uses the internet as its means of distribution.

What telefilm seems to want, and what so many other tv shows and films are trying to do is use the internet to expand the interest, scope and reach of a main “product” ie. An existing network TV series or feature film (in reality they just seem to want an additional source of advertising income) and because these “multi-media” creations are just minor extensions of the existing product I believe they will never be what telefilm, or anyone else, wants them to be.

The fact is these “multi-media” creations can never be important to the main production, otherwise they would be included in the main production, and that is why they fail. Take what NBC was doing with Heroes online. They filmed a parallel storyline (Not an A storyline, or even a B storyline. It was more like a H storyline) to what was happening in the series during the last season. This was released online, once a week. It used two main characters from the season and a few minor ones. Each episode started out with a 15 second Sprint commercial, followed by one minute of the serial story they were telling (often with blatant use of Sprint phones in them, so much so that a couple of episodes just seemed like longer Sprint commercials). This storyline ended up having nothing at all to do with what happened on the show. It didn’t affect anything. It didn’t add anything of any importance since it dealt with minor side characters and if you didn’t watch it then… nothing. So who would care about this? Who would sit through 15 seconds of commercials for 1 min of useless story with such blatant product placement in it? The answer no one. Because, why should they?
And that’s what it really comes down to. If these multi-media creations are to have impact, then they have to have important and direct relationships to the series or film they are tied in with, but they never will because you can’t force people to have to watch extra stuff online just to understand what’s happening on their tv screens from week to week. It’s already hard enough to get them to watch the regular show, let alone “do homework” by also following along online or playing an ARG.

Now, even the one multi-media tie-in that I know to have at least created some interest and buzz, the Lost ARG, ended up failing in its intent because it did seem like homework, and with the internet being what it is someone already did the work for you. Sure, I could have spent the few hours a week it took to play the game, but all I needed to do was wait one day and everything that I wanted to know would be posted on Wikipedia for me to read, without having to spend all that time shifting through websites and advertisements. So, if the intent of ABC was to get more hits on all its sites and ads by running a big online game it failed, because the “carrot” to get people to play would be posted the next day in easy to read write-ups. Hardly worth the time and money they spent building, filming and running all these websites.

By Blogger Mallet, at 5:56 AM  

(continued from above)

Now I think there is one possible exception to this (actually two, but I am keeping the second one to myself for now) and that would be with comedy tv series. Online multi-media is perfect for comedy shows. Jokes are short and sweet, comedy clips and short films are already huge online, people love them because they are short and self-contained. Imagine what Seinfeld could have been like with an online presence. You could have clips of Jerry’s stand-up routine, you could have short clips of the other cast doing funny stuff (Kramer buying shoes, George skipping work, whatever). Because they were funny characters, it was a funny show, it lends itself to online tie-ins and would get people to watch.

This is going a lot longer then I expected it to when I started to write it, so I’ll end it here. But, yah, I think most multi-media experiments are destined to fail because they are always going to just be glorified ads for the main series or film.

By Blogger Mallet, at 5:57 AM  

Webisodes - BSG did it well, balancing the task of having real content with making sure the broadcast show wasn't unintelligible without it.

I have to disagree with Joe about the Guild - they use the web for more than just distribution, though I'm not sure it's what Telefilm is after. Felicia Day does a great job engaging with viewers and fans online, so it's a lot more than a one-way relationship.

Questionable Content is an online comic that's financially viable b/c of online sales - they sell t-shirts that appear in the comic. I think it works largely because the product follows the art - it's not a long-form ad the way that some of the Sprint phone things can be, and the feel is palpably different.

I've seen some good twitter accounts for characters (QC, mentioned above), as well as some duds (I love Castle the show, but couldn't take the character in tweetable length). Regardless, it's an easy way to engage if you've got a character who's well suited to the medium (and a writer willing to take on the job of responding to @replies). Kelley Armstrong also does a great job of having twitter-only contests; it works because it supplements her tweets, but she strikes a good balance.

The cheapest way to do online stuff is to have forums and message boards where it's the fans who are creating the content, but you lose control of the focus easily when you go that route.

For me, I see web marketing and content as being a way to engage viewers more deeply - turning casual viewers into regular viewers, and regular viewers into fans. I'll be interested to see what comes from this push (and will be hoping that part of it involves making some Canadian shows available for streaming down here in the States.)

By Blogger alice, at 12:18 PM  

I mean, it's like film when it first appeared.

After they realized that just shooting straight day-to-day stuff was boring and narrative was the way to go, they simply shot theater/vaudeville pieces and showed those. Film's foundation was still defined by theater.

Without that paradigm shift from traditional storytelling styles & tropes, the media can't really define itself.

By Blogger Lokier, at 2:51 PM  

My impression is that new media are all about narrow-casting, as it's sometimes termed. Instead of trying to reach the mass audience, it tries to reach a small but loyal audience.

The problem with that is that ad rates are poor for small but loyal audiences, so there's no big payoff in narrow-casting.

Sure, if you own a really large number of products that are delivered by narrow-casting, you can collect a lot of total ad revenue, but the profitability is low because the cost of each program is high relative to its ad revenue.

It is my opinion that the divergence of media markets, from a small number of huge markets into huge numbers of small markets, means that media businesses are never going to do as well as they did in the past.

Of course there are media businesses that are familiar with large numbers of small markets. That's always been the way for book publishers. But they've tried to get away from that model, instead focusing on hits and abandoning anything that isn't a hit.

As someone working to find a place in the media business -- my own screenwriting, and my partner's music -- it's a discouraging outlook. But I hope someone will figure out a business model that leaves room for writers to make money. I don't think anyone has so far, however.

By Blogger Unknown, at 7:06 PM  

I think this is the same thing: The big ARG game that THE DARK KNIGHT did was huge. It struck across the internet and at events like conventions.

By Blogger Harlan, at 7:56 PM  

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