There are a lot of valuable lessons to be learned as Transmedia stumbles through its initial growing pains. One of the most important lessons has to do with establishing a brand, creating quality material and reducing production costs. Hollywood was the first to successfully achieve all three and gained a dominance in the industry that is still maintained a hundred years later.
Almost a century ago the film industry figured out that if they could increase the quality of their films they could sell more tickets. It was at this point that the public began to view film as less of a gimmick and more of a legitimate story-telling device. Once film producers had figured out what audiences wanted (and more importantly, were will to pay for) they began paying money for the rights to the best novels they could find, the best actors and the most spectacular sets. Higher quality meant more audience members and eventually more money. It also meant increased production costs. The companies that couldn’t that couldn’t keep up with the quality race began to decline and eventually disappear.
Hollywood became the big winner in this race for a number of reasons. One was they managed to raise a lot of capital and became the first big winner in developing quality feature films. That established a branding around Hollywood films that was difficult to beat. Once the brand had been created, industries in other parts of the world found it increasingly difficult to get past the American mystique that had been created. The second reason was Hollywood’s ability to quickly build their distribution networks. Not only were they able to distribute to a wide network of theatres, they were able to offer large blocks of content so there would always be a flow of new material for their audiences. The third reason was the centralization of production to one geographic location. It allowed multiple productions to occur simultaneously and locations could be re-used on a regular basis. The result was lower production costs on the films they created. Once all these elements were in place it was very difficult for anyone else to compete. Independent filmmakers were always around but they were typically successful because they lowered quality. The strategy resulted in the rise of the B-movie genre and always seemed to generate enough marginal profit for the independents to survive.
The most recent development in the film industry is the rise of digital tools that are significantly reducing the production costs of movie-making. It comes at a time when most film companies are struggling with reduced profits from their films. Digital cameras and software are having two effects on the film industry. First, they are lowering the production costs for traditional film production companies so they can continue to develop high quality films without the same high level budgets. The second is that the technology is also accessible to independent filmmakers. This is giving them their first chance to develop films that can match the quality of their big brothers in Hollywood.
Transmedia faces the same problems as traditional film-making. Production costs are a real barrier to quality. Most of the work is created and distributed through human teams, a cost intensive form of distributing your intellectual property and engaging an audience. The fact that there are few monetization models in place makes it even more difficult to commit to large production budgets. This present a real problem for transmedia producers. If they can learn from the lessons of Hollywood they will understnad that they need to have high quality transmedia properties in place if they are going to engage large audiences. The only way they are going to achieve that is by lowering their production costs. Although it will be possible to borrow digital tools and equipment from other media industries eventually they will need to begin developing their own. The exciting part is that it isn’t going to take a hundred years for disruptive technology to allow production costs to drop. It is probably going to begin happening in the next 12-18 months. Transmedia engines are one of the hot topics at the moment and they are definitely a start. They answer some of the problems presented by production costs for transmedia. Once those are solved the industry will need to quickly figure out the next problem and quickly develop solutions for those as well. In a couple of years I’m expecting transmedia to be much further ahead.