“Defiance”: A Big Transmedia Gamble

“Defiance” is a new science fiction television series/ massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that will be released on the SyFy cable network channel April 15th. Another television series and video game set in a dystopian future that has earth invaded by aliens and destroyed by an environmental disaster isn’t an original approach. You only have to look to a host of television shows like “Falling Skies”, films like “Independence Day” or video games like “Gears of War”. The originality, and the risk, comes from the creation of a story world that spans both the television series and the online video game in real time.

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How your audience is using their mobile device

In an article on how-to develop apps for film and television I made it clear that the context or situation of app usage can have a strong influence on how users interact with it. If you take a look at the Nielson report here you can see the trends. It basically comes down to this:

  • Tablets70% use them while watching television, 57% while in bed
  • e-readers – 35% use them while watching television, 61% while in bed
  • Smart phones68% use them while watching television, 51% while in bed

Obviously tablets and smart phones are heaviliy integrated into people’s lives while e-readers are mostly about catching up on a book before bed.

This might seem like a strong support for the “second screen” movement that is currently sweeping the app world. This is the idea that you can provide a second screen through a mobile device that will engage users in a creative property beyond the television screen they are already watching. To really understand if this is real or hype you need to look at another study by Nielson. Although this study has daily usage of mobile devices in front of a television at around 40% (quite a bit lower than the previous study). Now, what are they doing with that second screen?

  • 60% – Checking their email
  • 46% – Surfing the web for content unrelated to the television program
  • 30% – Looking up anything related to the TV program
  • 19% – Looking up something they saw on an advertisement on the TV program

So the majority of the time a mobile user is attending to other aspects of their life that have nothing to do with the television program they are watching. Why this is happening is still unknown. It may be that time starved individuals are multi-tasking all the time. It may be that the apps that go with those television programs haven’t met their expectations yet. No matter what the reason it is an important consideration before you invest in app development for a creative property.

BBC Click – Story on Transmedia

A nice summary of transmedia as a strategy for getting narrative noticed by consumers that was done by BBC’s program “Click”. It looks at how digital has opened up a whole new audience for a lot of creative industries. It also addresses the challenges. A lot of creators need to know their storyworld in far more detail than ever before and be able to pick the right media channel to broadcast stories and characters to a potential audience.  Click here.

Chronicle: Flying People in New York…”Awesome video, what’s Chronicle?”

Chronicle Movie PosterThe upcoming film, Chronicle, hired thinkmodo to come up with a viral video campaign that would capture some of the public’s attention. Thinkmodo has made a business out of creating viral videos, one of their most recent successes was iPad Head Girl, which got over a million hits on YouTube. This time, thinkmodo took one of the elements from the film, the main characters gain the ability to fly, and turned it into something real that people could actually witness. The video “Flying People in New York” is going to get a reaction, not only from the video but the people who witnessed the event and might share and upload their own version of the experience.

The video is also paired with a film hub based in Facebook that allows the various photos and videos to be brought together in a social space. Although the Facebook page provides a number of obvious clues about the nature of the film, the viral video on YouTube doesn’t provide a lot of context about why the Flying Peope event happened.

I went through the comments and there were a number of people commenting about how much they liked the video but they didn’t know what “Chronicle” was actually about. The same problem is going to be faced anybody who decided to take videos or photos of the event themselves and share it with their own network. There are going to be a lot of people who would have enjoyed the experience without ever knowing that it was tied to a creative property. It is a great example of one of the challenges faced by transmedia design. When you are creating an experience you don’t necessarily want to have to explain it. A lot of ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) use rabbit holes that come with very little explanation, they are designed to spark your curiousity and it is up to you to follow it down the hole.

Flying people over New York has definitely sparked a lot of curiousity but it is obvious that a lot of people don’t know how to take that curiousity down into the rabbit hole that will lead them to a more complete story (preferably to the point where they buy a ticket and see the film). Marketing companies are going to continue to face this challenge when they are trying to engage an audience with transmedia, they want to create an experience that weaves into the narrative of everyone experiencing that event. They also want that person to take the next step and get involved with the creative property that marketing company has been paid to promote. A lot of people don’t have the literacy needed to “read” a transmedia experience and know that there is something more to follow afterwards.

It means we’re in a really interesting place where there is a lot of tension between blantant advertising and what I would call a piece of art. Advertising is trying to persuade you to make a purchase decision. Art is something different, in this case it seems to be about creating a shared experience with an individual. Although I recognize that the execution of that experience was original and innovative, I think the next step is lowering the barrier to the next obvious question being posed by people “But what does it mean?”. I doubt there is an easy answer for that, the last thing I would have wanted to see was a flying person trailing a banner with a QRcode, it would have ruined the entire experience. The great thing about this space is that the solution to the problem is going to be pretty creative as well.