In this post I would like to draw your attention to three current entertainment trends that you must bear in mind when developing transmedia projects:
1. The growing movie market in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries;
2. the exponential growth of new media in large parts of the world; and
3. the resulting changing media consumption pattern amongst audiences.
Why are these trends so important?
Well, for one, the growth of the Western film market in the BRIC countries is exponential, as this past year has shown. This summer’s record earning were only made possible by the growing numbers of movie theaters in these countries, a trend that is likely to continue throughout the next few years. Movie-going remains one of the cheapest forms of entertainment, and as such it is one of the first and regular expenditures consumers in newly industrialized countries (NICs) make once they have reached a minimum level of prosperity and have covered their basic needs. At the same time, NIC markets are far from having reached their full potential; their middle classes are booming, and given the size of their populations (India and China’s particularly) there is still a lot more room for growth. And all the while, Hollywood is in high demand with its established reputation for high-value entertainment (this is not a claim, but one of my findings from my Master’s thesis I completed this summer).
Then there is the second factor – the rapid growth of new media in all over the world. It is no secret that new media connect people across borders, and create new communities, international dialogues, and new feelings of belonging. This summer, I finished my Master’s thesis on the future of Hollywood movies in India. One of my most important findings was that particularly the younger generations derive a feeling of belonging to the global community (similar to the “felt internationalism,” Charles Acland found in cineplex audiences) from Hollywood movies. The more the ‘world’, i.e. consumers around the world, await the release of a major movie and the more consumers talk about it, the more did the participants in my research want to be a part of it. International news and social media played a crucial role in this, and my participants highlighted how annoyed if not angry they are when they cannot watch a movie the same day it is released internationally.
From these two trends it becomes clear, then, that entertainment becomes inherently social. Granted, this may be old news for industry insiders, but what is remarkable is that this is a global phenomenon. Increasingly, collective entertainment consumptions happens without any regard to borders or even cultures. The stories Hollywood tells have always been distributed globally, but now this distribution and audiences’ engagement with a certain IP is immediate in increasing portions of this world. Consumers share their entertainment experiences on an international scale, and they expect to receive their content as soon as everyone else in the world (not in their country).
What does this mean for transmedia producers?
1. Needless to say, think global. Particularly if you are developing a multi-million dollar transmedia project, make sure from the beginning that it is accessible internationally, at least its platforms online. There is far too much competition out there to allow you to leave behind any parts of the world. If they cannot join into the collective and shared consumption of your project right away, they will find another global phenomenon that lets them jump on the band wagon easily. Or worse yet, they will find your content illegally because they don’t want to miss out, causing you losses.
2. Adapt to the global flow of your content. Facebook, for example, is outstanding for providing its platform in different languages to different countries, adapted to each country’s legal and political framework. Make it easy for consumers to share and build communities around your IP, regardless of where they are in the world. Collaborating with existing social media like Twitter or Facebook can be a great and easy way to encourage sharing, but you can also build your own social platforms around your IP.
3. Watch out for possible obstacles early – be they political, technological, or legal in nature. Get the right experts on board (particularly a good lawyer with experience in clearing the path for international content distribution; political support is especially useful for politically regulated markets like China). Do this before you even start producing. Just like the decision to create a project with transmedia potential, you must make the decision to distribute your content internationally early, not as an afterthought.
4. Forget about licensing. With today’s technological possibilities and the comforts of globalization, there is no reason why you shouldn’t stay in sole control of your IP. Don’t give your content to developers and let them do whatever they want with it. Feel free to ‘outsource’ your distribution to experts, but keep the final decision power – particularly the power over timing, availability of your IP, and its exact content. Integrating all your media is key for successful transmedia projects; as a result, all organization and planning must be meticulous and very centralized.
5. Re-think syndication. Just like you have to maintain over your IP’s content and availability by re-thinking licensing, you also have to re-think syndication. Currently, TV shows in particular take a while to reach foreign markets in syndication, and seasons are often presented out of order. In the future, there should be two phases of syndication: The first phase being the globally centralized form of syndication where the release of your content is carefully orchestrated, and the second phase being the later, decentralized form of syndication where it doesn’t matter if the content is released randomly, as it would only be a repetition either way.
Centralized syndication, i.e. the first phase is particularly important. Always remember that global consumers – i.e. every consumer today in the new media age – want ‘their’ content right away, at the same time as ‘the world’. It is your power and your responsibility as the producer to make this possible (and don’t be fooled – consumers take unavailability of content very personal).
6. Blockbusters are still crucial driving platforms. Just like the audience for B-movies was destroyed by the advent of television, I am predicting a decline in small (non-blockbuster) revenues corresponding with the increase in transmedia storyworlds. All of this year’s record earning movies were part of a franchise, and all of them garnered their exceptional revenues due to their international success. As I mentioned earlier, going to the movies remains one of the cheapest forms of entertainment outside the home, particularly if audiences are presented with high-value productions. Combined with global hypes such as midnight showings and powerful transmedia narratives, the blockbuster is the type of movie that has the highest probability of prevailing in the long-run and of drawing mainstream audiences to your transmedia franchise.
7. You don’t always need big money. Despite recent big-budget successes, large sums of money still don’t guarantee success (hi there, Green Lantern!). One of the advantages of the new media growth and the worldwide adoption of social media is that it becomes easier to distribute small-budget content solely online and still draw an international audience. Today’s word-of-mouth, still the integral part of entertainment marketing, is not only free, but also has a global reach thanks to social media. Your message and your content are king, not your IP’s looks, and with the ability to reach your target consumers around the world, you don’t need big bucks or a mainstream audience. The only remaining challenge is making online distribution politically and legally feasible; however, I am positive that politics and the law will catch up with the demands of our time soon.
The bottom line, then, is that with entertainment consumption becoming increasingly social and international, transmedia projects MUST be centralized, meticulously coordinated, and available internationally. While money helps to generate value, it is not inherent to success; content remains king.