Last week I spent two days at this year’s re:publica conference (#rp12) in Berlin. re:publica conferences focus on all kinds of issues around the web, in particular on blogging, social media, and digital media’s effect on society. This year, re:publica’s topic strands included law & politics, education, innovation, civil action, health, and entertainment, and how each of these areas have been impacted by recent developments in digital media. Unfortunately, most of the sessions I attended did not yield new insights into the topics they were covering as they seemed to be aimed at a wider audience than just experts and practitioners of each field. Nevertheless, I did come across some food for thought in Betram Gugel’s session on the impact of open video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo on television and filmmaking.
Bertram Gugel: Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley – Open Video as Mediator
Despite flip-flopping a bit – it wasn’t always clear whether he was talking about the film industry or TV networks, as he kept using the term “Hollywood” for both – Gugel raised some interesting points:
- Piracy and new media aren’t the actual threat to Hollywood; instead, the threat is simply anyone who offers better content, no matter on which platform
- In future, success and profitability will depend mostly on
- one’s ability to offer closed ecosystems, i.e. infrastructures that offer content, distribution, and self-synchronizing hardware in one, just like Apple
- one’s ability to generate visibility and access for one’s content, i.e. making it possible for people to a) easily find your content and b) easily share it
- content interactivity, both on the platform it is consumed on and on second screens/other media
- appealing content, i.e. an exceptional story
- co-creative potential, i.e. to have your audience take part in the production of your content
- Visibility, access, and interactivity require that you take your audience by the hand and lead them from content to content
The Main Threat is Content, Not Piracy
I don’t agree about piracy not being a threat; no matter how you put it, it is theft. Right now piracy may be far from a point where it endangers the survival of Hollywood, but it is still a threat in terms of lost (deserved) revenues. I do agree, however, that “better content” its the biggest threat – for anyone in the media industry. Due to convergence and digital distribution, the different forms of media have become largely interchangeable. Whether you watch a two hour movie, ten 12-minute webisodes of your favorite web show, or read a book doesn’t matter anymore. For one, high production values rarely trump a good storyline, and on top of that, you can now (and in the future even more so) watch/read/play any form of content on any device – smartphone, TV, tablet, personal computer, etc.
In addition to increasing competition for Hollywood, though, I would like to argue that this interchangeability of media also has the potential to turn piracy into an even bigger threat to Hollywood than just lost revenues. While the studios are busy fighting piracy in all parts of the world, the likes of YouTube, Google, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have started to produce their own content, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple joined them at some point as well. Unlike Hollywood, all of them already have domestic and/or global distribution and payment structures in place. If Hollywood doesn’t act fast, these platforms will get to viewers and their wallets long before Hollywood does in terms of the home video market. Right now it seems that piracy is distracting Hollywood from the real threat: That it will soon be losing revenue ‘legally’ to up-and-coming competitors as content production becomes less dependent on monetary value, and distribution more dependent on reaching your customers at the right point in time.
Future Factors for Success and Profitability
Not much needs to be added to each of these points, Gugel has summarized them aptly. I will say, however, that I’m not sure about the inclusion of hardware into your closed ecosystem for distribution; having all content available in a cloud that is compatible with many different devices should be enough. And quite frankly, I doubt that consumers will be too happy to be locked into one software-hardware system or another; already, DRMs on ebooks are driving many users up the wall and on to “unlock DRM” websites.
In terms of co-creative processes, that would be the ideal of course. However, as I’ve mentioned before, there are quite a few hurdles to co-creation/participation at this point. Still, it will never change fans’ and general users’ desire to partake in shaping a story.
Taking Your Audience by the Hand
I completely agree with this one. It still baffles me when producers go through the effort of producing content accompanying, elaborating, or expanding and existing story, and as a user you cannot find a clearly visible link to it. Marvel has a practice of stating “Captain America/Iron Man/Thor will return in The Avengers” after the credits have rolled. While this is a step forward, why not state it before credits roll? Particularly if there’s additional content to be discovered online? You have to tell your audience where they can find you if you want them to follow you. Stating it outright – “Check out character XY’s adventures on our website www.soandsofilm.com”- may not be the most graceful version, but it does the trick. The same thing goes for Google – make sure your content shows, and if necessary, buy different search word combinations. As Orrin Shively said at the last StoryWorld Conference: “Create a weenie” – a big signpost guiding the user to where you want them next. It is the only way to stay visible and accessible.
What are your thoughts on Gugel’s points and/or on my additions? Do you agree on his future factors for success and profitability? Have you made the same or different experiences? Comment below and let me know!