Maximize Controversy

Want to be heard? Then consider stirring things up. Michael Moore makes his living on political controversy. Facebook experiences counter-intuitive user growth during periods of privacy backlash. The mainstream media makes a living blowing events out of proportion. As a business, brand, or individual, you could, too. Like a fist fight in the street, controversy makes a scene. People usually turn their head toward the loud. And controversy stirs easily. Understand, however, that if you lose the fight, you lose the favor of your audience. Make a splash if you choose, but understand the risks.

Is New Media For You? [Film Friday]

This is my fifth and final post in my series, “Understanding New Media.”

Last week, I resolved a “New Media” definition that I am happy with: “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on active viewership platforms that autonomously drive traffic or revenue online.” The key here is the distinction between passive and active viewership.

It is important to contemplate the best way to tell your story. Ask yourself: how long should the story be? How many people should watch it together? How involved should your audience be? As I have said before, we need to knock down the silos of Hollywood. They have no worldly business dictating our storytelling needs anymore. We should choose the format that best suits our characters.

Many people are distracted by the pizzazz of the Internet. Do not get carried away. Before you produce video for the web, ask yourself why. Is your story better told at an audience’s fingertips? Think hard about what role your story can play on the web. Does it belong there? Or does it really belong on a bigger screen?

New Media: Interactivity? [Film Friday]

This is the fourth post in my series, “Understanding New Media.” 

Last week, I introduced commerce into the discussion of “New Media” and expanded our definition to cover “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that autonomously drives traffic or revenue online.”

But there is still one piece of the puzzle that is slowing me down. More and more motion picture entertainment is shifting to the Internet. Conversely, more and more Internet is slipping into our conventional viewing platforms. Some movie theaters now offer WiFi, and many televisions are being released with broadband connection. Before long, our living room television sets will only stream content from the Internet. All of our networks and shows will launch content on URLs rather than cable channels. Google TV is a first stab at this transition, and many companies are soon to follow. With the ease and frugality of Internet distribution, convergence of the web into all of our current platforms is inevitable.

Therefore, I don’t feel like the words “the web” or “online” in my definition are sufficiently future-proof in separating “New Media” from the other forms of entertainment. Besides, “the web” is a release platform – like a television set or cinema screen. Should our definition of “New Media” be based solely on the platform and delivery mechanism? Or should it be based on the type and structure of content? If everything will eventually be trafficked through the Internet, the only aspects that will separate television, feature films, and other forms of motion picture entertainment will be story length, screen size, and audience involvement.

Length is relevant in defining feature films (between 90-180 minutes), television episodes (half-hour sitcom or hour drama, etc.), and short films (usually less than 45 minutes). Length is a fair determiner for content type. Some stories can be told in 5 minutes, others 2 hours, and some in 100 hours. It makes sense to me to distinguish between a category of motion picture entertainment by duration. However, I think “New Media” has considerable flexibility. There is no proven ideal length for web content, no rules, and no time-slots to fill. The web is free territory for content producers, which is largely part of its appeal. That said, web audiences tend to be distracted easily and hold attention shorter than on other platforms. Therefore, it’s fair to note that “New Media” content tends to air on the shorter side. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to that trend, and I find duration largely irrelevant in defining “New Media.”

That leaves screen size and audience involvement. Screen size and involvement are directly related in that the size of the screen determines how far or near to the video a consumer can be. The bigger the screen, the farther back you need to sit to see everything. The smaller the screen, the closer you need to be. So if the Internet is converging into all viewing platforms, what then is the difference between television-broadcast video and browser-broadcast video? There is a huge difference. Televisions are on the other side of the room, whereas our computers and mobile devices are right in front of us at our fingertips. While this may seem like a small paradigm shift, it carries huge implications for audience interaction.

Herein lies the chief differentiation between all other forms of motion picture content: with consumption devices at our fingertips, “New Media” fosters an environment for active viewership versus other platforms otherwise experienced passively. The web is interactive. The way we engage with content while wielding a mouse, keyboard or touch screen is fundamentally different than the way we engage with content wielding a remote or ticket stub. “New Media” presents opportunities to involve audiences in the story. Integrated blogs, forums, social media, and games build audience community and curate return viewership. Technology like GPS tracking, near field communication, augmented reality, and touch will bring interactivity to a whole new level. With “New Media,” audiences can literally live your story – if you tell it well enough. That is huge.

Without some layer of audience involvement, web-launched motion picture entertainment is nothing more than online video. A feature, episodic series, or any kind of video does not deserve to be called “New Media” until it consciously invites audiences to engage.

Therefore, I leave you today with this updated “New Media” definition: “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on active viewership platforms that autonomously drives traffic or revenue online.”

Stay tuned next week for some final thoughts on the subject.

New Media: Content Autonomy? [Film Friday]

This is the second post in my series, “Understanding New Media.”

Last week, I differentiated between “Casual Video” and “New Media.” We left off with the assumption that any content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that only ever lives on the web could be dubbed “New Media.” But there are two big curve balls that sidetrack this definition: marketing content and spin-offs.

Releasing promotional content on the web is considerably cheaper nowadays than launching a campaign on television or billboards nationwide. Therefore, more and more companies are generating content tailored specifically for the web to promote their products. Commercials, movie trailers, and sponsored skits litter YouTube and the Internet beyond. These pieces are “financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web.” So are they “New Media?” Or just advertisements released on the web? If you chose the ladder, you sit in the popular majority. Most would still call this “advertising.”

So, then, one would be inclined to append “narrative content” to my definition above. But we cannot be that myopic. There is plenty of non-narrative content online financed and produced for the web that drives considerable revenue. And some promotional skits or spots otherwise considered “marketing” are themselves “narrative,” so it would be far too general to affix a “New Media” definition with the word “narrative.”

What about spinoffs? Recently, several television shows and feature films have produced content for the web to build community, expand the scope of programming, and promote the source content. Ghost Whisperer is famous for this. Do these episodes constitute “New Media” or do they serve a greater marketing purpose? Very wide gray area. Expanding the canon of a larger body of work has been in practice for ages. I suppose it depends on, again, the producer’s original intent: was the content produced primarily to drive traffic to another program? Or was the content produced to expand the story or characters in a structure better-suited for the web?

I suppose one clear distinction between marketing or spin-offs and “New Media” is “autonomy” – whether or not the content online acts on its own, or serves a bigger product. The web series we produce are original intellectual property and do not play a role outside the web browser sandbox. They serve their own needs independently and do not require or serve content on other platforms. A movie trailer or blooper reel may air online, but they serve a bigger purpose beyond the Internet. Same could apply to a spin-off. What greater purpose does your content serve?

As it stands, our “New Media” definition goes a little something like this: “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that serves itself and no other.”

Next week, we’ll explore an industry-seeded counterpoint to content autonomy: what happens when a marketing promo or referential spin-off generates its own revenue online?

Understanding New Media [Film Friday]

Few people inside or outside the movie business can really explain the “New Media” trend. The term “web series” has developed an underestimated connotation, suggesting handicam YouTube videos, goofball kids, and poor craft. While a large share of the 3 billion videos uploaded daily are casual video, the professional web video industry has exploded. Many companies (including the one I work for) are spending millions and millions of dollars to produce for the Internet, embracing gear and talent normally resident to major motion pictures. The web is the new frontier and everyone is boarding the train.

Producing video for the web does not necessarily make it “New Media.” If that were true, all movie trailers, skits, and press material released online would qualify. But we often separate this type of material into “marketing” or “publicity.” So where do you draw the line? Having worked in “New Media” for over a year now, I feel safe taking a crack at it.

I am going to spend the next several Fridays exploring this topic. I will take cases I have heard and wrestle with them. With any luck, we will come up with a suitable definition for “New Media” in a few weeks.

Tune in next week for a debate about “producer’s intent.”

Table of Contents for this series:

Can Newspapers Survive? Bring on Newsographics!

It is official: more people consume news online than from newspapers.  Print is failing to compete with the saturated blogosphere. While the value of digital media is evolving, the blog network is still disorganized and fragmented.  The need for staffed, credible and organized newsrooms has never been higher.

Print outlets have not sufficiently adapted to the Internet.  It should not be as simple as porting text to a webpage – your platform (the computer monitor, mobile device, etc.) is completely different than newsprint. Few people enjoy reading on their monitors, want to load full paragraphs of text on mobile, or feel sufficiently engaged by content on the ever-interactive tablet form factor. The format of digital news presentation needs to be completely re-imagined.

USA Today became popular because it had a higher volume of images than other newspapers. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, it lacks quantitative and qualitative information essential to quality news reporting. Incorporate graphical representations of story information and a healthy dose of interactivity into images and you could have something really special.  I call it the “Newsographic.”

I have been very impressed with the New York Times coverage of Japan’s tragedy. On top of diligent email updates and consistent reporting, they continue to introduce extremely informative interactive features and multimedia presentations that paint a more vivid picture of the event.  You can find some of their newsographics below:

Data visualization hit the Internet mainstream with a vengeance. Unlike text blocks, infographics are more inviting, quicker to consume, and can help make complex information easier to interpret. Bringing imagery to life with a layer of interactivity enhances the reader’s engagement with the material tenfold. Top a visualization off with live updating power and you have yourself a very powerful news medium. 

Newsographics are the future. Unlike most individual blog authors, larger news organizations have the talent and resources available to generate these presentations.  I am convinced rich multimedia will be the only way major outlets can stay competitive in this arena. The tablet is a perfect opportunity for newsographic-only sources to stake major claim in the news market. I still think major news companies have a place in the media landscape – but they cannot rely on the written word alone. They must evolve.