Storyworld Conference Day One (Part 1)

by April Arrglington on November 14th, 2011

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, but I'm finally back home and online just in time to give you all who couldn't make it a wrap up of all the Transmedia events happening as of late, starting up with Storyworld 2011. I'm also trying to have these available in Spanish for my friends in Spain, Mexico & Latino America, so expect my coverage to be avilable in other outlets. As soon as that happens I'll let you all know. I also want to note that Christine Weitbrecht has already up a full wrap up of the entire conference, however I know for a fact that we didn't cover the same panels. So I thought valuable to have my coverage available as well.

Storyworld was a homecoming for all of those in the Transmedia community and it really turned out to be a lovefest. I was pleasantly surprised that it was a pretty even turnout, when it comes to males and females at a conference. Also, there were people there from all over the world and all sorts of backgrounds: marketing, film, TV, publishing, comics and even a representative from the fandom sector.

The morning of the first day started bright and early with an introduction by FW Media and Alison Norrington, who in turn introduced the first guest of the day: Jordan Weisman
The New Power of Story: What is Narrative?

Stories are the patterns that we put together. We tell stories because our brains are wired to want to bring memories together in a cohesive way. As a community, humans have been telling stories from the beginning of times. We have memorized stories that then are retold through out the years in multiple forms: paintings, theater, novels, movies, radio, TV, internet… etc.

As we sat around the campfire our interactions were social, until the time they became codified, recorded and distributed. Now we are living through a time that allows for stories to be social again.

As new mediums like the internet emerged, new ways to tell stores were created to tap into these new platforms. ARGs started as a search oriented platform because the rise of Google search.

So it makes sense that now a collection of narrative components transmitted via numerous media and communications platforms can be woven together by an audience, resulting in a richer and deeper story. Content and mediums were always treated as different animals, until now. Transmedia is here to take those original preconceptions apart.

The three challenges that remain to fight against in this new storytelling era include:

  • Distribution: Now we have accessible and inexpensive tools that allow for direct distribution to your audience, but as we move ahead into an interactive landscape the challenge then becomes software engineering and compatibility.
  • Content Discovery: The market is saturating everyday and despite the fact that cost of development is going down, the cost of exposing content is going up.
  • Ownership: The cycle often starts with the IP creator the goes into distribution, and consumption. Now we need to find a way to include audience creation through audience filters so that the material can come back to the IP creator without disregarding fandoms, their input and their needs.

From Stories to Storyworlds: Panel 1
  • On the responsibility of storyteller: The storyteller is now the brand property gatekeeper, a job that now should be more dynamic. The storyteller should be prepared to manage multiple screens and technologies, in addition to content creation. He or she should protect the IPs original vision, yet be open to listen to the audience, which is part of the storyworld now. All of this is very tricky because of the fact that when there are multiple platforms there is a shared value that is inevitable due to the nature of a collaborative dynamic.

  • On ownership: expectations are a challenge, particularly having storytellers holding their rights and thus their vision.

  • On technology: technologists should take cues from storytellers. It is a known fact that all the great technologies actual come from the imagination of storytellers.

  • On crowd sourcing: Crowd sourcing only works if the storyworld is well defined, otherwise you have chaos and brand crashing. Also, have in mind that not all storytellers want their story crowdsourced, so these types of stories and storytellers need their own home elsewhere that is just as valid. The best strategy to consider for crowd sourcing will include gaming dynamics to optimize engagement.

  • On audience management: Audiences are going to create content out of our IP one way or another cause they want to feel part of it. Your best shot at managing content coming out of fans is to have a managing plan from the very beginning that includes their engagement with the property. Be knowledgeable of were different audiences live and soothe their needs accordingly.

  • On monetizing: A discussion emerged when touching on this topic on whether content creators could sanction IP back to fans and share revenue under creative commons law. There was a disagreement that this could not work for tent-pole IP because Hollywood is too greedy.

Opinions on this last regard were raised that maybe is a generational thing as business models attempt to change with the times. Others argued that is not a generational thing but a way of thinking thing that needs to change. Audiences are key in determine if an IP is successful or not. New business models allow for name talent to become content, why not consider fandoms in the same regard?

For example, people in the games industry are looking into monetizing by having code open to fans who would want to add to the game IP. Not everyone will have the skill set to be in the position to be part of this, but the few that have are likely to protect the IPs canon because they revere it to such high regard.

So maybe it would pay off to treat fans as stakeholders and reach out to them for a unique kind of IP licensing. However, one could argue that when you take other people’s money you are bound as a content creator to be restrained.

In conclusion, we have to believe that out of all this chaos order will emerge with different solutions for this problem. There is hope that the solution for a model probably will come from the independent sector, since it's flushed with more freedom, collaborative opportunities, and less monetary liability (as long as working guild free, etc).

From Concept to Contract to Launch: Panel 2
Lenny Brown's insights:

  • Is hard to find the practicality of all the Transmedia theories out there. Especially when most revenue at the moment doesn’t come from all the different points of entry necessarily, but from tangible assets like games, books, and other forms of merchandise.

  • To lower costs a big part of the strategy should involve for marketing and production needs to get in-synch from the get-go. This is especially true when dealing with TV, because when advertising and content assets are not in synch, then impact loss is that much prevalent.

  • One other factor to take in consideration is collaboration and the importance of picking your partnership relationships. Collaborations are fragile, and when there is uncertainty regarding common goals you can’t force things to magically work out. Have a clear concept and reach out to the right connections. Be protective about the IP, but aggressive about strategy. And remember that consumer products and other uninformed people are not the ones that should be running a Transmedia strategy.

Brent Friedman goes through Valemont case study:

For those of you not familiar with this case study, the first thing you need to know is that Valemont was conceived as a property meant to live online. In 2008 MTV created a new division, MTV New Media, in an effort to retain the audience members that were increasingly spending more time with the brand online than on air.

All the new original programming coming out of this division was meant to bridge the old traditional media with the new emerging media saturating the market. So programming coming out of this division was to cater viewers via personal computers, cell phones, iPods, and other digital devices.

Brent explains that usually the hardest thing to do online for an original IP is marketing. However, with Valemont, MTV reversed the marketing model by promoting the online series on air. And it worked brilliantly.

The first 12 episodes of the web series were about 5 minutes long and were played in full as ‘ad pods’ in between The Hills & The City, which at that point in 2009 were the most successful original on air programs for the station. The full series of 35 episodes then lived online.

A partnership with Verizon Wireless allowed for additional Vcast bonus extensions prior to on air content. After the series wrapped it was then available in VOD. But the most amazing lesson learned from Valemont was that the online user experience was what fans remembered and valued most, even more than the content itself.

Before the property launched the web series, it released online assets all over the internet connected to the Valmont University site, which instigated an ARG experience. Once the site opened for enrollment, audience members were able to sign in as students of Valmont and interact with the characters of the series for the duration of the season through the Vcast phone app or live via twitter.

This dynamic allowed for an organic integration of the Verizon brand, who partnered up in a seamless way that allowed for the interactive experience to be woven together with story. There were many instances were people were motivated to switch to Verizon just to get the additional content released through Vcast.

The project was deem a success, partly also because it was designed to be cost effective from the beginning. It was shot in Canada to take advantage of the tax credit, and during production a Transmedia 2nd Unit was embedded to the schedule to shot all additional content as to avoid repurposing material, all while taking advantage of original production values.

The only friction point that MTV had with the fans was when it came down to the forums. The producers purposely didn’t set any forums as to keep the suspended disbelief of the experience. So of course the fandom created their own in-character forum that looked just as official as all the official sites of the experience. After much panic and anxiety, MTV was gracious enough to sign off on the fandom site with a promotional partnership, and even offered especial content to its members in exchange to pingbacks to the official sites of the experience.

Trish Pasternack on Random House Worlds:

Trish announces a new Random House Transmedia Division called Random House Worlds. This announcement alone confirms the notion that publishing is shifting its views on IP and authorship, by seizing an opportunity to build stroyworlds with a property and curate partners with media companies to expand the IP.

Trish explains that Transmedia strategies are not only about expanding the IP from books to story bibles, to games and other media. They should be about designing a plan of action that matches a particular property with a set of specific platforms that services the needs of IP and fits its integrity. This notion is what is encouraging Random House Worlds to not only rethink acquisition strategies but even establishing internal IP development, which is really exciting news.

The Transmedia landscape as it stands allows publishing to reach sectors it can’t reach by itself otherwise. Is still hard to quantify, say, gamers that read or readers that game… so there is an appeal to build storyworlds so compelling audiences would engage beyond the one point of entry. In addition, there is extra value in the aggregated audience that makes contact with a property one way or the other. At the end of the day the real money is made on the long tail, which proves that an IP can continue to produce revenue as long as the fandoms stay happy.

NOTE: Robert Pratten's slide show of this panel is available here. Also, as of recent, Random House has partnered up with Zak Kadison's Blacklight Transmedia. For that press release click here.

As to keep this post concise I'm splitting it in two parts. To keep reading click on Part 2.


Posted in not categorized    Tagged with #swc11, Christine Weitbrecht, FW Media, Alison Norrington, storycentralDIGITAL, Jordan Weisman, Harebrained-Schemes, Brian Seth Hurst, Storycentric, Liz Rosenthal, Power to the Pixel, David Tochterman, Innovative Arts, Morgan Bouchet, Transmedia Lab, Zach Kadison, Blacklight Transmedia, Robert Pratten, Tracey Fullerton, Lenny Brown, THQ, Brent Friedman, Electric Farm, Trish Pasternack, Random House Worlds, Valemont, Nina Bargiel, MTV, Vcast, Bunnygraph, Campfire, Simon Staffans, Transmedia Storyteller, Homefront


2 Comments

Kevin Shockey - November 22nd, 2011 at 7:25 AM
Haven't finished, it's been great so far. I think we should let Hollywood be left to worry for themselves. They've done very little historically to support the Independent storyteller.

Thinking about how to divide up the little revenues transmedia is generating is counting our eggs before they've hatched. Let's first figure out:

1. how to establish consistent and sustainable revenues
2. how to orchestrate, manage, administrate,
April Arrglington - November 23rd, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Agreed! Thanks for reading Kevin!

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