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In Defense of Syfy’s Defiance

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Science Fiction, by its very nature, has always been about exploring new possibilities.  The very best of the genre has given us glimpses into a realized future, paving a way for innovation.  The Syfy channel may just be doing that now with their new show, Defiance, but not necessarily in the way you think. While the show may be borrowing from a variety of past creations, the producers are trying something rather groundbreaking with the production – creating a transmedia IP that is living as both a television program and video game concurrently.

It’s a gamble, but it’s one with a certain logic behind it a Content Lab reports: “It’s also an attempt to cater to a highly engaged, billion-dollar audience: participants of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.”

Syfy is pouring a lot of money, a reported $60-70 million on the game alone, to make Defiance a hit. For HBO, the costs of an ambitious show like Game of Thrones can be covered by subscriptions, but Syfy needs to generate revenue in other ways, and no doubt had that in mind with the creation of Defiance. Again, from Content Lab: “Moreover, the transmedia [Ed. note - actually, I'd call it intermedia] approach also raises intriguing possibilities for in-game advertising. It’s not too difficult to see how a product used in the show, such a vehicle or branded clothing, could appear naturally as elements in the game.”

No doubt this is new territory and Syfy along with game partner Trion have got a lot riding on the success of Defiance. While initial reviews of the show and game were tepid, Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat reports: “In fact, the premiere of Defiance outperformed Game of Thrones on its own premiere day. Syfy hasn’t had a show this hot since Eureka, and its second-screen tablet app posted its best day ever with the debut. The digital stats in terms of uniques, page views, and visits are stellar.

Meanwhile, the massively multiplayer online game has scored 6 million hours of playtime since the launch two weeks ago. I’ve poured around 10 hours into it myself. This transmedia — or a story that is told in more than one medium — has to be considered a success in terms of its ability to grab attention even though it appeared on the same day as the Boston bombings.”

I honestly don’t know if Defiance is going to be a success, it’s impossible to know for certain after two weeks, but I do feel confident in saying that brands should be working to understand what’s at play here. Consumers’ attitudes and expectations towards entertainment and content have changed. The idea of watching unique content on multiple platforms, sometimes even simultaneously, is becoming more accepted, if not expected. This provides massive new opportunities for brands to integrate across multiple touchpoints, creating longer engagements with fans through programming they want to watch. Categories like food, travel and technology could all look to take advantage of this in new and compelling ways.

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Millward Brown / Dynamic Logic Digital Predictions For 2012 #3 Virtual Togetherness

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The Intermedia Engagement Ecosystem

Today I’ll pick back up my look at the Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic (Disclosure: Both agencies are part of WPP, as is my employer, Y&R12 for 2012: Top 12 Digital Predictions for 2012 report with idea #3 on their list, the Virtual Togetherness.

The report asks:

Will our TV viewing and discovery habits increasingly be influenced by what our friends are watching, leading to the rise of the “social program guide”? And with the emergence of services such as Bluefin Labs/GetGlue, will traditional TV ratings start to be complemented by “social ratings”? They could well be, since advertisers will no doubt be keen to understand how well a show is travelling beyond the TV viewing audience itself.

In a word, “yes.” The above mentioned Blue Fins, along with SocialGuide will be influential barometers for networks and production companies. Social TV apps will reconnect us, albeit digitally, to programming, and we’ll see shows that generate strong social engagement become the real ratings winners.

Social TV has been an area I’ve looked at closely this year. Earlier in the fall I wrote a post where I coined the term, “Intermedia” and defined it as:

Intermedia is characterized by the real-time interaction of content consumers between themselves andcontent producers, the content’s participants or notable third parties. This engagement may play a role in the on-going or future development of the content in the form of voting, surveys, commentary or other forms of interaction.

This post led to a follow up on the subject that I wrote for Mashable.  You may also want to check out my guide to the people, platforms and apps that are shaping Social TV.

The report also nods to a “recipe for Social TV” that includes: TV content, a backstage blog, a Twitter account, hashtag strategy and  interactive apps. I agree that Social TV should be viewed on this broader level, and I think we’ll see a new position develop for content providers – that of digital showrunner.

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Futures Of Entertainment 5

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November 11-12 will see the Futures Of Entertaintment 5event, held at MIT in Cambridge, MA.  FoE tends to bring together a great mix of marketing/brand type people with some academics who bring a different perspective to the subject. The program includes discussions with titles like Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society, and Here We Are Now (Entertain Us): Location, Mobile, and How Data Tells Stories. 

Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy with Peppercom Strategic Communications, is one of the featured speakers and he was kind enough to share some of his thoughts about the futures of entertainment…

Rick Liebling: FoE seems very academic in nature, looking at many of the speakers. How does that affect the approach to the event and the dialogue that is created?

Sam Ford: Our goal with each conference is to have panels that are a mixture of academic and industry perspectives. We want to create an event that is as much an academic conference as it is an industry event and to reap the rewards of what happens when you bring the perspectives of academics from a variety of disciplines who study the media into conversation with one another and with representatives from a range of media and marketing companies. It creates a unique environment where the goal is neither to present a paper or research project (the focus of many academic conferences) nor it is a place to display a slide deck or present a corporate case study. We frown on presentations and don’t use PowerPoint or Keynote unless someone has something specific they need to show in order to further the discussion. And no one’s coming to read papers. We want to take advantage of one of these few opportunities to have the people who study media in a room with those who make media, and we want to put the focus on the dialogue that can happen when these groups come together and are willing to have a dialogue to one another, to listen to one another.

As a result, we have had research collaborations arise that came out of this event and the community surrounding it. We have had new businesses launch from people who have met at Futures of Entertainment. I believe it’s a unique event that draws an audience of academics interested in dialogue with industry representatives and marketing and media industries people who want to listen to and learn from those involved in media studies.

Rick Liebling: Crowdsourcing, gamification, social TV… Are these trends simply fads, or mainstays that content producers need to understand and incorporate?

Sam Ford: We try to stay away from focusing on fads and focus our panels and discussions around larger cultural patterns. I’d say that some things currently being called, or which have been labeled as, “crowdsourcing” could be trends that wax and wane, the purview of “trendspotters” who get people excited about a shiny new object, only for everyone to realize after the fact that it was hype. The same has happened with gamification and social TV. To define these patterns too narrowly and expect one small, gimmicked version of this to be “the way” this trend will take shape can be a mistake. That’s the purpose for our event. To step back, look at what’s developing, and discuss the larger cultural patterns underneath what we’re seeing. And that’s what we see as the role of the academy in this, as media studies academics are often trained to look at developments within their larger historical context.

Rick Liebling:  Where is the most innovative storytelling happening right now?

Sam Ford: It’s perhaps not surprising to see indie media makers driving some of the most innovative storytelling. That’s why we have a large number of people speaking in this year’s panels who are indie musicians, filmmakers, journalists, serialized storytellers, etc., and people who are studying spaces like soap opera, where series are moving to the web. You’ll also notice that we have a greater number of panelists from outside the U.S. than ever before: Brazil, India, The Netherlands, Finland, Chile, Mexico, the United Kingdom…Our goal is to bring together media creators from Harry Potter to Christian music, from Mexican television to the U.S. journalism industry, to learn from people who are driving innovation. And it’s key to realize that, while some media markets outside the U.S. (like Brazil) might be fostering some of the most innovative forms of storytelling and while indie creators have more flexibility to try new models and methods, we have media and marketing industries more willing than ever to engage with audiences in new ways and find new ways to tell stories. That’s why we’re happy to collaborate with the likes of Viacom Media Networks, Petrobras, The Alchemists, and Samsung as our sponsors of the event and draw on a variety of speakers who are in, or who come from, more “traditional” media companies.

If you’re interested in checking out Futures of Entertainment 5, you can still register here.

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Mashable Post on Intermedia Strategy

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Loyal readers of this blog (both of you) will now be familiar with my use of the term Intermedia. I first used it in my post Intermedia – The Next Phase in Consumer Engagement, which received a lot of positive feedback. To continue this line of thinking I developed a post on Intermedia strategy that the good folks at Mashable were kind enough to publish.  Here’s an excerpt from Social TV: How Content Producers Can Engage Their Audiences in New Ways: 

 

As social media matures, new opportunities are arising for content producers. Social TV, for instance, hasexploded in 2011. While terms like “cross-media” and “transmedia” have only started to become part of the media lexicon, technology advances are creating new opportunities for content creators and audiences to engage with one another – an experience I call “intermedia.”

Increasingly, social TV has viewers using platforms like Twitter to comment on and discuss their favorite shows. HBO’s True Blood, Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club and Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants, or landmark events such as presidential debates generate thousands of comments, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands. As social TV gains momentum, savvy networks like Bravo, MTV and The CW are poised to take advantage by engaging their audiences in new and compelling ways.

Then intermedia was born, the offspring of social TV and transmedia. Social TV provides a space for audience members to discuss a show, while transmedia encourages content producers to create stories that move across platforms. Therefore, intermedia means that audience members and content producers engage each other between media channels, often with content from one platform affecting content from the other.

 

I hope you’ll swing over to Mashable and read the rest of the piece.

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CEO Interview: Aaron Williams of SocialSamba

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Time for another entry in my CEO Interview series, this time it’s with Aaron Williams of SocialSamba. This is a great example of why I love doing this series and why I hope the people I speak with find value in doing these: At first blush I wasn’t really buying what SocialSamba was selling. I even experienced one of their offerings and while I thought it was executed well, it just didn’t hit a home run with me. But I wanted to find out more and I must say, after listening to Aaron’s answers, I think he’s got something pretty interesting here, and an interesting use-case of Intermedia. Based on the metrics he’s talking about (see below), I’d certainly be interested in finding out more. I hope you’ll take a look at what SocialSamba has to offer if you’ve got a brand or property and are looking for stronger consumer engagement.

Rick Liebling: For those not familiar with Social Samba, tell us a little about your product(s) and who you are currently working with?

Aaron Williams: SocialSamba is a platform for scripted social networking – which means we enable fans to “friend” the characters they love from TV, movies, books, and brands, and experience what it’s like to be part of a social network with those characters.  It’s the same way you experience the lives of friends and family using Facebook, only the content from the characters is created by professionals, so it tells a great story.  We license our platform to the professional storytellers to create these stories – we have current productions live from the TV shows Covert Affairs and Psych from USA Networks, and the movie Dolphin Tale from Warner Bros.  Psych’s “Hashtag Killer” experience just went live this week – it’s 7 weekly episodes, and you can try it for yourself here.

Of course, your Mad Men experience and others have proven that great stories can be told using Facebook, Twitter and other social networks “out-of-the-box”.  The additional value we’re adding is that we enable these storytellers to script the posts, comments, images and videos once, and then we play them back for each fan.  This ensures fans are participants in the story (think choose-your-own-adventure where the characters call you by name and ask for your input), the stories are not lost in today’s massive social fire hoses, and the stories are an asset that fans can experience whenever they want.  It’s not a campaign and you’re not a voyeur with our technology.

Rick Liebling: What sort of results/ROI have those brands seen with your offering?

Aaron Williams: As of today, there are 3337 fan pages on Facebook with more than 1M fans (HT socialbakers.com).  Even taking out the silly pages, that’s a TON of fans who are looking for a deeper connection to their favorite characters and stories, and brands of beers, and cereals, and sports teams.  Our offering gives these brands the opportunity to go beyond the 1-2% engagement they can get from traditional social marketing campaigns (corporate image sharing, “hey look at us” wall posts, fan polls, etc.).  When these brands can tell their fans a story, and engage them not with the marketing of the brand but instead with the values and stories of the brand through characters, we see much higher engagement rates.  25% of fans of Covert Affairs engaged in their story, for instance, with 12% returning to the story 9+ times, and spending 6+ minutes in the story each time they came back.  That’s exactly what our customers want: deeper and more meaningful engagement.

SocialSamba lets viewers engage with the Psych characters.

Of course, they also want a solution that doesn’t hemorrhage budget.  We cover that two ways: lower costs and real revenue streams.  First the lower costs: being able to script the experience once means you get a story that can be available for a year and scale to millions of fans without having to pay for a writing team for a year, where most of the posts will just get missed.  And second for the revenue: we enable sponsorships, product placements and virtual goods, models that have been very successful across social.

 

Rick Liebling: Here’s where I’m challenged by what SocialSamba does: As someone who was a character in the Mad Men on Twitter experience, the real juice came from the improv element, we had to create on the fly. How does SocialSamba get around the canned nature of the offering you currently have?

Aaron Williams: One person’s canned experience is another person’s Avatar.  The fact is that a majority of the entertainment we enjoy is “canned” (in the sense that it is produced once and played back a zillion times), and fans are happy with that because they get a great story.  I firmly believe it’s the story that matters.  Improv is great also, and completely open ARGs that are created on the fly are a freaking blast, but they definitely aren’t the only way to experience a great story.  So, I just don’t agree that we need to get around our canned nature, we just need to tell kick-ass stories.  All that said, we’re also not 100% canned – we offer our customers an “actor” console where writers can provide direct responses to specific fans as the characters (our customers will use this feature if they want to target the top 5% of their fans and give them customized content, but it is not required).

 

Rick Liebling: Facebook and Twitter make perfect sense for this sort of thing, are there other platforms people should be thinking about?

Aaron Williams: Sure – mobile!  (Hope that’s not too obvious?)  Let me be more specific: SMS, voice mail and apps are kind of overlooked for these kinds of experiences, but they are absolutely ubiquitous and wonderfully “social”.  We’re very excited about having characters leave voice mail, send SMS, and leverage location and augmented reality as part of the story.  Check-ins to sponsors can change the story as well.  When Jack Bauer sends me a voice mail and tells me to get to my local Starbucks and diffuse the bomb through an augmented reality app … I’m in.

 

Rick Liebling: What’s going to be the tipping point for SocialSamba? Is it a matter of a certain show jumping on board with you, or is it just a matter of greater Social TV adoption by consumers?

Aaron Williams: Of course there are the “whales” out there that would validate our vision all on their own, but I’m not as concerned about being recognized as first-to-market with a specific brand.  First-to-scale is all that matters for us.  (There were farming games on Facebook before Farmville.  Zynga kills it with scaling.)  We’re executing like hell, continuing to meet our goals, and delighting our customers.

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The Intermedia Engagement Ecosystem

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Recently I wrote about the idea of Intermedia – where content interaction happens between platforms through content producers and content consumers. I thought it might be helpful to create a chart to show what this might look like:

 

The upper half of the chart is the people element, with the traditional “talent” – on-air personalities, athletes, musicians, celebrities – and the fans at home who watch them. This is where the emotion lives. People are eager for the opportunity to engage with these people. The lower half is where we find the social platforms (Twitter, Turntable.fm, TV Dinner) and the communication channels brands have at their disposal (TV channel, music venue, stadium, etc.). These serve as the venue where the content is created and engaged with, in person, online or on-air.

The right half is owned, or at least driven by the audience. They decide what they are interested in and how they are going to express that interest on social networks, both positive and negative.  On the left hand side is where the brands have the control, over how they distribute content and who provides the “face” of the brand.

Bring all this together, and in that sweet spot you have Intermedia.

Next week I hope to bring you a post on creating an Intermedia strategy, and also a look at the role of Intermedia planner.

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