HBO, Jay Z and the #SecondScreen opportunity for #PicassoBaby

Jay Z’s not just a rapper and he’s more than a businessman (or a business, man); he’s a cultural force. From Rocawear to marrying Beyonce, from selling a million copies of an album before it’s released to a subliminal shout-out from a Presidential candidate.

We could talk about his Livestreamed concert at SxSW last year, or his fledgling sports agency, but for right now, let’s focus on Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film which will be premiering on HBO tonight at 11pm eastern. Here’s a taste:

As a fan of Jay Z, and an HBO subscriber, I’m certainly planning on tuning in. As a marketer, and Content Advisory Board member to the 2nd Screen Society, I’m intrigued by the possibilities. HBO and Jay Z are both rightly lauded as innovators in their respective fields. This seems like a perfect opportunity for going beyond the traditional and extending the experience to a mobile device or tablet.

Marketing strategist Rob Fields thinks it’s a missed opportunity: “Since it’s only 11 minutes, HBO should make it available on HBO GO for, say, $1.99. Whatever the price is, it would open up the viewing legally to a whole new audience. They’d get the revenue and the consumer data, which is probably more important. It’d be a huge prospect list.”

This sort of content, from an innovative thinker like Jay Z is ripe for something like a 2nd screen experience.  I spoke with several 2nd screen industry innovators to get their take on what they’d like to see, or what they would have recommended:

Jeremy toeman, CEO Dijit media:  “In this era with such rich apps and a huge, excited, engaged, and obviously mobile, fan base, seems like there’s a lot more to offer an audience. From alternate camera angles to making of/extra footage to interactive social experiences, it seems like a great second screen opportunity!”

Aaron Williams, Founder/CEO of SocialSamba“The most exciting part of the whole concept for me was seeing the fans, 

Jay Z at Pace Gallery. Photo via Pace Gallery

Jay Z at Pace Gallery. Photo via Pace Gallery

participating in and recording their experience with the performance.  Think about it this way – it would only take 14 different fans hitting record to rack up a thousand different takes, angles and perspectives for every second of that song.  That’s a pile of content that begs to be mashed up by amateur fans and pro remixers alike.  There’s a kick-ass startup called Switchcam that does exactly this kind of syncing across multiple fan cams to allow everyone to mashup their favorite take on a shared experience (like concerts and weddings).  Jay should give them a call and put all that content to great use.”

Gitamba Saila-Ngita, Chief Innovation Strategist at Deft Collective had a different take:  “If you’d seen the process of creating the video you’d know that Jay Z spent almost 8 hours performing the song as “performance art” to random strangers and celebrities, with some joining in. Somewhere in that process a second screen experience should have been born that would enhance the experience when viewing the content on mobile or tablets. I think adding second screen to this [the HBO presentation] would be purely novel and nothing quite innovative or ground breaking. That said, it could explain why this is being pushed as something you have to watch on our downtime Sunday night.” 

Rob Fields counters, “The second screen experience could be interesting.  Remember that Jay filmed 6 hours, so there’s a lot of footage that could be teed up.  Point at which audiences on laptops, tablets and phones could go deeper.  They should definitely offer bios and video perspectives on the other artists that Jay included.  For example, I’m only broadly familiar with Marina Abramovic, and the broader population may be less so.  Also, do they have footage of Jay talking about why he chose the other artists?  It’d be great to hear his own words on this.  A win for HBO would be to have the 2nd screen experience be incredibly immersive so that you’d stay on the HBO site long after those 9 minutes were up.”

Rather than from purely the content aspect, I look at it from a brand opportunity point of view.  Jay Z’s deal with Samsung, the one that allowed Samsung mobile owners to download the new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, a few days early – the one that got Jay Z a million sales before the album proper even dropped – was criticized for certain privacy related issues. Could providing those consumers with exclusive 2nd screen content to the HBO program have been a nice apology or surprise and delight bonus? Perhaps.  What about Pace Gallery, where Jay Z did his 6-hour performance art piece? Surely a 2nd screen experience highlighting the gallery or the history of performance art would have made sense.

As many above noted, there is a lot of material to work with and perhaps we’ll see it come to life at a future date. In the meantime, we’ll watch tonight and wonder what might have been.

Hey Advertisers, What’s Your Post 30-Second Spot Plan?


If this is the future, you'd better have a plan that includes something more than 30-second spots.

If this is the future, you’d better have a plan that includes something more than 30-second spots.

The 30-second commercial is not dead, despite what Trevor Beattie thinks. But, here’s something to consider, I could easily consume 4+ hours of content, anytime and just about anywhere, night after night, and not see one 30-second spot. Game of Thrones on Demand via HBO or HBO Go, followed by two episodes of binge watching some old series on Netflix, then I’ll play an hour of Call of Duty on the Xbox 360, followed by catching an out of market West Coast Major League Baseball game online.  That’s not trying to get by on scraps, that’s all top tier entertainment.

Read the Netflix Long Term View  and you’ll get a glimpse into how that company sees the future. It’s a fascinating piece, and shows how they, along with HBO and others, are likely to be capturing the lion’s share of attention, certainly from the upscale market. So, if you are a brand like Land Rover or Virgin Atlantic or Waldorf or Revlon or Dell or Crystal Cruises what do you do? We’re not talking about simple DVR commercial skipping, we’re talking about a future where some of the best, most watched and talked about content simply doesn’t have ads at all.

Last week I went to the Machinima Digital Upfront. If you don’t know Machinima that’s ok, unless you are trying to reach the global, male 18-34 demo, then it is a problem. Machinima racks up more than 2 billion views per month across it’s network (internationally, online and mobile devices). They do this with original programming that is tailor made for its audience. At the event they announced new partnerships that will get them into the massive EDM (electronic dance music) market, as well as a partnership with the director Ridley Scott.

On another front there is a discussion over who is going to own the App Battle that is going to be taking place on your phone, tablet, Smart TV / Internet TV / Connected TV and video game console. You can argue who the winner is going to be – Alan Wolk of KIT Digital thinks it will be the MVPDs who have the advantage. I think brands have agreat opportunity, but the truth is, arguing whether we’ll be using a Comcast app or a Google app or a Nike app isn’t the point, the point is we’ll be launching video content from all sorts of providers and producers and that won’t feature a traditional 30-second spot.

So, what’s your post 30-second spot plan? Product integration directly into the content? In-app sponsorship? Create your own app that enhances the viewing experience around content relevant to your brand? Create your own content? Create your own content channel that hosts video from a wide range of producers that aligns with your brand?

Those all sound like pretty compelling options, but “option” may be a misnomer. I think your “TV strategy” needs to be a lot more diverse than simply deciding between broadcast and/or cable. It’s going to involve a sophisticated plan based on your audience and their viewing behaviors. It will require new social analytics like the ones developed by Bluefins Labs, which was recently bought by Twitter. And it’s going to demand a partner who can help you manage a complex web of partnerships and collaborations with content producers, distributors and tech vendors you may not have even heard of five years ago… because they didn’t exist.

Yes, for the foreseeable future the 30-second spot still has a place front and center in your plans. But right now the smartest brands are preparing for a future where YouTube, HBO and Netflix are the equivalent of ABC, CBS and NBC 40 years ago.

TV DINUs – Sitcoms v. Dramas

I’ve watched my fair share of television over the years. I’ve enjoyed both dramas and sitcoms (along with reality shows, sports, documentaries, news, etc.). I think just about any genre can provide quality programming, but when viewed through the lens of the Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe, there is a clear distinction between sitcoms and dramas. Let’s do a quick test to illustrate the point:

Friends was a fun show with likeable actors and some pretty funny scripts. I’m guessing that there were roughly 200 episodes. That’s a decent sample size, I think. Now, let’s say you put all two hundred episodes on an iPod and then set the system to play the episodes in random order. If you then gave the iPod to a person who had never seen a single episode of Friends, would his enjoyment, or even understanding, of the show be greatly diminished with the episodes played in this jumbled order?

Sure the hairstyles would change, but that would almost literally be the only difference. Story arcs? Not so much. Character growth? Minimal. Perhaps the biggest single storyline of the entire run of the show was whether Rachel and Ross would be together. But they got together and split up so many times (we were on a break!), it didn’t really matter what the state of affairs was during a particular episode. I think it’s particularly hysterical that the title of each episode began with, “The one with…”, as if even the shows writers couldn’t tell one episode from another with much distinction.

Again, this isn’t a critique of the show exactly; I watched just about every week during the show’s run. And it was certainly a popular, successful show that captured the cultural zeitgeist of the time.

Now, compare Friends to another popular show of a roughly similar time period – The X Files. Yes, they had their one-off episodes, but by and large they created a mythology, a DINU that the viewers followed over the life of the show. If you jumped in only for the last four episodes on the series, you’d be utterly baffled.

Ok, well maybe sitcoms aren’t trying to create DINUs, that’s not their raison d’etre. Then I would ask, ‘why not?’ Why wouldn’t you want to build a property that creates fans to the extent The X-Files, The Sopranos and Twin Peaks did? For that matter, how about to the level The Simpsons has? Talk about a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe. And the irony is that The Simpsons live in a world where time stands still. No one has aged and the characters haven’t really changed, yet the creators of the show have created a universe that is rich in detail, far richer than just about any show in television history.

Another example that dramas build DINUs where sitcoms do not: The Law and Order and CSI franchises.  These aren’t quite spin-offs in the way Laverne & Shirley was a spin-off of Happy Days, or Cheers begat Fraser, but they clearly extend the DINU of the original shows. Can you imagine four different versions of Two and Half Men or My Name is Earl?

Maybe this is one of the reasons we see fewer and fewer traditional sitcoms on television. Certainly HBO could make a sitcom if they wanted to, but they don’t. HBO tells stories that engage viewers and by and large that means dramas like The Wire, Six Feet Under or Deadwood

Are there, or have there been, sitcoms that strive for something a bit deeper, or does the nature of the genre preclude it? M*A*S*H wasn’t exactly your traditional sitcom, but would fall into the parameters of the genre. Certainly it is a great example of transmedia storytelling, starting off as a novel before sliding across to film, a hit television show and spin-offs that branched out quite far from the original (Trapper John, M.D. was set some 20+ years after the end of the Korean War).

That program, especially near the end of its run, developed a strong DINU, mostly through the character of Hawkeye Pierce. The show’s finale features the mental breakdown of Pierce, the lead character. Can’t quite imagine that happening on How I Met Your Mother. It’s probably no coincidence that the series finale is still the single most watched television episode in history.

I’d love to see somebody take a chance on developing a different type of sitcom where the characters do indeed grow and evolve and the storylines last more than 30 minutes. If properties as disparate as The Simpsons and M*A*S*H can achieve success through building Deeply Immersive Narrative Universes it seems worth taking a shot.