Industry Report: Digital
Forward thinking: cross-media value
- In the final part of a short series reviewing the Power to the Pixel Think Tank in London, Michael Gubbins looks at how the panel believed value and business models could be derived from cross-media work.
As discussed in the first two parts, at the core of the cross-media movement are two ideas: the empowered content creator and the engaged audience or collaborator.
Terms such as ‘empowerment’ and ‘engagement’ have been somewhat devalued by overuse in marketing documents and consultancy reports. What the Think Tank – and indeed the whole Power to the Pixel London forum – aimed to achieve is to show these terms not as cliches but as the practical base for any future business models.
For the Think Tank members, however, this should not be the starting point for discussing a cross-media future. The main motivation is not to find a replacement for crumbling industrial models any more than it is replacing one media form with another.
The panel kept returning to something much more basic – the storytelling impulse.
"What I have learned is that our job is not making films but telling stories and storytelling is a fundamental human need", said Michel Reilhac, executive director of Arte France Cinema.
This instinctive creation of narrative will not be tied down by the shackles of individual industry models or narrow windows of exploitation, according to the panel.
For a big majority of those who are, and will, use new cross-media opportunities to tell their stories, the term ‘model’ will be wholly irrelevant. Most will have no desire to "monetise" anything.
Cheap tools, free distribution and dynamic new platforms will drive an explosion in audiovisual content, most of which will not be motivated by commerce.
A small proportion of this work may find its way to a bigger audience than the community for which it was originally intended but this will be a secondary issue.
But all this cross-media activity which is growing as fast as devices are produced will generate interest in the more expensive and expansive work elsewhere – just as grassroots sport and music helps drive professional teams and live concerts etc.
Crowdsourcing and creative commons
At the next level, there will be those who are motivated by reaching large audiences for politicial reasons, such as Age Of Stupid; or as a means of sharing creative work. These may well be financed by supporters and fans (crowdsourced) and freely shared with money raised through donations, ancillary sales, such as merchandising, special DVD editions etc.
This is again not intended as a business model for all film but will be a part of a mixed economy of film-making and cross-media storytelling . Those already engaged in such activity have often discovered an enthusiastic community of supporters who show extraordinary generosity.
And some of the panel believe that far from a radical departure, such approaches mark a return to the way that stories were told in previous generations.
What technology has provided is a means to reach beyond national boundaries and industry models to find communities selected by common interest rather than an accident of birth.
This opens up the potential for more diverse content, with groups finding each other throughout the world, a fact already being exploited by some diasporic communities.
As suggested above, the cross-media movement is not about an alchemistic search for a grand solution to the problems of today’s crumbling industrial models.Yet most of the panel are convinced that strong commercial models will emerge and are already taking shape.
The challenge to the industrial status quo from the cross-media movement is to see beyond the idea that value can only be based on licensing, rights, territories and windows.
The focus should not be about trying to prop up the system but on audience.
The business model of the film industry is not broken because of lack of demand, goes the argument, quite the opposite. It is that demand cannot be financially channeled through the current narrow rights and windows-based models.
The Think Tank suggested that value will be derived from turning the relationship with audiences into business, shifting from a licensing to a services model.
Cross-media business ideas are based on stimulating demand, and working to service that demand by understanding audiences and behaviour. Where possible, that extends into sharing ownership and collaborating with that audience.
"Closing the gap between author and audience should be seen as a business boon", according to Slava Rubin, Co-Founder of IndieGoGo, who was bullish about the financial prospects.
"This is all opportunity and a chance to make more money than we ever have before. I can test plotlines in advance and can build a fanbase", he said. "If you can get 100, 000 followers, you’ve got a career".
It is an argument that at least should be understood by those working today in creative industries, even if they remain sceptical.
If you can know your audience, you can create tailored content for a known fanbase; collaborate with that audience and you gain an engaged community on which to base business; aggregate audiences and you begin to see the basis for bigger-budget models.
Taking the narrative across different media platforms offers different opportunities to engage audiences.
Sometimes, as with live-action role-playing games (LARP), it is possible to give the audience a very literal active role.
Each platform offers a new means to draw audiences into an immersive and collaborative relationship with the content which opens up commercial opportunities and a dynamic relationship which can be taken into other ventures.
"The story will drive the value propostion across platforms", says Lance Weiler, who has been doing pioneering work in this area. "The ways that you bridge devices will bring new possibilities".
The success of iPhone apps and texting, it was suggested, shows how digital platforms can generate income.
Data and brand building
A bi-product of interactive relationships is freely-exchanged data, which carries a value.
Weiler again sees big potential: "The more data you have and the more that you can use it to connect people, the more you generate value. The question is how do we protect that data and use it in innovative ways? We’re talking about building audiences, but I think it’s about you facilitate those connections".
This generation and use of data is an obsession in other areas of the media, including the advertising world, says Ben Malbon, Managing Partner and Founder of BBH Labs, although he warns "most people don’t even know what data is".
"In advertising, we try to work out what’s most important and get rid of the rest. The movement within advertising is around adaptive branding – live campaign creation. It’s very challenging, but it’s something film storytelling could learn from".
The biggest cultural change for film will be in creating business which is transparent.
"Openness leads to trust", says Malbon. "Maybe that’s where you get generosity and people wanting to be involved".
Obstacles remain to the progress of the cross-media movement.
Perhaps the biggest is the pressure for restrictions on the web to protect copyright-based business. Net-neutrality is a major tenet of cross-media philosophy and plays an important role in the models being developed. There is a potential fight between the existing proprietary business.
Then there are technical problems in terms of standards that allow easy movement across media platforms.
One of the driving forces that will make business possible is a sense of optimism in stark contrast to the resigned protectionism of much media industry debate.
The reality of close, collaborative relationships with audiences and the proliferation of tools and methods of distribution gives the cross-media movement a sense of purpose.
Rather than trying to hold on to anything, there is a sense of renewal and a removing of psychological as well as economic barriers to progress.
"It’s rare to feel that anything can happen but that is the sense now", says Reilhac. "It’s up to us to make it become a reality and that is a real privilege".