I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about content creation recently.
This great article from GQ (via @storythings) covers the disruption at both ends of the film and TV industry – there are umpteen platforms offering original content now, including YouTube Red, Crackle, Apple Music, Netflix, Facebook’s recent push into original content and in the US, platforms exclusively for subscribers to a particular mobile phone network. So the old distribution models of production companies being commissioned by TV channels to make a series and film studios producing movies to push through cinema distributors is starting to fall apart. You can see why Netflix’s Okja got such a grouchy reception at Cannes Film Festival this year.
To compound matters, marketing all this content has got a lot more complicated too. News about dud blockbusters spreads fast over social media and all the 48 sheets in the world can’t counter the effect of your boyfriend’s cousin posting on facebook that he saw it on it’s opening weekend but hated it. The world’s sci-fi fans and geeks can now confer online and agree that, yes, Batman v. Superman was rubbish. Studios now dutifully turn up at ComicCon (often months before the film’s release date) with exclusive trailers from their next superhero blockbuster plus the entire cast in the hopes of securing widespread fan buzz and endorsement.
In other words, the content consumers are now calling the shots – and not just about what gets made but also about who is in it. The GQ article points out that while some big stateside youtubers are moving into acting and taking their followers with them, trained, experienced actors are routinely now being asked at TV and movie auditions how many followers they have. Actors are not only now expected to bring an audience with them to their latest project, but to also act as part of that project’s marketing mix. As the article puts it, Constantly Reminding People You Exist Is Now Part of the Job.
A similar story is being played out on Broadway. Todrick Hall was a actor making an OK living playing ensemble (chorus if you’re a Brit) parts in musicals. He must have realised that his upwards trajectory had stalled, so he took himself off to LA and started making youtube videos. 2.2M youtube followers and an MTV series later, he returned to Broadway as a name-that-puts-bums-on-seats lead in Kinky Boots.
Moving on to music, dodie’s new EP You steamed into the UK iTunes chart at no.2 last weekend, but unless you have a teenage girl in your household or spend more time on youtube than is entirely healthy you probably haven’t heard of her. She has close to 1.5M followers on youtube, a manager, merchandise, she does proper touring with support acts but, basically, doesn’t need radio airplay to sell a respectable amount of downloads and tour tickets.
The point I’m making is that on pretty much every entertainment front, content distribution and consumption has changed so significantly in the last few years that there’s a commitment problem, on both sides. Why spend three years developing a $150M movie that could tank if influencer geeks decide early on that they hate it? Why should music labels spend money on finding and developing new artists? Equally, rather than choosing which of the eight films currently showing I want to watch at the multiplex, I can sit on the comfort of my own sofa and choose from thousands on a list tailored to my viewing history.
And if there’s this much of a commitment problem around content that people actually pay to access, what about branded content storytelling, otherwise known as Advertising? Basically, if we’re still kidding ourselves that our latest car or sofa ad is content valued and searched out by our target audience then the marketing industry has a bigger problem than the film studios.