A precedent has been set. We are living in the age of participatory media. If we as content creators, producers, production companies and networks want to keep and grow our audiences, we need to stay on top of these changes and develop new ways to further turn viewers into participants.
In a recent article for TechCrunch, VC at GRP Partners Mark Suster predicts that the future of television will be more participatory than social. Mark suggests that the shift in the industry is moving more towards participation. He uses the most recent viral YouTube meme, ‘The Harlem Shake,’ as an example of how low cost production and storage, along with increasing bandwidth, will drive people to be less passive and more involved in the creation of “television,” whether broadcast or online.
The foundation for participatory media had been established as early as 1982, when Hip-Hop ensemble Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force released a music video comprised mostly of crowdsourced footage. Producers since have integrated fan created media into their content as a way to further engage their audiences.
In 2011, FOX’s X-Factor supplemented their live broadcast show with an online pre-show and second screen experience. As Producer and Director of the X-Factor Digital Experience, a goal we set for the show was to further build the X-Factor brand in the U.S. while engaging its audience before, during and after the live TV broadcast.
The X-Factor pre-show turned participatory, inviting its audience to Skype live with the hosts of the pre-show and judges of the TV broadcast. Live tweets from fans were read and responded to in real-time. Fans were also encouraged to vote on performance elements, such as wardrobe and song choice, further blurring the line between viewing and contributing. All of this and more was happening not on the “Main Screen,” but on secondary devices such as mobile and tablet. As a result, X-Factor Digital received the greatest social media response of any broadcast in 2011. Over 1000 hours of original content was created yielding nearly 3 billion engagements over the course of 15 weeks.
In the summer of 2011, alternative rock band Incubus took things one step further by giving fans unprecedented access, both online and on-site. IncubusHQ Live was a week long, live stream that invited fans of the band into their rehearsal space for a once in a lifetime experience. Performances, instrument clinics and Q&A’s were conducted for both fans in attendance and viewers tuning in to IncubusHQ.com. Various social media interfaces were introduced, including TweetBeam and Viddy, to help create a real-time, personal, global conversation between fans and the band.
My career is full of experience turning audiences into participants using a variety of techniques and technologies. Amongst all of the participatory experiences that I’ve helped create, there is a single tie that binds: individual storytelling. No matter the means, producers must act as facilitators towards making audiences feel like they are a part of the greater context, regardless of their location or affiliation. In fact, the technology is the easy part. It’s ready and in the hands of willing audiences/creators in the form of smartphones and tablets containing the proper apps. The interest lies in how content producers use these technologies to help tell a story from an individual who contributes with a participatory point of view.
I would love to tell you more about how participatory media has played a part in my role as a storyteller. On Wednesday, March 20th at 2:40pm, I will be speaking on a panel titled Connected Content on Multi Screens and Devices at the Digital Media Summit, moderated by Ted Cohen, Managing Partner at digital entertainment consulting firm TAG Strategic. I’ll also be presenting a case study of Incubus HQ Live on Thursday, March 21st at 11:50 AM at Canadian Music Week. This project was a real-time participatory documentary and media exhibit created in collaboration with the band. Both sessions are sure to be a lively, insightful discussion on how content creators are furthering the participatory genre. Hope to see you there!More