Saturday, April 27, 2013
When I was a kid there were only five TV channels in Australia.
Five. That's it.
Now, before you start claiming I am one of the ancients, this is only my 31st year on the planet.
In 31 years, we went from five channels to over a hundred.
And let's not forget the internet.
Oh yes, as horrifying as it seems, there was a time when the net was only something for oranges, hair, or tennis.
Now, the future of viewing is online, whether on your phone, tablet, or web-enabled television.
The effect of these changes have been like a clusterbomb.
More content produced than ever.
Increased opportunities to connect with audiences.
Decreased ability to stand out in the crowd of content.
So, like all evolutionary processes, there are winners and losers.
The most significant effect, and one that all filmmakers should pay attention to, isaudience sophistication.
Yes, audiences are becoming more savvy.
No longer are motion pictures something we see only occasionally. They're ingrained everywhere.
Websites. TV. Phones. Even billboards.
The one constant for the human mind, is that the more exposed it is to a stimuli, the more sophisticated it becomes at discerning microscopic elements that define differences and quality.
Case in point. There is a wonderful story of one of the first ever films being shown to an audience. It was a short, black-and-white film of a train heading directly towards the camera.
The audience freaked out.
They were convinced that the train was about to come through the screen and end their lives horrifically.
Can you imagine this happening today?
Of course not. This degree of novelty has worn off of movies and video content.
Today's audiences have become so sophisticated, it takes only the slightest poor artistic choice within a film to lose their engagement.
But it's not all gloom. With the growth in audience sophistication has grown their demand for content.
No longer a novelty, but no longer a luxury either.
Almost a necessity?
That may be a stretch, but it is fair to say that most people in the developed world could not imagine life without their entertainment.
This appetite is good for film and content creators, obviously.
There is, however, a caveat. We creators must evolve with the audience too.
And it is an evolution. The traditional 'we create, you watch' model still exists of course, but video entertainment is increasingly a participatory sport.
Don't believe me? Google 'Harlem Shake'.
Or better yet, watch this excellent TED talk from the Video Trend Manager at Youtube. His job is to watch Youtube videos all day, and he gives an entertaining presentation on the evolution of audience engagement through video.
Pay particular attention to the idea of "communities of participation".
How more sophisticated do you think our audiences become when they make their own content too?
People are even sharing the minute details of their lives through video, socially. A new app by the makers of Twitter, called 'Vine', allows people to share 6 seconds of their life at a time.
You can then watch these tiny snippets, for hours if you are so inclined, at a website called vinepeek.com. It is fascinating, and (I warn you now) extremely addictive.
Tiny snippets of life, shared in a constant stream of video.
Incredible. Unthinkable not that many years ago. Now a reality.
And this is the world you face as a storyteller today.
But what does it mean?
It means that you can be terrified by this evolving world of increasing audience sophistication.
Or you can realise that the audience will push you to do your greatest work. If you let them.
It means that the way we tell stories today, will not necessarily be the way we tell stories in the future.
But that's not a bad thing. Imagine evolving filmmaking to the point of fully immersive stories and 'choose your own adventure'? How much fun could that be for the creator and the audience?
Most of all, it means that creators understanding and grasping the fundamentals of great storytelling (connection, emotion, entertainment) will be more important than ever.
Because good enough won't be good enough.
The audiences have grown up.
They're ready for your best work.
Are you ready to create it?
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