Wednesday, January 06, 2016


What follows will make a lot more sense if you have read the previous Tales From the Opening Act: 'Love Thy Audience, Part 1: The $21 Hamburger'

Do you ever get so caught on a problem that you give yourself a dull ache trying to break through?

I seem to be having a lot of those days of late.

When did everything get so complicated? So many things that used to just work, don't function properly anymore.

It's one big purple haze, and I'm here, stuck in the middle with you. Both of us with perplexed looks on our faces.

Only it's not just us.

I heard a story from the recent 'Screen Producers of Australia' Conference. A panel of experts, many from the Unites States and overseas, were talking about the changing business and distribution models for film and television. Someone asked them, 'do you know what the business will look like in three years?'

Blank faces. Silence.

How did this happen? How did our, so-called, experts become so lost?

Has the world changed so irrevocably, or is it us?

Strangely, I think it's neither.

What we seem to be learning now, is that we simply weren't previously paying attention to the little details.

Remember when you were a child and the drink machine was always magically full? Just because you don't see the strings, doesn't mean the puppets are moving on their own.

And so it is with our confusion today.

For better or worse, audiences were once forced to sit through endless advertisements on television. A young couple were coerced to visit a cinema to see the latest movie. To hear the song you wanted on the radio, you had to endure a torrent of mindless chatter and hours of bad commercials.

Do we honestly believe this is how the audience wanted it? That they wouldn't have skipped every advertisement and interruption from their desired content if they had the chance?

That creators were allowed to ignore the desires of the audience, their experience, for so long is a testament to how restricted audiences were by the means of distribution. Captives, figuratively speaking.

Then, the internet happened.

Viewership exploded. People watch more than they ever have.

But not the way we want them to.

And this dilemma, this confusion around the inability to force audiences to behave how we want, is where we are today.

So, through all this technological disruption, what has changed exactly?


Execution is still the key. Those who consider the audience experience as they create content will be rewarded with viewers. Those who don't will fail.

But this dichotomy of winners and losers has always been the case. For every 'Avatar', there was a 'Heaven's Gate'. The internet has simply swollen the need for flawless execution, because so much content is now available and competing with each other.

Same as it ever was.

And herein lies the rub for content creators. The audience's desire for content hasn't faltered, nor has the need to consider the audience experience in your creative process. There is, however, a fundamental change that needs to occur for everyone to prosper.

You, content creators. You need to change.

You need to shift your entire way of thinking. You must end your slavish devotion to the 'supply side'. Just because audiences were once dictated to, doesn't mean that's the way it is supposed to be. We live in an 'on-demand' world now, and audience demand is the golden egg.

If you want to thrive as a content creator, there are three key lessons you must learn.

FIRST, the old vernacular doesn't apply anymore. Just ask Kevin Spacey:

If you don't have the time to watch this, you should make time. If you are terribly bereft of any spare moments, however, I will illuminate the key point.

Pretty soon, everything will be plugged into the big internet pipe. Your TV. Your computer. Your tablet. Your phone. Even your fridge.

So, what is 'television' when it is actually delivered over the internet to a tablet?

What is a 'film', when the project is entirely shot on a digital video camera? What is a filmmaker who doesn't call "action" on a single roll of film?

It's actually no longer helpful for content creators to think in these historic terms. The terminology limits a creator's thinking about their work.

Is it any wonder that the most innovative and successful work available is the content that has started to ignore these traditional demarcations? Binge watching content, like 'House of Cards' on Netflix, has become a real phenomenon.

So, forget the old terms and the preconceptions they came with. Now it's all 'content' or 'visual storytelling'.

Long Form. Short Form. Interactive. Mobile. Serialised. It's about the audience's experience of it. That is all that matters.

SECOND, making can't be the prize.

If you are a supply side thinker, you are elated to simply have completed your film.


Your parents and friends may be thrilled for you, but if you are not looking to find an audience with your creative work, you have engaged in a self-congratulatory exercise and wasted a lot of people's time.

Harsh but true.

And sadly, the current focus of many creators seems to be on the 'achievement' of making a film, despite completely abysmal audience numbers. This paradox is particularly true in Australia, where the total Box Office share of Australian films is at an almost record low of 2.18% whilst we simultaneously celebrate an increase in how much is being spent on making content.

We're like a child making an ashtray for a non-smoker, then asking for a biscuit. It's nonsensical.

THIRD, it's not enough to interrupt, you must want to be desired.

Supply side thinkers are interrupters. What you desire as an audience is not important. A supply side creator wants to interrupt your life and force you to view their work in the way that they choose.

Interrupters need to take a lesson from 'Uncle Drew'.

For the uninitiated, 'Uncle Drew' is a character created by NBA basketball superstar Kyrie Irving. Using hours of latex application and make-up, the 22 year-old Irving is transformed into the 60 year old 'Uncle Drew', who then travels to a suburban, outdoor basketball court to play pick-up games against unknowing opponents. When the seemingly grandfatherly 'Uncle Drew' begins to reveal his considerable athletic skills, the results, and the reactions from his opponents, are quite hilarious.

57 million people have watched 'Uncle Drew' Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

That may seem only mildly remarkable, in this Youtube era, but the success of 'Uncle Drew' is noteworthy.

Because 'Uncle Drew' is all branded content for Pepsi.

Yes, you heard me correctly. 57 million people CHOSE to watch a Pepsi advertisement.

Even the people at Pepsi were amazed:
"The success of 'Uncle Drew' changed the way all of us at Pepsi now think of digital marketing," said Adam Harter, vice president of consumer engagement at the company. "It comes at a time where advertising is going from the interruptive model of trying to get your attention while you are watching something that you want to watch to a model that is more inviting, where people actually want to watch the engaging content that you produce."

At last, clarity through the haze of confusion.

The world seems so bewildering, but so little has actually changed.

You must love thy audience.

You must think about their experience in your creative process.

And you must stop thinking from the 'supply side', including the terminology you use.

Because you have a choice, in this 'on demand' world.

Will your work be the audience's desired viewing?

Or will you be their interruption?

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