Yesterday was the annual ConnectedTV Conference Brighton, where a range of industry experts guided us through the changes that are effecting the way people consume television. There were many lessons regarding the inevitable changes in how content is written, and how advertisers can interact with the audience. I’ve chosen to summarise what was most interesting to me, and that fits into two blog posts about TV advertising, audience consideration and content writing insights. This one concerns storytelling and the audience in modern media; I’ll follow it with one that’s all about the YouTube insights.
The old storytelling model
Event curator Matt Locke, previously of Channel 4, now the head of Storythings, questioned how the nature of modern storytelling is changing. The way we experience media, and the way the audience interacts with it to demonstrate interest, is an ever-evolving thing, and it has developed from earlier ‘spike and like’ models to more complex and fluid possibilities for the future.
The ‘spike and like’ comes from the idea that stories are scheduled for broadcast, so should be consumed by everyone at once – a spike in attention – with “likes” (recorded through whatever means) increasingly relied on to provide one big number for analysis. The audience is more complicated than this, though, impossible to represent as one number and, now, impossible to cajole into watching a piece of entertainment at one time.
The future of story consumption
There are now four major ways that previously simple scheduled broadcast media are being consumed:
Binging: an increasingly common phenomenon where viewers are accustomed to pooling an entire season of a TV show and watching it in a short space of time. This has been encouraged by frontrunners like Netflix, where shows like House of Cards are designed with more flow than the stop and start of scheduled drama. Arrested Development‘s new season, apparently, was even originally conceived of as being watched in any order, as all episodes were available at once. This binging consumption has been around for a while: Matt noted that even four years ago, over 70% of the audience of Skins watched it outside its schedule. Whole seasons may now have to be considered as a whole, without scheduled gaps. This begs the question, how will binging change the storytelling format?
The Pledge: groups like KickStarter have changed the way producers look at a story. By encouraging the audience to actively support the stories they like, it builds a sense of involvement, and will inevitably build expectations of perks and involvement. This involves the audience long before the story is told, and leads to the question of how attitudes to risk and audience relationships will change in the creative process.
Long Live Event: pioneered by shows like Big Brother, where regular consumption is a matter of experimental viewing of an extended broadcast, with regular magazine shows summarising or repeating the most interesting aspects. The show becomes more like a news report, most useful for reality TV and nature shows. It’s relevant for areas like Saturday night entertainment, too, as repetition and summaries give viewers the opportunity to tune in and out, and use complementary social media (something covered a few times in the conference).
Reports: people are increasingly consuming data about themselves. Reports on how the players at home were doing made a large part of the success of Million Pound Drop, another theme that surfaced a few times during the day. The most successful online campaigns are those that involve the audience, and demonstrate that involvement. Other examples given included Paddy Power’s advertising campaign sky-writing Tweets, and the groundbreaking use of an ad break dominated by recent tweets about the Prometheus trailer.
Mobilising the audience
Andy Keetch from Brandwatch and Antony Mayfield from Brilliant Noise gave an excellent presentation highlighting how modern media is disrupting all industries and audience considerations. Building on this idea that the ‘spike and like’ considerations are reductive, they highlighted how complex the audience really is; and how advertisers and producers should embrace that complexity. It gives massive opportunities for creativity, and great insights to what is and (crucially) isn’t working. An extreme example is the use of President Obama’s data analysts during the US election of 2012, who could tell, thanks to social media, exactly who they needed to influence to sway the tide of the campaign.
This was possible because the analysts understood the data in a complex way; not just that a certain group needed to be influenced, but that there were other, more attentive groups, that could influence them. There’s an important message here, because in TV, especially with social media, simple viewing figures or figures of how much discussion there is doesn’t actually mean much on its own.
Attention has to be given to the details of who is using social media and how. 50,000 might people Tweet about a program, and such a number might be bandied about as a great success, but it’s for nothing if those 50,000 people are complaining. There are great opportunities in social media data to understand who and what audiences are tweeting about, what they like and dislike, and when in a show they are talking. All of which can, used correctly, inform effective programming.
Innovating for the future
Much of the remaining talks in the day concerned how we can innovate this data and storytelling to better appeal to audiences. The BBC’s Holly Goodier advised adaptive audience measurements, LatestTV’s Angi Mariana spoke about the complexities of appealing to different groups (and the possibilities of global media, even in local settings), and Andy Eades, from event sponsors Relentless Software, explained the importance of designing technology with a better understanding of usability, and the real user.
There were also some examples from The Project Factory of how to put many of these lessons into practice. In the interests of involving the audience, and providing digital media that truly crosses multi-platform boundaries, they have run real-time tweeting campaigns for The British, an immersive web experience for the movie Spirit of ’45 and, most interestingly, a campaign of games and competitions that bridged the summer break of a popular Dutch soap opera. These were all effective examples of the crucial message of the day: that the audience wants to get more involved in the program, and that with the technology available, the storytelling experience can be expanded in innovative and considerate ways.