Wildscreen ’12: Multi-platform lessons from C4, BBC

A session at Wildscreen in Bristol examined Channel 4's Foxes Live: Wild in the City (pictured) and the BBC's Springwatch, both examples of successful event programming in the UK, to discuss the state of multi-platform.
October 18, 2012

A session at Wildscreen in Bristol examined Channel 4′s (C4) Foxes Live: Wild in the City (pictured) and the BBC’s Springwatch, both examples of successful event programming in the UK, to discuss the state of multi-platform.

In April, C4 aired four episodes of Foxes Live (three of which also aired on digital channel More4), while the network’s online hub featured 24/7 streaming from two cameras placed in fox dens; user-generated content; GPS tagging; and maps, in a bid to build on the success of previous natural history streaming initiative Hippo: Wild Feast Live.

Addressing delegates at Wildscreen, the pubcaster’s multi-platform commissioning editor Kate Quilton said the biggest challenge for the project was that online and television work on totally different timelines. While the TV portion can be constantly tweaked before the TX, the Foxes Live website had to be locked down after three weeks, with all the editorial nailed down in order to ensure everything was stable and ready for the TV launch.

“Websites aren’t built for focused audiences at one time,” she said, admitting the website crashed during one of the show’s broadcasts, with the channel’s website marking the second highest traffic ever on the day that “Chico,” one of the foxes, was released back onto the streets.

For Windfall Films, producer-director Jamie Lochhead, who worked with C4 on the multi-platform event, said there was definitely a learning curve. He told the assembled crowd that in the first three weeks of the 10-week project, Windfall realized that having separate teams working independently for the broadcast and web was not working out. They dissolved the individual teams and had everyone work together.

There were other things that Lochhead learned while making Foxes Live. “We didn’t install an internet line. We used satellite boxes. It was a nightmare,” he said, adding that the team was also worried that nobody would contribute to the user-generated map.

“I was obsessed with the National Film Board of Canada’s Bear 71 project,” he said of the web doc that featured a map component where viewers could track the grizzly bear. However, once Foxes Live transmitted, 15,000 people wound up submitting fox sightings on the interactive map.

Foxes Live was a great multi-platform project, but you need great telly at its core,” he said, as the main thing he took away from the project.

C4′s specialist factual commissioning editor Sara Ramsden added that she loved the reverse supply of content from the audience, and that she’d love to find more projects like that. Specifically, she’d love to see a Big Brother animal version, but the technology isn’t there yet to accomplish such a feat.

BBC NHU’s executive producer Tim Scoones argued that he’d been doing multi-platform before the term was even invented, with Springwatch, now in its eighth year.

The television event tracks wildlife dealing with the changing seasons in Britain, and includes live streaming online and after shows. Scoones said that for every multi-platform project, three things must be satisfied: an audience need, a big buzzy event, and a deepening relationship between an audience and the brand.

“Keep it simple and don’t tell people what to do, they don’t like that,” Scoones advised.

He detailed one thing the team learned recently from the multi-platform event, when they launched a second screen pilot during last year’s Autumnwatch. “One thing you don’t want to do in a factual context is give them more facts [on the second screen],” he said, saying that too much data on the second screen muddles the audience. “Second screen is hard for factual.”

The key thing he wanted to leave with the audience, however, was: “If you don’t want to do [multi-platform], and [broadcasters] don’t want it, don’t bother.”

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