The final day of the 20th annual Realscreen Summit in Washington, DC came to a close Wednesday (Jan. 31), but not before innovative creators pushing design and technology in the non-fiction space had their say.
Moderated by realscreen‘s editor and content director Barry Walsh, the panel – titled “Where’s the Big Idea?” – discussed finding projects in different spaces that resonate and whether there’s any place for interactivity in the television landscape.
Walsh was joined on stage by Robert DeFranco, director of business development at The Future Group; Anthony Geffen, CEO & creative director at Atlantic Productions; and Brett-Patrick Jenkins, head of development at Propagate Content.
Storytelling comes first
A seasoned veteran in the burgeoning medium of Virtual Reality (VR) with such projects as David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef and Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees, Atlantic Productions’ Geffen said the one thing he’s learned since stepping into the space is how difficult VR business models can be. Though the technology may be remarkable enough to push a sale, it’s the hollow storytelling that is keeping the medium back, he said.
“I blame the storytelling, because if the stories are right and if it’s a must-have medium, the businesses will come,” Geffen said. “A lot of stuff I see in VR is lazy, boring, there’s no point to it. The real incentive for VR lies in raising our game – we need to be much better storytellers in this new medium.
“The potential’s huge. The audience doesn’t care what R it is, they care about the experience,” he added.
Jenkins of Los Angeles-based Propagate agreed with Geffen’s key principle, adding that finding new ways to push storytelling will ultimately sell the immersive technology that’s taking the viewer places traditional mediums have not allowed them to go.
“Respectfully to all of our distribution partners, it’s projects like Great Barrier Reef that will allow some of the pitches we’ve been doing at Propagate to find homes,” he added. “Some of these ideas now that are hitting the marketplace, we were pitching three years ago, but because there wasn’t a model that you could point to it went over everyone’s head.
DeFranco of the Oslo-headquartered Future Group, meanwhile, said that now that the studio has demonstrated its ability to bring ambitious visions to life – as seen via the success of the “gamefied” FremantleMedia format Lost in Time in Norway – the move is on to provide content companies with the ability to “futurize” their programming while also developing the studio’s in-house content development capability.
“We want to be that [great storytellers] but, we’re still trying to sell technology at the same time,” he said.
The Norwegian company is responsible for having created Interactive Mixed Reality (IMR), which blends mixed-reality viewing with real-time interactivity on a mobile device.
Look for projects in different spaces
Out of the gate, Propagate targeted new platforms to get its content seen. The company’s first project was Planet of the Apps with global tech giant and iPhone-maker Apple. One of Propagate’s most recent projects, Lore, found a home at digital streaming giant Amazon. In both cases, the company moved outside the typical development framework while also searching for projects in different spaces than most typical television projects might come from.
“Howard [T. Owens] always tells me ‘the riches are in the niches,’” said Jenkins. “There’s been a bias in the past 10 years against new IP and new storytellers, whether they’re podcasters or influencers. But if you create IP that fascinates the world, you’re doing something right and we can adapt it to other mediums.”
The intersection of interactivity and TV
In the past, content creators and broadcast networks have experimented with interactive television. ABC’s short-lived 2014 singing competition series Rising Star (based on Keshet Broadcasting’s The Next Star) allowed viewers to vote from the comfort of their own home for contestants via mobile apps. The singing format was canceled after one season.
While television has historically been seen as a passive medium, the future of television can be interactive. It used to be that to participate in a game show you’d have to stand in line at the studio’s headquarters, said Propagate’s Jenkins. But technology now makes it possible to be chosen as a game show participant just by sitting in your living room.
“There’s a way to make game shows that way that would create engagement and activation from living rooms across the world. The technology is just getting there,” he stated. “The key to it is being able to monetize it at scale, which primary traditional and even the new SVOD programmers don’t have a line for that.
“It takes innovation and people willing to take risks to bet on companies like these to bring it to the mainstream.”