Realscreen West ’19: How to change the game with digital

Emerging technologies and interactive strategies were major topics during day one of Realscreen West. If used well, tech can go a long way to enhance unscripted programming. That was one major ...
June 5, 2019

Emerging technologies and interactive strategies were major topics during day one of Realscreen West.

If used well, tech can go a long way to enhance unscripted programming. That was one major takeaway from two panels yesterday (June 4).

First up was a Trendwatch panel on interactive unscripted. The moderator was Melissa Grego, CEO of the Hollywood Radio & Television Society (HRTS). Panelists were Jack Burgess, EVP of development and current at Studio Lambert USA; David Eilenberg, chief creative officer at ITV America; Allison Grodner, founder and executive producer at Fly on the Wall Entertainment; and Alon Shtruzman, CEO, Keshet International.

A common sentiment among the panelists was the need to take a step back and not force interactivity.

“Our philosophy is the creative has to come first. Creative leads the technology,” said Grodner.

There’s no use in trying to force interactivity as a starting point. There are established genres and viewership patterns, and technology is far better suited to taking advantage of those than to reinventing the wheel.

“It’s much easier to identify an existing behavior or an existing technology and use it as a jumping off point than it is to try to create a behavior using content,” said Eilenberg.

It’s also important to recognize that interactivity isn’t something that needs to be built from the ground up. Technologies not developed with unscripted TV in mind have already became sites of engagement, like Twitter, where a show can be trending without any input from creators or marketing teams. Just as the water cooler was once a space for interaction between viewers, social media is already helping to allow viewers to interact with each other.

“Interactivity happens without us,” said Eilenberg. “A lot of it now is people wanting to interact with each other and with the show itself. You want to think about interactivity as dialogue. On social, when people Tweet at the show, they expect the show to respond. Part of interactivity is understanding the voice of the show.”

Meanwhile, a later panel, “The New Players of Digital Media,” offered similar insights on breaking into digital content where technology is a necessary part of innovation, but it can’t be everything, and it often can’t even be the starting point.

Evan Shapiro, president of National Lampoon served as moderator, with guests Jesus Chavez, CEO of Vertical Networks; Mickey Meyer, president of network at Group Nine Media; Dana Olkkonen, head of content operations at Vox Media Studios; and Bruce Perlmutter, SVP of production at Conde Nast Entertainment.

Digital media companies can make use of a wealth of data to determine how programming might work across platforms. That doesn’t mean a popular short form digital video will necessarily work as a long-form linear series, but it can point to an appetite for certain types of content for different demos.

There is, again, no silver bullet. Vox, for example, sometimes partners with other producers and prodcos while sometimes producing in-house. It depends on the project, and being aware of that can make a huge difference.

Brands are also extremely important. In a digital space, with a consistent voice and recognizable forward-facing brand companies can use digital tools to raise their profile rather than fully disrupting the industry.

One of the most important conclusions to come out of the panel was the notion of remaining adaptable to find and keep your audience.

Meyer, for example, suggested that Group Nine’s The Dodo was able to create hugely popular content around stories of animals overcoming adversity.

“We noticed that those stories were really taking off, and so we developed a mid-form show called Comeback Kids, and we launched it with Facebook Watch,” he said. From there, The Dodo leveraged its relationship with Discovery to launch the series Dodo Heroes on Animal Planet, this time focused on the humans who help animals in their journeys to rehabilitation, creating a show that performed well in the process.

In short, the panelists agreed that while technology is a game changer, it also has great potential to serve the material and help find its audience.

(Photo by Nelson Blanton)

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