The Day Before Tomorrow: How can we create entertainment content that allows us to participate even more?

The Drum's Day Before Tomorrow series of 30-minute films exploring technological disruption continued last night with the screening of the fourth episode in London, looking at entertainment.

An audience including representatives of the TV, film, music, theatre and gaming industries gathered to watch the film, written and presented by The Drum’s head of TV Dave Birss.

The screening was followed by a panel debate chaired by The Drum editor and founder Gordon Young, featuring Nigel Vaz of SapientNitro, Dave Birss and Doug Zanger of Advertising Week.

The film explored topics including how technology has slashed costs of production and distribution of entertainment content, but has simultaneously impacted quality and how artists get rewarded. The convergence of different entertainment form, the role of brands, and the effects of giving consumers power over the entertainment they want to consume, were also explored in the film.

Birss kicked off by pointing out there are important lessons to be learned from the gaming industry about interactivity, which must be applied to other forms of entertainment. In particular, he asked: “How can we create content that allows us to participate even more?”

The gaming industry has also been exploring how changing the parameters of a game can affect the behaviour of the players, turning games into a test-bed and perhaps even a tool for education.

Vaz agreed that gaming can help with education, but added that it can also be used to explore a number of developments which have much wider uses – micropayments in the mobile industry, for example.

But he argued that even in gaming, technology is overturning the established order. ‘Traditional’ gaming companies producing titles for desktop and console machines which target an audience of predominantly teenage males are losing power due to a shift to ‘casual’ games played on mobile devices. “So Electronic Arts is dwarfed by casual gaming companies. And the audience for casual games are not teenagers, but women aged 35 to 55.”

In music, technology has given consumers more choice, said Zanger. It has also allowed artists more control over their own ‘narrative’ and much lower entry costs so they can be their own publishers. That changes the route to success, which becomes more about building a following: “A lot of artists are very savvy and very good at communicating with their audiences. Some artists are incredibly accommodating.”

With revenues from individual track sales low, artists have to look to more sources of income, like ringtones, licensing songs for use in ads and live performances.

Zanger said: “Live is very healthy – we are seeing more tickets sold than ever. The physical environment, like venues, is so much better now and the festival industry is growing.” But technology now allows artists to start small and build up when it comes to live performances: as Zanger explained, they can start with “coffee houses, then house shows, then move up to bigger venues…”

And brands could get involved with creating such micro-concerts, becoming involved with acts that appeal to their target demographics.

Vaz observed that the impact of technology in the music industry has also been to break the dominance of the album. The era of record companies getting away with bundling a few great tracks with many more average ones is almost over: "Now, people can pick exactly what they want." That means musicians have to make sure that every track is good “and every element has to add something”.

The same challenges to the established order face the TV industry, the panel agreed. As Birss pointed out, some YouTubers making and distributing video content are “getting audiences that are so niche, broadcasters could never understand them”. But “if you’re on YouTube, you can be as niche as you like.”

At the same time, Birss stressed, some YouTubers are also getting audiences in the millions, well in excess of many ‘established’ TV programmes, at a fraction of the cost and without the political or social agendas that large broadcasters tend to be saddled with.

“Most TV channels are like museums. They are curators. With YouTube, content creators can reach the mass niche – or the niche mass," said Vaz. What that means is you can target audiences which may be small in each country, but scale up quickly on a global level: “So you can have a programme for girls about fashion – but the audience is in 115 countries."

Brands can get involved in creating and distributing content, but success will depend on relevance to and empathy with the people they want to buy their products, observed Zanger. “You need to be adding value for your audience and you need to understand the culture of the people” – in the way that Nike understands ‘sneakerheads’, for example.

Looking to the future, Vaz pointed out that ultimately data analytics will mean content can be tailored exactly to a single individual's needs; and that will lead to a situation where "entertainment can become so personalised it will be the equivalent of human genome-based drugs".

The Day Before Tomorrow series is available on The Drum's YouTube channel.

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Martin Croft

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