…amidst the Deluge of Data and Information: Evolving media consumption, managing audience expectation, and the responsibilities incumbent on our audiences.
Not easy, and not a simple subject.
Before I address this, though; perhaps an explanation as to where I’ve been for the past several weeks.
In the middle of Nowhere, actually…
In August, I spent two weeks in the extreme wilderness, the Gifford Pynchot region of Washington State. Invited, welcomed and embraced by a group of Native Americans and believers of disparate origin to discover, explore and “ …Walk the Red Road” (google or wikipedia it), I found my time off the grid and deep, deep in the wilderness to have been recalibrating, revivifying, regenerative.
It was a powerful experience; about which I have written, here:
I shall be returning to Washington State and this group of spiritualists, again, many times. This was exceptionally good for me; with long days and nights, completely alone on a mountaintop with no food nor water, feeling the world drain away and sensing my inner, creative, empathetic soul gather itself and strengthen my core sensibilities, feelings, talents and skills…
I recommend something such as this for every creative person; every producer, director, creative director, writer, production manager… Whether it be at some Benedictine Hermitage (one of which exists, a completely silent retreat, year-round near Big Sur) or a more peripatetic group of souls such as this to which I was called; this is a profoundly cleansing and inspirational exercise.
To find a way, in…to explore and rediscover oneself…the value of this is beyond hyperbole. Leaving familiar surroundings and spending time, alone and unhindered by Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday can be naught but healthy and positive. I offer y’all find a way to do something like this.
…and now, back to our regular programming.
As I was saying; Managing Audience Expectation…
Some weeks ago, Kevin Spacey offered an articulate rant from a London Stage to networks and broadcasters, worldwide. In this speech, he admonished the networks to pay attention to narrative, to storytelling, and to eschew the Box into which story development is regularly, traditionally forced from the beginning of “Pilot” season. Further, he strongly advocates awareness of and respect for the digitally sophisticated audience that is taking over the viewing of film / television / stories. Audience can no longer be told how and when to watch something; each individual wants to watch entertainment or experience Story the way s/he wants to, when s/he wants to and in any favorite format.
The choice now longer rests with the formerly all-powerful network; the greater cache is becoming something in the hands of the audience, rather.
He also, quite eloquently, asserted the position of the audience in choosing how we consume media experiences; our choice of screen(s), time and timing, binge versus episodic. He exhorts the networks to relinquish attempts at controlling when and how people receive the shows, and implies (imho…) a bit of a revolution, underfoot.
A revolution which I embrace, btw. Whether we “should” or not be able to watch the way we want; we shall be able to watch the way we want, and that’s that. So, what new context is this…?
Two, widely disparate, issues come to mind, here, for me.
- The first is the detrimental affect of simultaneous multi-screen viewing pathways, and
- The second is the heightened danger of the Overshare to those who’ve not yet consumed a given piece of media.
As to the first:
We’ve seen several experiments at engaging audience through offering smaller, ancillary screens within broader, immersive experiences. The idea behind this, while honorable and edgy, is founded on what I believe is a major misstep in the logic, in the thinking behind it.
People absorb story through the Right Brain. When this is happening; the less active and more dormant is the Left Brain – the analytical lobe – the more power is given the Right to absorb, to sense and feel.
The moment a second screen is introduced – one that calls for control, monitoring and input by the audience member – that emotional bond begins to fray if not outright break. For the adrenaline-based experience, this is not a problem: if it’s about the rush of a race or a thrill of a battle, that’s an experience that is about analysis and strategy, fueled by adrenalin, anyway.
But when a story has a mission to engage, emotionally – to evoke feelings and memories or simply to engage in a new narrative – the dynamic instilled by the second screen immediately detracts from the experience.
An associate of mine, George Mandella, articulates and deconstructs the quintessential example of this distraction in his column on the detrimental affects of AMC’s most recent Good Idea, “Story Synch.” It’s an idea that probably sounded great at a conference table of people who don’t know the physiology of being told a story; but, in reality, the idea…um, sucks.
Check out George’s opinion and experience, here…
So, as you are creating an Experience of a Storytelling nature, do keep in mind the dangers of distraction. I offer that, as storytellers, we want our audience immersed in the experience rather than working to personalize and manage it… Just sayin’…
Now, to the second thing…
What comes to mind as I listen to Mr. Spacey’s spot-on rant is what happens to me when I see too many, different trailers for the same film. Used to be (back in the olden days), there was one trailer for a film. Over the past decade, trailers are being designed for specific audiences thus contain different content. Often, a series of trailers is produced as production on a film continues and is completed: for that, or whatever other reasons those pesky whippersnapper MBA’s in Marketing conjure, trailers are cut and recut and shown in succession to the extent that – should one see many, disparate films – the chances are that one could see up to ten or fifteen minutes of a film through a de facto conflation of trailers.
Somewhat analogous to bit torrent technology with respect to bits and pieces and hints and teasers of a story coming into one’s consciousness from different directions at different times; the sum total offering ultimate discernment of the pending story and the resultant diminishing of the experience when the story is told.
For me, this pretty much eliminates the compulsion to pay Retail for a given film. I’ll wait for it to be released in iTunes or on AppleTV or even Netflix streaming. My Jones for the surprise twists will have been tempered so broadly with accumulated knowledge that my too-informed sense of how the movie is going to unfold depletes my desire to see it on the Big Screen.
But now…there is an entirely new risk to the not-yet-viewer, inherent in the new ability to binge-watch entire seasons as early as release-weekend, for one to absorb entire, multi-episode story arcs while one’s friends are still wiping the butts of their kids; putting the latecomers all-too-easily at risk of the proclivity of others to share significant plot twists or endings long before one has the chance to experience the unfolding narrative for oneself.
There have always been risks of some <ahem> cretin saying, “He’s already dead!” or, “She’s a guy!” or “OMG; he’s Luke’s FATHER!!!” (If you didn’t already know these, you live under a rock.)
Now, with people feeling compelled to live post and tweet even as they are watching a broadcast, or discuss the ramifications of character perambulations in open forum on FaceBook; the risk to those who have not taken the first, most broad, opportunity to consume of learning too much, too soon is egregious.
Used to be, people tended to carry a sensibility toward not revealing the end of a movie or a huge plot development in a Series for a generally-accepted period of time. That courtesy seems now to have gone the way of the floppy disc.
Can anything actually be done to protect the surprise of story developments? I don’t think so. If anything, it’s more or less up to us to be as discreet as possible about what we know of have seen. On the other hand, for those of us navigating the digital minefield of FB and Twitter; we can only be ready to quickly avert our eyes when scrolling down a page, such that we can leap-away from premature information.
I see no solution, here, beyond individual courtesy and circumspection.
That, and it makes embracing the techniques of storytelling that much more important; the need for compelling experience that much more profound, so that we can take people into fantasy where they wonder about the end until the end.
I think we will always have work.
Feel free to download the free eBook for iPad, “Imho” from iTunes.