FanTrust is a digital management consultancy. We work with entertainment and technology companies and investors to grow businesses around digital markets. We also serve universities and professional associations, partnering them with industry for research, talent and capital. In essence, we are digital matchmakers helping bridge different media and build innovative companies and IP. The value that we bring is a laser focus on the fans, the digital audiences and committed consumers that interact with multi-platform content.
While we work with large public companies, start-ups and everything in between, the FanTrust approach is to build highly customized relationships with the corporate officers or owners, based on the belief that digital transformation must be championed at the top, with CEOs and CFOs. But, I’ll know that I’ve succeeded when, in five years, I’m also working with the Chief Fan Officers.
I’ve been involved in digital media for 23 years now and I’ve seen a lot of changes since the early days of digital holography and computer music. But perhaps the greatest change has taken place within the user community; the expectations and creativity that digital consumers apply to entertainment.
What I want to talk with you about today — and what our clients want — are 360-degree digital strategies. And fans are at the core of all great digital plans. You’ve probably each heard the saying that 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers. But now these core consumers can engage with your content in numerous ways. Not just on consoles or on-air, but on rich media websites, on social networks, on YouTube, mobile phones, through alternate reality games, and the list goes on. Choosing the right mix and defining the goals – whether revenue or reach – is critical. And one of the biggest challenges is establishing how entertainment IP transforms for different channels—content can no longer be ported, it must be recreated again and again to address consumer demands and behavior.
But what are the attributes of content transformation? At its most basic you have, for example, a TV series packaged for broadband or mobile distribution. Even this simple migration of linear content needs tender loving care. On the technical front there is the encoding and tagging – one mobile company estimates 300 “industry standard” formats! On the marketing side there is the call-to-action – do you want your episode to drive DVD sales, leverage international TV sales, build your studio brand or achieve another, measurable objective?
To build community, linking strategies and social network tie-ins are critical. Underlying all of this is your deal structure with your aggregator or digital channel. Are you securing the best mix of licensing, revenue-share and marketing?
Of course as soon as you move beyond trafficking linear content to crating interactive entertainment, the strategies, opportunities and pitfalls grow exponentially. Taking time to plan your new media production and distribution is worth the investment. It pays off in many fronts: staff benefit from collaborating across departments to achieve convergence goals; business development opens into a new world of strategic partners; and C-level executives continue along the path of future-proofing their companies.
The industry is still in the very early stages of discovering what works and what doesn’t when it comes to recreations.
Ultimately, TV producers’ interactive spin-offs may reap higher rewards than their original shows. The Alternate Reality Game for the series Regenesis just won an Emmy Award as did the User Generated Content Game Zimmer Twins. There were no Emmys for the TV series. As an international judge for the interactive Emmys, I was inspired by the built-in fan engagement advanced by many of the nominees. Will this year finally be the watershed for fan relations?
Even if you are in the business-to-business space, understanding your digital consumers is critical to staying competitive. Business-to-business relationships are changing, broadcasters are becoming game publishers, giving game developers brand new sales avenues and challenging TV producers to broaden their product offerings. In Canada, YTV has recently launched a multiplayer game space called The Big Rip; and Cartoon Network has hired a community director in anticipation of launching a multiplayer environment in 2008.
TV producers are also deploying games to support TV fans between seasons or fill in plotlines. “24: The Game” answers a slew of questions left unanswered in the three year gap plotted between Seasons 2 & 3.
When entertainment fans don’t have interactive content options, they will happily make their own, without any nod to entertainment rights. FireflyFans.net, the show’s premier fan site, has generated an endless stream of fan fiction, art, blogs, pod casts, meet-ups and even a fan-produced documentary — all fodder for a Firefly Multiverse game.
Interactive fans represent an enormous unpaid marketing team. They’re out there flying your freak flag – communicate with them and they will do more. Pay them and, well, the sky’s the limit.