Responding to audience key to transmedia success: panel

Lalita Krishna, a producer with In Sync Media, says doc makers must know what they want out of the interactive elements before they start on a project, and be willing to build on existing content to meet changing audience demands.
Planet in Focus Panel

The times are changing for doc makers, who find themselves faced with the challenges of navigating a brave new transmedia world, and an audience with ever-evolving desires.

“What people engage with and how they engage with it is completely different,” said Pop Sandbox owner Alex Jansen on Friday.

“People are watching TV, but they’re not watching it on TV, and people are watching films, but you can also get more audience for a two-minute YouTube clip than you can for a feature,” he added.

Jansen was part of a panel discussion about transmedia documentaries during the Planet in Focus festival.

Joining Jansen were Gerry Flahive, senior producer at the NFB, Lalita Krishna, producer at In Sync Media and Richard Lachman, assistant professor of digital media at Ryerson University.

According to Krishna, the rise in popularity of interactive transmedia properties has also changed the relationship between doc makers and the content they create.

“Typically as film producers we make the film, have our screening, show it in festivals, win awards if we’re lucky, then give it out to a distributor and move on to our next film,” she said.

“When it comes to an interactive project, it’s the child that never leaves the house. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it,” she added.

She credits this to a shifting power dynamic, which has seen the audience gain the ability to demand and seek out the content it wants, when it wants, and says doc makers must meet these demands.

This is what she’s done with the transmedia elements for her most recent project, Semisweet.

While her initial plan was to create an interactive website, Krishna said the lukewarm response she received from focus groups prompted her to come up with the Chocolocate mobile app.

The app allows chocolate lovers to locate nearby stores, and once in-store find out more information about the chocolate they’re buying. It also allows users to rate chocolate, share their experiences via social media, and find out about chocolate-related events near them.

The popularity of chocolate-related events has paid off for Krishna, who has been able to monetize the app by using it to promote events hosted by chocolatiers.

Jansen, meanwhile, hopes to monetize Pipe Trouble, his video game app for Six Island Productions’ Trouble in the Peace, by making it available as a 99-cent app for iOS, as well as Android tablets, as well as by distributing playable arcade-style game cabinets around university campuses.

While no clear business model exists for transmedia properties, the panelists were all in agreement that it’s vital to know which medium is right for each part of a project.

They also agreed that the transmedia elements of the project should never be an afterthought, and that doc makers should be heavily involved in overseeing the creation of the transmedia features, even if they aren’t experts.

“It’s about assembling teams. You have to start from the premise that… you bring a lot to the table as a documentary maker. Don’t have a relationship with your cinematographer and editor in which you are the client,” said Flahive.

“You have to have some idea of how it’s going to flow, what you want and what the end product should look like,” added Krishna.