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Is Content no longer king in the post-digital world?

Looking back on 2012, I think that there was a kind of benchmark: a number of changes in the film, television and publishing industries took place which , individually, didn’t mean too much, but together might be really significant.


Publishing and the audiovisual world have always had a symbiotic relationship. Cynical literary types might say that film and television is parasitically dependent on the book.


The two industries are increasingly intertwined and mutually dependent. And the changes taking place as a result of new delivery systems is seriously bringing into question an old truism: “content is king”.


Not only are delivery systems exerting greater and greater influence on the way stories are told, but they also dictate they way stories are sold.


In one week last year I noted the following six comments about the converging nature of the industries that exploit story-telling.


Neil Denny, Editor of the Bookseller, said in The Guardian in April that “The best selling book typically sells 20% more than the number two title. But a best selling title from JK Rowling will sell 20 times more than other titles...the success of the films has created a new audience for her writing - the film franchise feeds back into the book franchise.”


In television the incestuous relationship between platforms and formats is moving very fast: in Broadcast magazine (13 April) there was a piece about a new generation of hybrid genres (I question the use of the word genres here - it think strictly it is formats) that describes All3Media International as “bending and stretching genres until they are so out of shape they become undefinable. What began as cheap daytime reality/soaps for German housewives has morphed into ob doc/drama/reality infotainment hybrids, some of which are taking the nation by storm.” (such as TOWIE which is “structured reality”.)


Also in Broadcast is a report from MiPTV that “buyers were seeking feel-good content and programmes that would result in co-viewing.”


Then, in the MarchApril issues of Screen International there is an article about Film4’s new digital arm, Film4.0, run by Anna Higgs: she describes the venture like this: ”Film4.0 will essentially be about helping film makers innovate around how they tell their stories...the projects will always be story and film maker led, not platform led. It will never be the case of working with an existing film and adding social media or digital plans. It’s not about a bolt-on.”


Is cinema losing it’s edge?  Longer format drama - whether mini series or even longer - seems equally comfortable on the multiplicity of smaller screens now available with tablets and smart phones. A big BBC-HBO five part mini series, based on Ford Maddox Ford novels, scripted by Tom Stoppard, called PARADE’S END, had an amazing array of stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Adelaide Clemens, Rupert Everett and director Susannah White who directed the movie Nanny McPhee And The Big Bang. In other words, as Screen International comments, A-list actors and directors are increasingly happy to move between film and television.


Finally, in Screen, according to the government’s recent Film Policy Review, there were 3.7 billion viewings of feature films across all television platforms in 2010 (excluding pay per view), which is more than 20 times the number of cinema admissions.


What do these rapidly sourced quotes tell us about film, television and publishing?

-            film can boost book sales

-            hybrid genres or formats are working

-            feel-good content is sought after

-            innovative ways of storytelling are being looked for

-            film actors and directors are less snobbish about television than they used to be


-            films are increasingly being seen on small screens


In other words delivery systems have more influence and the audience - particularly the younger audience - are open to change. “Plus ca change, plus c’st la meme chose”


I love the fact that Broadcast magazine in May reported that SILENT WITNESS - a very old fashioned traditional police procedural - obliterated TITANIC on ITV and the new kid on the block, SCOTT & BAILEY. And what this suggests is that the television set is increasingly the domain of the older viewer. And we know that the Saga generation not only has far more discretionary time on its hands, but also has considerable spending power AND is the fastest growing sector of the audience.


What does this mean for those of us working in the incestuous industries? We need to find new ways of connecting with audiences, and authors, publishers and broadcasters are doing this through their websites and social media. It is clearly increasingly important, particularly with the rapid increase in e-book sales.


But without emotionally engaging stories – feel-good or otherwise - it is as it has always been, an uphill struggle. So perhaps the changes are not actually as significant as the trade press makes out. Perhaps good old storytelling is safe and well, and to succeed transmedia or multi-platform storytelling still has to observe the “rules” that Aristotle enunciated two and a half thousand years ago.


What do you think?

References (3)

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Reader Comments (2)

Interesting, relevant, and well said, Julian.

October 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Green

Happy memorial day

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMemorial Day

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