Build it and they will come...
There was a time in Internet Space when this was true. You put up something amusing, arresting, or outrageous and you could attract a lot of attention. Now, you have to create 'compelling content', post frequently, inter-link, out-link, back-link, guest post, optimise SEO, engage multiple social media platforms... you get the picture.
In some ways, anyone who runs a website of any significance has become a transmedia producer. This is to say, artistic people who have something meaningful to say have to find new ways to say it AND sell it across multiple platforms.
I was at a cocktail party where a producer of note told me that they were tired of hearing everyone talk about 'content creation'. In his mind, it was demeaning and commodifying... "Why not just call us filmmakers; that's what we do, isn't it?"
I wish it was that easy. In many respects, producers nowadays have absorbed the marketing lingo and corporate doublespeak because they have to. The glory days of having a great movie idea pitched to a Studio and fast-tracked... even on a budget... seem to be over. Studios don't want to spend money on development unless they have to.
Independent Producers are now forced to build a field of streams: Twitter feeds, Facebook fan pages, YouTube channels, digital comics... you name it. Everything and anything to drum up interest in their creation before they can hope to entice a Big Fish to bet some cash on it.
Finance is terribly fragmented. Independent producers get money any which way they can: sales agents, brand owners, vanity angels, arms dealers... and they often have to give any equity away to get the thing made.
The Best of Times and the Worst of Times
This tawdry scramble for finance and distribution support has led to this linguistic shift. Independent producers must now present business plans, franchise opportunities, enterprise investment schemes, marketing plans... no wonder everything has turned into 'content creation'. We are forced to juggle lots of pieces and do this predominantly on our own and without any money in our pockets. And this is damaging to the end product, because too much time is spent fundraising and not enough on development. And, where exactly, is the development money supposed to come from? Independent Producers? Not likely, especially when banks are unwilling to offer third remortgages.
Paradoxically, this problem is most acute at a time when we have digital tools and means like never before to reach out directly to audiences, engage them and build relationships: crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, social media, etc. This is very exciting, right? That is, until you have to do it yourself. There's a lot of knowledge required to do it right and not spend valuable time and money floundering on the beaches of a digital ocean.
Click-Tastic & Extra-Sticky
A company came in recently to pitch a product that they have been developing. It's not a new idea but it was an interesting pitch. Basically, they create a wrapper around a movie or television episode that allows you to watch AND shop. Whatever products you see used in the film can be clicked on a purchased. I asked them why they were trying to sell this to a film producer and not a Studio. I'm sure a Studio would find this affiliate marketing opportunity an interesting one. But from a Producer's point of view, I can't imagine anything more horrific. Why would I spend years of my life trying to get a film made that tells a story that I care about with all the careful trimmings and timings of movie magic production values only to have it ultimately reduced to a shopping catalogue?
I'm sure that there are some types of programming that fit this product very nicely. In particular, programming where there is a complicit interest amongst viewers with the entertainment and shopping. But it seems another insidious way to get money out of viewers, given that they are already ignoring traditional commercials. It breaks their concentration - in itself a valuable commodity - and distracts them from the message of the storytelling.
Ironically, the software firm that was promoting this product, sincerely believed that it would make the audience engage with the content (there's that word again) on a deeper level. Unfortunately, I fail to see how 'The Godfather' would be made any more profound to me if I could buy the sunglasses that some of the mafioso are wearing. Perhaps someone might argue that I would think more about 'The Godfather' as a result of wearing those glasses, talking about them with my friends, etc... but I doubt it.
Despite my belly-aching, I realise that some of this activity is inevitable. The opportunity to cross-promote and monetize product placement in this way will just be too good for many distributors to ignore. The public is already multi-tasking when watching television, so films are likely to come under the same kind of disjointed and distracted viewing.
I'm not one to stand in the way of a technological tide but it's worth pointing out that efforts like these will commodify film and television in the same way that music has been devalued. People will not want to pay a premium for the experience.
And all of us will end up working in the 'content creation' business once and for all.