A week ago, the Transmedia Vancouver Meetup group had its second get-together, this time with a guest speaker. Matt Toner, president of Vancouver-based transmedia company Zeros 2 Heroes, spoke to the twenty-something attendees about their transmedia project Animism. Animism was a project concept developed by Zeros 2 Heroes (a company that is primarily technology-based, but dedicated to telling awesome stories) and pitched to a broadcaster, APTN, as an animated television series with a comprehensive digital plan. Thus, they started with the pilot, and built the digital strategy around that. The entire strategy includes comics, casual games, ARGs, enhanced ebooks, and a proprietary social network that not only allows the audience to participate in the story, but also tracks their involvement and stats.
There were a few parts of Matt's talk that were particularly interesting to me, which I'll highlight.
Digital Dining Room Table
One concept Matt discussed was their intention to create a kind of "digital dining room table"--they want the project accessible not just by the main target audience of the tv show (it's an urban fantasy animated show for teens) but also a wider range beyond that. To accomplish this, they want to have different aspects of the transmedia strategy targeted at different audiences--perhaps something aimed at the parents. Subsequently, a whole family could be sitting around their table and able to discuss the project with each other--each coming at it from their own viewpoint, but able to connect over the same property.
This seems a great way to think about audience strategies--going for the largest audience possible, not by making the project as broad as possible (ending up with something that's not interesting to anyone) but by aiming different parts very specifically at different people, and ending up with a project that brings people together over it.
And while having different audiences for different parts of the project may seem like it will silo their audience into very separate groups, they also include in their plan ways in which the content comes together, blending those silos.
Making Clicks Count
Still in the area of project design is z2h's policy of making clicks count. That is to say, every way in which you touch the project, every little piece of audience engagement, is important. You don't just play a little game as part of the experience--playing the game is tracked, the results attached to your social media profile, and the total results of the entire community affect the ultimate story. And this goes for every piece of content.
These all filter down towards the driving tv platform such that what the community does over the course of the project/series will actually decide how the season ends.
If you can do that--and Matt admitted that part of the only reason they could get away with doing that is because the tv show is animated--and you tell your audience that their participation is that meaningful, you're really rewarding them for their time and effort, and as a result, they will be far more willing to devote that time and effort.
Matt was also clear that you don't have to do any of the transmedia stuff. You can watch the show only and enjoy it as it is. But if you do participate, you can actually affect the show.
z2h is only a small studio, with about a dozen regular employees, but it can accomplish this wide range of projects by partnering with other firms. Matt Toner said that he likes to be the dumbest person in the room--if somebody else can do something better, then he wants them to do it.
By partnering, they get the best product they can, and they also share the financial burden. Matt noted one instance in which by partnering with a European company, that company could access funding that z2h would be unable to access. This is true especially of the tv license--the money from which helps feed other aspects if production. Still, that part of the project seems necessary to make the rest viable.
But throughout that, z2h holds into the rights to the IP itself, and ensures that they can oversee the production as a whole (to ensure consistency in content and branding across platforms, and make sure that each feeds into the others).
Monetization and Experimentation
The platforms z2h is planning on using for the project are quite varied, and in their development process, they had to consider which ones would (or could) be monetized, and which wouldn't. They created a range of monetization possibility, as shown in the diagram below.
The problem is, of course, that they don't really know which of these many strategies are going to work and/or pay off. So as they go into the project, they're being very careful to watch the data, see what their audience responds to and what it doesn't--and then adjust accordingly. If casual games become insanely successful, they'll make more games. If the ebook strategy fails, they'll stop wasting resources on it. Each aspect is really an experiment to see what works and what doesn't, and they can adjust as they go--especially if the tv show is renewed for a second season.
Overall, it's more based on a tech industry model than a tv model. Their social network that ties everything together allows them to really measure what works and what doesn't.
A couple specific notes on various platforms:
ARG: In order for a lot of the platforms to be successful, especially when launched before the tv show begins, they need an audience, and Matt said one of the best ways they've found to get a starting audience is through live events. They ran a small ARG during a comics convention in Toronto--which of course is home to their main geeky, Internet-savvy teen audience (that is, a comics convention, not Toronto)--and that got some eyeballs on their project right away. Live events are easy to get people involved in, and get people talking. Furthermore, dead drops are easy to do--if he's traveling through Montreal, he can stop by somewhere to drop something, take a picture and send the location back to the office, and within the hour, that information is available for the audience. (And within minutes of that, the drop is located...)
He also mentioned that they got a lot of industry press for the fact that their ARG was relatively easy--far from being a bad thing, this meant that it was a lot more accessible to a much broader audience than a lot of hardcore ARGs are.
Ebooks: Matt talked about an idea where a character night mention a book (perhaps a journal, a record of minutes, a field book...) in the tv show, and when that episode airs, a digital version of that book becomes available to purchase. So the interested audience can actually buy the book and get additional insight into the story.
Free comics: They also created comics to go with the property, which they gave out for free at conventions and made available online. The comics introduce the story world and part of the narrative, to get people interested in the property. In addition, by having that introduction, the audience will already understand the narrative before they watch the tv show, so less time has to be wasted in the pilot getting things set up.
Matt also said that to be successful with a project like this is all about being smart. Don't spend money where you don't have to--their characters are teenagers, so use resources teenagers would use, like tumblr or twitter, rather than trying to create your own platform or complex website. (As far as the social network is concerned, z2h benefits from having created the network for previous projects, and can thus tap it easily and at little cost; perhaps that suggests that others couldn't accomplish what they have in the same way, but it also speaks to being smart about reusing resources.)
Finally, Matt was sure to bring everything back to the story. Z2h is story-minded, and that's what allows them to oversee the whole project successfully. Each piece of the project, each new platform, contributes somehow to the story. "That's the whole thing," Matt said. "Without that, it's just marketing."
Thanks to everyone who showed up, and especially to Matt for coming and talking, and the CMPA and Switch United for providing a location and refreshments! Next time, I swear I'll have a working livestream up... Those who attended, I'd love to hear if I forgot something you found particularly interesting!