#SXSW2014: Hollywood is looking to Silicon Valley to guide its evolution from traditional to “new” media

In SXSWi’s “content and distribution” stream, the future of TV and traditional media featured heavily in discussion, with content and media makers seeking insights around the best ways to engage (and keep the attention of) an increasingly fragmented and distracted audience.

Increasingly, Hollywood is looking to Silicon Valley to better understand emerging technology and user trends, and what these changes mean for audience engagement.

Dana Brunetti, Producer of Netflix hit House of Cards and Facebook film The Social Network sat down with Randi Zuckerberg (naturally!) to talk about this convergence and how the medium of on-demand online channels, crowdsourcing and community building is changing the types of stories that are being produced.

In the advent of platforms like Hulu and Netflix, content binging and watching a series and content en masse has become the norm. In what was initially seen as a risky move, Brunetti worked with Netflix to guide the launch of House of Cards as an “all in” move, releasing the first and second season as a whole and trusting the trends and data insights from their network, which supported an audience need to choose their own viewing times and habits.

…and these streaming habits are creating new media behaviors. Beyond “binging” and the real dangers of encountering spoilers in social media discussion, he spoke of a new phenomenon he named “stream cheating”:

Evidently, real love is now resisting the temptation to catchup on the latest episodes of Mad Men or Breaking Bad while your significant is distracted by life’s other responsibilities. 😉

Looking further at the influence of digital and community spaces to inspire and bring new content ideas to life, Brunetti referenced Kickstarter as a key democratising force in content production, indicating that 73 of the films, shorts and documentaries shown at Sundance were funded through this platform. Yet, he challenged us with the ideas that perhaps this change is not too fundamental – Is it still the power players that are having projects funded (e.g. Veronica Mars, Zach Braff’s Garden State 2) or are emerging indie players getting adequate “share of spotlight” to get the funding they need for their projects?

Potentially not, but audiences are lapping up the opportunity to contribute to projects that they feel matter to them and play an action role in content production.

“People are contributing to crowd funding entertainment projects to be more proactive patrons of the arts“ Brunetti said. He argued though that many with the means to fund their own projects (like Zach Braff, Spike Lee etc) were unfortunately taking funds from contributors who could otherwise support up-and-coming independent projects. In critique of Kickstarter’s supporter “rewards” system, he argued that funding incentives like cameo roles and credit placements hurt the integrity of crowdfunding projects, devaluing the positions that would otherwise have been worked for.

The House of Cards “conception” story was again shared, providing the overview of the series as a production backed by the power of insight. Netflix could see a strong percentage of its audience were fans of political drama, and furthermore were fans and regular viewers of Kevin Spacey’s films. Audience tracing insights were the secret sauce for the ultimate success of the show, that won the eyes and ears of an audience as an unproven content brand. Something a traditional network would potentially not have been brave enough to try.

Brunetti made a particularly interesting point on casting in this digital on-demand age, further highlighting the power of social communities around stars and identities. With his experience and oversight of casting, he described an emerging trend where networks, studios and casting directors are paying a significant amount of attention to talent’s social presence, engagement and fan following, alongside their professional capabilities and past portfolio when casting key roles. If acting capability is on-par, social influence and fan following is increasingly becoming an increasingly scrutinized and determining factor when selecting show stars.

Given the role of “social fame” in casting, could we potentially start seeing YouTube power players or those with significant indie cred and/or community noticed and picked up by the mainstream? Could power players like Natalie Tran or Jenna Marbles perhaps attract the eyes of casting agents of big entertainment and media producers for Netflix-style digital productions?

With the announcement of Disney’s acquisition of YouTube creator community Maker Studios today (for a cool $500m!), it is clear that traditional media is looking to new media power players for guidance around ways to engage an increasingly fragmented and distracted audience.

As the tools of content creation, funding and audience development have been made freely available through the web and social media, content creators are now taking on the culture of startups, discovering and creating new ways to produce, share and tell new stories in a new digital age. If information wants to be free, socialised content sharing platforms and digital distribution platforms like Netflix have made it easier than any other time in history for this information (or content) to find an audience.

For a snapshot of Dana Brunetti’s progressive approach to Hollywood 2.0, check out his FastCompany profile below:

Have you funded a Kickstarter film or content project, or are you an independent content creator? What excites you about the possibilities of a new digital Hollywood?

Further discussion:
Are we all Producers Now? – YouTube video from The Australian Businesswomen’s Network
#producers #sxsw Storify from Renata dAvila
Dana Brunetti Knocks Zach Braff, Spike Lee for Crowdfunding – Variety.com
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