Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Diving Into the Media Abyss

I've been living a double life.

I work in "traditional" media, producing documentaries, promotional, informational and educational videos.  I've done okay, received some recognition (including three Emmy Awards), and seem to be emerging through the economic downturn.

Over the last couple of years, however, I've made a concerted effort to shift my efforts, my career - and my future, toward digital media.

Digital Media.

What does that mean, anyway?

For many, it simply indicates another platform to push traditional media out to audiences that are increasingly moving away from the traditional television model: movies or television shows ported to other platforms, from Netflix to YouTube, Hulu, and a hundred other variations.

That's part of it, of course.  

For others, Digital Media means the creation of web series - often, this reflects the interpretation of traditional media for the new environment (for example, informational, documentary, news, drama or comedy series) in a shorter, online friendly length.

While Traditional media producers recognize the advantage of encouraging audiences to interact about traditional media programming, there's little understanding of the value of interacting with an audience.

The old buzz-word "interactivity" has risen to an art form on YouTube, where content creators - those who maintain their YouTube channels and post videos on a regular basis - understand that the greatest tools to building and maintaining an audience is interacting and responding to their audience.   They reply to commenters on their videos, comment on other people's videos, ask their viewers for feedback and opinions, and create ongoing opportunities beyond their YouTube base to further engage their followers.  They're all about promotion and development through interaction.   Anti-social artists need not apply.

Can Old and New Media Work Together?

Over the last several years, I've made a concerted effort to understand the relationship between traditional and emerging media platforms.  This year, those efforts are beginning to coalesce into concrete action.

Since April, I've traveled to three media-related conferences:

Vidcon, attended by YouTube content creators, was held in July at the Anaheim Convention Center.  It featured an array of informational seminars, screenings, entertainment and an exhibition hall featuring services catering to the YouTube content creator (fan outreach, monetizing opportunities, games and autograph sessions with top YouTubers).  Missing: production equipment vendors offering the very production and software products these new content creators constantly seek.

The National Association of Broadcasters show- a conference featuring the largest exhibition of professional broadcast technology in the world - clearly provided a peek in to the dawning of high quality, cheaper and simpler to use product.  The GoPro booth was likely one of the most popular and enthusiastic destinations in the sprawling complex. Though GoPro is a specialized product, it's real a harbinger of much more to come across the industry.

Last week, I attended WestDoc, a conference of professional documentary filmmakers, producers, networks and funders.  

I hadn't been to WestDoc before - but as I move closer to some major new initiatives in my career, the time was right to return to the heart of what I've been doing my entire professional life, and begin the process of bringing these old and new elements together.

The slogan for this year's Westdoc was An Industry is Being Reborn, reflecting a recognition that the world of nonfiction media production and distribution is inexorably changing.   NAB, too, reflected this awareness at it's April conference with it's own theme,  The Great Content Shift.  VidCon, however, emerging from the very world the rest of the media world is trying to understand, didn't need such to signal it's attendees that the world is changing - they know.

WestDoc featured an array of seminars and informational sessions featuring many of the networks interested in documentary and reality content (History Channel, Food Channel, Lifetime and Discovery Channel, to name a few). Even YouTube was there, reflecting the site's current interest in developing and producing professional channel content.

Current trends were explored as well, including crowd-funding, Online Retailers for video content (such as, on which I've made my documentary "Bollywood Steps" available), and a day-long "PitchFest," providing documentarians and reality TV creators a high-profile platform to push their concepts out to potential funders and networks.

With an industry being "reborn," and "content shifting" online, I've been intrigued by the great abyss that still exists between traditional media professionals - who perceive YouTube and similar sites as simple platforms for traditional, one-sided non-interactive content - and the pioneer content creators who make up for their occasional lack of professional production skills with innovative audience engagement strategies.

Many media professionals perceive online content creators as rank amateurs.  Online Content Creators, on the other hand, don't often see themselves as filmmakers, though they follow in the footsteps of the motion picture pioneers of the late 19th Century, who sought to find strategies for making the most of the new technology.

Traditional media producers are, generally speaking, experts in storytelling and creating production value, while Intimate Audience Engagement is largely the domain of the modern content creator.

Imagine a meeting of the minds, bringing together these disparate worlds to learn from each other, and making both worlds stronger, engaging wider audiences - and creating a more financially sustainable industry for all concerned.

In my next blog, I'll explore how I'm approaching my upcoming work with a eye toward both worlds.  

You can follow me on Twitter @rickflix


  1. Now you've got me looking forward to the next blog :)

    1. You might already have had a sneak preview of my "upcoming work" ;)

  2. Good stuff Rich. I always like to hear your perspective as someone with a foot in both camps, so to speak.
    A meeting of the minds sounds exciting, but i'd be concerned that the smaller content creators would get swallowed up by the "big boys" and never be heard of again. Just look at the way that YouTube is going and at the expense of the "little people" too.

    1. I don't believe it's a question of these two "contingents" working together, or one dominating the other. The needs of tradtional mass media, in particular, preclude the "personal touch" of modern (i.e. YouTuber) content creation. However, I believe creators from both platforms can learn from one another.

  3. It's interesting to see a handful of "old media" types diving into "new media."

    Jerry Seinfeld by any measure is still quite successful and profitable, and could walk into any network programming office and get a development deal before he even opens his mouth to pitch. But he brought his latest series to the web.

    Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is a labor of love, that's available on it's own website, YouTube, Facebook, and a couple other places. Episodes are of no set length, and run only as long as they need to, or what feels right. The car scenes are shot with a GoPro, and the coffee shop scenes are shot with DSLRs.

    I guess I'm wandering away from the topic of the blog post, but I suppose my point is: Here's somebody who could have taken his idea to a network and spent way too much money reducing this to a formulaic weekly 24 minutes, but instead chose to produce it as the best of online content creators do: as a personal creative expression.

    1. Great example - and I hadn't realized that my trusty GoPro was part of the mix. It's definitely an example of how traditional media can learn from emerging platforms. Looking at the production value, what do you feel could be the take-away for online content creators? Or, is there a take-away for them?