Defiance, a science fiction television series that launched alongside a massively multiplayer online video game earlier this month, is an experiment in cross-media storytelling.
The promise is that by launching the property across two separate mediums, audiences will be able to engage and experience the narrative from two distinct, unique perspectives, thereby increasing their engagement and commitment to the franchise.
The scope and ambition of Defiance are huge. Both the online shooter and episodic series were planned and created simultaneously, offering both sides a wealth of opportunities to weave the two together in new and unexpected ways.
It differs from the traditional creative process, where a franchise finds success and creates an impressive following in one medium, before then being spun out as a new experience in another.
Take Scott Pilgrim. The original graphic novels, created by Bryan Lee O’Malley, was published in black and white between August 2004 and July 2010. A movie, entitled Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, was released in 2010 as a direct representation. The graphic novels were incredibly popular and triggered a video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal for Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.
All three interpretations follow roughly the same storyline and premise. The problem is that while it’s possible for creators to expand on the source material, there are inherent limitations. The original interpretation exists, and more often than not creates a precedent by which fans know and relate to the show.
Lord of the Rings, for instance, is a well-loved series of novels known for its rich lore, mythology and characters. The movies and various video games that have followed have always had to stay true to these anchors; there’s no way of rewriting what happened at Helm’s Deep, at least not without upsetting a few fans, or creating a new race out of thin air, for example.
The way in which the public consumes media is changing though. Television shows are broadcast globally and social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook allow millions of fans to communicate and debate with one another in real-time. There’s a chance here to move away from a passive, never-changing form of content.
Video games, on the other hand, offer an increasingly immersive and social experience. Players revisited Halo 4 for its episodic co-operative series Spartan Ops, which developer 343 Industries divided into a ten week “season” between November 2012 and February 2013.
Telltale Games took The Walking Dead franchise and explored human morality, testing players with ever more difficult decisions and tenuous relationships. It was commended for its compelling narrative and won dozens of industry awards.
But despite The Walking Dead’s numerous achievements in characterization and player immersion, it was still tied to the comic book series’ original material. The odd character appeared for a fleeting cameo in the video games, but because the original tale is already set in stone, it was difficult to have any meaningful crossovers.
Defiance is different though. By producing the two simultaneously, cable television channel Syfy and video game developer Trion Worlds have the chance to create something larger, more organic and ultimately more compelling. It’s too early to say whether or not they’ve succeeded, but the potential is clear to see.
Audiences love to be immersed and involved in entertainment. It is, after all, the reason why pantomime has endured as such a popular form of theatre.
How many times have you seen someone shout at the television screen, ‘don’t do that you idiot!’ or explained to the person next to them how, if they were in the same situation, they would have reacted differently and triggered a more positive outcome?
Cross-media releases could, in theory, be produced to give audience members real influence and impact.
Let’s say that the Gears of War franchise, featuring masochistic Marcus Fenix and his testosterone-fueled buddies, had a TV show. Much of the series’ premise revolves around Emergence Day, or the moment when the Locust horde (an alien race that used to live underground) rises to the surface.
Season one of the show could end with the remaining human forces backed against a wall, with no way out. The video game, on the other hand, would pit players as other soldiers, tasked with defending the city at all costs. If enough enemies are defeated in the alloted time, season two begins with Marcus and his chums escaping their nasty predicament and retaking their stronghold.
When a franchise is created simultaneously across multiple mediums, there’s also the option to use deeper and more complex narrative ideas.
A pivotal character may decide to turn on his companions, seemingly out of the blue. In the TV show such a plot twist might feel unjustified. But what if an ebook, published every week in conjunction with each episode, offered a first-person perspective from this character, revealing his motives and back story in a way that just wasn’t possible before?
A couple of projects have tried this, such as the .Hack series - which used a series of video games, manga comic books and anime TV shows to attract new fans predominantly in Japan, but also worldwide. Few have managed to hit the level and quality of storytelling that propels films to be Oscar-nominated and novels to be The New York Times bestsellers, however.
Creating truly cross-media experiences isn’t easy. It takes considerably more resources and a collective team that can explore new ideas but also agree and execute upon a single vision.
That could be a difficult transition, given the traditional leadership and ‘final say’ that has been enjoyed by directors in the media industry for many decades.
Scheduling could also be problematic. The time needed to write a books, develop a video game and shoot a TV show varies; George R.R Martin takes a number of years to write each instalment in the Game of Thrones series, for example, which would be tricky to coincide with an annual TV season.
The rewards for approaching media in this fashion are high, however, and the experiments in cross-media content will only increase as technology continues to develop.
Regardless of its success, Defiance is a turning point in modern storytelling. Ignoring that would be a grave mistake.
BBC America has announced via a tweet that it will partner with Twitter to offer the “first in-Tweet branded video synced to entertainment TV series.” News of the deal comes after a few days after a report that Twitter is in talks with Viacom and NBCUniversal to host TV clips and sell advertising on the site.
BBC America’s tweet didn’t offer any specific information about the deal or which of its TV shows would be involved, but it did namecheck hit series Doctor Who and Top Gear.
— BBC AMERICA (@BBCAMERICA) April 18, 2013
This has been a busy week for Twitter as it seeks to move beyond being a microblogging platform.In addition to the TV network tie-ups, the company also just launched Twitter Music on Good Morning America.
As Jordan Crook notes, the decision to debut the standalone app on network television is a sign that Twitter is aiming directly for a mainstream audience, instead of seeking to first build an audience of early-adopters.
The company has been building out its site as a multimedia platform with a series of acquisition: Twitter Music was built by startup We Are Hunted, while video-sharing service Vine was launched in January after Twitter bought it in a low-profile buy out.
Original post: BBC America & Twitter Announce Content-Sharing Partnership
PlaySquare, a startup founded by a team of Emmy-winning children’s television producers interested in bringing “touchable TV” to the iPad, has found a new home and partner in its efforts thanks to an investment from Curious Pictures. The NYC-based production company, known for popular children’s programming like Disney’s “Little Einsteins,” Nick Jr.’s “Team Umizoomi,” HBO’s “A Little Curious,” as well as more adult-oriented films and games (including RockBand), has invested $660,000 into PlaySquare, and will fund up to an additional $1.5 million over the course of the next two years.
As a result of the funding, PlaySquare will relocate to Curious’s New York offices, where their now seven-person team will be able to take advantage of the pool of knowledge, talent and infrastructure in the larger organization. At any given point, depending on what property it’s working on at the time, Curious Pictures may have up to 150 people it calls on to help design, develop and produce its programs.
Startups in the kids’ apps space are often finding homes within larger companies these days, or licensing content with bigger-name kids brands to drawn in their audience. For example, well-known kids’ app maker Toca Boca actually operates as a startup within the 200-year-old Swedish publishing company Bonnier, and is now growing through acquisitions. Meanwhile, another kids app firm, Callaway Digital, teamed up with Hasbro late last year, and FingerPrint, founded by a former LeapFrog exec, partnered with UK’s MindShapes and also licensed content from third-party brands like VeggieTales.
Like many, PlaySquare is also betting on the power of a built-in audience to help it gain traction. In this startup’s case, it has the rights to use the assets from the three-time Emmy-award-winning PBS TV show WordWorld, which it has been transforming into interactive, “touchable” television, engaging children not just with stories to watch passively, but also with “in-TV” activities that progress the story. This is more than an interactive storybook and it’s different from a child’s game with an accompanying narrative. It’s truly interactive television – something children’s TV producers have long sought after, but which hasn’t really been possible until the iPad.
CEO Alex Kay, who founded WordWorld back in the day, explains that longer-term the company would love to get into more original content like competitor Kidaptive is doing. But he thinks that going after those who already know about WordWorld is a better way to start.
“The business model is really tough in this app world,” he says. “It’s difficult to rise above the fray.”
And yet, even with the brand-name recognition of an award-winning PBS show, it’s still hard to compete with hundreds of thousands of apps in the iTunes App Store. Today, PlaySquare has close to 100,000 downloads – which in the grand scheme of things is small. Though it’s notable that PlaySquare has earned those eyeballs despite not having done any promotion for the app, it still has a way to go.
That being said, children are highly engaged with PlaySquare content, and have spent over 13 million minutes in the app since its launch last summer, averaging more than five minutes per session, and returning to play over and over again.
And with the new resources at its disposal via Curious’s investment, PlaySquare has the chance to grow. It plans to release two more episodes of WordWorld this fall ($2.99 each via in-app purchase) and has signed up a second, still undisclosed property that will go into production this fall.
Though Curious has relationships with folks like Disney and Nickelodeon, for example, Kay explains that PlaySquare won’t be beholden to only working with those who have contracted with Curious – it’s going after its own deals, as is the case with the new, unnamed addition. Longer-term, he feels that PlaySquare can become a great partner for bigger TV brands that push out hundreds of episodes of traditional programming.
“Most of these – Nick, Disney and PBS – are focused on getting television content out, rather than licensing these other revenue streams and creating a whole second production studio for these apps,” says Kay. “We’d like to be the studio that helps them get this stuff to market,” he adds. “If they’re producing a hundred episodes, we can take ten episodes and turn that into touchable television.”
PlaySquare, a personal favorite in our home I might add, is a free download here in the App Store.
News Corporation is selling its 44 percent share in the Sky TV network in New Zealand in a move that will see it exit the business that it established in the country in 1987, according to a brief announcement made today.
News Limited — the subsidiary through which News Corporation operates in Australia and New Zealand — has tapped Deutsche Bank and Craigs Investment Partners to manage the sale . The company expects its assets will be acquired by “a broad range of institutional and retail investors”, but no price has been disclosed
A statement from Chase Carey, President and Chief Operating Officer of News Corporation, said that the rest of the News Limited business – which includes more than 140 newspapers in Australia, including news.com.au – will not be affected. No reason was given for the sale:
SKY is a world class subscription television business and has been an outstanding investment for News Corporation. We and SKY have always enjoyed an excellent, arms-length working relationship and we expect this to continue unaffected by the sale. In particular, we do not anticipate any change to current arrangements regarding access to content and collaboration on technology.
The sale will see Regional Director of News Limited Michael Miller leave the Sky board.
News Limited was initially Rupert Murdoch’s principal holding company until the Australia-born entrepreneur set up News Corporation in 1979. Thereafter, it became a wholly-owned subsidiary.
Sky TV New Zealand is installed in approximately half of the households in the country. The company expanded into low-cost television when it launched its Igloo pre-pay service in partnership with Television New Zealand last year. Sky holds a 51 percent share.
Image via Ben Stansall / Getty Images
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What I’m about to say is undoubtedly going to piss some of you off. And that’s fine. Because in a few years, I’ll be right and you’ll look silly.
While everyone is focused on the next generation video game consoles from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — the latter two of which should be coming later this year — Apple is going to dominate them all. And it won’t even be that difficult.
Now, it’s not like this is a completely insane notion. Anyone who has been following the smartphone space for the past few years knows that Apple has sort of backed into video game dominance by way of their iOS devices. Apple has sold over 500 million of them. These devices have yielded over 40 billion downloads of the over 800,000 apps. And a large portion of those apps are games.
To put that in perspective, Microsoft has sold roughly 75 million Xbox 360s worldwide — and that product launched over seven years ago. The iPhone — the first iOS device — launched five and a half years ago. And there were no third-party games until a year after that.
Sony’s sales for the PS3 are nearly identical to the Microsoft numbers (it just took the worldwide lead from the 360). Nintendo has sold roughly 100 million Wiis since it went on sale just over six years ago. They have also sold about 150 million handheld DSes since 2004 (if you add all the varieties together).
Even if you lump together the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, the Wii, and the Nintendo DS, Apple has still sold about 100 million more iOS devices than all of those systems combined. And again, in a much shorter span.
Perhaps because the iOS devices are multi-purpose devices, you don’t see a lot of comparisons between something like the iPad and the Xbox/Playstation/Wii. Those are video game consoles, you see. Totally different, they say.
Not for long, I say.
A couple days ago, Nat Brown, one of the founders of the Xbox team within Microsoft, took to his blog to absolutely destroy the current state of that product. His entire critique is worth the read, but one thing in particular stuck out to me:
Apple, if it chooses to do so, will simply kill Playstation, Wii-U and xBox by introducing an open 30%-cut app/game ecosystem for Apple-TV. I already make a lot of money on iOS – I will be the first to write apps for Apple-TV when I can, and I know I’ll make money.
Yes, a creator of the Xbox is basically begging Apple to give us an Apple TV SDK so that he can write games for it. And that’s exactly what they’re going to do.
The rumor that Apple would unveil some sort of Apple TV SDK at an event next month turned out to be bogus (as most things analysts say about Apple prove to be). But that doesn’t mean it’s not coming. In fact, I’d bet on it sooner rather than later.
I haven’t heard anything specific about the SDK, but the chatter about Apple’s broader television plans has been picking up. And if that chatter is to believed, something is happening this fall — likely late fall. As always with Apple, those plans are subject to change (and, in fact, have changed a few times in the past — see: “Project Sphere”). As you might imagine, content deals remain a bitch, yet remain vital to such a project. But multiple sources suggest everything is finally lining up for this fall.
It’s not entirely clear if this means an actual television itself or some other sort of newfangled Apple TV device.
But it actually doesn’t matter. Apps are the key.
So if you believe that Apple’s living room plans are going to come into focus this fall, you should probably also be ready for some sort of developer announcement in the months leading up to the fall. Maybe that comes at WWDC. Maybe later.
Sure, it is possible that Apple could launch some sort of new TV-centric hardware with only a few apps built closely with a handful of selected partners. But that would be a bit of a letdown — that’s essentially the Apple TV right now. People wants apps. Developers want to make apps. And apps are what will make or break Apple’s foray into the space.
We all know the current Apple TV is already running iOS (even if Apple dances around directly stating it). And we know that the Apple TV is running on the same type of hardware stack that iPhones/iPads/iPod touches run on. The thing is ready to go. All Apple has to do is flip a switch.
Okay, it’s not that simple, but you get the point. Right now, out in the wild, there are over 10 million Apple TVs — the majority of which are already capable of running iOS apps. Sure, they may look less than ideal scaled up to television screen sizes, but they’d work. You can already get a preview to some extent using AirPlay.
If I’m right that Apple will want to seed the app ecosystem before their big launch in the fall, I suspect they’ll have developers use the current Apple TVs to test such apps. Perhaps this has something to do with the recent pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain upgrade.
And it’s entirely possible that Apple will take a larger two-pronged approach. That is, keeping a $99 Apple TV (which would be enabled to run apps) alongside any more robust television product.
This is all speculation, of course. But while everyone is busy focusing on the hardware, they’re looking past the obvious software advantage of anything Apple does in the living room. The 800,000 apps won’t translate directly, but in two categories in particular: video and video games, Apple is going to dominate where their rivals cannot simply because of the support of small, third-party app developers.
That’s why Nat Brown is so dead-on above. Microsoft and the rest had the opportunity to be first-movers here and they blew it. They focused on traditional game makers and traditional content providers. They focused on extending the traditional PC hardware paradigm. It’s going to be death by 100,000 apps.
(By the way, just to be clear, I’m not ruling out something like OUYA or another Android-based system coming into the space to shake it up as well. But I believe controlling the hardware and software experience will be important, just as it is in the other hot devices right now.)
When I talk about this, people mistakenly think I’m saying that games like Call of Duty are going away. Of course they’re not. These types of hardcore games clearly have their audience and will continue to do very well. I simply believe two things:
1) That the Apple TV is already nearly powerful enough to run such games. Perhaps not the highest of the high end, but give it a year or two. That’s the thing: Apple will likely push yearly hardware (and software) updates for anything they do. Microsoft has not updated the Xbox in over 7 years. Huge mistake.
2) That the audience for non-hardcore games when Apple opens up an Apple TV SDK will be much larger than the audience for the hardcore games.
Apple will not win this space by playing the game that Microsoft, Sony, and to some extent, Nintendo, are playing. They will win by changing the rules of the game. And that game is all about developers, developers, developers, developers. Which is perhaps the most delicious twist one could ever imagine.
Read the original post: The Fall TV Lineup May Include Apple Dominating Gaming