An introduction to transmedia in Singapore: outlook and predictions for 2014-15

It has been two months since I went to Singapore to join the pioneering efforts of South East Asian content creators that shape the future of Asian storytelling, but already lots of things are in motion. It feels like the market just waited for the right technology impulses to wake the sleeping transmedia Merilion.

Most certainly we will see significant projects coming from the SEA region in 2014-15 and among them will hopefully be the long awaited proof of concepts for the industry traditionalists that kept saying “wait and see” for the past couple of years.

Defining transmedia in Asia

Regardless of a long Asian tradition in creating vast cross-platform story universes in genre productions, comics and monster franchises, “transmedia” is nothing but a buzzword at this point in time. Storytelling practices of the old masters have been lost in pop culture, ignored by the education system or arrogantly dismissed by recent generations.

Local creators who read up on the topic and try to apply means of transmedia to their projects are rare and mostly visionaries with a strong sense for business development. Ultimately, transmedia does not have much of a pure storytelling character in Asia anymore nor are its primary drivers public funds or academic projects.

Seen as temporary bridge solution, at best, a transmedia concept is something that can add value to entertainment properties and brand building campaigns, but only when you got the right media strategy, partners and production set up.

Budget-wise it is still a nightmare and there are very few qualified agencies around that could handle a full transmedia campaign, creatively and administratively. The question of qualified local talent that brings in a hybrid education and right mindset will be a pressing issue for the months to come.

The Asian tradition and the lack of innovation

Ad agencies and production house still hire people with decades of expertise in banner booking on shopping mall facades instead of looking for digital natives with a storytelling background. It just makes no sense when you see a brand looking on JobsDB for a Social Media Manager with 12 years working experience. Only a few institutions offer hybrid models of education for jobs in the digital and design space only to see their graduates becoming flight attendants or button punchers at TV show control rooms.

Project and content development is still the weakest point in the production chain and barely taken seriously by anyone with money. Being common practice for independent producers to develop their own content bigger production houses frenetically push this unprofitable work toward summer interns from film schools where project development is not even on the curriculum. Too many industry deals are made simply based on name and reputation of project partners regardless whether they can deliver or how they address recent market trends.

The main obstacles of innovation in Asia, however, are corporate structures that have not been altered for the past 50 years and there is no motivation to change something that has worked so well for so long. Everybody got money for the quick fix but not for sustainable long-term strategies with build-in future add-on revenue streams.

Adding to this comes a social factor that prevents innovation to grow like putting salt on soil. The fear of failure is the industry’s biggest enemy. Spreading especially in Japan but lately in China and SAE as well, due to the fierce competition on the market, creatives tend to play safe by copy-paste. The fear of failing by doing something new and subsequently being socially isolated is just too overwhelming.

In general, Asia is a very fragmented market, different cultures, languages and systems. Pan-Asian projects have barely proven to be successful yet, while main driving markets like China and Japan becoming more and more self-isolated. South-Korea is still ruling the Asian entertainment segment with its strong content exports while China fails to gain its desperately desired international soft power share. Dynamics in the market are great and a structural rearrangement imminent.

Why is SAE such an interesting market when it comes to digital media?

For one, far different to any industrial country in the West, the average age in the SEA region is 30, most non-metropolitan areas even far below. A demographic that embraces new technology and is culturally more inclined to experiment – unlike the same demographic in China, where a consumption-only mentality reigns.

Within the years to come, all SEA countries that have not done so yet will install full coverage 3G mobile networks. This might sound like a long overdue technical adjustment of development countries. But one should not forget that this region never had coherently working (landlines) broadband internet yet, due to vast geographical challenges. Hence, we will soon see a number of demographics and generations that never had internet in the first place being exposed to mobile connectivity everywhere and anytime. The way these people will use and behave in the digital space will be radically different.

Creators’ independence in Singapore

Singapore happens to be one of the few Asian countries that hold specific public funds for new media projects, although those funds are new and barely taken advantage of. Fund criteria are often excluding the majority of projects up front or address an entirely different medium altogether. Four years back I was involved in the Singapore Integrated Media Fund, which is still up and running. Despite its fancy title the fund exclusively addressed the local production and spent of feature films.

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) has and is about to set up funds for digital hybrid media projects, in fact it recently opened a call for projects in partnership with Unilever. But word on the street amongst local producers is: “We’ll do it on our own”. There seems to be some sort of public funding fatigue going around as every creator in town has had his/her personal share of adventures with these funding structures.

The general opinion is, and I strongly agree with this, a local industry can only thrive when it finds its own independent ways to survive on a sustainable level. Subsidization models create an atmosphere of self-censorship and misleading self-content that could work against the growth of the industry. Hence, one could say Singaporean creators are about to discover their digital creative identity by finding new business models for the entertainment market outside the obsolete system.

Every time I go to Singapore my horizon of what transmedia can deliver widens tremendously. Personally, I am stepping more and more away from feature film and TV to get involved in the advertising side of things. Transmedia strategies for brand building, business development and corporate training. Transmedia as means for experiential marketing.

The line between entertainment and advertising is gradually but quite distinctively disappearing. Branded entertainment, specifically for mobile consumption, will soon be a major industry pillar. Obviously, transmedia is simply a form of mindset. How creators approach projects, open up content to audiences and deal with new revenue models.

Empathy Led Activation

During the countless meetings and talks of the past two months I met the Singaporean media producer turned transmedia visionary Isaac Ray Thomas. He created a concept that perfectly sums up where Singapore is headed with the commercial side of transmedia projects. He calls it “Empathy Led Activation” (ELA) and you can check out his SlideShare here:

ELA embodies terminologies company execs and marketing directors can relate to and provides a very precise angle on the qualities of transmedia strategies in Asia. It is the mere design thinking methodology in telling stories that explains how this power can be leveraged to create specific audience/consumer actions.

ELA does not stop at a simple action or reaction a consumer will do after or while being immersed in a story experience. It also can influence audience behavior in daily life. This aspect is especially interesting to brands when it comes to social issues as well as corporate social responsibility programs. Just recently Unilever addressed this aspect of story marketing.

Language & identity

Traditionally, Singapore as a market in itself is far too small and film & TV producers have turned to Malaysia or China a long time ago. Despite the huge success of Singaporean film in 2013, domestic box office as well as international festival circuit, more and more filmmakers read the digital signs of the market and want to transition into alternative formats of production.

While Singapore is still a new nation and storytellers trying to find their very own narrative voice, the city-state is also one of the most international cities in the world. I have been around quite a lot but that many nationalities and religions on one single island is quite unique. Hence, there is a significant potential for international content that can travel to come from this country. Expanding productions into the SEA region is just the start. Many creators want to go beyond and could prove that a successful cross-cultural transmedia project can exist.

However, this cultural diversity also comes with an ongoing struggle about language identity within the traditional entertainment sector. “While we love movies from Hollywood or the United Kingdom, we do not want to see locals speak the same language they do.” Evidently, it boils down to the instant comparison between production values of Western English and local English movies/TV, where Singapore always picks the short end.

Traditional media around the world is facing the same issue, whereas transmedia can offer alternative points of entry for audiences; outside the boundaries of its own preoccupations and expectations. Therefore having barely international established formula or standards for transmedia production values is an advantage and eliminates quality comparisons up front.

On top, dealing with a variety of languages is something most local new media creators already do on a daily basis. Social media interactions and maintenance is done in at least two languages (English and Chinese), often even specialized channels for Tamil and Malay are being included to a project.

Hence, transmedia creators will be better equipped in dealing with various languages at ones and know how to work them into the stories in the first place, while those coming from traditional media need to adopt. New media technology also enables more diverse language implementations and is often more flexible to expand with the audience, like adding subtitles or providing more language options inside apps. This integrative aspect makes it an easy way to address and reach out to an audience outside the borders of Singapore.

Technology drivers

NFC/RFID appears to be a technology tool with untapped potential for creators in the region. Despite the wide use in the public transportation and card payments sectors it has yet to be commonly adopted by event organizers and especially storytellers for location based interactions.

OTT (Smart TV) will be one of the major drivers across Asia, tied in with m-Commerce. Spearheaded by the Chinese market, where a number of video platforms and media groups started co-operations with TV manufacturers, we will soon see an epic merger of mobile, commerce and entertainment. Tencent for instance, which runs highly popular web and mobile chat services like QQ and WeChat develops an in-house mobile payment system that integrates to their new Smart TV system WeChat TV, rolling out before Chinese New Year.

Meanwhile in Singapore, TV networks are still hesitant when it comes to leveraging OTT’s full potential with tailor made content and integrated cross-services. During a panel discussion at Screen Singapore in early December 2013, Lee Soo Hui, Head of Media Business Unit at Starhub, mentioned that the network is interested in going into the transmedia direction but still has not found the right local content. The other TV network giant, Mediacorp, does offer a variety of integrated (very) early stage OTT and online viewing infrastructures with its services Toggle and Xinmsn but seems to struggle taking the next step forward. The sociocultural conundrum outlined above is still in play here.

As one of my personal pet projects, I still see entertainment potential in the live action content Fulldome format, which has proven to be the most immersive tool of visual storytelling on the market. High-resolution Fulldome features tied in with an extended (mobile) transmedia experience outside the projection venue will take up a major stake of the business.

However, the venue infrastructure in SEA has yet to be established. China on the other hand will surely lead the introduction of this format as it has been subsidizing new dome venues for the past years and is ready when it comes to digital distribution infrastructures.

Transmedia in Singapore will start small and incremental. Dealing with the budget issue lean ways of rolling out a project will become the best practice. Given what kind of projects are being developed and pitched right now, location based transmedia experiences appear to dominate the first wave of projects.

I am reminded of this trend every day when passing the construction site of the new National Stadium. Singapore’s new sports hub and jewel of interactive media architecture. Once the stadium opens it will surely be a sandbox for advertisers and experience designers.

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The journey ahead

Now, this article might sound like that there have been no substantial projects produced in Singapore so far. In fact, talented Singaporean creators already came up with remarkable transmedia experiences over the past 6 years. Some even commissioned by large brands, others gained short-lived international media recognition. However, still, the market kept dismissing the trend and the signs of time, till now.

There is no doubt that Singapore is about to become a pioneering hub for transmedia in Asia. However, this development is not ignited by government initiatives, festival labs or academic programs. It is a movement solely headed by a small but growing group of independent creators that circumvent the corporate gate-keeping mentality by offering integrated strategies execs cannot refuse.

Communicating and educating what transmedia concepts are about in a language brands understand while creating tailor made content for and with the local audience will be their selling point. Once this is clearly communicated it will be obvious for brands and agencies that without pivoting to a transmedia approach in customer relationship management there will be too much left on the table.

Singapore is no media paradise at this point in time, but rather a rough territory for digital prospectors. The chances for striking gold are plenty but also risky. While the journey ahead is still long and bumpy, the direction is clear.

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Notes:

As there are a couple more factors that come into play but have been barely touched upon, I will publish an extended and updated version of this article, especially addressing the implications and changes of the movie industry in SEA with the emergence of transmedia in the region, in the upcoming edition of our Asian Screen report series.

For all Singapore creators and producers, I created a monthly meetup series where we discuss about transmedia concepts, latest local projects and exchange ideas. Please join the community of storytellers here. For everyone outside of Singapore feel free to join as well and stay in touch with the local industry on news, projects and future reports.

00c6 – new transmedia experience raising awareness about China’s Gendercide

Intro

00c6 is a transmedia project about China’s imminent Gendercide crisis, centering on a fictional post-apocalyptic SciFi webseries. The project was started in 2011 and went through quite a lot of changes, especially in title. To provide a complete understanding of its production and creation process as well as its structure, we created our trademark project DNA map, including all links to every channel.

Webseries storyline

“In a near future, China’s society has developed a critical demographic imbalance. The number of male Chinese increased rapidly. Women become a minority. A greedy subculture emerges, taking advantage of this situation. Ruled by a private conglomerate called “the æ Corporation”, the market for selling the pleasure of a woman for one night to desperate men is a monopoly. The price for this exquisite virtue are the men’s lives!
Set out on the remaining remote archipelago of deserted and flooded Hong Kong, men in groups of three have to compete against each other in a brutal fight of survival. The trophy, a single woman inside a secret compound. Only the last survivor is granted access…”

Phase #1

Let’s untangle the most confusing part of the project first, the title. Originally, this project was the Masters of Fine Arts thesis production of Marco Sparmberg at the HK Baptist University’s Academy of Film. When story development and location scouting began in late summer 2011, the initial idea was a 20min short film with the working title BLACK JUNGLE. Despite the positive experience gained on producing a new story format before (the webseries SQUATTERTOWN), Marco rooted for a traditional short film for his thesis to comply with outdated university regulations and the proven limited willingness of dealing with experimental formats by the university’s lectures and staff.

[concept art]

Soon, as the script progressed, most locations were locked down and pre-production began, the title was changed into HÆXAGON. The Æ became an integral part of the short film’s production design and story. Two project web pages were set up. One, the cryptic 00c6.org that was supposed to function as hidden code and primary project page. The other, haexagon.org, as corporate page for the fictional company from the original story.

logo_evolution[Æ logo evolution]

Updates about the production were mainly given via personal social media channels of cast and crew. Only a G+ page was launched to provide the ability to follow the project publicly. Fundraising for HÆXAGON was solely conducted on a private and corporate sponsorship level, no public crowdfunding campaign on any online platform. From the projected HK$300,000 the team was able to raise 1/3 in cash, the rest in soft sponsorship. The film was complete according to production plan by end of April 2012, without major quality trade-offs.

One of the primary challenges of this thesis production was the legal situation. The university did not provide any support on a single legal production issue, which means the team was not able to acquire any form of insurance needed as the university was not willing to stand in as production company. This situation rendered the entire project as an illegal venture under the Hong Kong law.  Hence, we created our own production company, as it is common practice for feature film projects (but not necessarily for shorts).

Also, common practice is to name a production company by the title of the film. In January 2012, Haexagon Concepts Ltd. was founded and HÆXAGON was its first project. The previous fictional haexagon.org project web page was turned into the official company page and 00c6.org became main focus of the project.

web_evolution [00c6.org page evolution]

After the short film was completed, screened internally at the university to fulfill its thesis production purpose, an international festival run was attempted.

Meanwhile, Haexagon Concepts, the production company, was turned into a transmedia IP management & development agency and started regular business operations by producing other content and IPs.

The storyline of HÆXAGON was further developed into a feature film treatment with the title DAMAGE REMOVAL. The short film however, was never screened publicly nor released officially. Screener copies on DVD and Blu-Rays are available but not for sale.

poster_coll [HÆXAGON poster collection]

Phase #2

Despite dealing with other projects and new clients we always felt HÆXAGON, as one of our in-house signature IPs needed a next step forward and won’t just end with the completion of this short film. In late 2012 we always used HÆXAGON for technical experiments and tried to pair it up with new solutions and strategies that emerged. Like a lab guinea pig, it got every media injection available to see how it reacts.

In early 2013 the plan was made to bring the project into its second phase. In order to reduce the title confusion with our company, the project was renamed 00C6 and the short film reedited into a webseries season, adding a number of new content. Hence, five episodes for the first season were created. The story got extended by means of an interactive tumblr blog (access password: 00c6) that functions as whistle-blower character, disclosing secrets from the series’ fictional universe.

First, the series will be available exclusively on Blip.tv and published on YouTube on December 6th, 2013.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYOVrBoA.x?p=1 width=”640″ height=”388″]

Objective in this phase is to provide a stronger focus on the project’s non-fiction aspects. A new Twitter account is used to provide articles, writings and other background documentation about the real Gendercide situation in China. While 00c6.org functions as fictional extension to the webseries that is hosted at video platforms alongside with other videos about the production, Flickr (make sure to log-in otherwise you might not be able to see all pictures) is used to host the incredibly powerful set photography of Jonathan van Smit that tell their very own little stories. Combining platform of fiction and non-fiction elements is Pinterest, providing an array of pin boards on both topics and all major project content.

00c6_YTthumb_trailer [web banner]

With this strategy, we created a number of entry points for new users/participants. Depending on from what side 00c6 is being approached, there are always interconnected links or additional information that lead to another platform without duplicating content in different channels simultaneously. The range and versatility of the non-fiction project part will be growing within the months to come.

Phase #3

Right now, we just started Phase #2 and want to test the general response on the project and what kind of feedback we get from online/mobile audiences in order to develop further storylines and project extensions.

We already experimented with some technology last year and were planning to create a hiking experience. A trail that leads to the locations where the webseries was shot with either an augmented reality overlay app (image recognition like Aurasma) or hidden NFC check-ins where hikers can watch clips from the project that were shot at that respective location. This experience would tap into the local Geo-cashing community and needs specific incentives to be conducted successfully.

map

On the non-fiction side of the project, we are currently talking to other related organizations that deal with a similar topics and exploring co-operations and future side projects. Hence, there is much underway but primarily it depends on the audience and where it wants us to be headed with 00c6.

#transmedia watch Hong Kong (spring 2013 edition)

2013 already started promising in HK. The annual film industry fair, HK Filmart, adopted a number of interactive exhibition tools and the word storytelling is finally used in combination with technology and cross platform. Of course, one of our flagship projects, the immersive FullDome entertainment for high resolution live-action content production was one of the major presentations at Filmart and hopefully injects a new wave of interactive next generation content.

However, the local film industry has yet to go all-in on the transmedia game. But content creators in other sectors of the entertainment and media business are much faster in implementing their ideas to and with new media. I came across 2 exceptional projects and will give a brief intro:

#HKproblems The Play

A friend of mine and former actor in our short film “Haexagon” told me that he got involved in a new theater play that draws its ideas from the popular social media phenomenon that is generally known on Twitter as #HKproblems. These are all-day-life troubles of (primarily) expats living in HK. Common situations of the absurd, annoying or funny nature that only people who actually live or lived in HK can fully comprehend.

Now, a group of expats and returnees turned a selection of the best (or rather worst) episodes into a full blown theater play during which they animate the audience to keep their phones turned on and tweet. Of course, everyone from the team is on Twitter and event promotion via YouTube (video extensions!), WordPress and Facebook is part of the project as well.

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I was able to attend a preview show during the bi-monthly #TDHK (Twitter Drinking Hong Kong) and get an idea where this project is headed. While I liked the selection of this sketch comedy like setup what most struck me was the daring presentation of topics. In a city where mainstream rules everything and media makers are afraid of losing even a single audience with appalling or offensive content (despite having a tradition and recent proof in cinemas of selling with such topics) this play came off quite refreshing.

On the other hand I wished that the makers of this play would have gone a bit further in redefining the medium of theater while assimilating the features of the source content’s original medium. Reciting in 140 character blocks for example. However,  I saw on Twitter that they took use of phones and messaging services during the actual stage performance which is an admirable, yet tricky thing for a live show. Hope there is more to come. Shows ran from March 21-23, 2013.

Links:

Blog: http://hkproblemstheplay.wordpress.com http://www.hkeld.com/events/view/151

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HKProblems_play

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Hkproblemstheplay

GigaBitePlus – Keith Sir

During Filmart I bumped into a workshop called “Micro-Film is the Future of Media – Personal TV Station”  organized by the HK Television Association where young students were presented with a music video shooting set that would explain the production process. I met Keith Sir, a young musician and music educator who manages to do something most self-proclaimed transmedia talkers deny that it exists: he makes a living with transmedia.

In late 2011, Keith opened his own studio for recording music and teaching students. He browsed the web and found that music instruction videos on YouTube are tremendously popular, only, no one in HK is actually doing it. Hence, he re-branded the idea, gave it a full local make-over and fired up about 500 instruction videos for a number of instruments, styles and song writing on his YouTube channel. Those videos are mostly split-screen with him playing the instruments and the keyboard and/or note papers. His channel got almost 26k subscribers and over 6 millions views. However, this channels is only partially monetized and he does not charge for the videos!

keithsir

Old media people would be shocked now, as he is giving away such a huge amount of potential cash-in by the traditional business models. For Keith, these videos are customer care, branded storytelling extensions in a way. He makes his money with music education and students visiting his studio. In fact, this became so successful during the past months that he opened 4 more branches and created a team of fellow teachers to take care of the vast amount of customers.

Social media is a major part in his strategy. He turned his personal Facebook profile into a blog with over 17k subscribers and is also active on Google Plus and Sina Weibo. The What’sApp messenger service is crucial for his customer care and he provides a phone number in every video so people can get in direct contact with him.

It is important to understand that Keith offers an entirely localized service. All those video views, all those subscribers, all the interaction come from Cantonese speaking people in HK only. He found himself a market niche and serves it well by having a direct connection and feeling for the needs of his audience.

Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gigabiteplus

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/gigabiteplus/

Webpage: http://www.keithsir.com/

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Transmedia Watch Hong Kong will return soon, with more projects and new insights on the local transmedia developments!

Subscribe to our Transmedia Newsletter HK mailing list: http://eepurl.com/qku9b

Transmedia DNA of SQUATTERTOWN

Every now and then we will present a DNA map of one of our transmedia projects and discuss what happened inside the story universe and what have been project results as well as our personal takeaways. A transmedia project is a living thing, a constant emerging IP that keeps growing. Hence, we can only address intermediate stage results.

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Squattertown is one of our longest running transmedia project out in the field. The idea roots back to mid 2009. We wanted to try how a Hong Kong version of the Spaghetti Western would look like. By December 2009 we came up with a quick shrot named DUE PAROLE, TRE BUGIE that was created as homage to the famous Westerns and set at a small seaside village amongst old ruins of a former fort. The film proofed that we could pull it off and that the HK Western had very strong visual potential.

So we began to develop the concept of the Dim Sum Western. HK is an urban territory ruled by skyscrapers. Thus, a local version of the Western had to reflect this situation since all social issues are linked to narrow concrete blocks within this city. We learned about squatter housing structures on rooftops by a book called  “Portraits from Above – Hong Kong’s Informal Rooftop Communities”. Structures that appear like decaying elevated villages in the midst of new high tech glass palaces. Visually, the perfect setting for a Western. The idea of Squattertown was born. Since we were already about to break the rules of the impossible and attempting to push the boundaries of what was deemed achievable in Hong Kong we decided to go for the format mini-series. Except for one foreign filmmaker in town, no one had touched this particular format at the time.

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[click here to see full res image]

On August 8, 2010 we started the crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, thinking to hold the ultimate pitch: A Dim Sum Western webseries on Hong Kong’s rooftops with a social note. However, the four funding months to come were bumpy and chaos ridden. It needs to be said, that we were running Squattertown as a side project, parallel to day jobs and master studies. None of us made a webseries before nor had experience in crowdfunding. We did some open source projects prior, that involved crowdsourcing of content and interactive participation by the audience, but never applied to project finance.

To coin the subgenre of the Dim Sum Western a designated Twitter and WordPress blog was installed to provide more insight on the definition and what films might be already belonging to that special species.

As we developed and extended the fundraising campaign, literally on the run, producing extra content, linking social networks with the campaign page and pitching the project all over town, there was a time when things got serious. The Indiegogo campaign was stalling for most of the time. Money kept coming in, mostly via private sponsors in face-to-face meetings but we still could not make our small budget. On top, the actual shoot had to be prepared and there wasn’t even a script yet. This was 2 months before the scheduled shooting date.

So we hit the brakes a bit. Postponed the shoot for one month and went on another crowdsponsoring platform as Indiegogo closed with only 1/3 of the budget in. While we were successfully funded on the new German platform MySherpas as one of their launching projects, location scouting began and it was then when we became aware of the full social dimensions of our specific topic. Property developers were about to demolish all the locations we had picked and it became a race against time.

If you want to read more about our adventurous shoot on Hong Kong’s rooftops, dodging triads and security guards while staging knive fights in public read our production logs here.

Due to the harsh conditions, more less remote locations and very tight shooting schedule we could not open the production process as much as we were used to. Usually we would have live video streaming from the set and an on-site reporter giving updates on live chats and twitter. So we tried to reinstall those interactive components during post-production as well as the launch of the series.

The Facebook page was an integral part of the project, but not so much as interaction platform but rather as archive of everything that happened around the project. This made quite a lot of sense when Facebook introduced it’s timeline structure a year later. Central point however, was the simple designed project webpage that linked all social networks and internet channels.

Prior to the physical premiere event in HK, the series saw two preview screening session on a live video streamed internet radio show. Additionally, we went several times on air with the team of East Screen, West Screen, a local HK podcast show that turned it’s recording sessions into weekly live-stream events with chat functions and provided updates on the project as well as educated about transmedia.

On July 30, 2011 Squattertown premiered at Videotage in HK as closing event to the New Media Archeology project series. During the event the Austrian company RealLifeConnect supplied us with their RFID check-in solutions and helped to link up the premiere audience with an online audience. Most popular was the photo box solution where visitors could wear the series’ costumes and take pictures that were shared with their Facebook friends instantly.

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The interactivity impact of this event was overwhelming and online metrics went through the roof. Two days later, on August 1st, the series was launched online on YouTube and Vimeo. Subsequently, throughout the month, supplementary videos, posters, photos and additional story elements via interactive Flash maps were released.

When Google+ launched during the same time we tried to incorporate the new platform technology into the project and setup a “Squatter Town” account that became quite popular with over 1K of followers after only 2 weeks but got soon shut down by Google as it violated their identity regulations at the time.

Besides the regular video platforms we tried new self-distribution methods and became testers for EggUp’s web service. We also tried to create a mobile app but subsequently had to abandon the  idea due to technical and time issues. Ultimately we got in contact with MoPix where we are currently developing a series app as part of the beta tester program. A limited BluRay release has been issued in late 2011.

Eventually, we had to push Squattertown periodically aside in order to focus on other projects, which means we could not follow up on all opportunities at hand. Also, since the project was a test run in every aspect, this stage of the p
roject fell a bit short in terms of story development. There is a lot of potential and we created this vast story universe but had no real chance to dig deeper or go into details at points.

In January 2012, Squattertown started its successful festival run, first in Hong Kong, then abroad. Notable is the November 30, 2012 screening at the Unofficial Google Plus Film Festival that reflected the transparent audience approach and interactive note of the overall project.

According to our experiences from the past 12 months, it is quite evident that the format webseries has made a huge leap forward. While we struggled to get the word out in late 2011, things became much easier. A huge international community has evolved around webseries. It became a serious business, providing a living for some makers as well. The trend is clear, branded entertainment is not only a finance source to get the project produced but also a steady income source for the makers.

Of course, the webseries community is thriving in North America and parts of Europe at the moment. In Asia the attitude is slightly different. While branded entertainment is a common place for TV series and so called microfilms by now, investors and major networks focus on webseries more and more. Only, no one calls it webseries here. However, at this point in history, established and well known feature filmmakers are given exclusive chance to test such branded entertainment formats. It has yet to become a standalone business for independent filmmakers.

While local HK TV seems to be stuck behind the curve, unwilling to pivot to the market trend (no sign of transmedia or second screen apps), Mainland Chinese networks are far more flexible. Especially the major internet video platforms invest substantial budgets into such formats.

Different than in the West, independent filmmakers in HK are very reserved, yes even reluctant to adopt the new formats or even just try out what transmedia could mean to their storytelling. Most consider a Facebook page and a Weibo account as peak of their public appearance which they exploit soley for marketing purposes. As most aim for film festival and traditional press fame they forget to touch base with and build an audience.

But what is the future for Squattertown?

We still need to run in low gear mode as a side project. A concept teaser for season 2 is already online. Once finance is secured we start working on that fulltime. Meanwhile, we tackle to extend the story aspects that fell short for so long. Focus will be given to the Twitter account now. The adventurous tales from the Dim Sum Western universe are about to begin, 140 characters at a time…

More project links:

> Fundraising:

> Production:

> Release:

> Premiere:

Virality is dead, long live Buyrality

Those were the days when you had a crazy idea, made an even more crazy internet meme, put it up on Facebook, shared it amongst your friends and it went viral. Those were the days, yes; those were Facebook’s pre-IPO-days. Ever since the blue social media conglomerate took on public shareholders the game changed on the web. All of a sudden, FB had to proof it’s monetary value and that they can actually make money out of something that was supposed to connect people for free in the first place.

We accepted a long time ago that FB monetizes on our private data in exchange for providing the perfect platform to create your own virtual influence universe while establishing your fake web persona. An illusion blown out of proportion by 2000 friends and a Klout score of 73 that manifests your global online celebrity status. Now, FB goes further and capitalizes on this very attention addiction of its users and turns their wallets against their egos.

FB controls 100% what goes viral on their own platform since October 2012. If you want to reach someone, let it be your page fans or even your own mother, you going to pay for it. Sponsored posts, FB ads, in-stream ads, in-search ads, whatever it takes to push your own stats back to the numbers of 2 months ago, you pay!

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The outcry on blogs was loud when the news stream algorithm changed, post reaches dropped 40%. Most effected FB pages. Some posted advices like “add us to a list to make sure you still see our posts”. But it was already to late.

I was reading on various pages that this 40% decrease was more less a fantasy number. Reality was far bleaker than expected. One said, his page had around 9K likes and an average of 2K reach on regular posts. Now, with FB’s new indirect paywall, one post reaches barely 200.  Yes, that’s right, that would be 10% of his previous reach, not 40% less.

But what is “reach”? What does actually count as reach? FB provides us with metrics that we take for granted. We build entire startups around them, yes even weekly community meetings. But ultimately no one exactly knows what goes into those numbers and how reliable they are.

The story is the same everywhere. Our own company page on FB does not have 9K likes, we got a modest 239, but still can feel the impact. A regular post would reach about 100 page followers. Now, it’s down to 60-70. Posts that reach beyond 100 are usually photos with people tagged inside.

Biggest difference for us was, that we not only lost reach but also interactions. Regular posts would have a couple of likes and some comments from time to time. Now, the majority of posts are doomed to rot as unliked social media zombie.

Hence, it’s no far stretch to think that a post, which has supposedly a reach of 70, isn’t actually seen by anyone since there is no indication of existence outside the page at all. When you run a FB page you will know that the majority of fans don’t see the content on the page itself but rather “mirrored” in their news stream. So it’s safe to say, FB’s new algorithm cuts you off the streams, you’re isolated.

We came up with a little survey post to simply see who can actually see page posts at all. Those were the findings:

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 (all data as of November 12, 2012)

Stats
  • Lifetime post reach: 156
  • Lifetime post organic reach: 101
  • Lifetime post paid reach: 3
  • Lifetime post viral reach: 59
  • Lifetime post total impressions: 539
  • Lifetime post organic impressions: 378
  • Lifetime post viral impressions: 158
  • Lifetime engaged users: 22
  • Lifetime talking about this: 16
  • Lifetime post stories: 20
  • Lifetime post consumers: 19
  • Lifetime post consumption: 61
  • Lifetime negative feedback: 2
  • Lifetime Post Impressions by people who have liked your Page: 371
  • Lifetime Post Reach by people who like your Page: 90
  • Lifetime Post Paid Impressions by people who have liked your page: 1
  • Lifetime People who have liked your Page and engaged with: 18
  • Lifetime People Talking About your post by those who have liked your Page: 15

Take from those numbers whatever you want. What strikes me most are two groups of numbers: 1) The paid reach, since we never sponsored the post. We intended to, in order to test this option too and provide two seperate sets of numbers but couldn’t due to technical reasons. 2) The negative feedback. Obviously this post was so offensive for two of our page followers that they muted it on their own news stream.

But who did we actually reach with the post as the purpose of this survey? Out of all those numbers we can only be sure on the people who liked (15 on the page, 2 off page), commented (1) and sort of disliked (2) the post and this would be 19 out of 239, 8% of all page followers!

Of course, this is no real sample case study to proof anything, especially since our page got comparatively low like numbers. But chances are the findings and theory above apply to most pages.

I was stunned to see that a local ad agency who pivot their core business to FB marketing in the past months seems to suffer from a far greater effect of FB’s changes than ours. While we run a micro community on our page that is more likely to engage, they boost up their like numbers via FB’s ad offers and created “own” strategies (which are quite universal as FB provides the rules and playground of this game in specific detail). They started with a similar like number like us back in June/July 2012. Now, they passed the 7k mark. Their sponsored posts are everywhere, 24/7. But now things become obvious. Posts that have not been sponsored reach an average of 15-25 likes. Sponsored posted come in at 200+ likes. So do the math on your own here.

Naturally, this agency makes money and got loads of running clients, cause we’re in a vicious spiral here. Once you crossed a certain social media stats peak you’re willing to pay to keep it up there and you’re even more willing to pay additional premiums to get numbers higher.

Companies who justified their business with social media numbers are hooked at this point. They can’t afford to loose out now even though such numbers are entirely unrelated to their real life sales/business. The wheel keeps spinning, the bubble keeps blowing up.

So let me close with a US ad agency video that brilliantly sums up the state of mind Facebook and most other social media page
s are at, on their strive to monetize imaginary assets:

– John St. explains what Buyral is: