#transmedia watch Hong Kong (Summer 2013 edition v.2)

This HK Transmedia Watch follow-up post will showcase a small local student project that combines Indonesian Puppetry with transmedia elements as well as take a look at the endorsement culture and stalling strategies of local film distributors when it comes to promotion gambles that potentially maximizing the box office results.

Digital Wayang

I stumbled more less by “accident” upon this project as Facebook was targeting a sponsored post to my wall on the day of the event. Created by a group of media design students from HK Polytechnic University, this project attempts to revive the almost lost artistry of the Indonesian Puppet/Shadow Play and its vast and rich storytelling heritage by the use of digital means.

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Core of Digital Wayang was a live performance of renowned puppet artist Aldy Sanjaya who came to HK with his whole set of traditional puppets to present a part of the well known Ramayana story. He was accompanied by a set of story world supporting animations projected onto the stage.

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The project also includes a board game of which I was fortunate enough to receive one of the prototypes. A digital version of this game will soon be released as iPad app and brings the user deeper into the fascinating universe of Wayang. After the digital show Sanjaya gave an introduction to Indonesian culture and the history of his puppetry art.

IMG_7564 Digital Wayang offered a mesmerizing experience of visuals, game and culture. It gave a glimpse into how traditional art can be garner to a young audience by the use of transmedia. While the limitations of the project within this academic environment were outweighing its commercial appeal, it still displayed the potential of interdisciplinary media and experiential entertainment based on traditional storytelling and local culture. It most definitely made me research on Indonesian puppet theater and think about other ways of “media-upgrading” this unique story experience.

http://www.digitalwayang.com/

https://www.facebook.com/digitalwayang

http://digitalwayang.blogspot.hk/

Endorsement culture

The heavily buzzed local dance film The Way We Dance launched at HK theaters early August after being locked up for 5 months following its premiere screening in March 2013. The distributor applied the frequently used and favored strategy of withholding a local film, produced for a local audience, from the local market while running it on festivals all over the world. I’ll talk a bit more about this specific market stalling tactics later on, let me walk you through the marketing choreography of this film first.

Obviously, The Way We Dance comes off as HK’s version of Street Dance and taps into the most desirable target demographic imaginable. Street dancing is tremendously popular amongst local teens and even tweens, and presents its local story about following your dreams with up and coming music and model stars. Hence, the vitally important Millennial audience group is perfectly served. In fact, this concept is the wet dream of a HK producer and sounds like a money making machine. The Street Dance films have produced solid box office results so far. What could possibly go wrong with a localized version?

The traditional marketing machinery was quickly ramping up after screenings at Udine and Edinburgh. Appearances of cast and crew at preview screenings, radio shows, TV and a street performance of graffiti artists tied in with people holding up pre-selected cards with dream wishes for a nice Facebook photo. Social media was leveraged to its fullest. Events at HK universities and WeChat where actors talk, talk, talk, talk and talk… (not dance).

The 360-buzz worked. Word of mouth and reviews have been dazzling positive throughout. The distributor lined up a typhoon of veteran film stars and director legends like Ann Hui to endorse the project publicly (without understanding the culture behind it though). One could have the impression this project is a collective effort of the entire HK film industry, at least what is left of it anyway. The veterans praised the film with comparisons to the HK New Wave movement from the early 1980s. Wait! WHAT??? A film that is about street dancing and targeted to Millennials? Kids that consider everything older than 5 years is dusted movie history?

Clearly there is a significant disconnect between this traditional art film campaign and and the YouTube generation it is created for. It does not matter how often the audience sees the film’s cute actors talking about themselves and how amazing the production time was. A campaign simply renders ineffective once no one thought about how to get these kids involve and let them interact. After all it IS about dancing and music. Fast, vibrant, connected and energetic. This is what a campaign needs to serve to keep pace with its audience. What they got instead was a snail race and the films own audience outrun it the moment the crew started shooting in silence.

In fact, cinemas saw what was going on with the film’s marketing and gave it a limited amount of shows for it’s opening weekend. The first 4 days (including previews) cashed in a solid but not overwhelming HK$ 1.4 million. Considering the amount of buzz this borders at the realms of under-performance. But HK kids love the film, they want it to be a success. Hence, they jump in where the distributor failed. Large amounts of tickets are being bought up by fans, sold amongst their friends via WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook. Others create Facebook events to get their peers mobilized. The effort was enormous and picked up speed quickly. Usually, a local film would drop in admissions during it’s first week in cinemas but The Way We Dance managed to keep steadily afloat, with a total box office of HK$ 3.54 after the 2nd weekend.

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Just as side comparison, Dante Lam’s new film Unbeatable (admittedly a more commercial and mainstream production) just made HK$ 9.46 after 4 days (including previews). Even though it got more screens in cinemas it had a slightly less buzzed traditional campaign going, mainly based on 1 single magazine cover. While Unbeatable aims for a clearly higher demographic that is fewer in numbers, I dare to say that the core message of following your dream is equally included like in The Way We Dance.

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Recently, another local release went for a similar basic marketing campaign. The horror film omnibus series Tales From The Dark. My very first encounter with Tales was at the cinema. Right in-between thundering trailers to Men of Steel and The Wolverine there was this two and a half minute something with a supposedly scary background music and a dozen of HK stars trying to convince me how horrifying and cool this flick would be. Essentially I sat through interviews disguised as trailer.

This is a very common way of promoting films. Usually the first teaser to a local production is always a 2 minute making of. Personally I find that most irritating. After all, Hollywood studios won’t show you how the Avengers look like in front of a green screen before the first teaser trailer with all the smashing effects is out there for months already.

Endorsements have become the prime objective to all marketing efforts. The actual film has become less important than the person that is endorsing it. What distributors forget is that this situation resonates very little with the Millennials demographic but rather engages a far older audience that is less willing to spend their quality time in dark rooms with small screens. Eventually the economics are simple. When distributors target the senior demographic group the box office result will be less due to the discount schemes. On top, this audience group will most likely choose weekend morning shows which brings the discount ticket price even further down.

Stalling as promotion

Let me cycle back to the notorious stalling tactics by distributors. It has become fashionable to premiere and run a HK film abroad for a period up to 1 year till it finally hits the locals screens in its own market. Usually this involves screenings at festivals while domestic press is reporting about the raving reviews and marketing stunts this film does somewhere on the other side of the globe. Ann Hui’s A Simple Life was such a case. The cultural conscious proofs this tactics right. HK audience seems to react very strongly to things that they are excluded from. Hence witnessing a local film doing its theater run in North America builds up an enormous urge to see this “forbidden” treasure once the local distributor is gracious enough to allow it to its own viewers.

Since this has proven to ensure the success of a film in HK we usually get to see all the highlights of HK  cinema for the running year during the industry’s fair Filmart in March as stealth screenings or one-off events until their actual release far later down the road. Pang Ho Cheung’s Vulgaria was such a shelved title. But different to most films it gained significance in cultural meaning and momentum during the months of hiding from the screens due to political developments and trends in HK happening in spring and summer 2012.

Apparently, some local films are being shelved for several years as the distributors wait for a miracle. Obviously the main trouble does not lie within distribution but rather the fact that local films are being produced without the slightest attempt to gather the needed market and audience research up front. In fact most local films are never intended to be appreciated by a local audience and hence will never see the point of significance for a release.

What strikes me recently is the silent underground movement of the Bollywood films on HK’s screens that discloses what’s wrong with the city’s marketing thinking of maintaining the status quo instead of pivoting to innovation. Evidently there is a growing community of HK moviegoers that appreciates the extravaganza only an Indian film can offer these days. It is a rare exception that Bollywood films get picked up by local distributors or even see a wider release despite the proven recent success of films like 3 Idiots or Barfi. However, there are still day-and-date released of all the big blockbusters.

Specialized niche distributors like Cineworld, sitting somewhere inside Chungking Mansion, with strong connections to the home land buy up entire screens and resell the tickets. Shows are usually limited but always sold out. In fact ticket sales go so well that after one of the major cinemas in town that had the seat capacity and “willingness” to book Bollywood films closed down earlier this year, shows moved to an IMAX screen.

Transmedia and the New Generation

First – lil disclaimer… this is by no means either a scientific or mathematical study.

What follows below is an informal conversation (I would love to attend a formal conversation with them!) between me and 3 members of the new generation of consumers of entertainment content – a 13 year old European girl, a 14 year old Chinese girl and a 15 year old American boy – Teenagers/Kids/Tweens.

I’ve been reading up lately on the new generational consumption of common media (the paper Generation M2, Kids’ TV Trends and a few others) and for a couple of weeks, before I started talking to the only people I know that are inside the age bracket tested in the papers (between 8 and 18) who were willing to answer a few questions, have been fascinated by how much different the new generation of kids around the world is – from my generation – in regards to the centrality of the TV as the main medium of content consumption.

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I come from a generation that the first thing they’d do before brushing their teeth, was to go turn on the TV and either watch cartoons, or the VHS tapes of previously taped shows (pirate tapes were a dime a dozen in my “entertainment cupboard”), then, when we’d come back from school and the half-dozen activities we’d do afterwards, we’d turn back the TV while doing homework and till our eyes almost bled from exhaustion. I admit… it wasn’t healthy.

I fried a lot (LOT) of neurons paying attention to all the silly details bombarded at me by European/American TV channels (MTV was a favorite at the time – Cartoon Network at a later stage – Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, Samurai Jack, etc) and when I became a teenager, I’d stay up with my parents, first watching the news bulletins (local and international… I know… geek…) and then watching a few TV series before going to bed (ER, X-Files, Dawson’s Creek – Yes!… Kill me…  etc). Bear in mind, at the time, there was no internet and if I wanted to know about the new hip shows, schedules, etc, I’d have to scour through newspapers, magazines and most of the times, be submitted to the taste of the channel content developers/programmers… so… a lot of bad content was consumed… (un)fortunately.

This remembrance of my past habits is brought to light, mostly to showcase the contrast between what some of us might have done, and what “the kids are doing today” (terrible phrase to use but it’s the only way I see how to describe it…).

I was pushed content. When I looked for it, it was complicated to locate/see. I taped what I liked, and it was an ordeal to do so, as well as replaying what I liked (also… illegal). I was bombarded by advertisements and by “Fo-advertisements” (very popular in the 90’s in Asia) all my life. All my life that is, till I went to college, when the “internet revolution happened” (it happened a few years before I went, but I delay it here for “dramatic effect”). This is where a shift in my consumption happened. But today… I live with a mix of the 2. Half of my content is gauged through TV (slowly becoming 1/3), the other half, through the internet and surrounding media (mobile, ipTV, etc).

So… back to the kids…

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First difference… Main mode of consumption – all 3. Yes, you read it right. All 3 of the kids tell me that their main mode of content consumption is, either, their Mobile Phone, their home-computer/iPad or an internet connected screen (a Google enabled Samsung Smart TV in this case). This isn’t news. For anyone that has paid any attention to their cities, they see how kids walk around the street… either gazing at their mobile phones, or at someone else’s (something that also fascinates me as my first phone was a 3210 Nokia that the best I could do was play Snake or program music through keytones…).

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What do they watch – Internet content channels (subscribed channels, mostly due to popularity and of amount of content) like RayWilliamJohnson, JennaMarbles, Smosh, freddiew, VEVO, Michelle Phan, etc; anime/cartoons on either Youtube, or Free Series Sites (mostly illegal).

Here, once again, was something that fascinated me… I divided my childhood between European/American cartoons and Japanese Anime… but my choice was never close to the enormity of content and Anime that now exists… I was limited to the few series that had VHS, VCD, DVD content – I’d, most of the time, spend most of my allowance to buy a VHS/DVD that would last me 2/3 months of views and reviews – and the ones that were shown at the wee hours of the day (Dragon Balls, for example, was only shown after 24.00 due to violent content), these kids watch a series on youtube (several Anime series exist on the platform, most content uploaders subverting the copyright issues by either cutting the episodes into small pieces, or distorting mildly the sound of the episodes).

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They also consume TV shows like How I Met your Mother, Masterchef Kids, iCarly, etc, but they do it in a non-sequential way, most of the time even consuming some episodes online, then on TV, then on mobile, then on DVD/Bluray (this system completely bogs my mind… I like either to watch a series in bulk – OCD sometimes kicks in on this – or keep the expectation of a new episode week-by-week), then back on TV. This non-fidelity to the story structured system of TV
shows is what amazes me. A show is, for them, meant to entertain momentarily for the minutes they watch it and that’s it (mostly). That’s why shows that are almost not entirely sequential, even though they may not have the necessary/desired Nielsen ratings, keep coming to the air, yoy. They may not be important on a weekly basis, but are consumed entirely nonetheless.

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How do they know what to watch – no… advertising doesn’t work they say… of course to this I cry bullshit, as most of the shows they consume are strategically created so advertisements blend seamlessly between weekly/non-sequential shows and the viewer’s daily lives/routines. They may not press the banner ads in the channels, but they see the playlist content available in them. They don’t download apps by what they need (see/hear in the ads) but by their popularity on the app store (Android or Apple). They watch a show, tell their friends, and make it a point to see all of the episodes (in sequence or not), just so they can “say they’ve seen them”, or at least “talk about certain aspects of the shows”. This to me looks (feels) like a self-centric (in a non-hypocritical way) and communal content consumption habit, which becomes almost incongruous, but ends up being extremely efficient at increasing the amount of information (entertainment, since news is something that “they watch when their next to their parents”), that these kids are consuming.

I am certain they, have watched a lot more content, varied or similar (here the idea of looking for content instead of watching what is fed to you, elevates the amount of differentiated content that they consume as its showcased by one example from the Chinese girl where she likes to hear, mostly Pop music from the US, but then also hears Metal from the Anime shows and Classical Rock from the TV shows), than their previous generations, but a problem arises… to me at least… they only consume what they want. When they want. How they want. There is no curator for what they consume. For 2 of them, there isn’t even a censor (the 3rd has a family filter – something I think may not be that difficult to circumvent). This is worrying. And appealing at the same time.

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It worries me that the intelligence of consumption may be warped by the quality of the content. But then that has always happened…  It appeals to me because then it means that, at an early stage, consumers are becoming differentiated in the content they consume. Little niches are being created. Little “villages of consumption”. This is the bread and butter of Transmedia.

As Transmedia developers we need an audience that knows exactly the type of content they want to consume. Sometimes by the appeal that we as marketers may have over them, but…. most of the times… by the quality, theme and appeal of the content. In whatever media it is transmitted/transformed for their consumption.

Saw_movie

Last but not least… How do we talk to them – age is a pretty big factor in this point. Although most children would like to think that they are grown up, or that adults should talk to them like they are “little adults”, a bit of care needs to come into play.

The 3 of the kids I talked to had all seen pornographic content (not news… as the age of consumption of pornography has now “stabilized” at 11 years), and they all see R-rated content regularly (either by lack of attention of their parents over the content they consume on their personal devices, or by “permission” of their parents). As I was talking to them, I was constantly mesmerized by their “jadedness” over some of the films I mentioned to them (Final Destination, REC, Hannibal, SAW, etc), all seemingly “violent but not traumatizing” – I find it funny how they themselves evaluate how they are supposedly affected by the content. For games, it wasn’t much different – most had played Dead Space, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, God of War, etc. All pretty violent (content restricted), even for my age, but they simply don’t care. Oh… and most (all I’d think), don’t pay for their content. If they can’t find it for free… they go somewhere else… I digress…

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To find a point of common knowledge was also complicated. They don’t see films from before the 21st century. With TV series it’s the same. On the games the only thing that matters is quality of graphics and if they are entertaining (all had Angry Birds on their phones). They like short content, fast and most of the times, “shiny” stuff. Once again, this isn’t news to anyone who is working with Transmedia or watching where most of the Transmedia content is going towards (at least in Asia). What is interesting though, is that they consume all types of media. Sometimes from similar or even the same franchises, but they aren’t media biased. Again… not news.

Finally, they all wanted content. All kinds, any kind, just as long as they find it “fun”/”worthwile”. I asked if, with the immensity of stuff that exists online, they didn’t find enough to consume. 2 out of 3 said, there isn’t enough of what they like, so sometimes they become either bored, or they look for different content (this was mostly common for games they’ve finished, TV shows that aren’t older than 2 years and internet channels that have content updated in periods longer than a week). This is enlightening to me.

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Maybe we as Transmedia developers are too jaded by the numbers (a strange moment I had was when I asked them if they “watched TV” and they all said “Yes, constantly” and I asked what channel – most, didn’t have one. The do watch TV… but its the content from TV they watch… either on their phones, iPads or PC’s… not the physical TV as most of us do).

We see kids/teens as rapid content munchers, with no diversity of consumption, but the ones I talked to were finding ways of satisfying their appetite for new content in diverse and interesting ways (one of the best, to me, was the European girl that is a regular 9Gag user and commenter, and a lot of the images she sees, scrolls through, end up being the series/shows/content she searches for online).

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Maybe instead of looking through the data, we should talk to more of our users personally, so as to get a big picture over what they say/think, instead of doing through the internet, through data channels, through forums.

Transmedia needs to adapt not only to the high-aged, content consumers (and ultimate content buyers) but also the younger generation of consumers who do it for free. When they want. How they want. Where they want.

Think that’s it.

If you have kids, talk to them. If you have brothers/sisters, see how they tick. If you have cousins, friends, “play around with them” for a few games. Absorb as much as you can from how they see/use the world of media.

Because… in the not so distant future… they’ll be your end-user. Regardless of their age. Sooner or later… they’ll be at your doorstep. So be informed by how they’ll want to consume their content.

Your content. The future of Transmedia.