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Multiplatform 101: Lessons from Channel 4 — MIPCOM-Exclusive white paper
MIPCOM is proud to offer you an in-depth and exclusive study of Channel 4's Multiplatform publishing strategy. Featuring head of C4 online Richard Davidson-Houston and commissioning editor Kate Quilton, it includes all you need to know about new commissioning models, based on a number of inspiring case studies. The white paper's author, Unexpected Media's Frank Boyd, also interviewed Davidson-Houston for mipcom.com. Watch, read and learn!
Multiplatform 101: Lessons from Channel 4 — MIPCOM-Exclusive white paper
MULTIPLATFORM 101 Lessons from Channel 4 Frank Boyd Founder Unexpected Media (UK)
Channel 4 Online: bringing about the future? How is Channel 4 Online Structured? Channel 4: Online’s relationship to Television The Future: Innovation and R&D What Independent Producers need to know C4 Online: preparing for a converged future Table of contents
Channel 4 is currently the most innovative and adventurous broadcaster in the UK when it comes to experimentation with multiplatform publishing . Its success in finding new ways of telling stories, engaging audiences and providing services on the web, mobile services and social media was recognised at the 2011 Bafta Awards when three of the four projects nominated for Digital Creativity were Channel 4 productions. A year after a major internal re-organisation and refocusing of priorities following the appointment of David Abraham as Chief Executive, we spoke to the Head of Channel 4 Online, Richard Davidson-Houston, and Kate Quilton, the Multiplatform Commissioning Editor for Specialist Factual about the new structure, their approach to commissioning, future plans and the challenges in adapting to the emerging media landscape . Channel 4 Online: bringing about the future?
<ul><li>In July 2010 Channel 4 reorganised its digital activities, merging online products, online production and multiplatform commissioning to create a single department called Channel 4 Online, under the direction of Richard Davidson-Houston. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>The department is responsible for the channel’s online and devices activity, and manages the digital output around all TV shows. The portfolio includes: </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Channel4.com, 4oD, the 4Life portfolio (4Homes, 4Food and 4Beauty), E4.com, Film4.com, T4 online </li></ul><ul><li>Multiplatform commissions such as Million Pound Drop playalong game, the Embarrassing Bodies website, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Big Fish Fight. </li></ul><ul><li>New creative formats for converged devices such as YouView. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>There are four functional teams within Channel 4 Online: </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Production: a team of producers, video editors, listings editors, copy writers and community managers who create programme support pages and manage profiles on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter </li></ul><ul><li>Multiplatform Commissioning, consisting of six multiplatform commissioning editors (MPCE) editorially answerable to the genre teams </li></ul><ul><li>A commissioning editor for convergent formats who is currently hiring a Commissioning Editor for Games </li></ul><ul><li>Product Management team responsible for the quality, user experience and performance of the online product portfolio: Channel4.com, 4oD and so on. </li></ul>How is Channel 4 Online Structured?
<ul><li>Davidson-Houston sees his department’s current output as creating four kinds of value for Channel 4: </li></ul><ul><li> engaging audiences more deeply in the Channel’s stories and brands , </li></ul><ul><li>establishing ongoing, deep and ‘identifiable’ relationships between Channel 4 and its audience; </li></ul><ul><li>generation of incremental revenue ; </li></ul><ul><li>increasing public value. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>He is very clear that in the short term the online team’s focus should be closely aligned with Channel 4’s broadcast output : “In the present era, television has to be part of the story. Previously and maybe in the future, people might try other ways to be successful but at the moment we’re saying quite unapologetically that what we do includes TV. We want to deliver our stories, whatever it is we’re doing, with the maximum possible impact and t o do that we will use television. It would be daft for Channel 4 not to capitalize on its greatest strength – that it’s a national TV broadcaster. Saying that doesn’t mean we’re any less excited creatively about other media.” </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Quilton agrees that to date the Multiplatform Commissioners currently play a secondary role to their television counterparts : “That’s justified in that the market dictates it. We are equipping ourselves for a future in which there’s an equitable relationship between television and other media, for a space where we will be ‘platform agnostic’, so it doesn’t really matter whether it’s online or TV. We’re laying the groundwork for that now.” </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Davidson-Houston makes a distinction between what he regards as full multiplatform commissioning and ‘programme support’ : “A lot of what we and others have referred to as “multiplatform commissioning” isn’t: it’s programme support. There’s nothing wrong with programme support: the audience wants to know who’s in the show, what it’s about, what happened last episode, what’s thematically relevant, what else can I do as a consequence of having been interested in it? But it’s sequential. The castle is the TV show and the village surrounding is all of the online support. Important, difficult to do well, but not in my view, true multiplatform commissioning” </li></ul>Channel 4: Online’s relationship to Television
<ul><li>Programme Support </li></ul><ul><li>90% of Channel 4’s output currently receives this kind of ‘programme support’ which includes: </li></ul><ul><li>Series and episode synopses </li></ul><ul><li>TX times for when the next episode is on (published nine days before the start of the week of transmission) </li></ul><ul><li>An image </li></ul><ul><li>4oD episodes if available </li></ul><ul><li>Moderated user comments </li></ul><ul><li>Promotional clips. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>For some titles, additional materials enhance the offering. For example: </li></ul><ul><li>Extra online videos such as behind the scenes or interviews </li></ul><ul><li>Text articles </li></ul><ul><li>Help and support information for people affected by the programme </li></ul><ul><li>Cast & character details </li></ul><ul><li>Genre support information (recipes, make up tips) </li></ul><ul><li>Web credits and stockist information </li></ul><ul><li>Image galleries </li></ul><ul><li>Competitions </li></ul><ul><li>Interactive components such as quizzes, polls, timelines </li></ul><ul><li>Functionality such as 360 degree virtual tours, web apps and games that sit within the pages </li></ul><ul><li>Links to additional products or services (DVDs, apps, merchandising etc) </li></ul><ul><li>Live chats. </li></ul>Channel 4: Online’s relationship with Television
<ul><li>Multiplatform Commissioning </li></ul><ul><li>For the relatively small number of titles that are multiplatform commissions, each title is treated differently. </li></ul><ul><li>As well as a TV show, the commission may include: </li></ul><ul><li>bespoke website build </li></ul><ul><li>online video episodes </li></ul><ul><li>story-related games or apps </li></ul><ul><li>extra content or functionality to sit on the C4 programme website </li></ul><ul><li>story-related social media activity. </li></ul>Channel 4: Online’s relationship with Television
<ul><li>Multiplatform Services: 3 examples </li></ul><ul><li>Quilton and Davidson-Houston gave three examples of what they regard as full multiplatform commissions in which the online activity is an integral and intrinsic part of a project. </li></ul><ul><li>The Big Fish Fight </li></ul><ul><li>“ Fish Fight is a good – and simple - example of creating additional public value. We could have done [it] as a television show alone but extending the campaign across platforms increased the public impact. Part of the story was the 700,000 people who signed the petition online .” </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>The Big Fish Fight multiplatform initiative centres on a campaign with two sustainability purposes: to end the EU practice of ‘discarding fish’ and to encourage consumers to buy/cook/eat a more diverse range of fish . It is a stand-out example of using the interplay of TV and interactive media across multiple platforms to achieve a concrete goal or change for the better in the ‘real world’. Its excellence lies in the judicious use and optimised interaction between different platforms, driven by the power of moving images. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Integrated across TV, web and social media, the original campaign was driven by 3-part TV series Hugh’s Fish Fight complemented by a variety of aligned programmes. The programmes are highly integrated in terms of core messages and between talent – so Jamie Oliver appears in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programme and vice-versa: for example, on screen Jamie backs Hugh’s campaign and Hugh advocates Jamie’s approach to cooking with lesser known species. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>The online activity in Hugh’s Fish Fight pushed to the limits what’s possible within the UK broadcast regulations (regarding due impartiality etc.) With the campaign site at www.fishfight.net spotlighted in the shows, during the 3 days of the broadcast of the series 2M pageviews were prompted and 750,000 people made their way to that site. The multiplatform dimension was a carefully designed flow between a combination of the core website and a range of social media presences including two Facebook pages, two Twitter accounts and content/apps on channel4.com </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>The impact of all this is that the supermarkets (including Tesco, the UK’s biggest) have changed their sources for tuna to sustainable pole and line ones and have changed their misleading labelling; the EU Commissioner has pledged to end fish discard; the issue has been raised in Parliament and addressed by the Prime Minister . </li></ul>Channel 4: Online’s relationship with Television
<ul><li>The Million Pound Drop </li></ul><ul><li>The Million Pound Drop is a gameshow in which contestants receive one million pounds at the top of the show , and battle to hold onto it as they attempt to answer a series of multiple choice questions . Players have to try and keep hold of their money by correctly placing their winnings on the trapdoor displaying the right answer. If the answer is wrong however, their money falls through the door and is lost forever. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>The interactive element to the show broke new ground. The broadcast is complemented by a live online Play Along game which allows viewers to see if they can do better than the players in studio with virtual money. </li></ul><ul><li>It is a brilliantly intuitive two screen entertainment format, in which the on-air action works seamlessly with the synchronised web based game, transforming a passive viewing experience into an active one, allowing viewers to play along and have their actions feed directly into the live programme. It makes the home audience’s experience reflective of the show itself, with online players feeling the same tension and nerves as the contestants. The viewing experience is more involving and social. </li></ul><ul><li>Since its launch in May 2010 the format has generated 4.2 million online players globally . Capturing demographic information during registration has allowed real-time stats to be fed into the live broadcast of the show, commented on by host Davina McCall. The inclusion of social sharing tools generates further buzz and interest with more than 3.5 million games played online in one 6 day run of the show . Conversion rates (% of the TV audience that participate online with a dual-screen element) achieved an unprecedented high of almost 10%. </li></ul>Channel 4: Online’s relationship with Television
<ul><li>Street Summer: Rap Beatbox Choir </li></ul><ul><li>“ This is about as far from TV as we get and it’s pretty close to TV. It’s knitted thematically into a season; it’s just adjacent to it and provides a feedback loop.” </li></ul><ul><li>Street Summer is a series of programmes celebrating contemporary urban art forms, and the influences that have shaped urban culture. It showcases some of the most exciting talent in street dance, urban sport, street art and graffiti, rap/spoken word and hip hop. The season will air in August 2011, stripped across 10 days, with a strong online presence including an ambitious multiplatform performance commission. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>A key component of the season is the world's first crowd-sourced online ‘Rap Beatbox Choir'. A three minute piece of music has been composed featuring beatboxing, rapping and vocals using a mix of street and classical techniques - with solos from three guest hip hop stars. Over the course of the Street Summer season Channel 4 is asking the public to add their voices to this unique musical event, by learning the choir parts recorded by Beardyman, Akala and PGR. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>On a dedicated YouTube Channel, users can interact with the music through a specially created YouTube ‘app'. Separate video tracks with different performance elements (Beatbox, Vocals, MC-ing) are synchronised together to build the whole musical experience. Users can turn individual tracks off and on to break down the composition, allowing them to understand how different tracks are put together and to isolate parts to learn. Every video in the gadget is linked to a page that invites the users to record and upload any part they have learnt. They can also upload their own solo video spots and see it play out within the gadget, enabling them to perform next to leading Hip Hop artists. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>A final video will be cut from the entries and will TX on Channel 4 as part of the new arts strand, Random Acts. </li></ul>Channel 4: Online’s relationship with Television
In the past five years Channel 4 has been the most innovative of the UK’s broadcasters in its experimentation with digital platforms. In addition to the multiplatform commissions, the channel’s education department launched a series of successful online projects aimed at a 14 – 19 year olds. The 4iP fund was launched by the former chief executive, Andy Duncan, to "nurture new talent, champion new voices and fresh perspectives" and reinvent public service for the digital age. The 4iP initiative was axed in the recent reorganisation. At a time when the other broadcasters, notably the BBC, appear to be refocusing on television and reducing their investment in online formats, some commentators interpret this as evidence that Channel 4 is also backing away from new media. Davidson-Houston strongly rejects the suggestion: “ We do not want to ghettoise innovation in an ‘innovation department’. I report directly to Jay Hunt, Channel 4’s Chief Creative Officer, and we’re innovating in her line of sight. If I go to her and suggest using augmented reality to add a new dimension to our journalism it’s the Chief Creative Officer of Channel 4 saying “I love it”, not strangers in a remote part of the organisation. Of course we’re committed to innovation. If we weren’t I would be sacked straight away. It’s absolutely core; it’s central to what Channel 4 is about.” Quilton cites the Rap Beatbox Choir as an example of innovation within the current slate of commissions. “ It’s painful innovation which has straddled the digital space, production and then music. The challenge is to get people from all these different disciplines to think the same way, getting all these different heads to work on a canvas that they don’t know the shape of.” She points out that Beatbox Choir’s innovations are not just in creating new editorial and creative formats but extend to legal and regulatory aspects of the project: “I spend a lot of my time with the lawyers because we’re struggling to nail it in a contract. Then we fall between two stools with Ofcom because they say, ‘We’ve never seen this before, we haven’t got any rules for it’. It’s not just standard telly, the standard shape of telly.” Davidson -Houston points to the creation of two new commissioning posts, for games and convergent formats, as evidence to Channel 4 Online’s commitment to experimentation. The Future: Innovation and R&D
Converged Formats and Connected TV He describes the Convergent Formats commissioning budget as an R&D fund of £2m open to ideas from digital indies , television production companies or indeed any other source. The brief is: “Should we respond creatively to the revolution that’s about to occur to the television set?” “ About half of what we’re is doing is concerned with TV apps and accessories. The other half is taking well known formats, a gameshow for example, and saying ‘let’s project that forward five years, and if the TV is capable of doing so much more than it is today, then what is the audience going to be doing?’ We’re prepared to imagine things like the technology inside things like XBox Kinect fusing with the technology inside connected television: then what are you able to do?” The Future: Innovation and R&D
Games The appointment of a new MPCE for games reflects the success the Channel has had with online and social games in the past two or three years, and is a deliberate move to strengthen connections and relationships with the games industry. One role of the new post will be to look for opportunities to extend and exploit IP deriving from television properties in game formats. That outcome, though, is not the major benefit Davidson-Houston hopes for: “It’s bold and it might not come off but I want us to be talking to the very creative people who work in the games industry about ideas for mutiplatform formats that include TV shows” The Future: Innovation and R&D
Davidson-Houston believes that Channel 4 has a key role to play in helping to develop the next generation of independent producers able to generate multiplatform ideas and tell compelling stories using “transmedia” formats. Channel 4 Online is open to approaches from creative studios no matter whether their background is in linear (film and TV) production, the digital agency sector or games development . In reality, though, today it remains largely television indies which generate ideas and pitch to broadcasters . Companies in different sectors face different challenges in adapting to the needs of crossplatform production, to developing the capacity to conceive and create innovative projects that will exploit the affordances of all the platforms available and will work for an audience. There are questions of technical knowledge, of course, but the issues are more complex than that. Companies need to overcome some of the fundamental assumptions embedded in the professional cultures inherent in different sectors to learn a new approach to development and production. What Independent Producers need to know
The Challenge for Television Producers There are still very few television production companies capable of developing fully rounded multiplatform projects. Kate Quilton says that growing enthusiasm from the sector is not yet matched by mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to create projects which fully exploit the affordances of all the available media: “ Sometimes things come through the door with a multiplatform idea attached to them. Those are rare. Often production companies say ‘it’s got great multiplatform potential’ but that’s as far as it goes.” What Independent Producers need to know
UXD: Understanding Users Davidson-Houston says that the most important single skill lacking in the tv indie sector is not, as might have been expected, any specific technological expertise, but an understanding of audiences and the real behaviour of users around new media. “ Fundamentally your story has to be something that people are going to be interested in. But if we’re going to ask people to interact, to fit these stories into their lives in a different way, then the skills and disciplines from user-centred design, from user scenario planning, from ethnography, from those evidence-based empirical disciplines that have come to dominate in internet and interactive design have to be brought to bear on the telling of stories.” These disciplines, derived from software and web design, are alien to creative professionals from television or film backgrounds. They appear at odds with the prized, intangible qualities of ‘the talent’ and are often actively resisted by producers who argue that great ideas don’t arise from such crude analysis. As one of the UK’s most highly respected documentary film-makers put it: “I don’t make products; I make programmes”. The implication is that story-telling stems from inspiration, an instinctive knowledge of what will work and tried and tested development processes. Davidson-Houston argues that if producers don’t make a conscious, focused effort to understand how the audience’s behaviour is changing and respond to it, they may fail to attract their attention: “There’s something very finite about choice on TV but something in-finite about the internet. On the Internet you aren’t entitled to an audience. You have to weave something that’s going to fit into someone’s life. As convergence arrives, there’s a bit more of that reality coming to television”. What Independent Producers need to know
Content Architecture: understanding ‘hybrid production’ Most of Channel 4’s full multiplatform commissions are heavily dependent on the commissioning team’s understanding of what will work online and reliant on their assistance in facilitating collaborations between television indies and digital producers. “ A lot of companies don’t have digital people within them to start exploring. We’re going through a process of hand-holding and hooking up companies which could work together, brainstorm and think up ideas but it does take time”, says Quilton. She is beginning to see some companies successfully nurturing digital arms: “You might be a small company that doesn’t have the bandwidth to take somebody on, we could therefore recommend somebody to act as a consultant within your company, to work up your idea a bit. That’s maybe the first step on the track.” The next move might be to hire a specialist development producer to build digital capacity; she cites the example of Jamie Oliver’s production company, Fresh One, which has successfully taken this route. “ The other option is that you pair them up with somebody, a digital indy, you think they could work with.” The collaboration between Studio Lambert and digital agency Holler on the recent reality documentary series 7 Days was an outcome of this approach. Davidson-Houston says that there are still relatively few producers who understand the demands of ‘hybrid production’: blending the skills of story-telling with the disciplines of software design. There is still a tendency to think that a website is what’s needed and that it’s something that can be knocked up in a short time as an afterthought. He suggests that to build successful interactive, transmedia services that play out across several platforms, producers need to think differently, “to understand the interplay between media as something architectural, as something you can describe in terms of a model, a shape.” What Independent Producers need to know
The challenge for digital agencies One of Davidson-Houston’s major goals for Channel 4 Online is to broaden the pool of companies pitching multiplatform ideas – inclusive of TV - to include digital agencies and games developers. “ We want to make an intervention in leveling the playing field between the creatives in the television sector and creatives from a range of digital sectors. We don’t believe in a natural creative hierarchy .” But he concedes that in order to do so there are major challenges in the professional culture of the agency sector which have to be overcome. Digital agencies have a ‘work for hire’ business model, responding to briefs set by clients and are not accustomed to generating their own original ideas. “There’s a massive cultural issue: the industry is busy working for advertisers making websites on a day-rate and most agencies don’t understand IP. They don’t think of themselves as indies.” Davidson-Houston thinks that Channel 4 may need to take a different approach to commissioning in order to release the creativity in the digital sectors. “We realised that in some cases we’re going to have to start commissioning at an earlier stage, to start the intervention at a talent level”. In practice this might mean buying time from digital agencies in order to help them to get the point where they can pitch viable projects. The appointment of a Commissioning Editor for games has the same objective “We are actively trying to engage the games community in talking to us about ideas that can come out of games or out of games creators into television formats. That excites me because it’s so very difficult!” What Independent Producers need to know
Davidson-Houston believes that the work being done by his team is at the heart of ensuring Channel 4’s future in a converged media ecology. “ It remains important to deliver stories with the maximum impact by using today’s platforms. Much more importantly though the change that’s coming to the television set, the device through which and by which, with which our business operates … the change that’s coming to that set is so potentially fundamental that if we don’t begin to blend the abilities and the skills and the creativity of the television sector with those of the digital sector, we’ll come to an impasse. We’ll come to a situation where the device has the affordance to do such a wide range of things; but we’ll only be talking to a community to do a subset of those things.” “ We’re trying to anticipate a future, we’re trying to bring about a future where we can blend creativity from many sources and create experiences and scenarios and content and stories that haven’t been invented yet.” C4 Online: preparing for a converged future
Frank Boyd has been one of UK's digital media pioneers since founding its first digital media lab, the Arts Technology Centre (Artec), in 1989. He has worked as producer, funder, consultant and educator on a series of innovative creative and economic development programmes in the arts, broadcast, and in education in the UK, continental Europe, the US, Canada and Australia. As Director of Creative Development in the BBC ’s Innovation and Learning department, he directed a series of development labs for interactive television, broadband and cross-platform production. Since 2007 he has worked through Unexpected Media , consulting for clients in the TV, film and new media industries. He has designed innovation labs for a clients including Channel 4, the BBC, Ogilvy Interactive, Screen Australia, the Canadian Film Centre, the Wellcome Trust and the British Computer Society. He has designed and directed over 50 labs in Europe, North America and Australia. He is currently working with the UK’s Technology Strategy Board on the launch of a £5m collaborative R&D programme on the Internet of Things. About the author This report is brought to you by MIPCOM. MIPCOM is the world’s leading content market for creating, co-producing, buying, selling, financing, licensing and distributing TV programmes across all platforms. MIPCOM takes place every first week of October and brings together 12,400 professionals from 100 countries SHARE THIS REPORT: Contact us: [email_address] Visit the MIPCOM website : www.mipcom.com Follow us Download the MIPCOM mobile app : http://road.ie/mipcom