In search of the audience
Anna Jackson takes a look at local film and transmedia projects taking an innovative approach to hunting the elusive and all-important audience (featuring Loading Docs, What We Do in the Shadows, Everything We Loved and The Generation of Z).
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At Transmedia NZ’s June MeetUp in Auckland, NZ On Air’s Digital Strategist, Brenda Leeuwenberg gave a presentation on the Kickstart fund, which supports innovative transmedia and multiplatform projects. (See Fiona Milburn’s infographic in our last Transit blog for more on NZ On Air’s Digital Media Fund).
Interest in transmedia and related forms of multiplatform production has increased significantly over the last few years, reflecting significant changes across all media forms in funding, production and delivery models. So, it wasn’t surprising that MeetUp was filled to capacity, attracting a large crowd eager to gain insights into how to get the best shot at this highly competitive fund.
Although these changes present some exciting new opportunities, one of the most significant challenges for any media producer today is reaching and engaging/maintaining audiences that are increasingly dispersed and distracted. This challenge was highlighted by Leeuwenberg as a critical point for applicants to address in their proposals, as much of the innovation and creativity in producing a successful digital (non-broadcast) project lies in identifying and connecting with the audience.
Web-based projects, for example, have the potential to effectively target niche audiences, expand reach beyond local boundaries and can harness the power of social media to build an audience community. However, it’s still very difficult to compete with the mass appeal of traditional broadcast platforms such as television or radio that maintain a mass, habitual audience.
As the co-producer of such a project, the recently launched online documentary initiative Loading Docs, I have a few insights into the challenges and opportunities of non-traditional content production and distribution.
Loading Docs is an initiative supported by the NZFC and NZ On Air’s Ignite Digital Fund created to support the funding, production and distribution of 3-minute documentary shorts. Ten films were launched online on 28 May using Vimeo as the sole video platform. Although Loading Docs has a website that houses a micro-site for each film, our focus wasn’t on trying to drive traffic to that site, but rather to make the films as easy as possible to find, view and share. Rather than trying to make the audience come to us, we needed to go to the audience, and Vimeo offered the best vehicle to get us there. A partnership with The New Zealand Herald also provided Loading Docs with the means to effectively reach a broad local audience.
While the films could have been distributed across other video platforms, most obviously YouTube, there are also advantages to being focused. Vimeo is a platform with a strong following of filmmakers and offered a more targeted pathway to reaching tastemakers and influencers – the curators and community managers who would share the films with documentary and short film fans.
Jason Sondhi, Vimeo curator and co-founder/editor at Short of the Week came to New Zealand to deliver a workshop for Loading Docs filmmakers and attend the launch. His advice is that filmmakers need to be not just present, but actively marketing themselves online. Even filmmakers pursuing traditional distribution pathways need to demonstrate that they have a social media following. The golden rule, according to Jason Sondhi, is to be great, to be free and to be frequent.
A current example of a New Zealand film that has excelled in the application of these three principles and much more is What We Do in the Shadows. While David Farrier described the film’s promotion as “A Master Class in Viral Marketing” you could also describe it as a brilliant use of transmedia to promote a film. Whether on Facebook Twitter, TradeMe, Instagram or FindSomeone, What We Do in the Shadows offers an experience that is genuinely entertaining, funny and situated entirely within the storyworld of the film. Audiences have responded by participating, sharing and, most importantly, by showing up to cinemas to see the film.
Another innovative approach to capturing the increasingly elusive audience is being used by local film Everything We Loved, which will launch simultaneously in cinemas (as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival), on airlines and on video-on-demand on Monday 28th July. While film distribution has traditionally seen films released on different platforms and in different territories according to staggered ‘windows’, event-driven ‘day and date’ film releases are becoming more common and allow filmmakers to capitalise on the immediate promotion associated with a festival or cinema release and may also help to minimise the impact of piracy.
Crowdfunding is also an effective tool to reach audiences, not just a way to raise money as supporters of crowdfunded projects have a strong sense of personal investment and a willingness to help promote to a wider network. For Loading Docs, crowdfunding also helped to raise awareness of the project long before it launched.
Local transmedia Zombie theatre project The Generation of Z has been a big hit with audiences in Auckland and Christchurch and now it’s heading to the prestigious Edinburgh festival. The Generation of Z is currently crowdfunding on Boosted to help get the production to Edinburgh, and thanks to over 200 supporters has already reached its $20,000 funding goal with just under two weeks remaining in the campaign.
Meanwhile, Pledge Me is putting together a database of crowdfunding supporters who can help crowdfunders by providing skills such as video making, strategy or copywriting. If you have skills to offer and would like to get involved, sign up here.