Showing posts with label entertainment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label entertainment. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 28

How Social Connections Helped Save The Town Of Neptune

Veronica Mars
When Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell succeeded in raising an astonishing $5.7 million from more than 90,000 donors to produce a movie centered on the one-time teen private detective Veronica Mars, most people called it one of the greatest Kickstarter successes of all time. But much more than a crowd-funding platform success, the Veronica Mars movie marks a much bigger milestone.

As Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler called it, the Veronica Mars movie is one of the greatest fan stories of all time. He's mostly right. Kickstarter provided the platform, but it was the dedicated fan base of the cancelled television series that convinced Thomas and the cast to consider a revival.

Fans stuck with Veronica Mars for six years.

The fans didn't just promote the cancelled television series online. They promoted it offline too. And even after rumors that Thomas was making a movie in 2009 fell apart, few of them gave up hope. They continued to promote the series with contests, events, book clubs, and social networks.

"We were told that we made a difference in the decision to even launch the Kickstarter campaign," says Mark Thompson for Neptune Rising. "But once the the Kickstarter launched, we were just a pebble in the storm that represents the true fandom of Veronica Mars."

According to Thompson, he heard about the Kickstarter campaign in its seventh hour and Thomas had already raised his first $1 million for the film. Within 24 hours, the campaign raised $2 million.

At the same time, the entire campaign proved what the Neptune Rising team had said all along. The fan base behind Veronica Mars was much bigger than any social media metrics might demonstrate.

Even on the last day of the Kickstarter campaign, Thomas asked fans to meet him at an Austin bar. He anticipated 30-40 people. More than 700 fans showed up, including Jason Dohring.

Rob Thomas
"I always had high hopes," said Thomas at the campaign party. "And yet there was this little bit of doubt in my mind ... what if the people telling us to make a movie are the same 20 people?"

His one little worry is now long put to rest. Not only are there thousands of fans behind Veronica Mars, but they also represent the first wave of a shifting paradigm for television and film production that started in 2007. The size of an audience isn't the only consideration. Its passion is just as important.

Even after fans invested $5.7 million into what became a $6 million film, they also turned out to see it in theaters. The movie went on to earn another $2 million during its opening weekend. After earning its top ten release spot, it slowly tapered off and settled somewhere around $3.3 million.

Although it would likely take about $12 million for Warner Brothers to really consider a second movie, the fans who helped make the first one possible are doing everything to ensure their neo-noir detective won't slip away again. They're promoting DVD sales as well as a Veronica Mars novel.

You can stay up to date on the progress of the film via By The Numbers. While many fans already own a copy of the Veronica Mars DVD, it's not uncommon for fan bases to spike sales by purchasing an additional DVD and gifting it to a friend. They've also spiked reviews, giving the movie higher ratings on iTunes and Amazon than most mid-level releases (although critics genuinely liked it too).

If you haven't seen the film, suffice to say that diehard fans will love it as Veronica Mars resurrected. It takes place immediately after she finishes law school with Thomas and the cast planting plenty of insider tidbits and cameos to thank the fans for their long, hard fight. Unfortunately, everyone was so caught up in this as a labor of love, it wasn't as good as it could have been for a true introduction.

And this is the reason it didn't do even better at the box office. It felt too much like a reunion.

Fans are ready to stick with Veronica Mars for another six. 

Even so, does it matter? Warner Brothers could easily take the information it gleaned from this release and adjust for the next budget accordingly. Thomas could also pen a script that stays away from the reunion obligations and fights to make Mars into the neo-noir thriller she can be.

The fans, it seems, are already working to support such an effort. Not only are fans from sites like Neptune Rising promoting DVD sales, but they are also coordinating book readings for the first official Veronica Mars book, Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Vintage) with Jennifer Graham.

"As far as what's next, we'll have to see," Thompson told me. "But the fans of Neptune Rising plan on seeing even more of our favorite sleuth on either the big screen or the small screen."

There isn't any reason to doubt them. Years ago, when an entire season of cancellations happened to decent shows (The Black Donnellys, Jericho, Journeyman, and Veronica Mars), Veronica Mars landed in the uncomfortable position of being on the near-abandoned bubble. It looked like fan efforts were going to fail. Seven year later, there are more diehard fans today than there were then.

It's something to think about. In one form or another, Veronica Mars seems a long way off from solving her last case. And likewise, the movie proves that how networks and studios size up potential franchises is still evolving into smaller but increasingly loyal pools of viewers. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 24

Changing Creative: Did Fans Dictate Days Of Our Lives?

Ken Corday, son of the late Ted and Betty Corday (co-creators of Days Of Our Lives), recently allowed something he vowed would never happen. Characters Elvis J. (“EJ”) Dimera (formerly Wells) and Samantha Gene (“Sami”) Brady will have a second chance at romance.

Once considered a top daytime couple, the writers created an impasse that few ever thought could be overcome. Soap Opera Weekly even wrote an opinion in 2007 that largely condemned any reconnection by including them as an example of how soap opera writers treat rape as too casual.

Many fans saw it differently, specifically those who belong to the Forbidden Love EJami fan site, which has actively supported the power couple being reunited for the better part of six years. Two years ago, some of them asked me what I thought it would take for Corday to hear them out. I suggested five elements for the fan campaign. And while it might have taken two years to achieve success, the ratings have changed.

Days Of Our Lives sees its ratings rise on a storyline shift.

Despite being in an entertainment segment that some people considered in critical condition, Days Of Our Lives (Days) has recently generated a year-to-year growth rate of 14 percent among women 18-49 and 18 percent in women 25-54. More importantly, the show's ratings are up overall. It might not slow.

EJami fans are quick to attribute the ratings increase as a direct outcome from renewed interest in their favorite couple. They have every right to do so. The producers and publicity teams for the show have done everything they can to capitalize on their re-found star power. When actors James Scott and Alison Sweeney take to social media platforms like Twitter, #Days and #EJami start to trend.

The coordinated effort between fans, stars, and marketers are suddenly making soaps feel more accessible again. Maybe among specific demographics, they are more accessible than they ever could have been without social media. Some actors and actresses are not much more than a tweet away.

If the ratings hold, this could be a good case study in how one network is discovering that fan campaigns don't have to be a single-edged sword. Ergo, fan campaigns don't have to end badly.

They can transform cancellations into impossible success stories as Veronica Mars recently proved by raising $5.7 million for a fan-backed movie (stay tuned). Or, in the case of Days, they can create a sharable storyline that fans can promote and entice new viewers. As I suggested in 2007, passive viewers are now active consumers. It might have taken a few additional years for full fruition, but networks can't ignore it anymore. Fans want to be supportive of the right story lines, online and off.

The roses that Sweeney and Scott have in the hero shot above are real. EJami fans sent them to the network to celebrate what they consider a long overdue engagement. They have also been instrumental in writing the network, urging them to renew the contract. The network estimated the show had 2.3 million viewers at the time. Today, the show seems to be gaining with 2.5 million viewers. Time will tell.

After all, not everyone is happy with the EJami win. There have been plenty of other men on the show to solicit support for a renewed relationship with Sami. But so far, the numbers suggest this isn't murky.

The symbiotic relationship between series and supporters. 

While I'm someone who watches the program, I am familiar with soaps from years ago. They were a part of the culture as much as anything else on television. My parents were All My Children fans.

But my point is that you don't have to be a soap opera fan to see a bigger picture emerging for entertainment. Stories that can win supporters — people who share the show beyond a network site, who support the actors and actresses outside their roles, who are interested in different storytelling formats, and who are even willing to pony up production dollars — will eventually rewrite creator-producer-network-fan contracts. If one network doesn't want a show, creators will have more options. (If I can watch the Vikings via The History Channel app, why not any app?)

It's already happening in the book publishing world, with more writers (those with marketing savvy) willing to accept some publishing risks. While the results are still mixed, some of them have wins. In fact, there are enough wins that book revenue is up and e-books have captured 23 percent of the market.

Who is to say what the next generation of soap operas might be like? Chances are it will vary by audience. Some fans enjoy the unpredictability of shows like The Walking Dead, where leading characters are unceremoniously written off on a whim. Others, like Days, might deserve a second-chance romance like the one EJami fans have wanted for years. Interesting times, indeed. The comments are yours.

Friday, October 7

Creating Comedy: The Alliance for Family Entertainment

The Alliance of National Advertisers' (ANA) Alliance for Family Entertainment (The Alliance for Family Entertainment) is launching a national search for a new screenwriter this month, with the winner receiving $5,000 for a 30-minute live-action family comedy. Along with the cash award, the winner will receive personal mentoring from  John Wells on his or her script.

Wells is probably best known for the creation of ER, Third Watch, and The West Wing. The Alliance for Family Entertainment is the same group responsible for bringing the Gilmore Girls, Everybody Hates Chris, and Friday Night Lights to television. It has also helped find, support, and air 20 hit TV shows over the years.

All amateurs are invited to submit a script for consideration. 

The Alliance for Family Entertainment is serious about finding someone new from the United States. Entrants must be individuals (not teams) and not members of a professional writing guild or professional writing union.

After the mentoring, any additional opportunities that arise with networks would be negotiated. While networks make any final decisions, the Alliance for Family Entertainment is a group of nearly 40 national advertisers and supported by the ANA. It represents approximately 30 percent of all U.S. television advertising dollars.

"Marketers of family brands are often stymied in finding shows to support that offer smart, sophisticated takes on family life that everybody can watch and enjoy," says Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the ANA. "So our determination to find and help fund the production of promising family scripts and encourage emerging young talent to write stories about modern family life is good for business."

The contest has a litany of official rules (read those carefully) posted on a standalone site: America's Newest Comedy Writer. The contest was open to submission yesterday, and will continue accepting them through Oct. 28. The judging period is brisk, with judging concluded by Nov. 11 and the winner announced on Nov. 28.

The Alliance for Family Entertainment supports several initiatives, including granting scholarships to young screenwriters from time to time. It was initially started when ANA members Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson felt that there was not enough family programming to display family brands. Those shows tend to lose out over edgier programs in the ratings.

The irony is that many viewers believe that advertisers support the edgier shows, even though there are many companies that would prefer backing family shows (ideally, with viewership). One of the quips on the Alliance for Family Entertainment site is that they believe there can be shows that don't bore or shock families after 8 p.m.

Comedy writing, especially family comedy, is the hardest form of writing. 

Even in writing advertising humor, edgy comedy is immensely easier than wholesome because edgy humor can capitalize on making us uncomfortable. A couple of years ago, I shared six guidelines for funny in advertising and much of it applies to family sitcoms as well. Here are three more.

Tip 1. Jokes aren't funny. While jokes can be funny for standup, they aren't very funny for television. It's one of the reasons that shows packed with one liners don't last long, even if a character is a jokester. When it comes to programming, people want to lose themselves in the characters and not the writer.

Tip 2. Timing is funny. Great script writers know that timing is funny. An easy way to take advantage of timing is to allow the audience to briefly anticipate it. Writers can win one of two ways: Either by delivering what the audience expects or, better, making them think they know what to expect and then delivering something better.

Tip 3. Real life can be funny. There is a close relationship between comedy and tragedy, especially when the tragedy is something we can all relate to, e.g., toilet paper hanging from the back of someone's pants. This is also why stereotypes aren't often funny. Not everyone will be able to relate to them. The more people who can relate, the funnier the situation.

Writing comedy has always been one of my favorite things to do (not that I have many chances to do it). But it is exceptionally hard work to be funny. It's especially hard because you have make it look easy.

Friday, January 28

Considering Fan Campaigns: Days Of Our Lives

As the concept of "anything, anytime, any device" has taken hold, not all television programming has fared very well. Daytime soap operas were among the hardest hit.

The average ratings have fallen from a 6.2 million viewer average in 1990 to about 2 million in 2010. In fact, not a single new soap opera has been created since 1999 and the six that remained at the end of last year consistently live on the bubble. Even Disney, which owned the decade-old cable channel SOAPnet, will be discontinuing reruns in 2012.

However, in recent months, soap operas have been a surprise. The six remaining shows are up among women ages 18-49 despite most networks cutting back on the concept of the daily dramatic serial. If their numbers continue to grow, some executives might find themselves asking a question that they haven't asked lately.

What's the value of an audience?

According to some fans of the daily soap opera Days Of Our Lives, which ranks third in the ratings, they want the audience to be worth more than most producers and networks believe. The fans don't want to write the show, but they would like to help set a direction.

Specifically, this group, called Ejami (a mashup of character names), primarily tunes in to see a single storyline revolving around the relationship of Elvis J. (“EJ”) Dimera (formerly Wells) and Samantha Gene (“Sami”) Brady. And, according to one fan, Ruthie, they are not keen on what seems to be ahead.

Following a plot mechanism relatively consistent with soaps, it seems the show introduced an improbable romantic story where the dashing male character EJ (James Scott) accepts the unlucky Sami (Alison Sweeney) for who she is. Then, as a matter of practicality, the two unlikely lovers get their wish. Ever since, the writers have been destructing the relationship and characters. The fans aren't having it anymore.

A snapshot of Ejami fans' vested interest in Days Of Our Lives.

My understanding is that for fans, the initial relationship was hot enough that an entire forum dedicated to the "Forbidden Love" was created the same year the romance was introduced in 2006. It has approximately 5,600 registered members who promote the show as much as they talk about the "Ejami" storyline. They average 25,000 to 42,000 conversations a month.

Many of the conversations are about the show, but there is also a considerable investment in fan fiction, artwork, video montages, and — as fan forums sometimes develop — personal accounts and milestones. They are a community and they want an enduring Ejami love story.

Days Of Our LivesTo do it, they have been emailing and sending postcards to the studio, executives, writers, actors, and soap magazines. They also raise money and send holiday and birthday gifts to actors Sweeney and Scott. And they've even reached out to companies, thanking them for product placements. All together, there are approximately 35 separate and distinct campaigns.

More recently, they have added Twitter campaigns and charity fundraisers ($15,000 raised for 26 nonprofit organizations). Suffice to say, they have developed a community not dissimilar to what most communicators hope to create online, every day.

For all their efforts, however, many of them were disheartened to learn that executive producer Ken Corday is steadfast that Ejami is not the path. Another person will be thrust into the mix to disrupt an already complicated affair of four characters. The primary two characters of concern have already suffered a laundry list of tragedies. Only Job, from the Bible, beats them.

Who really owns a soap opera?

In an age where even books, for better or worse, have become the subject of social interjection, there might be something here that is more than meets the eye.

Unlike some creative works that have author ownership, it sometimes feels as if the script writers, actors, actresses, executives, characters, and audiences tend to change after 46 years. Certainly, Days Of Our Lives is not the same show it was when it started. However, when you trace the original concept, Ken Corday, son of the late Ted and Betty Corday (co-creators of Days Of Our Lives) is clearly the owner. It's his story to guide, along with Gary Tomlin, who joined him as executive producer in 2008.

Ken CordayThis simple fact makes the preservation of a singular story line an interesting twist despite how fans might feel, different from show cancellation protests like Jericho or Veronica Mars. Personally, I tend to lean toward leaving creative calls to the authors/owners, with the exception of those stories that begin as a socially infused storyline. There is no obligation to fulfill the expectation of the audience for an outcome. In fact, it is the anticipation of not knowing that makes us appreciate any story all the more.

However, I also see that I'm in a shrinking minority and Corday might be too. When the creative expression no longer holds the interest of an audience, an artist has to ask themselves which is more valuable — ownership, fans, or the chance to hit 50 years. It's Corday's call to make as long as he has a contract with NBC.

Friendly campaigns are not enough to sway networks, let alone producers.

It almost seems a shame to say, but after watching the aforementioned television cancellation (Jericho, Veronica Mars) protests, niceness doesn't often make for a compelling campaign. Jericho fought a war. Veronica Mars fans kept it cool.

Jericho earned a truncated second season. Veronica Mars did not. Both sets of fans were teased with the promise of a potential movie. Both were disappointed.

Nowadays, a smaller group of Jericho fans still promotes comic books (a very messy affair) and reruns. But Veronica Mars fans are mostly on their own, with only Kristen Bell actively campaigning for a Veronica Mars movie. Based on results, even though it is not be what fans of EJami want to hear, bold campaigns sometimes disrupt friendly communities and generate attention.

Five elements for a "chance" to change a producer's mind.

1. Numbers. Ejami fans already have a central forum where they can coordinate ideas and activities online. Based on the various campaigns and media mentions, it seems proof positive that the group is practiced. What it lacks are numbers. Five thousand might seem like a lot, but something closer to one percent of the viewership would have a bigger impact.

2. Symbols. Fan-based campaigns need a clear message and easily identifiable symbols that can be recognized by people other than fans. For Jericho, it was peanuts and then the historic Don't Tread On Me flag. Veronica Mars never really took off with the Mars bars idea. It cannot be too myopic or generic; something in the middle like heart-shaped soap might do.

3. Headline Grabs. Getting attention in soap-releated blogs and publications is a great start, but fan-based campaigns have to build into movements that capture mainstream media attention. While they can be civil, they still have to meet the full measure of what makes news. The more bullet points you hit, the better your chances. Make it bold and original.

4. Cash. Earned media (as some public relations professionals call it, but I don't much like the term) aside, paid placement can be compelling. Jericho fans bought advertisements. Veronica Mars fans rented airplane ads. Both had social media campaigns as well. Whatever the campaign might be, the message has to be consistent and placed nationally as well as where Corday might see it. Make no mistake, it's his show.

Ejami5. Ultimatum. At the end of the day, you have to ask "so what?" Jericho fans cancelled Showtime, boycotted CBS, flooded CBS phone lines and emails, made the public relations team stamp out many media fires, and countless other efforts. So, fans have to ask themselves if they are willing to boycott Days Of Our Lives, NBC, and the show's advertisers (assuming it will make an impact). If they are not, there isn't any incentive for a producer to listen (unless they are viewer-centric).

There is something else. Always be careful what you wish for. It seems to me the appeal of Ejami is, at least a little bit, based on the notion of something that cannot be. If long-term romance was a sure thing, it might not have as much appeal. Fans of the show The Office know it. While the show is still fun, the forbidden romance of Jim and Pam was priceless.

Special thanks to Ruthie for her in-depth analysis of what the Ejami fan group has accomplished. Keep up the great work. The information you provided is an excellent backgrounder, better than what some pros I know provide.

Tuesday, October 5

Advertising Laughs: Kraft Lightens Up

Years ago, before video had become a mainstream component for social media, we considered advertainment would eventually become a key ingredient for online campaigns. There have been several attempts, including the failed Bud TV concept.

But the one who might have the right just under-the-radar mix is Kraft. It recently tapped stay-at-home mom turned comedian Anita Renfroe to weave Kraft products into her routine for a series called You Gotta LOL. And although this brand of product insertion is blatant, the comedy remains authentic, relatable, embedable, and shareable.

It's also on target with the brand. When Renfroe talks about the dreamy, creamy center of an Oreo cookie, she calls it "sweet, dependable, like the perfect boyfriend." But at the same time, Kraft allows her to have fun with the creamy center as she admits to having no idea what the "stuff is."

Oreo isn't the only product. Each segment ties into a different offering from Kraft, but most aren't overt. For example, the Kraft 100 calorie packs segment never mentions the product. Renfroe just talks about her battle with weight, offering that if you are what you eat, she might eat a super model.

Why Does The Kraft Concept Work So Well?

Kraft finds the perfect balance giving people a reason to visit its Web site, but allows people to share segments anywhere they want. There is no need to control the distribution or keep people on the site longer than they want.

They succeed in framing the segments with just enough about Renfroe, product ads, and useful information, including Kraft Mobile, Kraft recipes by email, and ample connection points for a variety of products on Facebook (including one built exclusively for the comedy series). And unlike Old Spice, the campaign concept might need to be refreshed, but it is sustainable without the gimmick of interaction. We relate to the content, not the flash in the pan.

The sustainability works well because some of the bits could be played 20 years from now and still make sense (assuming the specific product is around). But more importantly, all of it sticks well within the Kraft brand, perhaps best described as iconic products that celebrate the inner child in most people.

According to Brandweek, Kraft worked with Meredith Corp.’s integrated marketing department to create 18 videos. The company has been launching one mini-episode a week with dozens of distribution points, allowing people to connect any way they want.

On that last point, Kraft also shows a level of maturity that most companies experimenting with social media do not. The embedded video above won't help its total views on YouTube, where they are also airing. Instead, Kraft chose the best video applications based on what will work with each platform.

While this strips away some social media experts' ability to claim a success story based on a singular view alone (ho hum), Kraft's measurement is better weighed by looking at the total composite of the campaign rather than a single slice like some people try to measure. And that, well, it's just smart. About the only thing that Kraft missed was tying everything together in traditional media too (but I won't count that out yet).

Friday, October 9

Attracting Attention: Who Will Stand For Veterans

Veterans Day might be a little less than a month away, but I'm not always certain we need to wait for a national holiday to think about veterans. After all, our servicemen and women do not confine their sacrifices to once or twice a year. The various organizations that support them don't either.

It's one of the reasons I signed on to assist the producers of Who Will Stand to host an event at on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. The online event, Veterans Day: Who Will Stand features five nonprofit organizations that could use some additional support this year. All of them were included in the film.

In addition to covering the plight of physically and/or psychologically wounded soldiers after they have returned from war, the independent documentary highlights why veterans' programs and nonprofit organizations are so vital to supporting the services provided by government. Having learned more about them, I can safely add U.S. Vets and Soldiers' Angels, which I've written about before, here and here.

Five Nonprofit Organizations Featured In Who Will Stand

The Soldierʼs Project helps provide free counseling and support to military service members who have served or who expect to serve in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts and to veterans of those conflicts. The services are completely confidential and are not reported to any government agencies.

Defending Freedom raises awareness and support for servicemen and women with their Defending Freedom wristbands. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to military charities to support the troops and their families. More than 673,000 wristbands have been sent overseas.

Canines for Combat Wounded provides service dogs for servicemen and women injured in combat. Beyond providing companionship, the dogs are specially trained to work with the soldiers according to their needs, helping them live longer, happier, more rewarding lives.

Blue Star Mothers provides support for active duty service personnel, assists veterans organizations, and is available to assist in homeland volunteer efforts. The organization consists of mothers who have or have had children honorably serving in the military.

Wounded Warrior Project raises awareness and enlists the aid of the public in meeting the needs of severely injured servicemen and women by providing direct services that honor and empower wounded warriors. They also advocate for legislation to provide critically-needed services to family caregivers of severely wounded warriors.

At the helm of this event, which includes a special showing in Las Vegas, is director/producer Phil Valentine. Valentine, who began his career as a television scriptwriter in 2000, is a seasoned filmmaker, having produced films that include Gags, Siren, and The Las Vegas Abductions.

Thursday, October 1

Marketing Movies: Why They're Different

According to Adweek, a new study by Stradella Road reveals that 73 percent of moviegoers first gain awareness of a new movie release from television and 70 percent from in-theater trailers, beating out word-of-mouth (46 percent) and the Internet (44 percent) and leaving billboards and newspaper advertising way, way behind.

However, beyond the initial exposure of a new movie commercial, an overwhelming number of people across all age groups have fully adopted digital technologies and increasingly depend on them to gain information about new movie releases and help with their decisions about which films to see. As with most advertising campaigns, television is effective to generate awareness but the Internet becomes the battleground in the decision-making process.

Key Findings From Stradella Road

• 94 percent of all moviegoers are online, across all age groups
• 86 percent of all demographic segments go online via a computer or mobile device once a day
• Moviegoers spend more time online (19.8 hours) than they do watching television (14.3 hours)
• 73 percent have profiles on social networking sites, and 69 percent watch online video content
• 93 percent report that they use Internet search to find information about new movie releases

What We Learned Marketing Indies

Our own experience marketing independent films demonstrated much of the same. Television, including news and reviews, dominated generating awareness. However, it was a strong personalized social media program that proved critical in creating a desire to see a film in theaters and prime audiences to purchase the DVD.

Social media also helped mitigate negative reviews, especially in that film fans would defend the film and point people to more positive reviews for a balanced perspective. But even more importantly, the social media program helped capture interested moviegoers and direct them to balanced insider information written by the producers (as opposed to a single critic's viewpoint).

The end result was a more passionate fan base, one that not only referred people to see/purchase the film, but also take a personal stake in the movie as fans were invited to become as close to the film creators — producers, directors, writers, and cast — as possible. While the independent film had several hurdles to overcome via traditional publicity (40 interview requests, but no A-list cast available to accept them) and mass media (a remarkably low budget and relatively few markets), fans wanted the film to succeed.

What Can Product Advertisers Learn From The Movies?

The flow of information for products and services works relatively the same way. While diminishing, traditional marketing has an expansive reach that provides an excellent opportunity to generate awareness. However, immediately following that awareness, consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet for information that will help them make purchasing decisions.

However, there is a piece of the equation that differs for products and services. One of the reasons that the public responds well to television advertising for movies is that movies are considered an important message whereas most products and services are only important to those selling them.

So, the hurdle most advertising creatives need to overcome is how to make what is the least important message in someone's life (an advertisement) into communication that can change behavior. Or, as Kurt Vonnegut once said, "You say what you have to say. But you have to learn how to say it in a way that people can see what you mean." Or in advertising, sometimes they have to "feel" what you mean. If they don't, you can talk all day about yourself and never move anyone.

Wednesday, September 16

Spooking Stephen King: Convergence

If someone asked Stephen King "what scares you" a few years ago, he might say never being able to write again (or perhaps lament that he might be asked that same cliche question in every interview). Nowadays, there seems to be something else weighing on King's mind.

"When crap drives out class, our tastes grow coarser and the life of the imagination grows smaller. ... It ain't coming back, son. That's what I'm really afraid of." — Stephen King

Writing for Entertainment Weekly, King questioned convergence, noting that the changes taking place in the entertainment industry are accelerating. The very media the article appears in is facing rapid change. Although faring better than most publications, the graph tells the story.

Entertainment Weekly's print circulation is flattening, enough so that that an arrow had to be added to create the illusion of consistent growth. With a circulation of approximately 1.8 million and a hopeful pass-on readership of 6.7, Entertainment Weekly doesn't pull as much as it once did (its online site tracks well, especially with younger audiences).

So what are King's concerns?

• If great publishers fail to e-books, what will happen to the quality? Who will pay advances?
• If radio stations succumb to all talk and air, what happens to the music industry?
• What is happening to the movie industry and why are quality movies being squashed?
• Will network television drop entertainment for talk shows and reality television?

"Why should we care? Simple: Because right now there are no replacements for the quality that looks to be on the way out — for entertainment that really moves us." — Stephen King

Answering questions for Stephen King.

While predicting the future is always fraught with disappointment, King's concerns represent a possibility in that there probably is already a parallel universe where Mike Judge's Idiocracy isn't fiction. The other possibility, of course, seems a bit brighter in that as crap becomes overwhelming, new vetting processes emerge to help guide the public toward quality.

However, it's a two-way street. It requires innovators and consumers working toward a middle as opposed to against each other.

• Publishers need to return to the business of finding and marketing quality talents as opposed to searching for talents that may market them because over the long term, e-book price points will increase and printed books will eventually be considered a delicacy. What have publishers done to engage, educate, and entertain readers online?

Penguin is working it, but has a lot more to learn about the online space.

• Radio stations need to remember that music formats don't make them great. It's the portability of the experience they produce that makes them great. More than 86 percent of listeners want stations to guide them toward new music in addition to playing their favorites and 36 percent listen while they are online. Why not employ social media to reinstate passionate people who know about the music?

We have a PowerPoint specific to radio stations, which we augment with specific station and area research upon request.

• Movie producers want to make great films for a public that has always seemed to wax and wane between escapism and timelessness. While that might not explain the industry's pass on Creation reportedly over content, limiting theatrical distribution will be the likely trend until the people calling those shots are proven wrong by consumer post purchases.

The film industry is still learning social media; it will represent a dramatic positive change, especially among independents.

• As long as networks chase ratings without appreciating their online prospects, quality programming will continue to slip under the mainstream radar. There are enough choices out there right now that dominating viewership just isn't the right model. It hasn't been for some time. Jericho, Veronica Mars, Black Donnellys, Journeyman, and more recently, Kings (for the exact opposite reason Creation cannot find a distributor), all could have had longer runs if it wasn't for mishandled marketing and being slaves to a ratings system they know is broken.

Nothing will save them unless they can save themselves. The big three will continue to slip and slide along until they realize that Hulu and iTunes only work if you have assets to put on them.

So no, Mr. King, the crap won't drive out the class. It will only make it harder to find in the short term. Or not.

"Boring damned people. All over the earth. Propagating more boring damned people. What a horror show. The earth swarmed with them.” —  Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, July 8

Rebranding Disaster: Sci Fi Becomes SyFy

After 16 years of branding, the SCI FI Channel has officially become SyFy as of yesterday. David Howe, president of SyFy, announced the change last March, but SCI FI Channel fans seemed reluctant to believe it until the change actually took place yesterday. Some suggested it was an early April Fool's joke.

So why did they change it?

"By changing the name to Syfy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider range of current and future imagination-based entertainment beyond just the traditional sci-fi genre, including fantasy, supernatural, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure." — Sci Fi Wire


"Syfy allows us to build on our 16-year heritage of success with a new brand built on the power that fuels our genre: the imagination. Syfy ushers in a new era of unlimited imagination, exceptional experiences and greater entertainment that paves the way for us to truly become a global lifestyle brand." — David Howe


"It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and nonlinear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures." — Sci Fi Wire


“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular.” — Tim Brooks


"When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it. It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise.” — David Howe

No one is certain what 18-to-34 techno savvy crowd they tested, but former Sci Fi Channel fans have dubbed the name change the dumbest idea in television history. Comments left across the Web have ranged from disbelief to unrestrained anger.

What Are They Saying?

"Well, it's one step closer to "Spiffy.",

"This is a really stupid move and just goes to show you that the network has lost its way."

Syfy has emphasized its point that it's become a hollow mockery of everything its fans have known and loved.

Anyone else notice how “SyFy” looks like an abbreviation for syphilis?

Artistic misspellings are still hip, right? Isn’t that what the kids are doing on their internets?

Never mind two months of negative comments since the name was first floated. Howe is convinced, and says everyone else from NBC and SyFy is convinced too. In fact, despite saying the test market approved of the change, Howe claimed in another interview that they were totally prepared for the push back.

"We expected fans not to like it. The reaction from fans always same default reaction -- it's that we're going to abandon the genre." he said. "That isn't what its about."

So what is it really about?

Nobody seems to know. Most of the time, employees like Craig Engler, who manages the SyFy Twitter account, are too busy explaining what it isn't about to ever offer up a clear account of what it is about.

"No, we are not changing our programming mix … you pronounce it like 'sci-fi' … [it's not spelled wrong] Syfy is a made-up name, not a word, so it’s spelled correctly as is. Like Wii. Or Twitter …" — Craig Engler

Except, as the author behind the Warming Glow quickly pointed out, Twitter is an actual word. He even looked it up.

Of course, not knowing Twitter is a word seems minor in comparison to the notion that a rebranding campaign might boost interest in the opening of the Syfy Imagination Park in Rockefeller Center on July 12. On the contrary, the rebranding has buried it.

So in what can only be called an avalanche of negative public sentiment and press, the Sci Fi Channel has certainly been rebranded. Unfortunately, it has not been rebranded as Howe, Brooks, and Engler had hoped. But that stands to reason. Brands are not really names. Brands are better described as the relationship between consumers and a product, person, or even programming.

In this case, it seems to me that SyFy is establishing a new brand. And unfortunately, this new brand landing somewhere between silly and stupid or maybe just sad. There is so much wrong here, it will take a living case study to sort it all out.

That's right. This branding disaster is no moon. It's a space station. More tomorrow.

Saturday, May 30

Reviewing Reviewers: What Goes Up

It’s been interesting to watch the mix of reviews popping up for the indie film that we’ve helped release during the last few weeks. And, I might underscore interesting because I have better than a decade in as a professional entertainment reviewer and editor.

The very worst of them mixed up Olivia Thirlby and Molly Shannon, but the rest claiming this film was "seeking some raw truth" weren’t all that either. It made me think for a moment, after missing a few posts in favor of doing work on the premiere in Los Angeles, that it might be fun to review some of these reviewers, while correcting the most glaring inaccuracies along the way…

For example, New York-based film critic Ethan Alter, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, complains about a student caught by his mother while having anal sex with a crippled classmate. Except, we can’t be sure what fantasy he was having during the film. There is no sodomy to speak of. The best guess around the office is that he doesn’t know more positions than missionary, which means his claim that he spends “way too much time in movie theaters” might be right. Add to the misfortune that he only sees the movie being played out in one formulaic way or another, and we think it's probably best that he take a break from living through the lens of others. Reviewer Grade: F

Next time around, we suggest Alter look over the shoulder of Janelle Tipton with Back Stage. She said the same scene Alter loathes is the one she found a little bit of sweetness in, writing that the “development of these two characters and their relationship turns out to be something we wish had been the whole point of this otherwise frustrating film.” She may not have liked the film, but at least she paid attention for her readers. Reviewer Grade: B-

Brian Lowery, writing for Variety, on the other hand, skews more to Alter's angle as he never seems to recover from bemoaning that somehow this was a film that makes a statement against journalists, opening with “As if journalism hasn't suffered enough of late…” Have they suffered? Then there seems to be plenty of suffering to go around as Lowery pens a review that won’t help him ever make the leap from a small screen reviewer to a big screen stringer. Better luck next time. Reviewer Grade C

Ken Miller, writing for Las Vegas Weekly, criticized the film for “the 11th-hour suggestion that the teacher was murdered.” He calls that ludicrous, which can also be said about his claim. There is no suggestion of murder beyond a not-to-be-taken-literally drawing by teenagers that places the blame on the self-righteousness of a flawed small-minded teacher. If accuracy matters, then Miller is destined to stay with the local weeklies. Reviewer grade: D

A much better Las Vegas-based review comes from Carol Cling with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and then picked up by the California Chronicle. Cling is critical that the movie doesn’t provide filmgoers with any answers (despite other reviewers who claim it pretentiously does), but goes on to share that “there's also something endearing -- and, occasionally, achingly poignant -- about "What Goes Up" and its gallery of valiant misfits.” Her review runs straight down the middle. And even though it’s not glowing, it’s everything you expect a review to be. Reviewer Grade: A

Tom O’Neil, writing for a Los Angeles Times blog (not the paper, mind you) shows us everything a review ought not be. He strikes up predetermined chatter by claiming Hilary Duff could land a Razzie for this performance, which is untrue. And then, for fear of standing up for his opinion, he goes on to find the harshest quotes in three of the harder reviews to prove his position. While some didn’t care for Duff in the film, others like Lowery did. No matter. We couldn’t read his review in full because a Kentucky Grilled Chicken ad kept popping up in front of his skewed prose. As much as I hate pop-up ads with dancing people, I realize now that the ad that earned an F was a step up from what he wrote. Heck, O’Neil didn’t even get the DVD release date right. Reviewer Grade: F-

The contrast is made even more clear when you compare O’Neil’s review to another on the opposite coast. Manohla Dargis, writing for The New York Times, was critical, but rightly so. She points out that director Glatzer “seems to be trying to say something critical about America and heroism (the cartoonish musical suggests as much); at other times he appears to be embracing the very values he previously lampooned.” Is it any wonder Dargis is writing for The New York Times and some others are not? And I'm not just saying that over Dargis' lead line that starts ... “There’s some nice filmmaking tucked inside “What Goes Up” a muddle of moods and intentions.” Reviewer grade: B+

All in all, the reviews for What Goes Up have been mixed, which ought to be a sign how bad algorithm sites like Metacritic lack. While it attempts to consolidate reviews, its point system is more of a mess than Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips' pointlessness and writing style. Metacritic gave The Onion review 30 points despite a fair lead line that starts “Jonathan Glatzer’s directorial debut What Goes Up is a quirky-small-town dramedy that just barely avoids the “overly cutesy” and “self-indulgently melancholy” traps that snare so many indies.” Seems more like a 60 or better to me.

ONTD does much of the same. Not only was it the only other site to rip O’Neil (go figure), but it also trumped up all the negative reviews while bypassing any positive ones found on Gordon and the Whale, Salon, and UGO.

Speaking of, Alex Dorn nails my thoughts about this film perfectly as he concludes — “If … you like your comedies pitch black, as I do, you will enjoy this dark little jewel.”

Add it all up and What Goes Up gets a healthy mix of good, bad, and in the middle. That’s not bad for a film that was destined for a DVD release only a few months ago. But even more important than what the reviewers said or didn’t say is the obvious — the only reviews that count are from patrons. So far, most people that we’ve talked to either liked it or loved it.

Suffice to say that my take is simple. If you want a different film than the usual done-to-death releases, What Goes Up is it. If you prefer pretty, perfect, or packaged films, then you probably won’t enjoy it. It’s not that kind of film, which is why I did like the theatrical release and wish more people could see it because the DVD release will be different by a few critical minutes.

In closing, I have one final thought for critics who continually attack studio films for being formula and then attack the indies for not being formula: you're not a critic at all. Somewhere along the way, you've given in to becoming a cynic taken in by your own cleverness. And maybe, just maybe, more folks ought to review your reviews more often.

Friday, May 15

Releasing Indies: What Goes Up

When you're working against the clock on a theatrical release of an indie film, anything can happen and usually does. That was how James Hoke, executive producer with Three Kings Productions, described it last April.

One month later, I can attest to the fact that he is right. Much like life, it's filled with hits, misses, and unknowns.

The Three Kings film, What Goes Up, wasn't really known as 'What Goes Up' five weeks ago. And for the most part — despite Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, and Molly Shannon — it wasn't even known. Today, the film that will open in select cities on May 29 is known mostly through its growing groundswell.

The original model was different. Social media was meant to serve as a supporting mechanism for media engagement. And, right now, there are no less than 40 requests for interviews on the table being fielded by ten different public relations and marketing firms divided by region and product (film and soundtrack).

The bottleneck for success has become a function of scheduling (with Coogan wrapping his world tour; Duff walking for AIDS, which is close to our hearts; etc.) and possibly the earliest reviews.

Variety wasn't kind to the movie, making the film into some sort of statement against journalism. It isn't. But the review from Pete Hammond, at, isn't up yet to provide a contrast.

'''What Goes Up' is a 2009 sleeper, a complete original, and definitely not your typical teen comedy. It's a darkly funny, wonderfully twisted story that marches to its own surprising beat. The entire cast is superb. Steve Coogan is perfect. Hilary Duff's seductive presence proves she's an actress to watch. Olivia Thirlby is a real find." — Pete Hammond,

One of many fan comments we've read reinforces the idea. Teresa Reile from Buffalo, New York, where the film debuted at a film festival, called it "The Breakfast Club meets Mulholland Drive. It will become a cult classic!!" She nailed it.

As such, not every critic or moviegoer will get it or like it. Entertainment is like that. It's something I've known all too well after covering fan campaigns to save Jericho and Veronica Mars. The net result is the same. When traditional communication slows down, social media speeds up. Since fans are in the balance, we wanted to avoid making any them feel like Jericho or Veronica Mars fans did. It makes a difference.

Where social media has been hitting, missing, and providing unknowns.

If Geoff Livingston's post isn't enough evidence that social media is fluid, then 'What Goes Up' drives the point home. While the production blog provides a diary of sorts, the real interest remains on existing fan forums, Flickr, and YouTube. YouTube, specifically, delivered 200,000 views (building to 20,000 to 30,000 per day) before one of the unknowns happened.

The YouTube account was mistakenly suspended by an automated process. While one of the studios involved is making inquiries, there is no time to sort it out. So, in the interim, we shifted the cast interviews to Revver while setting up a new direct channel for the producer. It's a good thing we have a blog, which has helped facilitate the transition.

What can't be saved is the viral nature of the interviews, which were shared by several popular media sites, nor the basic nature of content that spreads. Much like Twitter followers, videos with 40,000 views attract more attention than videos with 40 views. No matter. Social media is situational. Each program is different. Yet, all of them require that you manage and move with it. You cannot control it (not that communication was ever controlled anyway).

For this program, some elements have worked better than others. Despite high engagement, Twitter is comparatively time intensive. Facebook much less so, because of the variety of communication methods, allowing us to message, post, share, and chat with fans on their terms. Like all of our components, we chose every network based on where fans wanted us to be and not where we wanted to be. And, if this was a long-term program, I would likely shed some components along the way.

When communication changes, the seven Fs still apply.

Yesterday, I mentioned the seven Fs. They apply to indie films. Perhaps they do even more so because we balance what we can share and what we cannot share about the soundtrack and the film every single day. We don't do it for us; we do it to prevent confusion.

While we would love to be transparent, transparency would have killed any sense of community long ago. Things change all the time, sometimes on an hourly basis given the intricacies and interests of many different stakeholders. Instead, we rely on authenticity, which means minimizing the steady state of changing communication and settling on those items that are least likely to change.

Sometimes things change after we report them, but minimizing any communication that changes and impacts people seems better than changing up the communication every five minutes or so. Even more important, when we do change the communication, we consider the obvious. They aren't just users, customers, consumers, or participants (even if we use those words as descriptors) — they are stakeholders, and some of them already "feel like family."

A couple of my colleagues told me they don't "get" everything we're doing. That's okay. We're not writing for them. We're working for our stakeholders, which in this case are fans. As Valeria Maltoni might say, we always were. And, we always will be.

Tuesday, May 12

Tearing Down Definitions: From Phelps To Prejean

Michael Phelps is an American swimmer. He has won 14 career Olympic gold medals and holds seven world records in swimming.

A few months after his most recent successes, he apologized for "behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment" in response to a photo that depicted him using a Bong. The controversy cost Phelps a few sponsorships. And some former sponsors a few sales.

Now, the News of the World, which broke the photo, is trying to spark another scandal. This time the story is based on testimony from lap dancer Theresa White, who alleges Phelps is great at lovemaking but not much of a tipper.

"They were there a couple of hours and asked three of us back," White told News of the World. "Michael was a bad tipper but he was nice to me, although he was kind of mean and cocky to some of the girls."

What Is An All-American Image Anyway?

Who's to say? According to the outrage expressed over Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA, the concept seems open for debate. She told the truth, and it took Donald Trump to set the record straight while smartly avoiding the issue all together.

Perez Hilton, on the other hand, has enjoyed a free ride calling Prejean the “b-word,” rescinding it, and then rescinding what he rescinded, adding that he was thinking of the “c-word.” Why? Because most people didn't hear Prejean's entire answer, which began "Well, I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other ..."

Is Being All-American An Impossible Image?

Maybe so. After all, the all-American image cannot be lived up to because any number of definitions seem to supposedly disparage one person or another. Just as people are divided on a spectacular number of issues and tolerance just isn't enough, so too are people divided on whether or not anyone deserves praise for greatness.

When and where I grew up, the all-American image was pretty well defined — baseball, apple pie, and the red, white and blue — despite being imaginary. It was pretty simple. If Norman Rockwell might have painted it, you might be in the right ball park, even if such a ball park never existed, not really. Yet, the sentiment was there. We were taught to strive for greatness; not in fame, but simply trying to do our best at whatever it was we did.

Today, it's not always so easy. Baseball is supposedly tainted, apple pies reinforce stereotypes, and the American flag means different things depending on where you fly it or not. And greatness? Sometimes it's frowned upon as a badge you have something more than someone else.

You know, usually, when we talk about the The Fragile Brand Theory, we talk about why it is more important to stick with one image rather than the image one might pick. It's why Trump can be Trump and Hilton can be Hilton. But there is something more at work here than Phelps or Prejean failing to reach the unobtainable image that the public apparently sought for them.

It seems to me that Phelps or Prejean or anyone else who strives for greatness can never live up to an all-American image. Because most Americans no longer want one.

Monday, April 13

Making Connections: James Hoke, What Goes Up

Three years ago, James Hoke, president of Las Vegas-based Destination Marketing Group, had a single conversation that became a defining moment in his life. While he didn't know it at the time, that single conversation set the stage for another conversation almost a year later.

“Do you want to start a production company and make a movie?”

Today, James Hoke is an executive producer behind the film What Goes Up (formerly Safety Glass), which is scheduled for release to select theaters in early May. It stars Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, and Molly Shannon.

"You don't really appreciate how much communication is required as an executive producer until you have the job," says Hoke. "You work 12-hour days seven days a week on slow days, with a team that is literally brought together over night. It might sound like long hours, but my love for the job and a balanced life makes it feel a lot less like work. Of course, that's not to say I wouldn't have loved to know everything I know now back then."

Like all films, producing What Goes Up wasn't without challenges. The production took longer to complete than originally anticipated, there was some initial confusion in the United States over the title, and Hoke wishes they would have built in marketing, public relations, and social media efforts when the production began.

"The film took a little longer to complete, but for good reason. We really wanted to record and incorporate a new Hilary Duff single into the soundtrack," says Hoke. "We couldn't complete the original song until November last year. We think it was worth the wait, and we're hoping Hilary Duff fans agree."

The soundtrack for the movie, which Hoke will be sharing more information tomorrow on the What Goes Up Insider blog, was overseen by Anthony Miranda, one of three partners in Three Kings Productions, which was the driving force behind What Goes Up. Miranda has worked on several dozen movie soundtracks.

"Well, I'm obviously biased, but Miranda is such an amazing talent," Hoke said. "I think he is going to surprise a lot of people with the soundtrack he has put together."

As for the change in titles, Hoke says there wasn't much to it. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which is responsible for North American distribution, came up with the new name.

"There really isn't much of story there," says Hoke. "I actually love the name. I hope everyone does too. It lends a lot of meaning to the film given the message. We all need heroes, and we need them so bad that sometimes we forget our heroes are human."

Hoke is hoping the human connection plays out in other ways as well. Currently, he is the driving force behind marketing and public relations efforts, which includes employing social media to help make a connection with fans. According to Hoke, he wants to develop a model where fans can connect with cast and crew on a different level than traditional marketing efforts alone.

"After seeing thousands of fans visit the production blog despite being in development, I can only imagine what might have happened if we started a year ago while we were still in production," says Hoke. "I think back on this amazing journey and now realize that fans could have been part of it all in real time. My advice to any producer, especially independent film producers, is start your efforts early and RIGHT NOW. Movies are magical experiences. You don't have to share every detail, but it's important to recognize that people want to be involved, and it would be very beneficial to have a base well before distribution."

Hoke adds that he and his partners are fortunate and grateful that fans have taken an interest in the film. With five solid stars rounding out the cast, many have expressed that they feel as if they have as much of a stake in the movie as the producers. In some ways, they might be right.

What Goes Up is only a few weeks away from its first appearance in theaters. As a limited theatrical release, it will require a very different marketing approach than the proverbial blockbuster. Hoke says they will roll the film out in select major markets, connecting with fans internationally and focusing most marketing efforts in those select markets.

"We've paid close attention to what other films have done right and wrong, and we think that will give us a significant advantage," says Hoke. "If I have any concerns it will be that some fans won't see some of the efforts we are putting forth on the local level so they will assume we're not doing everything possible. We will be. And with their support, the early success will determine how far the movie will go."

Hoke says that might sound like a long shot, but many aspects of the film seemed like a long shot at different stages of development. Producing an exclusive single with Hilary Duff seemed like a long shot. Reaching an agreement with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has helped develop several key aspects of the film, including a movie poster that resonates with fans, was a long shot. Teaming up with Kirk Shaw at Insight Film Studios, LTD., which Hoke defines as an amazing company, seemed like a long shot. Working the people at Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) Worldwide seemed like a long shot. And looking all the way back to the first conversation between Hoke and Joe Nahas seemed like a long shot too.

"Looking back at the first story written in 2007, I have to ask myself, what part of this production wasn't a long shot?" says Hoke. "What part of anything great in our lives isn't a long shot? In many ways, that is what this real film is about. It's about what makes a hero, and I think that's what people will be asking well after they leave the theaters. We're all human."

In an effort to keep it real, Hoke concludes that he will be undertaking what he calls another "long shot" tomorrow — writing his very first blog post. He says it will be the first of several to round out a mixed editorial concept, which includes alternating between weekly news announcements, guest posts, interviews, and review highlights.

Why is writing a post a long shot? He laughs, saying that when it comes to movies, writing is sometimes best left to people like Jonathan Glatzer and Robert Lawson, the two writers responsible for the script.

The weekly ROC post, which focuses on communication measurement and usually appears on Mondays, will be follow tomorrow. Additional disclosure: Copywrite, Ink. is involved with the release efforts; this story is independent of those efforts.

Thursday, April 2

Leaking Wolverine: How Much Is Too Much?

"If it's a good movie, it won't f*cking matter. People will go see it. But if it's a bad movie, it could have consequences." — Geoff Ammer, recently departed worldwide head of marketing and distribution for Marvel Studios

At least that is the theory Ammer told AdAge about the an early print of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" being leaked via file-sharing technology such as BitTorrent. But is it true?

According to sources, News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox initially pointed out that the film had been leaked in an e-mail statement, drawing even more attention to the leak before it was removed by a site they did not identify. (It was BitTorrent). Along with the announcement, News Corp. rose 34 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $6.96 today in Nasdaq Stock Market trading.

The buzz up more than quadrupled interest in the film yesterday as more than 75,000 downloads took place in a few hours. Prior, mentions of the film were steady but otherwise uneventful.

The studio also said the F.B.I. and the Motion Picture Association of America were both investigating the film’s premature distribution. The real concern, according to the studio, is that the leak was only 90 percent complete and has since received some negative buzz on blogs such as In Gob We Trust, which said "The entire film just felt cheesy, more in the vein of Batman Forever than anything else."

“We’ve never seen a high-profile film—a film of this budget, a tentpole movie with this box office potential—leak in any form this early,” said Eric Garland of file-sharing monitor BigChampagne told The New York Times.

In early 2008, a three-episode leak of Jericho Season Two (almost half of the truncated second season) quelled the excitement of the series return to television after a hard fought campaign by fans. CBS later told us it did not intentionally leak three episodes, but did release three episodes to reviewers.

That leak provided a interesting look at how fans view online leaks. Half were appalled by it; half speculated that the studio wanted the series leaked. Indeed, sometimes they do. The entertainment business is relying more and more on buzz to make major decisions. And a well-timed leak of information, clips, etc. can help drive it.

Both Jericho fans and Veronica Mars fans have kept a close eye on speculation that their series might find a new home on the silver screen. For Jericho fans, they've been receiving some mixed, although positive messages, about a Jericho movie. Veronica Mars fans have had a harder time hearing what many considered a green light only to have it turn red.

We disagree with the "leak to win" theories that seem to play on the emotions of fans or run too deep of a risk to derail momentum upon bad reviews by people predisposed to dislike them. In my opinion, fan groups, many of which are immersed in social media and vested in the creations, deserve authenticity from studios over roller coaster rides that only hope to measure prevailing interest. It's not that difficult to talk about the project over leaking the product, and provide movies a chance to thrive on their own merit.

All too often, leaks, intentional or not, are reviewed and commented on by the wrong people — people with little interest in the material — and then are panned. X-Men Origins: Wolverine could become a poster child example. In this case, the leak has resulted in a split decision among people who have seen the semi-complete film, thereby hindering early momentum that might have been driven by pockets of X-Men fans like those at X-Men Fan Site or groups within sites like

Tuesday, January 20

Doubling Features: Veronica Mars, Jericho

It took two years, but the entertainment industry is taking action. When audiences are engaged, ratings alone don't measure. Backed by two loyal and impassioned fan bases, two television shows are setting sights on the big screen.

Passive viewers are active consumers.

Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, recently confirmed rumors: there will be a Veronica Mars movie. He said it will pick up a few days before Veronica Mars' graduation from Hearst College. Kristen Bell is confirmed; Thomas says he has spoken with Jason Dohring and Enrico Colantoni. Why? Fans.

Jon Turteltaub, executive producer of Jericho, broke the news: there will be a big screen treatment for Jericho. While the movie will go beyond the small town setting in Kansas, Turteltaub said that the original cast is all in, including Skeet Ulrich and Ashley Scott. Why? Fans.

The Internet has changed entertainment. Expect surprises.

At a presentation held at the Sundance Film Festival, panelists — Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, YouTube CEO Chad Hurley, and Hulu CEO Jason Kilar — may have shared slightly different visions for the future of entertainment, but all of them agreed on one thing. Fans are in control.

It only makes sense. Ask the next generation when their favorite television shows air, and many of them don't know. The shows are available whenever and wherever they want. It doesn't even matter when they were produced.

New shows benefit from the acceleration of online content delivery and old shows are resurrected as if they were produced last week. Many of them benefit from consumer marketing efforts created by brand evangelists.

Not only do these fans want to see the story lines continue, but they want the depth of material expanded as well. Even if that means picking up where networks and film studios leave off, many of them are more than ready to do it.

Monday, July 21

Catching New Fans: Rob Thomas

When you visit the Web site of screenwriter and producer Rob Thomas, his work is divided into sections: Books, Film, Television, Music, and Personal Info. But one more category remains on the top of a site that hasn’t been updated since one of his projects received the green light for season two — and that would be Veronica Mars.

By all accounts, Thomas seems as dedicated to Veronica Mars as the fans are to him. I know the fans are, because every few weeks they send me an update on their activities to grow a show that was prematurely cancelled after its third season.

Sure, fan outcry from cancelled television shows has become commonplace, with everyone from Moonlight to October Road giving it their best shot. But there is one thing unique about Veronica Mars fans. They remain optimistic realists — people who accept that Veronica Mars is unlikely to return to television, but may one day see a second life with a Veronica Mars movie.

The secret to their continued success? They have several small but memorable programs in place. I was introduced to one of them last March when they asked me to “try watching three or four episodes” and see if I wanted to watch the rest of the season.

Although the question was padded, because I was already watching season three via iTunes, I gave season one a shot. Four busy months later: my family couldn’t watch three or four shows. They had to watch them all.

They are now waiting for me to order season two from, which will be right after I send the “loan it forward” DVD set to its next destination this week. It’s headed cross country to a blogger who might appreciate the high touch approach to consumer marketing if not the show on its own merit.

If he watches a few episodes into disc two, he might become another fan and then “loan it forward” again. After all, there is something smart about the writing in this enduring series as the primary story arches develop. Coincidently, I felt the same way about season three. The set-up doesn’t seem as strong as the middle, but it eventually becomes vital to the underlining story.

Is it working? Considering one of the fans recently presented actor Jason Dohring (he portrayed Logan) with a scrapbook full of fan letters and artwork and the fact that Veronica Mars is still being positively mentioned in the press again and again, they seem to be doing something right. And in some ways, perhaps, better than anyone else.

Sure, our friends and Jericho fans are still sending nuts, but the Veronica Mars campaign continually captures more fans and friendly media attention without the hazard of having already had its second chance.

But more importantly, after watching two seasons of Veronica Mars, I’m won over with the logic that it just feels like big screen material. Provided Rob Thomas is in the driver’s seat and some of the cast continues to show an interest before they get too old to play their parts, it really could work as an alternative to the consistently typical summer blockbusters that tend to grace the screen.


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