I have said it before – it is an exciting time to be a storyteller, especially when technology is involved. Never have there been so many opportunities or so many challenges for screen media. New ideas like social TV, transmedia experiences and high quality web series made on a comparative shoestring are shaking things up. Traditional film and television storytellers are struggling to “unlearn” their old ways of doing business in order to find a place in this new landscape. In my conversations with creators from all parts of the business, one fundamental truth is held by everyone – screen media success starts with a good story. While I agree this is extremely important, I would challenge this way of thinking and suggest success actually starts with a good audience.
In the Beginning…
Our storytelling past begins with our cave dweller ancestors who would share tales of the day’s exciting hunt around a communal fire. Without these stories such prehistoric evenings would have been pretty dull. But without the audience there would have been no one with whom to share the story. The storytelling paradigm requires an audience – whether it lives in a book, on the screen, or around the campfire. The audience is what creates the storytelling space. Now, there are good and bad stories, and likely a really bad story will cause people to leave the fire or, at least, the teller won’t be invited to tell more tales. A good story is required to maintain and grow the audience, to keep them interested and wanting more.
Story without Audience
There was an intimacy around the storytelling campfire between creator and audience that has been much diminished today (except perhaps if you are doing live performance). Technology has created walls between the two which can cause a disconnect. Stories are created without audiences in mind, without respect given to the people who would want to experience them. Some would argue that a good story will find an audience, but this is not always true; often the organically “found” audience is not big enough to financially support the project or help the creator find the means to tell another story.
Audience Seeking Storytellers
In the traditional model, the technology and business of film and TV created and reinforced the distance between creator and audience. Broadcasters, distributors and the big movie studios owned the audience and sold it and its purchasing power to advertisers. Newer technologies, however, allow audience and creator to reconnect once more. The Internet with its social media and search engines provides the opportunity for greater immediacy and connection between the tellers of tales and their audience (one that is potentially bigger than ever before). In fact, the Internet can match the audience to the stories they want to experience with more and more accuracy. It is like the perfect dating service for screen media creators and their projects, providing the basis for an ongoing and viable business that is not owned by any of the gatekeepers above.
Good Story + Good Strategy = Very Good Audience
Technology also provides the means for almost unlimited screen media stories (you only have to look at YouTube’s daily upload rate to know this is true). Too many creators, too many choices, too many bad choices. This means an audience needs to work harder to find the good stories it wants and it wants the creators to help. Screen media folk need to have a strategy about how to find and connect to their audience (especially if they are developing a business model outside the traditional system). This is a critical step many are only just learning to take seriously. The good news is that there are many potential audience members who can be counted on to help. Some people are not only just looking for good stories, but also for chances to get involved. Crowdsourcing and transmedia experiences both speak to this need. The audience no longer wants to just be a passive consumer; many want to be active participants. If creators invest in this, they are also investing in a long term strategy for themselves and their companies.
What Do You Think? Story or Audience?
So have I convinced you? In this chicken and the egg scenario, which do you think comes first? Was it the story that drew the audience to the fire? Or the audience that created the space for the story to be told? Whatever you answer, it is clear in this day and age that good story and good audience are both necessary for the future success of the screen media business. But perhaps the most overlooked part is the good strategy necessary to bring these elements together – the campfire which was built specifically to attract and bring people together out of the dark, creating an audience in a shared space where amazing stories can be told.
Do you have any other ideas, questions, resources, tips or insight about the story versus audience debate for film, TV, webseries, transmedia and other screen media? Please post below or send via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: Top 10 Search & Social Media Marketing Resolutions for 2012