SPAA 2009 - REACHING YOUR AUDIENCE – THE WRAP
THE TRAIN IS LEAVING
A guy on a Virgin train in Britain recently Twittered a complaint: “It’s bastard
hot on this Virgin train”. Virgin, which monitors social websites in benign Big
Brother fashion, picked up on it, responded to him to ascertain which train he
was on, alerted the driver, who adjusted the aircon. What’s this got to do with
Australian screen content creators? Heaps. Andrew L. Urban rubbed shoulders,
asked questions, made notes and broke bread with over 700 screen industry
delegates (not all at once thanks) from around Australia and the world at the
2009 SPAA Conference (Nov 17 – 20).
Sydney’s Westin Hotel in the CBD was the perfectly located venue for a
'coinference' of Australia’s screen producers, who are all hoping to learn ways of
better reaching audiences to improve their revenues. The message from US and UK
speakers was that the train of engaging with and listening to your audience was
leaving the platform. Ironically, Australia is seen as a sophisticated digital
market in technology terms, but at kindie level player in content and
"jumping on the train"
Television (both free to air and subscription models) is quickly jumping on
the train, but most filmmakers and theatrical distributors are stuck on the
platform. Online marketing of films is an emerging idea here, but filmmakers
were given some solid ‘takeaways’ at the conference, notably in the first day’s
360 Sessions produced by digital marketing specialist Martin Walsh (Digital
Marketing Director, Microsoft until this week, when he moves to IBM). He was
supported by heavy US artillery in Stephanie Bohn, (Director of Worldwide
Marketing, Digital Distribution, Warner Brothers), and Gordon Paddison, (Founder
& Principal, Stradella Road, US) as well as Travis Johnson (Managing Director,
Universal McCann, Sydney).
Back to that guy on the Virgin train: this was an anecdote delivered in the
session on Social IPTV - Interactive and Personal TV, produced by Gary Hayes,
Director of LAMP, AFTRS, with speakers: Arul Baskaran, Acting Head of
Multiplatform Production, ABC; Lisa Gray, Head of Content, The Feds; Marshall
Heald, Head of Online, SBS; and Siobhan Mulholland, Creative Director, Dubz.tv,
UK; Courtney Gibson, Director of Programmes, Southern Star Entertainment.
The massage of the Virgin train episode is that companies need to listen to the
social networks to pick up vital customer-generated information. Social
networking is also opportunity harvesting … That applies whether you are selling
train tickets or movie tickets. (Australia’s telcos should take a lesson from
Here we also learnt that internet enabled TV sets are already selling fast in
the US: 6 million units so far. By 2014, 70% of all TV sets will be internet
enabled. What does this mean to Australian screen content creators? Well, look
at it this way: Australians are happy to watch Australian screen content on TV
by the millions, yet they stay away from Australian movies at the cinema - by
the same millions. Why not deliver the movies to the TV set (or the computer
hitched up to it)? And take the train to engagement station: give audiences an
opportunity to socialise around the movie.
Today’s audience is digitally promiscuous and manages multitasking on
multiple platforms simultaneously. They can (and do) watch Channel 4’s new
Surgery Live reality TV show, where they can interact (but not wield the
scalpel) and exchange comments with the surgical team, while simultaneously
Twittering on their own account, AND playing a game, checking their emails and
Netflix US has moved rapidly into VOD (video on demand, meaning download to rent
online) partly because it can’t keep up with physical DVD stocks to satisfy an
ever growing market with ever increasing physical product. It has reported 1.6
million units delivered via Xbox and in all, some 30% of all rentals are now in
VOD. The DVD retailers are thinning on the ground. It’s all moving online.
If proof were needed that traditional movie distribution is being reformed, we
were shown figures that only 19% of movie revenues come from the old box office;
the rest is generated downstream – ‘stream’ becoming the operative word. This
doesn’t mean cinemas will close: it means that movies which offer giant scale (eg
2012) will dominate the schedules. Smaller indies and art house films will have
less and less access to screens, partly because the cinemas can’t afford to keep
But the internet offers exceptional marketing opportunities and some Australian
filmmakers are getting the hang of it. Last month, in a world first, filmmaker
Andrew Traucki arranged for a live webstream from the Hervey Bay location of his
new shark thriller, The Reef. And producer Bill Leimbach has built up a sizeable
fan base for his upcoming World War I fact-based drama, Beneath Hill 60, using
his own resources to build awareness even before the film’s distributors
(Transmission/Paramount) get into the act.
"Reaching Your Audience"
This year’s SPAA conference was built on the theme: Reaching Your Audience;
it follows an October 22, 2009 public/industry Forum organised by Metro Screen
and moderated by your writer, on the same theme. The theme is valid and
awareness of the need to aim projects at well defined audiences is imperative.
But as veteran producer Ross Dimsey points out, the biggest issue is content; he
wants to see producers better supported as the best way to deliver better
screenplays. That’s their job, he says.
Published November 21, 2009
Email this article
Antony I. Ginnane
SPAA President Antony I. Ginnane (above) set the cat among the pigeons when (staying
close to the conference theme of reaching audiences) he urged Australian
filmmakers to act like businessmen and make films that are popular. Howls of
indignation and disagreement followed (in blogs) but most people (still confused on the subject) who chided him
for chasing profits instead of art, missed the point: he is advocating better
use of resources so that our films reach bigger audiences. Isn’t that every
filmmaker’s ambition? – Andrew L. Urban
ON THE BROADBAND WAGON:
Minister for getting cable up to warp speed, Senator Stephen Conroy (above), made all
the right noises about the importance of Australian content on the new broadband
superhighway but avoided anything too specific. Extract from his speech:
“..’on-screen’ doesn’t just mean television anymore. The digitisation of content
and emergence of new delivery platforms enables consumers to receive content
through a range of media, including online, broadcast and mobile.
The challenge facing the Government, and indeed content creators and
distributors, is how to ensure that quality Australian stories are widely
available in the future.
I know that all of you here have strong views on this challenge, and I look
forward to hearing your ideas when we commence a review of convergent media
regulation – a review that is crucial to the future of Australian content. I can
assure you that the Government has no desire to see Australian cultural content
swamped by a massive influx of cheap, overseas programming.
We’re investing in the enabling infrastructure so that you can tell your stories
to more people, in more formats, than ever before. This is a huge opportunity
for this sector to provide the content to send down the pipes and over the air,
to ensure that the revolution in Australian media and communications remains
Australian at its core.”