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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 interactivity.

"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 Virgin …)

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.

"digitally promiscuous"

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 text messaging.

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 them on.

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
 

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Antony I. Ginnane

STILL CONFUSED:
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


Stephen Conroy

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.”







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