Why send the TV guy to South by Southwest Interactive? It turns out that television in both its technological creeping into the online world and its increasing interactivity with social media continues to grow in importance as a topic at the festival, which wrapped up Tuesday. Here are some panel highlights; you can read the full write-ups at austin360.com/digitalsavant.
TV Networks Extending Interactivity for Fans
Panelists discussed the role of online — specifically games — in extending the branding of television shows and the extension of interaction with fans between episodes and seasons.
They also assessed how well broadcast and cable networks are embracing that technology. Turns out not so well. The best quotes came from Noah Hawley, the creator of last fall's transmedia-filled ABC drama "My Generation" (set and filmed in Austin), who seems to still be stinging from that show's quick cancellation.
"Networks are filled with very pessimistic people; they don't understand this stuff," Hawley said. "It's almost like they still have typewriters over there. They're still wrapping their minds around Webisodes."
Hawley said later in the session: "When you like a television show, you invite these people into your house every week. For me, a lot of the excitement is in how we find ways to broaden the experience for people to interact with characters in a way that makes them love these characters even more." Hawley had lots of interactive plans for "My Generation," but they were dashed when the show was canceled after its second episode aired to low ratings.
Hawley's sentiment isn't universal, said David Luner, senior vice president of consumer products and interactive at FremantleMedia (Luner oversees interactive, mobile and consumer products related to Fremantle's properties, including "American Idol," "The Price Is Right" and Simon Cowell's upcoming "The X Factor").
"We're in a transitional phase. Not all storytellers think of ways to expand the experience," he said.
Fan to Fanatic: 'True Blood's' Marketing Hook
The panel discussed the marketing of HBO's hit show "True Blood" and the marketers' (and network's) relationship with — and embrace of — the program's rabid fan base. Marketers' efforts included embrace of the Twittersphere and a series of ads for fictional products and organizations portrayed in the show and, later, tongue-in-cheek, real-world marketing of existing products (Harley-Davidson, etc.) to vampires. When fans began tweeting in the voice of "True Blood" characters, marketers were quick to persuade the network and its legal department to encourage the behavior instead of shutting it down.
"Our idea was if vampires are living among us, they could be marketed to just like anybody else," said Todd Brandes, from Digital Kitchen, the agency that created the "True Blood" campaign.
Subtle Sexuality: NBC.comAdds Spice to Shows
The panelists spoke about how the network engages fans by providing the incentive of online currency that can be redeemed for products and sweepstakes entries. These incentives also have been used in an online implementation of the "street team" concept to reward fans for helping to publicize NBC shows.
"You should do something between your finale and your premiere that gives your fans something to talk about; something to watch," said Carole Angelo, vice president of digital content and development at NBC.com. Angelo speaks from experience — she was the creative executive on Emmy-nominated interactive experiences for "The Office," "The Biggest Loser" and "30 Rock."
Felicia Day keynote
Felicia Day, who's acted in both Web productions including "The Guild" and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and TV shows such as "House" and "Lie To Me," finds celebrity "distasteful and sad."
"I have famous friends and what they have to go through is unfortunate," she said. "We tend to deify celebrities, which I think is ridiculous. They're just humans. That's what's beautiful about Twitter. It gives artists isolated by fame a direct conduit to their fans."
Practically Funny: How Alternative Comedy Kings Have Learned To Reach the Masses
The panelists suggested that comedy is the perfect art form for multiple-platform distribution. Much of the same content can work in podcast form, on television or in shorter pieces on the Internet.
"You can't look at the Internet as purely a promotional tool," said panelist Chris Hardwick (nerdist.com), who hosts G4's "Web Soup" and has a successful podcast. "People are just so tired of being promoted at. You need to share stuff as much as you want to take from the Internet. You have to feed the machine."