Screen-Play: Building a Multi-Screen Entertainment Strategy

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It appears that we—meaning everyone who didn't spend his or her early teen years obsessed with MySpace—might just be the last generation to actually consider the differences between viewing screens. Yet it's this choice of screens—whether they be mobile, laptop, television, IM, iPod, or otherwise—that is changing the face of content right before our collective eyes.

We are at an evolutionary point in which consumers will stop thinking of these emerging screens as cutting-edge novelties and start "mindlessly" adopting them into their everyday lives. We need to know whether consumers view all these screens as simply new ways to access the same content or as truly new mediums to which the message must be molded.

With this in mind, entertainment content creators today must focus on creating content strategies that can evolve along with consumers' perceptions. This content-flexibility conundrum is one that Hollywood and her siblings are rallying to confront.

The Revolution: Televised or Not?
Consider that, not too many years ago, it was virtually unheard of to see an A-list film actor "stooping" to television. But when Brad Pitt showed up on Friends, we knew the floodgates had opened.

These days, movie theaters are no longer more valuable entertainment experiences, but rather just different. In fact, audiences' mindsets have changed so much that most people now seem just as happy watching a DVD of a film on their television as they do watching the same film on a 40-foot multiplex screen.

Some blame this shift on a film business that churns out lower-quality movies, while others point the finger at a costly movie-going experience that requires 20 minutes to park at the mall and another 20 enduring ads … not to mention the $7 price of a soda.

"Filmmakers still want their movies seen in theaters," says Andrew Panay, producer of the 2005 blockbuster The Wedding Crashers. "But the fact is that the first-run movie experience is migrating into the living room and beyond and, ultimately, there's not a whole lot Hollywood can do about it."

While movie and TV experiences have essentially become valued as equals in the eyes of mature viewing audiences, these viewers still consider computers, mobile phones, and iPods the less valuable options for viewing content. It doesn't mean they're not excited by the novelty or even by the convenience of these smaller screens, but they believe that viewing the same old traditional content on them is inherently less than ideal.

Today's kids, on the other hand, have no idea what's the big diff.

It doesn't work anymore to banish your teenage daughter to her bedroom in order to deny her the pleasure of her favorite TV show, because she's just as happy to watch that program on her bedroom computer (or even her cell phone) as she is on the living room television. Unlike for her parents, online or mobile delivery is—for her—not a novel way to get content; it's all she's ever known. It's these differences in perceptions among users that content owners must now carefully consider.

Thinking Outside the Delivery Box
What parents may have figured out, Hollywood has not.

Despite all the flashy headlines about digital distribution, the "revolution" is something that content creators are still trying to work out. Entertainment executives better wake up and take a strong sniff of the proverbial double latte, because building entertainment content strategies to capture eyeballs across all these old and new screens won't be easy.

"In many respects," says Sam Ades, director of brand strategies at Warner Bros. Online, "a studio's interest in the digital exploitation of its content centers around two concerns: How do I keep my content from being stolen, and how do I guarantee proper payment?"

Luckily, some technology companies have stepped up to answer some of these concerns. thePlatform's media publishing system is one such solution that tackles the management of business, policy, and rights regulations for an owner's content on different networks and devices. Companies like Comcast (which recently acquired thePlatform), Scripps, Verizon's V-Cast, and Amp'd Mobile are already working with thePlatform's solutions to manage these complex issues of delivering content to multiple platforms, especially considering that each screen effectively speaks a different "language."

Ian Blaine, cofounder of thePlatform, says, "A particularly interesting point is that the major content owners are starting to explore whether or not these new screens are cannibalizing their existing businesses." And this is a good thing, as it means that networks and studios might soon move past blaming technology hang-ups for their lethargy and toward more serious consideration of what consumers actually want.

With market research company In-Stat estimating a tenfold increase in the online video market over the next four years, the challenge of multi-screen distribution is not just about grabbing more viewers, but about getting more of those viewers' time.

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