Dear Hollywood: Your audience has moved

By harnessing transmedia, the creators of the Twilight Saga took a $37 million film and turned it into a $6 billion franchise

Lara Hoefs, transmedia producer for the Twilight film saga, speaking at the Merging Media conference

It started as a book series – The Twilight Saga – about vampires. Which became a series of movies. Which became a “transmedia” phenomenon that included games, contests, wikis, social media fan pages and even Twilight-themed fiction written and published online by fans.

One of those fans was E.L. James, who wrote a series of Twilight-themed stories. Which itself became a book.

And now, Fifty Shades of Grey is also being turned into a movie.

Whether it enjoys the kind of success the Twilight franchise has may depend on how well its creators harness cross-platform distribution and marketing to grow and interact with its fan base, according to industry experts at the November 7 and 8 Merging Media conference in Vancouver.

“The fragmentation of media is a reality,” said Matt Toner, president of Zeros 2 Heroes Media Inc., which develops multi-media strategies for the entertainment industry, including games, digital comic books and websites.

“People are now looking at second and third screens, looking at content when they want to watch it, on the device of their choice. The best producers are those that understand that from the moment of inception of their program, not as an afterthought.”

Transmedia is more than just a way of delivering content and engaging fans through various platforms. It’s also a blending of the creative process and marketing – a strategy that uses a multi-pronged approach to telling stories and reaching fans.

Few studios have exploited transmedia as successfully as the Twilight franchise, some of which was filmed in B.C. The first movie had a budget of $37 million. The Twilight movies alone grossed $3.3 billion, and the franchise as a whole – including books, movies and merchandise – grossed $6 billion.

“It was not going to be a blockbuster movie,” Lara Hoefs, the transmedia producer for the Twilight saga, said at the Merg ing Media conference, which was presented by the B.C. branch of the Canadian Media Production Association.

“It did not have a blockbuster budget, which is encouraging because it means that [with] any property you have an opportunity to hit the zeitgeist of the cultural landscape and your audience.”

The first Twilight movie came out in 2008, when social media was taking off in a big way.

The creators used Myspace, Facebook and Twitter to reach fans, held online contests, created a Twilight time capsule – where fans can upload their own photos – published graphic novels and created a Twilight mythology guide upon which fans could base their own Twilight-themed stories, while remaining true to the saga’s characters and plot. That fan fiction resulted in Fifty Shades of Grey. Despite Twilight’s success with transmedia, not everyone in the TV and film industry has bought in. The industry is still trying to figure out if YouTube, social media and second screen devices (tablets and smartphones) are friends or foes.

“It’s very evident to anybody who’s paying attention that the way people digest and consume TV shows or movies or any kind of visual media is changing,” Canadian comedian, actor and writer Brent Butt told Business in Vancouver.

A big user of social media, blogs and podcasts, Butt was not at the Merging Media conference to talk, but rather to listen. He said the TV and film industries need to take merging media trends seriously.

“If television and film don’t look at this as a real thing that could knock them off the hill, then they’re going to be in trouble,” he said. “The degree to which it disrupts the existing state of things is dependent upon how much the powers that be recognize that there’s a new tough dude on the block that you’ve got to find a way to play ball with. If it’s done well, we see how good things can be when they work together.”

Although the amount of film and TV production done in Vancouver has been shrinking, the city is still known as Hollywood North. But Vancouver is also gaining the reputation as Silicon Valley North. Not surprisingly, the two industries have converged here to spawn a number of companies that specialize in entertainment-based cross-platform services. Alert TV, Switch United and Zeros 2 Heros are some of the companies in Vancouver that specialize in multi-media strategies for the entertainment industry.

Switch United made Butt’s website, which he uses for posting podcasts and video blogs, and promoting his TV and film projects. It has also developed cross-platform campaigns for locally produced TV shows like Ice Pilots, Yukon Gold and Arctic Air. 

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