Audience participation – the changing role of the Author

I’m really pleased to have had the opportunity this week to attend the Torino Film Lab and their Writer’s Room workshop here in Vaasa, Finland. The workshop – focusing on two transmedia projects – bring together the two creators, three experts and three people representing the TFL itself, for some quite intensive workshopping around the two ideas. This week we – i.e. the company I work for, MediaCity Finland – act as hosts for the workshop.

Yesterday we held a MindClub (a quarterly conference and networking event for the media, marketing and IT industries in the region), this time featuring TFL and focusing on multiplatform storytelling and transmedia. It was thoroughly interesting and gave a lot of food for thought. One discussion that I was especially intrigued about was brought up by one of the attendants at the MindClub, Euan Scott, trade commissioner at the Canadian Embassy in Stockholm.

Adam Sigel had been talking about audience engangement in a multiplatform setting, exemplifying with Hitchcock’s campaign around and before the release of ”Psycho”. Euan’s point was that audience engagement is absolutely nothing new. In fact, in the middle ages, audience interaction was vital to any sort of theater performance. It was only with the birth of the Author that audience engagement became less and less wanted and needed.

This, to me, feels like where we are at right now. The TV and the movie industries (and why not the publishing industry as well) have been focused on the Author (or the Director) for decades, telling the stories in the fashion they have decided, to a more or less passive and consuming audience. But with the rise of the Internet, of smart phones, of gigabyte connections, of tools on the level of professionals in the hands of anyone, of direct connections to a global audience on the press of a button… with all of this has come change.

The Author is no longer in control. No matter if audience interaction and participation is planned for or not, if the content is great enough and make people relate to it enough, people will start to engage and co-create .

I’ve been looking into theater for a while, since so many interesting things are happening within that art form. In theatre, audience participation is in some cases a part of the experience (the Japanese kabuki-theater for example) and in other cases used to in a sense rebel against ”traditional” theater. One conclusion that rings true for me, which was mentioned in the publication ”Meeting Theatre’s Challenges”, is that ”unlike film audiences, theatre audiences choose their focus”.

This is very much true for the active and interactive audience we encounter and work with today. Over on Adweek yesterday, Zach James had done some digging on fans, brands and YouTube content, and found some astonishing figures. Fans beat brands hands down when it comes to online content. Take make-up brand Cover Girl for example – out of 251 million YouTube views, 249 million come from fan-created videos. The same goes for a long list of brands, and just goes to show that if you have something people can relate to and be engaged by, the only way forward is to give them the tools to create good stuff and reasons to do so and to share their creations.

4 thoughts on “Audience participation – the changing role of the Author

  1. I completely agree with you about Theatre and the role of audience in that discipline. As someone who’s come from the Theatre first, I’ve always been driven to create multi-focal points for the audience to discover whilst watching you on stage
    In another interesting point, I was talking with a load of app experts the other day (think people with over 11 million downloads) – and they said practically the same thing – it’s the audience that has the power in the digital world, not the author – only through finding out what they’d want would you then be able to create something that has a chance at being successful. So know your audience!!!

    • I definitely think media people could learn a lot from app and game makers (and the other way around as well, of course). The focal points you talk about can, in my mind, easily be compared to different narratives on different media. All need to fit together in the same narrative network, while still retaining their own individual value.

      • I agree – as long as 1. The overall narrative is strong enough & 2. That when that narrative is played out on a different platform – there’s a reason for it (and not just let’s build an app / game / ebook and so on because we were told that’s what we should do…) each platform has its own nuance, that can add another layer to the audience’s experience / immersion (but only if used correctly!)

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