Storytelling Across Platforms: Insights from Digital Entertainment World 2020

Entertainment industry leaders came together at Digital Entertainment World 2020 to discuss storytelling and engagement across platforms. Get the insights.

A group of six men and women on laptops and other devices, living in a digital entertainment world.

The power of storytelling across platforms. The value of an audience-led marketing focus. The allure of authenticity on social media.

These were just some of the many takeaways gleaned from the annual gathering of entertainment industry executives at the recent Digital Entertainment World conference in Marina Del Rey, California, where social media, mobile and direct fan engagement took center stage. From the multitude of informative sessions, we’ve collected some of the top themes and insights on where entertainment is heading this year, and how marketers and social media teams can capitalize on them.

What’s clear is that with all of the activity upending traditional media production, distribution, and consumption patterns, the consumer is now driving this runaway train. Companies that want to continue to control their message will look to offer fresh content that engages audiences and fans wherever they are. And the opportunities to do that are increasingly found on social media platforms and on mobile devices.

Technology spurs shifts

The duality of industry activity is becoming more apparent these days. For example, the continued expansion of both mass and niche streaming services has been driving generational change in the industry and was one of the top trends that kicked off Digital Entertainment World’s opening presentation. At the same time, media consolidation continues on a tear; a bevy of traditional studios including MGM and Sony are among the top rumored acquisition targets of large technology companies in the space who need deep content libraries to build and fill their schedules beyond original programming.

These same tech companies are also eating away at the business models of media companies, per a session led by Andrew Wallenstein, Editor-in-Chief of Variety. Cord-cutting and shifting continue unabated as linear TV ratings keep sliding off the cliff, taking with them memories of the linear ad sales business glory days.

Yet, from a fireside chat with Skydance President and COO Jesse Sisgold, it’s evident that overall content consumption of media is increasing. What’s shifting is how people are receiving that content across platforms and devices; that’s a key reason why his company and others are looking to tell stories through various formats to reach them. This and other discussions noted the importance of thinking early on in the creative process about the right platform and medium to share each story as audiences glide across many screens. And as multiple panels noted, complex data analysis continues to be critical in understanding program viewing paths and other consumption habits along the way.

Premium content demand rises across the board

All of this competition has produced some early winners (hello Disney+), along with rising network and content alternatives to occupy audience attention spans.

As Wallenstein noted, bidding wars have erupted over A-list producing talent for premium originals, as well as classic television show libraries that distributors are offering to feed an insatiable consumer appetite. With both talent and programming costs being bid up across the board, smaller services with limited audiences will be hard-pressed to prosper in the long-term. Expanding their passionate communities and viewership will be critical to survival.

Consumers are also being swayed by a plethora of long- and short-form options to occupy their media time: Short-form social video app TikTok has exploded onto the social scene and is fast becoming a social platform of choice for Gen Z. Esports is now a $1 billion business. VR and AR continue to find their footing. And podcasting is the current “It Girl” in Hollywood for incubating new IP.

Amidst all this activity, the consumer remains king—determining the fate and survivors of the entertainment turf wars, and decreeing the winners with their viewing time and wallets.

Silhouette of concert-goer hands in air

Audience engagement helps brands stand out

As Rob Holmes, Roku’s Vice President of Programming, noted, in such a cluttered and dynamic landscape, streaming services are realizing the ability for audiences to connect a show with a channel brand is low; it’s the content brands that ultimately matter to viewers. Crunchyroll founder Kun Gao posited, “Would your audience be passionate enough about your brand to wear a t-shirt about it?”

If the answer is no, you have some work to do.

Indeed, audiences are savvy in seeking out the content brands they want in the ways they want to interact with them. As multiple panels noted, offering fans the stories they know and love helps open the doors to them discovering their next favorite original stories, and then sharing those discoveries with others.

It’s becoming apparent that more robust audience engagement strategies will help brands across the entertainment landscape adapt and survive. Consumers demand and expect to have a direct line of communication with brands everywhere today, and that communication hub is generally via social media. To connect with viewers and expand lasting awareness, entertainment companies should think about all of their valuable resources—not only their IP but the community of talent surrounding their content, and their passionate fans to help that IP move broadly.

Reza Sarrief, National Director at Roc Nation, spoke about music marketing strategies and building rapport with audiences authentically, saying, “It’s important for the consumer to not feel they were force-fed something.” Sandro Corsaro, Chief Creative Officer at Fandango, also noted that authenticity and hearing from their own social circles rule the day for fans, and people want to hear from their own peer groups.

Kent Wakeford, Co-founder of Gen.G esports, talked about using the power of players to tap into fanbases, while Mike Johnson, Head of Social and Digital within CAA’s Brand Consulting group discussed that he sees a lot of sports teams handling their athletic talents’ social media, and noted that they need to give talent more tools to create content themselves.

Audiences today will make or break a service, a network, a product, or a brand. From these Digital Entertainment World lessons, think about your audiences, your content and your community, and how technology can help unite them all.

At Greenfly, we understand this need for entertainment companies to break through and interact with audiences in new, engaging ways on social media. We help them connect directly with their talent and spokespeople. We help marketers share relevant, authentic content with those advocates to use on their own social media, to build the brand connection that audiences want year-round, for greater engagement and returns on content investments.

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