We’re all producers now

The highlight of Day 3 for me was Randi Zuckerberg’s discussion with House of Cards producer Dana Brunetti (who also produced The Social Network, hence a couple of playful jabs from Zuckerberg about the nature of truth in entertainment).

The talk focused on the convergence of Silicon Valley with Hollywood, with Brunetti making some typically forthright and unflinching assertions about the nature of Hollywood (‘full of dinosaurs and assholes’) and the future of entertainment.   He later acknowledged on Twitter that he ‘pissed off a few people back home with his comments’ but quickly followed up with ‘if you’re making everyone happy you’re doing it wrong’

Here are my five key take-outs from the discussion.

  1. Fan power is increasing exponentially.    Zuckerberg opened with the lovely one-liner ‘your audience now has an audience’ to highlight the way social media has transformed the broadcaster-viewer relationship.   For Brunetti, the reaction of fans is absolutely key to making or breaking a show, and the cycle of approval or rejection is becoming shorter.

“Listen to what the fans are saying and what they’re doing from a content creation side and what they want and what they expect so you can create and make for them. They can make or break a film. Between Twitter and Facebook, early word of mouth for a film can destroy it immediately or take something you’ve never heard of and make it a huge hit.”

I heard in another talk that the second half of the first season of House of Cards was changed due to fan reaction on Twitter, which if true demonstrates that the influence of the audience on the content has never been stronger in the history of entertainment.   Brunetti also mentioned that they look at actor’s social profiles before hiring which shows the importance of personal brands for gathering content.

  1. There’s no going back.   Netflix is simply the vanguard to a new era of content distribution via the web.   Therefore what we now regard as ‘TV’ will look dramatically different in 5 years time.

“I think it’s dead the way we know it now. Digital distribution is where it’s at….what Netflix is doing, what Amazon is doing, Hulu even… Facebook can easily start creating content and have a huge audience, same with Twitter and all the others. That’s where it’s all going to happen.”

Netflix don’t release their audience numbers (although he was confident they would wipe the floor with network TV) but are great at using audience data to improve their product as they have access to so much more than Nielsen, including when people pause, when they watch and how much at a time.

  1. Crowd-sourcing isn’t the answer to everything.   Brunetti took a hard stance against Hollywood producer such as Spike Lee who used crowdsourcing to help fund their projects.

“It’s a brilliant idea that’s gotten out of hand…. I think it’s wrong when people like Zach Braff or Spike Lee use that same service to fund their films when they already have access, I think it overshadows and takes away from the little guys who actually need the funding.”

He also highlighted the problem of artistic integrity being eroded when people are paying for executive producer titles and walk-in roles.   I actually think this is an age old problem, not a new one.  You can go right back to when patrons implored artists to give more flattering portraits in the 17th century to Hollywood producers compromising the vision of the writer’s script they’ve just bought.

  1. Risk-taking is the only way to innovate in entertainment.

Brunetti told a great story of how Kevin Spacey assumed that House of Cards was going straight to DVD when he was told it was a Netflix project.   Imagine how difficult it must have been to explain the distribution model.

“A lot of people thought we were nuts. They didn’t understand what we were doing…Everybody gets it now. The same people who thought it was crazy sit in my office now and say, ‘How do I get my show on Netflix?'”

Netflix are continuing to innovate in this space by releasing the entire season two at once.   The question of spoilers came up here but was quickly batted away by Brunetti; ‘if your friends spoil it you need new friends’

  1. The next frontier in entertainment is live theatre.

This is the second time I’ve heard this being talked about at SXSW.   Both Zuckerberg and Brunetti were convinced that Broadway is going to take off in a big way once they crack how to harness social media data, audience interaction in a live performance or find new ways of distributing the content.    They agreed this area is wide open for someone to come in and do something game-changing.

So the short answer is yes, we are all content producers now; sharing and feeding back and hopefully improving the standard of content out there.    But some producers are still a hell of a lot more influential than the rest of us.

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To see live photos of SXSW view PHD’s Pinterest page.

Simon Harwood, Planning Director for innovation & insight. PHD UK. Follow @sharwoodster @PHD_UK

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