I was recently invited to share my thoughts on co-creating value through collaborative entertainment with Disney’s Imagineering R&D department. Topics included creative collaboration, co-creating value with consumers, bridging fandom and canon, copyright, and (yes) transmedia (I’ve posted the presentation on slideshare).
Given the company’s reputation for a heavy-handed approach to copyright enforcement, I harbored few hopes that my ideas would meet with a warm reception. I was, then, pleasantly surprised by the forward-thinking views of so many employees regarding the future of entertainment in an increasingly digital and connected world.
In fact, Disney’s interactive division has a great example of how some entertainment can be opened up to include a higher degree of collaboration with consumers. Disney’s online arm, Take180, has been up officially for over a year, and I discussed Take180 during my presentation.
Take180 produces content where fans can affect ‘what happens next.’ Here’s a description from the take180 website:
“Take180 is a new website featuring shows made with audience participation. Members of the site’s community contribute videos, stories, photos and artwork in response to specific challenges from the show producers. The community also provides feedback by commenting and voting on submissions from other members. Winning submissions are then featured in future episodes and the winners of each challenge receive various prizes.”
I was mildly impressed, based on the description of how the content was structured, to hear just how collaborative the project seemed.
After taking a look at the site and reviewing the terms and conditions, I’m both disappointed and optimistic.
Take180 has created a great foundation for deep engagement and true participation with consumers, but it has not embraced the full potential of the site. Take180 seems to be quietly waiting for someone to recognize how it could become meaningfully collaborative and engage and sustain a larger, more loyal audience.
Take180 creates produces a handful of online video series across a broad range of topics (including the obligatory vampire story) and genres. Occasionally, each series will post “challenges” for its fans. One current challenge for the “I <3 Vampires” show is, “Pick Your Prey: Would you turn people into vampires? If so, how would you pick your prey?”
Fans upload text, video, or image submissions, with the winning submission earning the fan a gift certificate (usually $100-300).
Other examples include more traditional choose-your-own-adventure type questions (“How should character X find character Y?“) and requests for content that can be directly placed into an episode (“Please upload a video of a real-sounding news story“).
Some are outright solicitations for ideas (“Tell us what TV show or movie you’d like to see spoofed and how!“).
Many are little more than invitations to share personal experiences and do not directly influence the series (“Share your deep thoughts,” “Tell us about the nicest thing you’ve ever done for someone,” etc.).
Submissions are posted on the site for fans to vote and comment on them (and each other – the site has the basics for facilitating peer-level fan interaction).
I’m encouraged by the quantity and quality from fans in response to challenges. There is clearly a lot going right at Take180, especially in how they use the challenges to drive peer-level interaction and appeal to people’s desire to share their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and beliefs with others (in this case, within the context of a popular show that has a communal appeal). They have set the submission bar fairly low, meaning fans can quickly jump into challenges without needing to spend hours researching characters, mythologies, etc. And they offer many ways to play.
And a recent challenge involving Fran Drescher was the equivalent of a public-service-announcement about early detection of cancer mashed up with a challenge about living healthy. At the end of a short comedic video, Drescher asks viewers to visit cancerschmancer.org and then issues a challenge to submit ways viewers live a healthy lifestyle.
Leaving aside the jarring dissonance (one minute I’m watching Drescher’s recently “found” Avatar audition tape, which is funny and features Jon Landau, and the next minute I’m being told that cancer’s a dangerous thing), the result of the challenge is that viewers are submitting their thoughts and actions about living healthier lives. And giving each other positive reinforcement. And voting on their favorite entries.
This challenge has consumers talking amongst themselves, sharing stories with each other, and helping boost their individual self-esteem.
Points to Disney for all of the above.
But I think there’s more it could be doing both on the collaborative side and on finding additional value in the submissions.
1) Make the Submissions Reusable
The kinds of calls to action Take180 issues are fleeting and finite in nature. Anyone stumbling into season three of a series is unlikely to care much about the submissions from a season one challenge (especially one that has limited applicability to the story, such as the request for fake news reports – how many of those do you want to sit through?).
Instead, Take180 could design the calls to action so that submissions have sustainable valuable that can be ported beyond the life of the series.
Content that takes a lot of time to create is one way to achieve this, though it obviously requires a higher degree of commitment by fans. A good short story takes time to create, but it has a longer shelf life than “Come up with a really cool nickname for this character!” For shows entering their second or third season (theoretically on the basis that they have a large and growing fanbase), this isn’t out of the question, however.
2) Facilitate Self-Directed, Peer-Level Collaboration
As far as I can tell, the collaboration is limited to Take180 and its fans. Fans are not given challenges that prompt them to collaborate amongst themselves.
Take180 should mix in challenges that don’t request specific pieces of content but instead point to specific types of actions/behaviors that let consumers determine for themselves what the end product (i.e., content) should look like, as well as self-direct how it’s made.
3) Your Submission Didn’t Win, But It’s Still a Winner
Quality isn’t limited to the winning submission. Take180 should pull the gems from the submission inbox and bundle them in ways that create a new value offering (i.e., remix/repurpose/recontext them).
Also, Take180 should find ways to rebundle submissions from within a show that spanned different challenges. You probably won’t want to sit through 129 fan-produced versions of a particular song, but you would want to easily view the most popular submissions that centered around your favorite character. This would involve a little UI/UX and functional work to make the content tagging support easy discovery/navigation, but that’s not a Herculean effort.
4) Legal Limitations
The Take180 Terms of Service appear to prevent any content, including submissions by consumers, from being used anywhere except on the Take180 site and the consumer’s home computer. While the reasons behind this are obvious (both from a business standpoint and a legal standpoint), I’m struck by the inconsistent message this connates.
This attitude of “Come play at Take180!” grinds against the “All Your [Submission] Are Belong to Us!” legal conditions for playing.
Yes, I understand that walling off your content theoretically drives up your page views since the content only lives on your website. But this approach towards ownership of content is akin to inviting your friends to bring their toys when they come play in your cool sandbox, then informing them that any toys they bring have to stay in your sandbox.
In a time when discovery trumps both content quality and piracy as the biggest hurdle to engagement with audiences, why limit your marketing reach to those already on your site? Why not let at least the submission content be posted on other sites and act as beacons back to yours?
5) Expanded User Narration
The overall feel of the site is that viewers actually have very little say in exploring the worlds created in the series. Certainly, not every series lends itself to this (“I <3 Vampires” is a far better candidate for this than “electricspoofaloo“), but for those that do, Take180 should carve out areas where it’s safe for fans to build out the world.
There are lots of implied spaces for fans to fill in world narrative holes. Done correctly, exploring implied spaces actually sets the stage for asking more questions about the world than it answers.
And this is all the more applicable if Take180 maintains its all-rights approach to submission content.
Conclusion: I <3 take180
Overall, I like Take180’s premise.
It’s got momentum and the platform for building a really engaged audience.
It also has fantastic advertising opportunities (traditional, branded and sponsored).
However, it could push the collaborative envelope more. It could shift the legal lines of content ownership to construct larger creative spaces for fans to co-create additional value with Take180. By taking a slightly different focus for the challenges, Take180 can find a lot of sustained value in the user-generated content.
With the Disney company behind it, Take180 could become a great example of how to explore new licensing approaches to collaborative commercial entertainment and develop new intellectual properties at the same time.