Towards a ‘lean’ television production model

Fascinating article in Variety about Jeffrey Katzenberg’s new venture: New TV.

Made-for-mobile content rarely exceeds a cost of $5,000-$10,000 per minute; Katzenberg wants to spend as much as $125,000 per minute.

New TV has been on my mind because Katzenberg is going to provide the financial incentive to answer the question: “what does the ‘lean’ version of Game of Thrones look like?”

Interestingly, the recent season of Game of Thrones is the perfect story for ‘New TV.’ The story is highly segmented, spending only five or ten minutes on each of the main Character’s storyline. What I propose below is an attempt to define a ‘lean’ production model for New TV’s first Game of Thrones-like show:

  1. Year-round viewing experience. The lean Game of Thrones will deliver year-round. I imagine that the audience will receive approximately 2 or 3 scenes each week, each scene being between 2–5 minutes. Note: this is roughly the same amount of content as ten 50 minute episodes deliver in a traditional season.
  2. Each scene will focus on one character’s point-of-view. In the ‘lean’ Game of Thrones each scene will focus on one character; which is roughly what the show is like already.
  3. Unrivaled production quality. There should be no difference between HBO’s Game of Thrones and a ‘lean’ version of the same show. The quality of the actors, sets, and VFX should be equal.
  4. Vertical framing. To establish itself as a distinct medium, New TV is going to have to embrace vertical framing. Conforming to film’s horizontal framing, only reinforces the idea that New TV is a subordinate and inferior format.

This is just the start of a ‘lean’ production model for two reasons. Firstly, continually releasing short scenes that are both self-contained and part of a larger narrative, functions as a sort of iteration. Or as close to iteration as any storytelling medium will allow. Secondly, a year-round production model will require a complete rethink of how projects are budgeted, scheduled, and financed. Processes that have gone unquestioned and unchallenged for an extremely long time.

Now let’s consider a ‘lean’ version of The Real Housewives:

  1. Year-round viewing experience. The average Bravolebrity‘s life unfolds year-round on social media. And New TV programing needs to keep up. Audiences should receive 2 or 3 scenes each week, with scenes averaging between 2–5 minutes.
  2. Crib news production, not documentary or scripted. Since a Bravolebrity’s life unfolds in real-time, on social media, the lag between filming and air needs to approach the speed of news. Or perhaps a ‘magazine’ format.
  3. Integrated product placement. From her shoes to her handbag, a first-class New TV Real Housewives experience would be completely integrated with product placement.
  4. Vertical framing. A mobile first medium will have to embrace its native framing to set itself apartment from film and television. I think a fashion forward genre like the Real Housewives would work well in this framing.

I believe that a ‘mobile first’ Real Housewives series is a better bet for Katzenberg’s New TV. Firstly, because this would compliment the social media sphere a ‘Bravolebrity’-type already occupies. These segments would offer context to a whirling Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat war. Secondly, this format lends itself well to brand integration and title sponsorship, both are essential to Katzenberg’s plan. Finally, we could produce a very high-end experience for far less than $125k/minute. But much higher than $5,000/minute content. Something in the $35,000 range would still be better than anything else mobile, while still provide great value.

Coda

I believe it is important to start thinking about new production models because budgets are shrinking, schedules are shortening, and audiences are arriving with a new set of expectations. But the production community isn’t discussing these changes in a meaningful way.

It’s easy to make fun of the idea of a ‘lean’ Game of Thrones or an ‘agile’ Real Housewives. Many of Silicon Valley’s buzzwords like “disrupt,” “iteration,” or “pivot,” don’t translate into film & television. Either you know Ned Stark is dead or you don’t. You can’t iterate your way into a shocking plot twist.

But consider this: the lean startup philosophy was adapted from Toyota’s revolutionary manufacturing pipeline. Software entrepreneurs looked outside their industry for inspiration and adapted their observations to product development. Learning from the experience of others is the height of wisdom.

I’ll leave you with this one final thought: the Sony Pictures Product Manager, Retention.

Crackle, Sony Pictures Television’s (SPT) digital network is seeking a talented Product Manager, Retention whose primary focus will be on user retention and driving the product marketing toolset roadmap. … The ideal candidate will ask questions like, what are our truths related to the return user experience?

Do you think Game of Thrones has to worry about the return user? When a story is that good, people will go out of their way to find out what happens next. They’ll make a comic about how badly they want to watch your show. Doesn’t something like “retention” sound like something that should be addressed in the writer’s room? It’s time for Hollywood to leave behind its crippling adversity to process and change.

Note: originally posted in 3 parts on: dustyngobler.wordpress.com

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