Hollywood laps up lessons by the most disruptive generation ever to hit media

28 Sep 2012

Freelance writer Marcus Beer; Machinima COO Nanea Reeves; Fight My Monster chairman Dylan Collins; Gerard Johnson of HCL; and Robert Nashak, executive vice-president for digital entertainment and games at BBC Worldwide

Senior Hollywood and Silicon Valley executives locked horns on the tricky task of serving today’s digital natives who can react by mashing up IP and express their dissent through social media. Ultimately, they all agree, this is a generation that is willing to be courted, but not bored or told what to do.

At a panel last night at the ITLG’s Hollywood 50/Innovation in Entertainment event led by Robert Nashak, executive vice-president for digital entertainment and games at BBC Worldwide, top executives and entrepreneurs in the digital media space described the challenges and opportunities in serving digital natives.

“Twenty-nine per cent of people under 25 get their media online and on devices and screens of their own choosing,” Nashak said. “There is another more disruptive trend, this generation is deeply participatory, they are people who want to play your games and watch your movies but they also want a device and they want to co-create around the entertainment they enjoy.

“So what does this mean for the future of media?” Nashak asked his panel which consisted of Irish gaming entrepreneur Dylan Collins, chairman of Fight My Monster and who sold Demonware to Activision for an estimated US$17m; Nanea Reeves, chief operating officer of Machinima; Gerard Johnston of HCL; and Laird Malamed, former chief operating officer of Activision. The panel also included Marcus Beer, a freelance writer and opinionist who goes by the handle @AnnoyedGamer on Twitter.

If Hollywood was looking for balm for its concerns around piracy and increasingly vocal consumers, the panel wasn’t giving them any. But if Hollywood was looking for a way to forge closer ties with digital consumers, then they definitely had the answers.

The first multi-millionaire 14-year-olds

“I am pretty sure this generation of kids growing up going are to be the most disruptive generation we’ve ever seen in entertainment,” Collins said. The reality, he said, is as challenging for games makers like himself as it is for traditional media. “The kids themselves are making their own games. In a few years time we are going to see the first multi-millionaire 14-year-olds.”

Collins cited the examples of Jordan Casey and Harry Moran, 12 and 13 years old respectively, who are the youngest iOS and Mac app developers in Europe.

Reeves backed up Collins’ point: “We have kids making hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Machinima videos they create for YouTube. One 18-year-old kid who was working last year in McDonald’s has made enough to buy his first house.”

Collins jumped in: “The biggest challenge is getting a 12-year-old to take a term sheet.”

He said that if anything, “kids are becoming less inclined to be consumers of media – they want to participate in that media. “

“Some 2m kids have created 10m gaming cards,” he said.

Collins also warned that kids are motivated by the visual style of games and there is a movement towards lean and agile gaming. “Our industry has been built on providing something that works, but for kids that doesn’t work – they want something iterative and exciting.”

Reeves pointed out that Machinima’s success is down to creating content that appeals to boys who like video games. The psychology, she said, is discovering not only what makes a fan become a superfan but what makes them influential.

Learn to work with young creators

Ultimately – horror of horrors – this means creating content and accepting they may mash it up, change it, whatever it takes for them to win fans on the social networks.

“We work with young creators to allow them to create more content and organise that content in a way that will make it discoverable and nurture that talent.

“A kid mashing up a movie trailer will get 40 times the views on YouTube than the original trailer the movie house put out.”

Beer pointed out that the games industry and Hollywood are industries that are built on IP. “Many of you will have your own films, books and comics. Don’t be too precious with your IP – this will be the biggest problem over the next 14 years.

“You need to realise that people actually care about your IP, too.

“An example is the games industry, which has seen the rise of the integral gamer, also known as the annoying little shit who will annoy the crap out of you, the IP owner, because of the mods they’ve done with your fantastic new game by adding in Lord of the Rings mod. You’ll get upset, the laywers will come in and soon you’ll have a 14-year-old threatening to jump off a bridge.

“The issue is you should be working with these guys. If they love your IP enough to put 300 hours to make a mod of your game, don’t waste it.”

Collins interjected, pointing out that he determined to keep his games as open as possible and one way he achieved that was to tell lawyers they could only say 100 words to him each month.

Beer resumed his point: “These kids are making the games that they want you to make.”

He said that Hollywood and the games industry should be figuring out how to work with kids who will mash your movies and mod your games. “Just make rules like don’t put porn in. The amount of goodwill that creates for you in the community is priceless. By showing you respect their opinion, you have fans for life.”

Malamed said he saw this trend emerge while he was at Activision and driving the Guitar Hero title.

“People would put up videos on YouTube of themselves completing songs. Then the record labels would come along and have the videos taken down.”

But if they looked closer, Malamed said, what was happening as a result of this activity was people were downloading tunes from the Sony PlayStation network because they liked the songs.

Johnson said we are now at the nexus point between technology and content. “It’s gone beyond games and videos, fundamental changes are happening. At home my kids are squabbling over connectivity – the 12-year-old is negotiating with the 14-year-old to get off Netflix because his video game is going down.

“Making content discoverable is the key thing. The second screen is not about putting the same beautiful content in a second screen, it is about creating a complementary, engaging experience.

“It also means creating tweetable, real-time feedback that can be brought into it. As more consumers move towards more net-connected devices, the challenge is to create truly complementary content,” Johnson said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years