Futures of Entertainment 2 Conference – MIT

This past weekend at MIT, I attended the Futures of Entertainment Conference. It was the second year of the the conference, and I had heard great things about it from last year’s attendees. FOE2 didn’t disappoint, as the team at the Convergence Culture Consortium put on an event that was very in-depth and thought provoking. The attendees were a good mix of academics, advertising execs, broadcasting folks and internet media and technology company employees. There were people from Turner, AOL, Yahoo, Universal, Hill/Holiday, as well as the New School, MIT, Harvard, and more.

One thing that certainly set this conference apart from many others was the length of panels – many of which were two and a half hours long. With panels of that length you’re not just grazing on a topic – you’re diving in and rooting around for the details. Admittedly, it was also tough to stay seated that long, especially with the room being very hot the second day. They had a TV showing the sessions in the lobby, where people were actively discussing the topics that came up on the panels.

They also attempted to have an audience question board, using a web tool created by the media lab folks. This fell somewhat flat, as the moderators didn’t incorporate the audience questions very well until the middle of the second day. I would have liked more audience participation earlier in the panels, as waiting until the last 45 minutes in most cases didn’t let the audience set the course of the panels as much as would have been possible otherwise.

I chose not to live-blog this conference because I knew both the conference organizers and the very intelligent Rachel Clarke were doing so.
You may find the blogging efforts here:

My takeaways on the conference:

One of the best lines I heard was from Baba Shetty, Hill/Holliday advertising. I’m paraphrasing here, but he noted that in many agencies, the teams making the creative are completely separate from the teams creating the media plans. The media planning folks in many agencies are outsourced to large buying groups that serve many agencies. This is a good strategy when you buy standard media units, such as a 30 second commercial or a 1/4 page newspaper ad. But in the days of TransMedia (a term that was the significant buzzword of the conference due to it’s leader, Henry Jenkins of MIT who coined it for his book Convergence Culture) the media opportunities and message possibilities are tightly intertwined.

It may be difficult for a media person to understand the creative opportunities a property may have, such as Heroes, the NBC show, where they work brands into the show narrative, brands sponsor the comics and interaction on the website and even pay for content to be created. Conversely, a creative might not hear of opportunities if they come to the media buying side as an ‘extra’ when someone is looking to sponsor the TV show.

This has helped me to generate a new set of thoughts about both why it has been hard to get advertisers to truly engage with properties in the Entertainment space, and also about how to approach companies in the future.

Next, Jesse Alexander from Heroes is just so obviously passionate about fans, and about how to create a show that is written and created for the fans, that I’m going to go out and get the disk of Heroes and try to engage with season 2 as well. It’s tough to be around someone that excited to do what they do and not catch it. A lesson for anyone – passion and excitement for what you’re doing shines and is contagious.

The other thing that became clear, from panels on Fan Labor (or Labour, if you’re Rachel 🙂 and Cult Media, is that the people creating content for major media properties are clearly thinking about the fans or the future fans first. They’re designing properties to be fan-friendly, creating narrative that allows room for creative fans to make fiction, discuss potential future stories, and explore the universe that the material is creating. There were a lot of insights into ways you can make audience into fans, and fans into engaged members of the community.

I’ll be attempting to further synthesize these take-aways, sharing them on my blog, and with my customers.