Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Creator-Consumer

Today, the audience tells their story using parts of your story and you must recognize that an ongoing part of your story will now be told through their story.

Millennials: story adepts
Millennials are the natives to today’s amazing connectedness, having grown up swimming in its digital freedom.

Millennials are not only native to technology, they are true story natives.

By this I mean they have grown up soaked in stories 24/7/365. From Movies and Television to every form of mobile device, Millennials have had unrelenting access to every kind of story imaginable, long and short, since the day they were born. Rather than creating story confusion, burnout or numbness, Millennials treat the stories they encounter as a rapidly evolving language to explore and express themselves, a narrative toolkit of ideas and imagery.

Stories = Change
Stories have always been the primary means by which humans create change in themselves, their families, communities, institutions, countries and so on. In the hands of Millennials, stories are powerful and remixable tools of human change.

There is a clear process hardwired into humans for adopting stories in service of personal change. I’ve covered this at some length in previous posts (inspire, experience, badge and gather).

Millennials do this process particularly well through participating in, and often inventing, new ways to experience a story’s various ideas and empowerments. They create fan-art, fan-fiction, costumes to cosplay (costume play) with or LARP (live action role play) with. They adopt language from the story and often quickly create their own that expands your story. They game with it, wear it and generally remix it in thousands of ways with the other things going on in their lives. In short, they find what they like and then they really use it. In the process, your audience changes a little because of your story and your story changes (sometimes a lot) to meet them where they want to use it. Sometimes that use is short term. If you’re lucky and have created an IP that really empowers your audience with authenticity, truth and life-tools, your story will “stick” and become a profound part of your audience’s daily life through their usage and remix.

Remix as a business model
I believe strongly that story-driven audience remix is not just a phenomenon we’re watching reach flash-over real time with today’s audiences. I believe it should have a strong place in your plans for what you’re going to do with your franchise(s) if you want to be broadly commercial. As with any quickly emerging behavior and insight, I believe those IP holders and companies who think very creatively about how to help audiences use and change their stories in non-trivial ways, will be the early front runners. This can be an uncomfortable thought and feel like brand heresy to IP owners. Perhaps it makes it a little easier to accept by knowing the audience will do it whether you help them or not. By really leaning into remix, you become an authentic part of your audience’s community and in todays connected world, no amount of advertising spend can achieve what truly inviting your audience into the creators room will do.

To illustrate the point, I have an example of a new company that is seeing these changes and rethinking how to support how the audience wants to use today’s stories.  I have recently joined the board of a startup called Imagimod. They have developed a striking new mobile app where the audience can quickly, visually remix elements of their favorite IP to create and pose a custom sculpture of their own design that can be saved in 2D, shared, played with online, and even printed out in 3D using rapid prototype technology. You now have a one-off figure to collect, play or game with! Voila, play in the world of your favorite story but make it your own! It isn’t important whether or not this startup becomes hugely successful (though I hope they do). What is important is that what they are fundamentally embracing the narrative as a personal/changeable set of tools enabling the audience to make their own new part of your story (and their story) and get credit for doing so from their community.

Experience economy + Remix = Creator-Consumer
It’s this enabling of the role the audience wants to play in your story that is the kind of story thinking the audience will reward in IP they want to adopt. I have written in the past on “the experience economy” and wanted to connect the dots in this post that for today’s audience, the experiences they are most passionate about, and return to over and over again, are the ones they can truly make part of their story. It is important to respect that within most human beings, there is creativity.

Much the same way that smart phone cameras unleashed the photographer within everyone, the dawn of story remix is releasing the creator-consumer within us all.

Accreditation: Kevin Bradshaw, CEO of Imagimod, actually first coined the phrase "Creator-Consumer"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Commercial Stories in the Experience Economy

Are your entertainment or product brands generally struggling to show the kind of strength and growth you experienced in past years?

Are your new launches mired in the catch 22 of requiring big media and big spends to break through the noise yet drop like a stone when the big spend is dialed back? (Was that the sound of profitability’s little feet scurrying out of the building?)

Do you have content you believe might be franchise worthy but feel lost as to how to determine if that is true in today’s market?

What happened to the consumer you could clearly identify, develop and market to? What happened to loyalty, brand relationship and the power of a good media campaign? Is it as depressingly simple as the annoying adage: “if its not a game its not a go!” or is something else at work here?

Welcome to the “The Experience Economy.”

If people vote with their time and money (and yes they do), to tell us what they want and how they are changing, then it is very clear that there has been:

a rapid and profound shift from being a disposable consumer and acquisition economy to one where the audience is predisposed to making and seeking meaningful experiences versus acquiring stuff.

This step-change is being shaped and led by Millennials but the rest of us are enthusiastically following suit. 

This is just as true when it comes to the decisions the audience is making about entertainment as it is about products, brands and branded services for themselves and their families.

We’ve all gotten the memo “it’s all about the story” but clearly, the results are showing that it’s not just any story, but a story that can meaningfully fulfill the entire narrative adoption chain:

Inspire, experience, badge, gather

It is the second step in the adoption chain, “experience,” that is defining the nature of how Millennial’s are finding and actualizing what is important to them. Narrative experiences are also the currency most valued in the exchange of their curated content.

This means that if we want to have commercial success with a modern narrative, than that narrative and all it’s expressions (media and product) had better enable profound and meaningful real experiences!

Definition, A narrative experience: A real life event or series of events shaped by a useful narrative the audience has adopted.

The Nike FuelBand is a terrific example of a narrative experience created by the product itself. 

The story begins with the simple statement that all your movement “counts.” You begin wearing the bandz and quickly become aware of how and when you are moving and why. You start making small decisions to move more that become a virtuous circle of gaining stats, losing weight and moving more. You proudly display the product on your wrist as you share it with your friends and begin to see yourself differently. You invite them to try it and soon you are doing things, challenging each other, together! You are inspired and you are changing your own narrative to yourself to become a newer, better version of yourself. The narrative experience of Nike Bandz transforms your life and you own it. Inspire, experience, badge and gather.

Narrative experiences are experiences of self-transformation inspired by story. That story can be entertainment, product, service and more but…it really, really, has to be USEFUL and transformative in some part of your life.

To be clear, these experiences are not a rebellion against consumerism. They are a redefinition of what we are deciding is “valuable” and therefore willing to pay for.

The new economy is not being defined by what I have, but instead is being driven by the search for who I am.

So how do we succeed in the experience economy? I’d like to put forward what I believe are key concepts to embrace to make your company, your entertainment, your product, or your service, relevant and valuable for the millennial-led experience economy.

Here’s a few general rules of thumb for developing for the experience economy that represent shifts in thought culture:

1.    The consumer isn’t a consumer. They are an audience looking for life inspiration
2.    Today, the audience doesn’t want to just consume and acquire no matter the price (Sorry Walmart). They want to adopt and experience
3.    In all things you do, think and act in terms of WHO YOU ARE INSPIRING YOUR AUDIENCE TO BECOME!
4.    Seek deep insights into what inspiration you actually have (not the one you think you have) and how the audience really wants to “use” your story. It’s those contact points that are products and services.
5.    Products must be part of, or create, true narrative experiences
6.    Your narrative is yours only until you launch it. Then it belongs to your audience. Respect their ownership or they’ll move on.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Technologizing Childhood

Technologizing Childhood, when everyone seems to want it, is it wrong?

Time spent watching video content, playing all forms of gaming, searching the web for fun and information and virtualization of many parts of physical play are steadily invading childhood and replacing physical play and exploration time for our kids with captivating technological experiences.

Parents and even caregivers are equal parts excited and anxious about bringing technology and virtual experiences into their children’s lives starting practically at birth.

All kids are biological beings evolved to grow their brains and bodies through years worth of physical and conceptual explorative experiences. Just because we can change what they are largely spending their time doing during those important formative years, should we?

Because the kids themselves seem drawn to those experiences does it mean they are OK? There seems to be big business here so I should jump in and get tech and virtual experiences happening throughout my franchise plan, right?

Well yes and no. Yes, we need to move into the technological future briskly. No, this is far more than a competitive issue because our kid’s minds and bodies are at stake.

Since I am in the business of Meta-story creation, management and development, I see a lot of these questions and concern as they arise during the process of franchise creation and management. I also have a lot of experience developing entertainment and products for kids of all ages. I’d like to share with you some concepts and guiding principles that I believe help to bring understanding and insight into the discussions about technology and virtual experiences in kid’s franchises.

Listed below are my 5 guiding principles and 4 key concepts that help to talk about the what, how and why of this subject.

My guiding principles for kids and tech:
  • 1.    Technology changes, biology doesn’t
  • 2.    Listen to the kid experts. Everyone else might be rationalizing.
  • 3.    Kids are the future and Tech is the future, kids should play with APPROPRIATE tech, SUPERVISED!
  • 4.    Too much tech is bad. Encourage balance.
  • 5.    Remember to help Mom’s from the high road

Key concepts:
  • 1.    Playdar – Play’s job is to identify what’s important in a child’s world and play with it.
  • 2.    Tech Candy : Tasty tech fun for kids with little nutrition for brain development.
  • 3.    The Kid-tech gold rush – kidco’s rush to tech as antidote for solving change disruption.
  • 4.    Genius validation – Toddler’s ability to adapt to tech, triggers parent’s dreams of brilliance.

So let’s dive in and have a deeper discussion.

Technology changes, biology doesn’t (Principle #1). 
It’s a very simple concept that clears up a lot of conjecture, debate and misinterpreted observation. Human beings have been through countless millennia of evolution to finely tune our genetics and childhood development to use the physical world around us to properly grow our bodies and brains. There is a direct relationship between all the different kinds of physical movement, tactile experiences, environmental exploration and more that builds specifics parts of the brain at specific times during our first several years of life. What adults can and should do with their time is not analogous to what is good or healthy for our kids whose brains grow to over three times it’s birth size within the first few years and who’s bodies must learn to teach the brain about simple concepts that then build the increasingly complex understanding that eventually becomes the adult human mind and being. 

We have to build the road before we can drive on it.

“Tech Candy,” exciting and compelling tech experiences that draw us and our kids like moths to a flame but can starve the developing aspects of the child-mind, is perhaps one of the fastest growing elements in our play-purchase landscape today. I often see parents and play makers alike making decisions about what their children would like based on what they find interesting or compelling. Part of our adult play landscape is meant to relax and distract us for a while. It is the definition of Tech Candy and is just fine for us in reasonable amounts. It simply isn't all that great for our youngest kids and can become a problem in larger and repeated exposures.

Listen to the kid experts. Everyone else might be rationalizing (principle #2). 
If you search, you can piece together volumes of articles and questions about how to think about young children and technological experiences that can lead you to doubt that there is much of a problem to be concerned about. Kids like it so why not? We'll put it out there and let mom's decide. Because there is so much money at stake at the intersection of kids and technology and because there are so many companies moving into this business, many of whom are not versed in child development, a lot of partial truths and omission are creating headlines in the media. It is of paramount importance that those of us who are actually creating plan and product for the young children's industry are holding ourselves and what we do to a more rigorous standard. I can't recommend this highly enough:

Always consult the developmental experts!

They can help you to navigate what is appropriate and what is a possible issue for the developing children of the age you are making and distributing to. As more information from these experts becomes more and more public, and as the regulatory environment adopts and enforces doctrine based on this knowledge, you will want to land on the right side of these issues. If the decision has a possible impact on children's health, then it is no place to be too experimental with your plans.

Additionally, the entire kids entertainment and products industries are undergoing constant, seismic-level change. (http://www.rushkoff.com/present-shock/) In an effort to find some stabilizing approach around which to plan and manage brands and business, as an industry we're susceptible to the “kid-tech gold rush” where companies are diving into product and distribution options that are tech driven as an antidote for the terrible change disruption everyone is experiencing.

 To be clear, I believe strongly that it is important to be “in the game” and to learn how to move much more quickly. It’s also equally important not to rush to tech without being darned sure of its impact on the children we are bringing our product to. Keep that voice in the room when the heated competitive discussions are happening.

There is a lot of research and practical work that has been done by some quite brilliant and caring experts in these areas and these folks have not been shy about telling us what transplanting tech into these free-form physical growth experiences may be doing to our children. Here’s just a few:

·      Gill Connell –Moving Smart

·      Dr. Madeline Levine -Teach Your Children Well

·      The American Academy of Pediatrics –No Screen Time Before Two

·      Dimitri Christakis – Media and children

Kids are the future and Tech is the future (Principle #3)
So kids should play with APPROPRIATE tech, SUPERVISED!

I’m telling you, my daughter is a genius! She’s only 18 months old and when I put an ipad in front of her she was swiping her finger and navigating around my games within a minute! She giggles and laughs and it’s just amazing. I let her play with it a lot now. This new generation is just growing up with this stuff and they’re gonna be so good at it!”

I’ve been on the receiving end of a number of exhortations just like this from parents about their seemingly technologically brilliant children several times in the past year. You tube is loaded with videos of this kind of “genius validation” of proud and amazed parents showing off their precocious children’s almost unbelievable acuity with operating mobile touch technology. Some have even become Internet sensations showing what seem to be toddlers with an understanding of the electronic ephemera of the digital world before they have mastered the mundane physical world.

What looks like genius is really what I like to call “Playdar” at work. It is a kid’s inborn targeting system for their curiosity, helping them to focus on what is important and useful in the world they see around them. It’s part of the mechanism that insures our children adapt generation after generation, to be successful wherever and whenever they are born. Watch a toddler when he or she is shown a set of plastic and rounded play-keys at the same time he or she is shown the real keys his mom keeps in her purse and uses to open and start things. The Toddler will unerringly keep going after the real keys. They want to understand them and play with them in every possible way. We’re actually wired at birth to find great pleasure in exploring and discovering THE REAL WORLD. That’s what play is, joyful exploration. Our minds won’t grasp certain concepts or build certain structures unless we PHYSICALLY experience the underlying elements first!
Because Playdar is always on, It should come as no surprise then that our children see us on our cell phones, tablets and computers and are equally drawn to those devices. It’s not because there is something genetically different about this latest generation. It’s because the environment is loaded with tech and we’re using it in critical and constant ways signaling to our kids that these things are important.

Playdar can sense what’s important in a child’s world…however, Playdar doesn’t know when or how much of something is good or not. That’s what parents are for.

You wouldn’t let a child play with a sharp knife at 5 months old even though it’s shiny and your child’s playdar sees you using it to prepare dinner. They just aren’t ready for it yet are they? Tech experiences don't cut you and they make us smile and laugh so we don't see them as inappropriate or doing any harm.

I believe it’s very important that we show the same responsibility about technology and our children as with everything else in their lives that needs monitoring and metering.

The very important reason why we must endeavor to make, sell and use toddler and preschool tech carefully is that for the first time in the history of human beings, we can create compelling and immersive experiences that children are drawn to, that can cause  deficits in the developing brain and body of our young children if they are allowed to access those experiences either too young or too frequently at certain ages!

Too much tech is bad. Encourage balance. (Principle #4)
Too much of anything is bad and for a young developing mind, this is critically true for tech. It starves a young mind and body of the multitudes of different kinds of physical, kinesthetic, personal and emotionally variable experiences they need to develop. Remember the Baby Einstein videos problem? Time spent watching those videos for babies subtracted from vocabulary development over time.

That doesn’t mean that some tech can’t be accessible to the child. We just need to make sure it’s in small increments with limited exposure and that the tech, whenever possible, encourages some real world interaction and is appropriate for the age of child (again, not below 2). Here are some simple goals to try and achieve as often as possible:

·      Avoid lots of mini-games or short but wildly kinetic activities or video cuts. Think more like Mister Rogers. Gentle transitions with clarity and purpose.

·      Cause and effect should be clear – Magical effects are attractive but don’t teach any real cause and effect. Simple things like cows going Moo and things behaving like the real world help.

·      Stop trying to drill for skill too young. At too young an age, this is pandering to parents desire for content to be “educational.”  There is good evidence that early childhood is really for experiencing, moving and exploring as much as possible and getting “exposed” to concepts and ideas. Mastery of math, letters and memorizing largely levels out once kids are in school so prepping them to be ahead doesn’t really work. In fact there is evidence that “free range kids” have a learning advantage when they get to school because their experiences have grown the right mind-body connections to maximize intelligence.

·      Engage Mom and Dad – Any kind of video or tech experience that can actively involve Mom, Dad or any other caregiver, is a much richer and healthier experience. Kids need to look at human faces and to have adults name things for them and discuss/play things with them. For every minute a passive tech experience can slow a child’s development, that same minute spent interacting with a caregiver can have twice the developmentally positive value. A little mom and dad goes a long way to balancing benefits.

·      Understand what your curriculum is – There are very knowledgeable child development experts that can be consulted to insure your technological experience, narrative and ergonomics are being done properly for the age of child you are creating for and for the benefit you are trying to achieve. Don’t oversell your tech to parents as being a magical solution. It can have it’s proper place.

Remember to help Mom’s from the high road (Principle #5)
There is so much contrary noise in the marketplace and media that parents are conflicted in terms of how to think and act about Tech for their kids. It’s important for business, but more importantly, for the future of our kids, that anyone working in the kids and family entertainment and product business take the high road when making and marketing to kids.
·      Consult the experts. Don’t think you know better and don’t think because you like it that it’s OK for kids.
·      Help educate parents and caregivers to do the right thing.
·      Make your entertainment or product a positive tool for use with clear guidelines.
·      Innovate on behalf of healthy child development

In summary:
Responsibility isn’t about keeping all tech away from kids but it is about when they use it and what they find when they get there.
Educate yourself about what kids need and then help to educate the parents.

Now let's go innovate, create, distribute and sell and move things into the future!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fisher Price rolling out results of Meta-story work on LIttle People

Hello All
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal posted a large article about How Fisher Price is redeveloping Little People, one of their beloved, generational, legacy toy brands. In my view, Fisher Price is a toy company that has a unique and deep understanding of their role and relationship with their dual audience (Preschoolers and Moms). They are bringing the same careful consideration and deep understanding of our youngest children to the Meta-story development on their brands as they have brought to the rich developmental and play products they have been crafting since they first started making wooden toys.
I've pasted the article from the WSJ below.
Best, Kevin

Friday, February 8, 2013

Toys, mobile and persistent experiences

Just yesterday I gave a talk at the NYC Kidscreen Conference for the Kids Entertainment and Play Industries. In my talk I spoke about Meta-story and how it is the evolution of the storytellers craft for a world full of many different forms and formats of narrative and play.

I also spoke to how the modern kids who we are creating for are:
"immersion natives" 
(An insight and phrase I exposed publicly at the conference and a subject of a post coming shortly). Hold that phrase in your head and let's momentarily leap over to a key observation about where play and gaming, digital and analog, are being mixed together, not so terribly well as of yet.

The entire world of toys and gaming is very busy trying to work out what the right combination of physical goods and electronic experience/gaming is to really deliver the next big thing for play. I'm sure by now, most of you are aware of the stunning success of Skylanders (from Activision).

This is a toy and game concept that has rapidly grown to a billion dollars in sales in a very short period of time. Clearly something here has worked and worked well. Equally of interest, the vast majority of connected toy, toy and pad, phone or platform concepts that have been fielded by some of the biggest companies in the play and game industries have failed and failed big. I've posted an article from the Wall Street Journal online at the end of this post and a link to the original article entitled "Toys and Apps are yet to play nice together!" This article lays out the facts and failures.

So what is it that Skylanders got right that most everyone else missed and why am I talking about this in a blog about Meta-story?

Allright, let's go racing back to that phrase "immersion natives" and make the connection here. Kids today are immersion natives because that's what they are seeking and shaping from the many different screens and fantasy/narrative formats now available to them. The entertainment and play industry tends to drive their behaviors with deep concern over distribution platforms, fragmenting viewership, constant release of disruptive technology and on and on. They tend to look at the audience, the kids as being in the same boat and the truth is exactly the opposite.

Human beings are not born Jack Rabbits! 

We don't move into childhood seeking to jump around rapidly from idea to idea, thing to thing, second by second. Our brains are in the business of growing a human being so it's busy organizing, finding patterns, making connections, defining who we are or might be and hanging on to those things to build our minds and psyches on them. Our brains, from the moment we are born, are organizing machines.

That means that kids are seeking the most "immersive" experiences to wrap themselves in because those experiences most closely match the business their brain is engaged in. How do you make something that works well for humans? Make it work like a human!!

Let's refine that understanding: Action figures have always been a form of experiential narrative.  Kids can put their hands on the figure and insert themselves into the fantasy to directly "experience" and try it on for themselves. It is a personal narrative that draws from the public narrative that inspired them. For years, it was the most compelling way for a child to do that. Along comes digital play and suddenly, immersion gets taken to a whole new level! Action figures start to decline (and continue to do so today) because they don't deliver the level of immersion in experiential narrative play that the electronics now do. Action figures won't ever go away completely but kids are smart and know when something else can do something better and now some of their dollars go to gaming to fulfill their need for immersion.

Let's introduce the second concept at play here:
This is exactly what Skylanders got right. persistence of narrative. When you place the figure onto the gaming platform, that figure enters the game. When you finish, everything that has happened to you goes with you via the figure to your friends, your bedroom, wherever you go. Start the game again and it's all there with that figure! The narrative and the experience are persistent!! This is a powerful thing to a young mind busy looking for immersion, constancy, inspiration, self-discovery, on and on!! It wraps it all in a figurine that can still deliver some of the experiential narrative exploration so both halves of the equation aren't fighting each other for your attention or splitting your play pattern in two.

Compare this to so many of the other turns up at bat. Toys as joy stick, toys as input device, pad as spinner in a physical game, toy as game reward...
Where's the persistence of experience? Where's the immersion? For the same reason that e-books full of mini-games actually hold the child/reader's attention less and result in less reading comprehension, discontinuous experiences shatter your internal narrative (and the one the product is trying to deliver) and make the experience less immersive rather than more.

I believe Skylanders is just the very teeny tiny tip of the iceberg of possibilities for increasingly immersive and persistent narratives and play. To be successful at this, I also believe the entertainment and play industries need to do some serious redefinition of what business they are in to focus on these insights and deliver what the audience wants. Are they in the toy business or in the business of delivering the experiential component of the narratives we grow our brains with? The answer leads to very different results.

I always like to keep in mind that we can effect culture but we don't get to change how the audience uses it, they change us.  

For me, the most exciting aspect of this discussion is that stories, human mythology, are even more important in terms of what is the thread that binds this convulsively altering media landscape together. Kids will continue to reward stories and products that give them inspiration and immersion, persistence and personalization. Meta-story is how you build that broader narrative.

BTW, Skylanders are moving to mobile now as well. Persistent play anytime anywhere? Smart! I hope it plays well and immersively.

Last year, trying to show how the toy industry could remain relevant in the tablet age,Hasbro Inc. unveiled an iPad-enhanced version of its classic Game of Life. Instead of spinning a wheel in the center of the board game to take a turn, players spun a wheel on the iPad.

The idea bombed.

And it wasn't alone. More than 90% of the so-called app toys that were trotted out last year sold poorly, estimates Jim Silver, editor in chief of timetoplaymag.com, a consumer and trade website. Among the other flops, Mattel Inc. outfitted Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars with special conductors to control games on a tablet.

The burning question was why have a hybrid, combining some aspect of a tablet with an actual physical toy or game, when a tablet alone will do?

"Kids looked at these plastic toys used to run digital games and said, 'Why bother when I can just use my thumbs?'" says Mr. Silver.

Toy makers plan to keep trying, though. Experts predict the growing digital divide will be the talk of this year's International Toy Fair in New York next week, as toy company executives unveil their latest plans to win back the attention traditional toys are losing to gadget makers such as Apple Inc.
Jakks DreamPlay, shown above, is a combination of a tablet app that interacts with related plastic toys to generate animated video content.

Mattel will show off a Barbie vanity and iPad app that allows girls to try out hairstyles.

At last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Jakks Pacific Inc.,a Malibu, Calif., toy company known for its tech-powered Spy Net gadgets, displayed a line called DreamPlay. DreamPlay uses image-recognition software in a tablet app to link to related plastic toys—a toy piano or a drum set, for instance.

With DreamPlay, when a device's camera points at the drum set from Disney's "Little Mermaid," the crab Sebastian appears to sit at the drums on the tablet screen while banging out a rendition of "Under the Sea."

Sean McGowan, an analyst at Needham & Co., thinks it is a little too high-concept for kids.

"I don't think children play with toys and look at a screen at the same time," he said.

Stephen Berman, CEO of Jakks, said, "Those who have not seen the full Eco-system of this technology cannot fully grasp or appreciate how revolutionary the experience is," noting that Jakks has an exclusive licensing partnership with Walt Disney Co."Toys and technology have to change to the way kids play today."

A Mattel spokeswoman didn't dispute the estimate of the failure rate of last-years app toys. Hasbro didn't respond to requests to comment.

Overall toy sales including electronics have remained relatively steady at around $17 billion according to market researcher NPD Group. But traditional toys such as board games and baby dolls have lost market share in the U.S., where consumers are spending 30% less on them than they did in 1998 according to research firm Euromonitor International.

Meanwhile tablets and educational videogames from companies such as LeapFrog Enterprises Inc. have become some of the industry's biggest sellers, accounting for four of the top 10 toys sold last Christmas, NPD says.

Gerrick Johnson, a toy analyst at BMO Capital Markets, argued that companies need to make more innovative toys instead of trying to tack technology on existing ones. He said too many toy makers played it safe last year, rehashing old franchises such as Furby dolls instead of launching new ones.

That trend is expected to continue next week at the toy fair, where one of the new products being launched are re-imagined toys based on Jim Henson's 1980s live-action puppet series, "Fraggle Rock."

"If Furby and Ninja Turtles is the best they can come up, the industry is in trouble," Mr. Johnson said.

To be sure, some classic toys continue to sell well, notably Lego. Lego sales have surged after the closely held Danish company licensed hot properties such as "The Hobbit" and developed a line for girls called Lego Friends. The company said U.S. sales rose 26% last year and predicted it was on track to hit $4 billion in annual global sales, which would put it within striking distance of supplanting Hasbro as the world's second-largest toy maker.

In contrast, on Thursday, Hasbro reported 2012 sales dropped 4.6% globally, to $4.09 billion, pushing net income down 13% to $336 million. Mattel last week said full-year net income rose 1% to $777 million on a 2% rise in sales.

Child development experts are still studying how mobile devices affect children's cognitive and social skills. But most are in agreement that tech-focused play shouldn't come at the expense of physical activity, face-to-face social interaction and creative play.

The amount of time children spend consuming entertainment media via myriad screens has increased by almost 1 ½ hours a day since 2005—to about 7 ½ hours a day, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.
Write to Ann Zimmerman at ann.zimmerman@wsj.com and John Kell atjohn.kell@dowjones.com
A version of this article appeared February 8, 2013, on page B6 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Toys and Apps Are Yet to Play Nice Together.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kidscreen Meta-story presentation

Hello everyone,
I have some exciting news to share and an invitation I’d like to pass along. At this year’s Kidscreen Conference (runs Feb 5th to the 8th in NYC) I’ll be speaking on the subject of Meta-story. For those of you who can attend, the talk will be on Thursday, Feb 7th at 2PM.
I’ve decided to spend a few moments here on the blog expanding just a bit on the topics I’ll be speaking to. Of course, there will be greater depth in the presentation and good discussion afterwards for anyone who wants to stay and chat.

The title of the talk is:

Narrative Development to achieve multi-category success

Everyone wants a Franchise! Not just any Franchise, but a full-on, multi-format, kid’s media and consumer products franchise.

Why then, in the age of exploding transmedia execution, is there so little Franchise success? What’s missing?

It’s all about the story. The quote at the head of this blog says:

“Franchise stories are like software. If you don’t rigorously develop the larger story to perform in the formats and categories you want them to…they wont!”

What this means is that intentional Franchise story development is a unique craft with specific knowledge, tools, processes and insights the same way that writing a screenplay or authoring a novel is.

Whether you are a media executive, content creator, consumer products marketer or licensing agent, this presentation will give you new and actionable tools and insights for developing Intellectual properties for greater franchise success by demystifying key success factors such as;

What is permission to play and how is it changing the entertainment and product landscape?

What are the five measure of franchise strength you should constantly be challenging your franchise with?

How do you identify and refine targeted narrative meaning and how does it drive audience success in all formats and products?

Why is product placement so damaging to a narrative and what is the more powerful alternative to drive consumer products while improving the story?

How can an entertainment or product company rethink their own structure and process to innovate more effectively in the quickly evolving world of franchise development?

Hope to see you all there and I look forward to speaking to and discussing my life’s passion…Meta-story.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What makes a leader a creative vision leader?

Lot's of passion and opinions on the subject but it's all so new!
Our highly convergent media world, is exploding with the rapid growth of new mobile formats, new publishing formats, new gaming formats, flash tribes, persistent tribes, Social everything, hypermediation, transmediation and a list of new concepts and titles that is growing faster than Wikipedia can keep up with.

In the newly emerged Transmedia industry there are new models, ideas and definitions being presented on a daily basis that suggest specific structures and processes that you can build or hire-in (sometimes for very large consulting fees). The creative and commercial results of all this activity, to date, have been occasionally good but generally mixed at best. No one has found the magical secret recipe, if one even exists.

If the rise of the audience is showing us anything its that systems need to be extremely flexible and able to adapt to each IP's unique needs in a way that is authentic to the specifics of its audience.

To be clear, I believe that over time, good insights and best practices will emerge from the tsunami of opinions. Change is ultimately extremely healthy and as long as there are articulate professionals aggressively gaining and sharing their knowledge, successes and failures, the debate will eventually yield "tools"that can be used by those trained to use them.

So who or what can I build my I.P. development program on?
If you are an intellectual property owner or steward, considering how to proceed with development, from a creative standpoint, it can seem like an overwhelming set of choices and decisions.

For today's post, I'm not going to comment or vote on definitions, structures or tools. I'm going to focus on a single role within the swirling possible choices for development. A role I believe needs to be at the center of any creative decision-making on any new Intellectual property.

That role is the Vision Leader.
The Vision leader is the accomplished and trained creative human being whom understands your I.P. on a personal, instinctual, and gut level. A person who cares deeply about every aspect of the narrative because it is personally meaningful to him or her. The vision leader is independent of what specific cross media development model you subscribe to for your I.P. expansion project. He or She will be your creative center no matter how you proceed.

Based on the work I've done across many different I.P. corporations over the past 25 years, I suggest the following broad guidelines in terms of how a vision leader fit into the parent organization and how they interact with partners, consultants and talent:

  • Voice: Vision leaders need to have a seat at the high level management meetings where strategic decisions are being made about "what" to do with the I.P./Franchise. Some corporations and companies don't have creatives at the highest levels or segregate them out of certain strategic planning discussions. The creative/audience voice is critical to have as part of the discussions in a world that has made a paradigm shift to audience empowerment.
  • Authority: Vision leaders need to be the cross-media nexus for high-level creative decision-makers across all media formats. This is easier to do as a licensor than as a corporation with internal divisions/formats. Fundamental structures and issues of Centralized brand management need to be addressed and adjusted.
  • Resources: Vision leaders need to have clear access and a budget to utilize company research efforts and to conduct exploratory creative work if needed. Vision leading is all about excavating creative opportunities that grow the I.P. in authentic ways. Without exploration that is agnostic of single media concerns, the role can become a simple yes/no function that doesn't generate insights into narrative possibilities.

In terms of who the vision leader works for or reports to I think there are lots of different possible combinations that can work. The chart above isn't an org chart. It's about the dialogue and creative decision-making at the highest level.  Broadly, this role is most effective at insuring true creative quality when all questions of a high-level creative nature come to his or her office for input and decision. This in no way disempowers specific media creatives, brand management or transmedia producers from doing a fantastic job however it is defined.
 I don't recommend that the vision leader role get combined in the same person with one of those other roles, or any other roles for one simple reason.

Truth: "You always get the behavior you incentivize for"
You need to have a high level creative authority in the development and franchise expansion mix whose primary job is to advocate for the Narrative, the Art, the quality and connectedness of the experience and...most importantly, the audience. That person is your vision leader.

If that person is also managing schedules, deliverables, talent contracts, or any of the hundreds of other specifics of a single or multiple media execution, then they are being measured or incentivized to place those concerns above others and will change their decisions in subtle and profound ways that will not be the best for your overall creative franchise health. It's also why I believe it's important not to combine the vision leader role with any of the various descriptions of a Transmedia producer.  However you define it, Transmedia Producer is a big job with a great deal of management and coordination duties. Combining the vision leader with that role, I believe, sets up conflicts of advocacy. 

In entertainment, great commerce happens because the audience falls in love with the Narrative and finds it meaningful and empowering. It is the role of the Vision Leader to be the primary voice for all of that and for creative consistency and narratively authentic growth.  The vision leader does not have to be the author or the writer.

Description of a vision leader's qualities:

  • Understands narrative - preferably, someone who is trained in some form of quality storytelling/creating but can be someone who's life work has proven that they do this on an instinctual level.
  • Communicates and Advocates well - A vision leader's primary job is to advocate for the authenticity of the narrative in all its forms.  He/she is the voice of the audience in the room.
  • Can see and expand on possibilities - A vision leader must be someone capable of engaging with new possibilities and accepting, adjusting or rejecting them based on what is good for the "growth" of the IP, not just for where it has been.
  • Is highly creative - The vision leader is not the source of all ideas in a Transmedia world but must be able to engage with and be additive to those ideas.
  • Is concerned about the commercial success of the property - Though the vision leader's primary role is to be the steward for the creative aspects of the I.P., he/she must be fully engaged in the process of commercial expansion and success as well.
  • Is a member of the community he or she is creating for - My previous post "are you a member of the community you create for?" covers this subject in greater detail. If possible, finding that person who feels the I.P. has deep personal meaning for them, can bring a whole different level of creative management to the project.
  • Ideally, is conversant in development in a number of key formats - This is very additive but not necessarily a price of entry of the individual is very good at all other measures and is collaborative and able to work well with key creatives for each of their own media formats
The thoughts on vision leader I present here are conclusions I have come to from many years of working directly for, and/or helping various large entertainment and entertainment product companies to expand their Intellectual properties to do much more than the single media or product category that birthed the I.P.

There are many points of view on all aspects of this subject and I hope my perspective helps in stimulating the discussion.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Are you a member of the community you create for?

A number of years ago I had the pleasure of working with Bill Rose from Wizards of the Coast. They are the company who created and built Magic the Gathering, the wildly successful Trading Card Game as well as the publishing program, Cons/Tournaments, fan clubs and much more that eventually grew from the original concept. I asked Bill how they constantly seemed to get it right in terms of what their audience wanted from them.  His answer was simple and applicable far beyond card gaming:

"You can't create well for a community unless you are a member of that community!"

Think about this for a moment. What do we know better than anything else? We know what we like and we know what we do. If we are parents, we know exactly what it's like to have and raise kids. Each day is full of thousands of personal observations and insights into being a parent. If we love race cars, maybe our dream job would be to work for Nascar in some form or fashion! If you have the qualifications needed for the job, your passion would add to your value.  If you're developing or marketing fashion, you've got to be in the thick of the right fashion scene to read the nuanced and fast-moving influences and you have to wake up caring deeply about it in a very personal way. Net/net, when you are it, you feel it in your gut.

There is a great deal of real world evidence supporting the practical business application of this principal as well.  As an example, Mattel has made no secret of the fact that they hire designers and marketers who are passionately personally interested in the brands they are developing and marketing.  They have shown remarkable growth across several key categories in part, because a significant percentage of the product and ideas they are coming up with are just plain good and really get the smallest of details just right for their kid and collector audiences. This happens because all decisions, micro and macro, have advocates in key places in the process who are actually the audience themselves!

Movies have long been created and talent signed-on based on passion and affinity. It's how you get depth and true insight in the greatest possible amounts.

Does this fly in the face of the mid to late twentieth century belief that building a good senior manager means you need to keep moving him or her around from category to category, or even company to company? In part, I believe it does. Much of our legacy structures for thinking and managing come from the 20th century's adherence to a military industrial model.  We used to be in the business of making many of the same things over and over again in mass quantitates. Management became a repeatable process somewhat agnostic to the specific product. Change was more metered and success was all about quantity and repeatability. Even our schools are still built on this outdated model, but that's a different discussion for a different blog.

We are now in an age where, for much of the content world, it is about a growing social component, personalization, new mixtures of traditional and mobile, the power of the community and breathtakingly fast technological change. Though there is evolution happening, the rapid changes in connectedness and technology continue to far exceed even analysts predictions.

What does this mean to Transmedia and Meta-story? It means that choosing who works on the Meta-story and who the Transmedia producer will be is anything but one-size fits all. It is critical to identify Senior Creative and Strategic participants:

whose passion and personal connection with the project stem from who they are...as well as what they know. 

This may mean that "The Vision Leader." (the person with that gut-level creative connection to the property...more on this role in a later post) may not be trained in Meta-story development.

Because true cross format narrative development and competencies have been on the scene for all of twenty minutes, there are not legions of fully trained individuals capable of doing this work across all categories of possible content. (Evidence is that there are no, I repeat, no major colleges with Meta-story curricula in place).

The solution, for now, is a partnering of the vision leader with a trained Meta-story developer.

This raises another key question however. In moving to a Transmedia model and employing Meta-story development, is the management in the parent company capable of making the decisions and/or recognizing good ideas from not so good ones? If we return to Bill's marvelous insight and apply it to management we get some interesting answers.

Let's use the fast growing and highly audience-influential area of Social media to make the point. Here's an illustration of what appears to be a broad disconnect in the area of social media usage based on income.  Within this report from Kissmetrics (which I became aware of from a Linkedin post by Maciej Fita) one note of interest is the severe plummet in social media users above the $75K per year income level. Executives are in this group.

There may be some execs who use it in a significant way, but from my experience, it is a minority. Blackberry's aren't analogous to social media. Without direct experience or contact with your intended audience, decisionmaking becomes dependant on reports and analysis.  Those can be quite helpful but reduce the likelyhood of intuitive decisions dramatically and certainly slow down making opportunistic moves in a fast moving ecosystem. The best decision-making employs both.

For Meta-story development it also can have a strong tendency to drive management to look for consensus from media stakeholders versus being a strong advocate for the total narrative as the audience will experience it with "input" from media stakeholders.

Here too, the remedy lies in elevating the role and voice of the vision leader. Story and Audience advocacy is fundamentally the most commercially responsible position to take as the corporate world rethinks how it works in this fantastic and quickly evolving environment!