StoryCode co-founders kick off our StoryForum with Jay Bennett of Totally Amp'd. Photo by Matt Bolish.
Transmedia producers are a hard group to impress when it comes to new technologies. Every new social network, app, or platform presents a fresh way to connect audiences to their art, so it is a rare and wonderful sight to see a roomful of the best and brightest creators in New York bristle with excitement. Yet that was the case at the April 24 StoryForum; a careful eye could spot people sitting a little straighter, poised on the edge of their seats, Twitter updates and Instagram temporarily forgotten as the presentation picked up steam.
Tuesday’s event featured a case study presented by Jay Bennett of Canadian ProCo Smokebomb. Conceived as a means of expanding parent company Schaftesbury’s regular television series programs into the digital space, Bennett’s team has mounted several successful projects that deepened already established storyworlds and gave audiences a chance to interact with favorite characters and settings. But what generated so much interest at StoryForum was not Smokebomb’s string of winning transmedia brand extensions, but the company’s first attempt at original content: Totally Amp'd.
The story of five teens drawn together by an aspiring record producer to compete in an American Idol-style sing-off, Totally Amp'd is a classic underdog story, albeit one told with singing and a bit of fancy footwork. High quality video provides the core of the story, a ten-episode arc that followed the team of plucky tweens as they navigate competition from rival bands, conniving record execs, and each other. What makes the project so exciting is the mechanism employed to deliver it to audiences—a free app available for iPhone and iPad.
That may not sound all that innovative—apps have become a part of our daily lives—but using one to maintain a flushed-out storyworld is nothing short of groundbreaking. We live in a world where web content is for the most part free—from YouTube to Break, NBC.com to MTV. With so many options available to consumers at zero cost, paid content or subscription services related to web series or transmedia is a hard sell. It seems that the prevailing consumer opinion is that if it isn’t free it should be or it may not be worth the trouble.
On the other hand, users have grown very comfortable with the concept of apps as commodities that have a value. Thank Apple and to a much lesser extent Android for marketing the app as the perfect way to expand the power of and personalize everyone’s favorite mobile devices. By using an app to deliver Totally Amp'd, Smokebomb effectively took their web series off the web and packaged it in such a way that their audience would be happy to pay for the ability to continue the story.
Using an app as a platform allows the company to create interactive content beyond the “appisodes.” After watching each video, new bonus material is immediately available in the app. Think you can cut a music video better then the team at the fictional record label? A simple interface permitts viewers to try. Love the new song from the latest episode? Well you can sing, remix, and save your own renditions of all of the music created for the show using the application’s “music studio” function.
Bennett is the first to acknowledge that the obvious missing component to this interactive extravaganza is the ability for users to share their remixes and personal videos via social media. Yet despite this fault (one that Smokebomb is looking to remedy in future applications of this method), Totally Amp'd represents a groundbreaking concept for an immersive storyworld where quality original material and fan-generated content come together to create a unique experience for an audience. Add to the mix the potential capacity for generating revenue via sales of the app and you have all the elements necessary to excite even your most tuned-in transmedia producer. There’s reason for the rest of us to be excited as well: if Totally Amp'd is what can be achieved in a first attempt at this sort of interactive storytelling, imagine where we will be heading next!
Watch full video of our StoryForum with Jay Bennett of Totally Amp'd below: