Writer's Room

Surfing the Wave of Liquid Media

FEATURE: 24 JUNE 2008


wr-new-media-photo-for-netMaru Nihoniho, Ana Samways and Bevin Linkhorn

The term ‘New Media’ once prompted a shudder through the traditional media community, an apprehensive reaction to its technical demands and to change in general. The June Writer’s Room featured some of those at the forefront of New Media in New Zealand talking about the rapidly growing world of New (or liquid) Media.

Catching the Wave

MC Clare O’Leary (Content director for NZ on Screen) led the discussion with Nigel Horrocks (Internet Commentator and Product Manager of The NZ Herald’s on-line site), Ana Samways (Journalist and On-line Publisher of Spareroom), Maru Nihoniho (Games Producer and Managing Director of Metia Interactive), and Bevin Linkhorn (Gibson Group New Media Development Executive).

Bevin Linkhorn produced New Zealand’s first mobidrama, My Story, and described his journey into New Media as a challenging experience. “My background is as a writer, actor and a ‘doer’. I’m not a technical guy so it was a big learning process.” My Story was spread across a multimedia format. Premiering in April last year, it was broadcast on C4 during the evening, could be downloaded to cell phones the next day and was available online the following Sunday.

Games producer Maru Nihoniho described her job as, “the business of creating new and original ideas and trying to get them into the international market.” Maru said it was a real challenge when she first started because she knew very little about the gaming industry which was relatively small in New Zealand at the time. She entered the industry with the goal of developing her own game. “I came in ready to go and ready to learn. I came in with a clear goal to develop my own game as I enjoyed playing them and was intrigued by how they were made. There was a mix of curiosity and passion.” After only a couple of years into her career, Maru had published her first original idea, Cube, which was released last year in America, Europe, Japan and Australasia.

Journalist and on-line publisher, Ana Samways observed the prevalence of “hardcore news” and saw a gap in the market for lighter content. This led to the development of on-line magazine Spareroom. Ana said the expansive nature of the internet can make it difficult for people to select information. “People don’t have time to search. There is so much gossip on-line so we try to find the good stuff. It’s not so much the writing of the clip, but selecting it. We’re filtering the information to save people the hassle of searching for it.”

On-line publisher, commentator and internet veteran Nigel Horrocks has been in the industry for over seventeen years and commented on the current rapid changes. “I’ve never seen changes happen at this pace before. Television is now spilling onto a whole range of screens such as those in supermarkets and buses. Content is suddenly appearing everywhere and so much is being created by amateurs and would-be filmmakers. The changing face of New Media means that newspapers and television have needed to adapt. We’re really only at the start of the internet.”

Dramatic writing for New Media

Bevin explained how the interactive nature of an on-line viewing experience can shape the style of dramatic writing. He mentioned the shift in audience demand towards constant and immediate gratification. “New Media tends to be shorter but faster in pace. The episodes we shot were only two minutes long so there wasn’t time to get to know the characters. There must be a hook every two minutes to give people a reason to watch it again tomorrow. We glued this together to create four half-hour shows for C4 and so much happened in one half hour episode compared to a regular half hour TV show.”

Like Bevin, Ana is keen to produce original local content for the web and sees New Media as an ideal medium for writers to explore their craft. “It’s very script and actor driven. There’s no money for lush sets or expansive shots; besides, the quality of these elements isn’t recognised on a small screen.”

In terms of genre, Ana felt comedy overcomes the limitations of New Media. “Humour, especially parody, sells well. It’s harder to launch a successful drama because you can’t develop those characters as well as you could with a longer media format such as film or television.”

Maru explained that the interactive nature of gaming creates different options for dramatic writing. “A film or TV story is linear whereas a game story has alternate endings depending on what the player chooses for the character.”

Clare felt the introduction of New Media has encouraged storytellers to be versatile and prompted them to gain an understanding of all mediums. “The shift towards ‘trans media’ – film, television, mobile, web – means when you’re developing an idea you have to think about how the storyline is going to transfer into all of these mediums. Producers are going to demand more for less, which is an issue for writers and all those involved in the creative process. It’s also a creative challenge.”

The panelists discussed the potential for new storytelling and Ana mentioned the celebrity presence on the web and the increase in “scripted reality”. Clare said the distinction between reality and fiction in New Media storytelling is more blurred than in traditional mediums.

The Changing Face of Media

The broadcasting content on websites and mobile phones is a completely different viewing experience to television or cinema. Bevin highlighted the shift towards a more interactive environment often shot in close perspective with bright colours.  He felt the web’s interactive nature makes feedback quicker and easier. “Viewers can provide an immediate response and they post comments and criticism more freely. It also means you have direct access to your audience and who they are.”

Ana said the increasing availability of technology has allowed New Media to establish a platform of its own within the media sphere.   ”Some people see it as a calling card to television broadcasting but others as a platform in its own right. We’re on that side, viewing it as a legitimate medium.”

Nigel said the speed of technology is bringing rapid change to the face of New Media. “This dream is being driven by a number of things, such as high-speed internet connection, increased storage and people buying high quality LCD monitors.  The growth is about to explode for cheaper, smaller screen applications.” The next major shift is towards the mobile phone, heralded in part by the much hyped iPhone. “iPhone was officially launched on July 11th at the ridiculously low price of $200. And being Apple, it’s fashionable. It’s really a mini laptop and has an amazing screen that’s very easy and very attractive to access video. One of the key applications is You-Tube. People will be carrying You-Tube in their pockets.”

Nigel also highlighted how New Media is changing social behaviour, “The idea of shared experience is changing. Gathering around the television doesn’t happen. Instead, there are people sitting by themselves at a monitor. It’s a shared experience in a huge global environment.” And people do interact. “Like a series on You-Tube, there are pages of comments from audience members.”

The panelists held differing views on the repercussions for traditional media.  Ana expressed her confidence in traditional media’s survival. “People want more rather than to replace what’s there. People don’t get to appreciate the cinematography of a webisode.”  Nigel put forward a different viewpoint. “My feeling is that a lot of traditional media, including aspects of cinema, are struggling. We’re in a transition stage. A major change is occurring in all aspects of entertainment.”

Opportunities

The panelists agreed that cyber space offers access to a wide global audience but when Ana explored the international market she discovered better opportunities within her own back yard. “Most New Zealanders try to tap into an international market. We used to court international traffic but switched our focus to target local audiences and discovered that people want to watch local content.”

Nigel noted the increased opportunities for amateur filmmakers to be recognised and potential for the production of more experimental and cutting edge work. “There’s less creative restriction, more freedom to do what you want to do.”

These opportunities sometimes lie beyond the realm of entertainment. The University of Auckland approached Maru to develop a therapy game funded by the Ministry of Health to help teenagers overcome depression. “It’s a character based linear story set in a 3D fantasy world that the player can customize. It offers players a way of creating their own story. Its objective is to help teens make informed choices within the environment.”

Obstacles

Making money within New Media was a problem all panelists identified with. Guidelines for advertisement pricing are non-existent and Nigel noted Google’s failure to devise an acceptable business model. “There are concerns amongst advertisers about control. The audience is quite different over the internet. It’s a Wild West experience.” Ana mentioned clips that had failed to make money despite being viewed millions of times. “Viewers often don’t click on the link but it doesn’t mean they don’t see the ad.”

There are concerns that the development of a New Media infrastructure could wipe out traditional revenue generating media formats. Nigel reiterated the risk for traditional media. “People are not going to want to waste their time while they wait for a coffee. Instead of picking up a paper or magazine, they’re on You-Tube on their iPhone. The reality for many traditional filmmakers is that free to air is in major trouble. Current ratings in the US show something alarming for television stations. People are hooked on personal information on the internet or they’re indulging in other forms of interactivity.”

Maru identified piracy as another major issue facing the gaming industry, “When we released Cube on Play station Portable, it was pirated less than a week later. But we’ve looked at developing some technology to prevent piracy.”

New Media creates consumer expectations that can in turn affect other media. Nigel used the example of increased DVD sales. “People want to watch what they want, when they want, so they’re buying DVDs rather than watching the show on television. Dr Who and Weeds were available here on DVD before they had even screened on New Zealand television.”