18 March, 2008

Interactive drama

Danny is on the writing team for Bebo's Sofia's Diary. It's about a woman banished to London to live with her dad after getting into trouble.

According to Digital Spy, "the original series was originally launched in Portugal in 2003 as an experimental web and mobile service. It now has 200,000 visitors per month online, over 19,000 mobile subscribers and has run for four series on Portuguese state broadcaster, RTP2. It has since been adapted for audiences in the US, Germany, Brazil, Chile, Turkey and Vietnam." The UK version is co-produced by Sony International and Campbell Ryan Film Productions and has high production values despite the relatively low costs.

Bebo's number of UK unique visitors increased 53% year on year to 4.1 million boosted by the the huge success of Bebo's first interactive drama Kate Modern. This success which has spread worldwide has led to the founders being bought out for 300 million by AOL last week. While there is no longer much growth left in the social networking sites, it's still going to be an important market for a while. And even the next big thing will probably want original interactive drama.

Acclaimed Bebo boss, Joanna Shields, suggests that youngsters will grow tired of longer stories and will prefer the short-form ones. That has a bearing on the type of stories we pitch and write aimed at young people. You can already see it in the increased use of graphics in things like Hollyoaks. In Sofia's Diary handwriting scrawls across the screen.

Interaction is key and all traditional networks would welcome programmes with a quality interactive element. True interactivity means the audience can change the story and what happens to the characters like Channel 4's Dubplate Drama or with gaming but now the term has expanded to also mean simply having somewhere for the viewers to discuss what happened or work out what's going to happen next or read supplementary material or take part in related quizzes in a multi-platform way.

I think Shields was premature in announcing the death of traditional continuing drama - even considering the increasing ADHD in young people. Is anyone seriously arguing that the problem with Hollyoaks is that it's too long and complicated? But when it's finished and the news is on, a viewer may go online and catch up with Kate Modern or Sofia's Diary, chat about it on the messageboards, download the song featured on it, write some emails, make a phone call, see some content at YouTube and then return to the TV to watch EastEnders. Or even iPlayer it later - when they get back from vandalising bus stops and mugging old ladies for money to buy alcopops.

Once you allow people to comment on your content you have to accept they might hate it as well as love it. Kate Modern has around 2 million fans but there are numerous anti-Kate Modern groups on Bebo. However those anti-fans are still on the site interacting and involved.

For all the tasty bite-sized portions available people will still just want to settle down to a more substantial meal as well. As writers its probably best to be flexible enough to be able to cater for both.

And rather than waiting for an opportunity to present itself, we can be pro-active. Writers in the UK are getting meetings with networks and prodcos after putting content on YouTube. We can join Shooting People and Talent Circle and look for collaborations with other writers and directors - or just force your friends to take part:

"But Robin, Ashes to Ashes is about to start."
"Just shut up and fall over in a funny way. Action!"


Joanna Shields interview

How to Write Webisodes (part 1)
How to Write Webisodes (part 2)

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