Steve Peters

Experience Design

Rabbit Holes to Crummy Commercials: Hollywood's Missed Opportunities

Jack Bauer is driving across the African plain when his phone rings. He picks it up, and the camera gets a purposeful shot of its screen, complete with a non-555 phone number! Jack Bauer's phoneCalling it, it's an actual number! It rings......then an answer. "Thank you for calling the Sprint/24 interactive experience!..." Hmm. The CSI crew is tracking down evidence. They find out that a suspect has a website: LadyHeather.com. Firing up your browser, you enter the URL and.....get redirected to CBS.com.

Something's wrong here.

As a consumer of entertainment, when I'm watching a TV show or film and something pulls me in deeper, I want to be rewarded with more story, more universe, more about what I'm experiencing. If I make the effort to go deeper, I don't want to be rewarded with what amounts to a crummy commercial instead of content.

Over the past decade, the digital space has generally been seen as a promotional space when it comes to entertainment properties. From the very first official movie website (for the film Stargate) to today's Facebook and iPhone apps, studios and networks have been using the Internet to promote their products, which has all been well and good, I suppose.

But in 2010, it's time to go beyond this. It's time for Hollywood to realize that the digital space can and should be a place where content itself can live, where the art is, where the story is. It doesn't have to just promote the story, it can extend the story, be an integral part of it. Not a mission-critical part, necessarily, but a place where, if the audience digs deeper, they are rewarded with content that enriches the experience, not some ad that pulls them out of it.

Additionally, it doesn't need to be branded with the network or studio all over the place. The viewer who got there knows how he or she got there, so why the need to advertise something they already have? They want more of the rich universe, or more about the character they love so much. They want to continue experiencing what they were experiencing, not get yanked out of the story to be hit over the head with marketing.

I wish I had numerous examples of instances where Hollywood has gotten it right, but alas, they're few and far between. Heroes had a good thing going for a while (note the lack of any overt links back to NBC there). How I Met Your Mother gave it a shot. The Office is coming real close. These are the exceptions right now, although I give NBC credit for being the only US network that's even trying to get it right!

So, do you want to stand out with your stuff, Hollywood? Then stop rewarding your audience (who loves your stuff so much that they want more of it) by bombarding them with even more ads, or sending them to your site to promote other programming, or making them bear partner promotions. Give them what they want: Ways to enrich their experience and explore your fictional world.

To drive the point home, I leave you with this. :) (or jump to 2:20 for the climax)