Insights is a new weekly series featuring entertainment industry veteran David Bloom. It represents an experiment of sorts in digital-age journalism and audience engagement with a focus on the intersection of entertainment and technology, an area that David has written about and thought about and been part of in various career incarnations for much of the past 25 years. David welcomes your thoughts, perspectives, calumnies, and kudos at [email protected], or on Twitter @DavidBloom.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Beachfront RISE.
It’s been a kaleidoscopic and crazy week, stuffed with meetings and showcases, holiday receptions, and random conversations across what I like to call the Golden Triangle, the Westside Los Angeles neighborhoods and suburbs where startups and tech giants, social-media influencers, and new kinds of entertainment companies are haphazardly creating a New Hollywood, and a new relationship between creators and fans.
At the same time, I’m seeing more of Old Hollywood – if not all of it – starting to figure out how to live with the new stars, platforms, and business models. It’s been a messy transformation, but it’s been damned fun to watch.
For instance, I met with my friends at RelishMix, which advises networks and studios about the social-media conversation around their films and TV shows. Too often, RelishMix will find the majority of the cast on a film is “not socially active,” with little or no social-media presence. So, marketers in Old Hollywood are adapting, devising new ways to leverage the reach and engagement of social media even when their stars don’t or won’t get it.
Eddie Redmayne, for instance, doesn’t have any personal social-media presence. But he’s the star of the latest Harry Potter movie, so Warner Bros. sat Redmayne down with Ellen DeGeneres, whose talk show has 63 million Twitter followers and nearly 26 million more on Facebook.
For Old Hollywood, such tactics let them draft behind a social-media superstar, working around the limits of performers who haven’t joined the online party. It’s why you now routinely see stars reading Mean Tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel, or hear them warbling in James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.
Meanwhile, other performers have built a very measured relationship with social media, strategically leveraging their presence while investing only modest effort.
Actor Tom Hiddleston, for instance, typically posts only every few days, and seldom shares anything personal. But when AMC picked up the BBC’s superb adaptation of John Le Carre’ novel The Night Manager, star Hiddleston chipped in with a handful of well-timed posts to his 3.2 million Twitter followers and 3.9 million Facebook followers, said RelishMix chief Marc Karzen.
— Tom Hiddleston (@twhiddleston) April 27, 2016
And during Emmy voting this summer, Hiddleston not only took part in Facebook live-streaming conversations with the Hollywood trades, he posted online repeatedly about those events. The Night Manager ended up winning two Emmys among 12 nominations.
Karzen says Hiddleston is the kind of smart performer who knows even a few well-timed posts can help his projects (and his UNICEF charity work) while allowing him to charge a studio or network more for doing so. Hiddleston is an Old Hollywood star who gets the opportunity here.
At a Chinatown reception Monday night, I talked with Flula Borg, an antic German who, like many YouTubers, has moved to Los Angeles to collaborate with Old Hollywood and New. Borg was celebrating images from his latest annual calendar, an amusing homage to Anne Geddes’ iconic baby photos that substitutes the lanky, often nude Borg for Geddes’ infants nestled among giant pea pods and flowers.
I also chatted there with Mamrie Hart, the actress whose social-media power has led her back to Old Hollywood, most recently as actress/writer/producer on the Lionsgate movie Dirty 30. Hart is a high-profile example of the online stars now being embraced by studios and networks.
Another is Disney Channel’s new show, Bizaardvark, which overflows with online influencers such as Jake and Logan Paul and Lilly Singh. It’s like iCarly on steroids.
Meanwhile, beyond the reach of Old Hollywood, new kinds of stars are being minted by companies using new platforms to connect with ardent but narrow fan bases.
On Wednesday, I sat down with Xtreme Video, which started 22 years ago in France distributing videotapes of action sports. Now headquartered in London, the company has several executives based in a Playa Vista co-working space, It has long moved past VHS tapes.
Among other initiatives, Xtreme runs a multi-platform network representing more than 500 athletes in action sports likw BMX racing, snowboarding, and BASE jumping. It distributes their video material across social and digital media worldwide, and sells a wide array of related goods such as the palm-sized video cameras the stars use to capture their exploits.
Xtreme’s 500 creators include an array of rising-star daredevils you likely don’t know, but that doesn’t mean their fans aren’t watching. COO Ben Lister says the company reaches more than 50 million social-media followers who view its videos more than 200 million times a month.
Now Xtreme is getting into mobile games, with the surfing-oriented YouRiding, another way for hardcore fans to connect with their favorite sports and stars.
A couple of hours after the Xtreme meeting, I sat down with Shimmur, a startup based in a sleek live-work loft in nearby Marina Del Rey.
Shimmur’s mobile app turns upside down the usual star-fan relationship. Fans create and post content about stars, other fans vote on the best stuff, and the stars then interact with the best stuff. The approach encourages a virtuous cycle of more fan engagement and support. The Shimmur team of 20-somethings also manages three budding social-media stars.
What most caught my attention is Shimmur’s focus. The stars featured on its apps are building audiences largely on two fast-growing platforms most Americans over the age of 20 have never used, or even know. One is the karaoke app Musical.ly and the other is its live-streaming spinoff Live.ly. If you’re an 11-year-old girl, though, watching and talking about and posting about Musical.ly and Live.ly stars is what you do instead of watching the Disney Channel.
That said, it was also a week to catch up with some Old Hollywood notables who have transitioned fruitfully to new digital-media platforms, such as “over-the-top” subscription video services.
At a Beverly Hills party in that temple of Old Hollywood, the Paley Center for Media, I watched Mark Hamill and Nathan Fillion show off their respective new series – Pop Culture Quest and Con Man – for one of those new digital services, Comic-Con HQ.
The shows have six-figure budgets far smaller than Hamill and Fillion’s work on traditional linear TV and film. But the episodes I saw demonstrated there’s more than enough money for good writing and enjoyable experiences delivered by much-loved performers.
Ultimately, Comic-Con HQ programming is all about the transformed relationship between fan and creator, and how Old Hollywood can take part. San Diego Comic-Con became the mecca for nerd culture, where fans bonded in person with genre film and TV stars. Now, with more than 600 fan “cons” worldwide, Comic-Con HQ was built to celebrate and tap into that relationship, said General Manager Seth Laderman.
“I think our secret weapon is being true to the fan,” explained Landerman. “How can we get in front of them, be true and credible, and extend their experience? You can engage an audience and they want to be part of something.”
There may be no better example than the creator/stars of Comic-Con HQ’s Kings of Con series. Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr., have built a remarkably tight relationship with fans of Supernatural, the ur-show of social-media fan engagement where they each have had lesser roles on the 12-year-old CW program. They leveraged those small roles into jobs hosting a Supernatural talk show and 20 fan cons a year worldwide.
In turn, Kings of Con mines material from their intense and often wacky experiences with supporters, making the show a meta-conversation about the changing relationship between creator/star and fan.
As Fillion, who made his name in TV shows such as Castle and Firefly, said that night: “We are all witness to a major paradigm shift. Now it’s in the hands of the creators, it’s In the hands of the fans. I feel we’re in far more control than we ever have been. This is the paradigm shift and I’m super excited about that.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Beachfront RISE, the premier app building company that houses all of your content in one place for any device, and monetizes it automatically with their built in programmatic video advertising platform.