Movie studios and TV networks increasingly are turning to social media for help with generating buzz about their upcoming releases and programming. Communities are building around favorite movie franchises like the Twilight and Avengers series and TV shows like Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead. Have movie and show producers really been listening — and if they have, has anything changed because of what they’ve heard?
The answer to the first part of that question is a definite and resounding yes — but the answer to the second part is a mushier maybe.
Where Game of Thrones Dares Not Go…
“When it comes to social fan involvement, there needs to be a line drawn between scripted series or films and reality series,” said Kelsey Falter, CEO of Poptip.com.
In other words, the two types of show productions — scripted and unscripted — do not lend themselves equally to crowd input and multiple production changes. There is also a thin line between how much change an audience will accept between book and screen versions of the same story, even with a huge and highly vocal social media crowd pushing producers to go further.
“Choose your own adventure for scripted television series endings has not been roaringly successful,” Falter told the E-Commerce Times. “It leads audiences who opted for the losing ending without answers — and it diminishes the artistic integrity of the entire season or film leading into the ending.”
“Imagine if Game of Thrones, a scripted series that millions are highly engrossed in, allowed the crowd to meddle with the ending,” she added. “There would be outrage.”
The Alternate Programming Universe…
However, that is not to say that crowdsourcing doesn’t result in actual show production.
“A great example of how the voice of the movie-viewing public is being heard is on crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo,” said Lisa Parkin, social media consultant and CEO of Social Climber. “Viewers are communicating what they want by paying for a new movie project themselves and avoiding the vetting process completely.”
“The new Veronica Mars movie was funded in under nine hours and Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here in three days by Kickstarter users,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
Over-the-top services such as Netflix and Hulu are producing shows based entirely on what users want to see. Netflix’s highly successful, data driven House of Cards is the most successful so far. Google and Amazon are in that game too, although they have yet to score a hit.
In the realm of traditional TV productions, unscripted shows are particularly prone to changes driven by fan clamor, although that’s also true of a few scripted shows after the first season is in the can.
“There are other ways that social media can affect scripted television series or movies, especially when it comes to sequels or longer-running movies like the Bond films,” said Falter. “By studying character traits that were widely discussed on social media, a writer may realize that the audience appreciates a subtlety in the script and character development. I don’t think anyone would argue with finessing the storyline to highlight a certain aspect of a character a bit more.”
Social media has a lot to do with casting, it turns out. Sometimes casting choices are a nod to pressure from fans; other times actors don’t even get considered for a role unless they have social media clout.
“We’ve already started to see many networks leveraging actors’ Twitter and Facebook following to help form a relationship with fans and promote the series,” said Falter. “Candace Bushnell from the CW’s Carrie Diaries has openly promoted her series on Twitter and has encouraged live tune-in by forming a relationship with her fans.”
It’s easy to see how having an established social media following behind each actor cast can help with film or show promotion, but the ultimate motive can be a bit more subtle than that.
“Filmmakers and producers are marketing directly to the audience — not only gaining personal investment from them, but also building a huge fanbase before the movie is ever made,” said Social Climber’s Parkin. “This method of cutting out the middle man is the beginning of a trend that is gaining momentum and may change the process of film-making in the future.”
Sometimes the social media connection is not so much a strategy but a happy happenstance, though.
“The TV show Scandal’s social media connection is interesting just because I don’t think ABC had a grand social media plan for the show,” said digital media strategist Kevin Lockett.
“I think it was the product of enthusiastic social networking fans who live-tweeted throughout the show, as well as Scandal star Kerry Washington, who was already an active Twitter user before the show started,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “During the first season, the constant buzz on Twitter eventually became apparent to the show execs and ABC, so now the rest of the cast members, like Kate Lowe, have joined Kerry Washington by live tweeting throughout the show.”
So yes, filmmakers and TV-show producers are listening and not just broadcasting on social media, and they’re willing to cater to fans in the storytelling when they can. So get out there and offer your ideas for the show before the final cut!