The DERTy types at Edelman (that’s those of us who work in the Digital Entertainment, Rights and Technology practice) are gearing up for the launch of this year’s study:  Value, Engagement and Trust in the era of Social Entertainment.  We go live tomorrow so watch this space…

But what do you remember most about the entertainment landscape if you think back to 2007? We thought it would be interesting, ahead of releasing the new findings, to take a look back at the headline stats from the last five years.  Wow how far we’ve come…. Early studies were dominated by the debates around illegal file sharing, how much consumers were willing to pay for content and the emerging power of social networks.  In some ways a lot has changed – and in other ways nothing has.

We should add that the methodology for the study has changed a little across the five years as we’ve grown to look at a wider pool of consumers in the UK and US.  So a statistician wouldn’t be happy about comparing year on year.  However – we think this little slideshow gives a nice little summary of the evolution of the sector.  If you’d like to know more about each specific year, what was asked and who was asked, then please just drop us a note in the comment section.  You can see last year’s findings here.

If you can’t attend the event tomorrow, you can still take part by using the hastag #SocialEnt.  You can also have a listen to our podcast last week, with Matt Locke, Richard Sambrook and Luke Mackay, which sets up some of the themes of tomorrow’s study.

I’m as big a fan of the X Factor as the next person, possibly bigger having yesterday cajoled the team here into joining in an X Factor sweepstake (I got One Direction). I have to admit that I’m also quite the fan of Mr. Cowell, the puppet master extraordinaire.

As a fan and member of the dark arts of PR, I’m currently torn and struggling with a moral dilemma. The X Factor PR machine is a sight to behold and has dominated the news agenda since before the latest series even began. The campaign that has been built and is being executed around the show is the most well oiled of machines. Whether it be the spin around the nation’s sweetheart getting malaria or the ongoing ‘feud’ between judges, the show unapologetically dominates the headlines in a relentless fashion. So, on the one hand I have to doff my cap to the team for pulling it off yet again and getting the kind of coverage which no client could quibble with. But on the other hand, I have to question the moral approach to their tactics in taking no prisoners to get the column inches that the show’s creators demands.

I’m probably opening myself up to a barrage of abuse here, but in the era of openness, integrity and public engagement, the tactics employed by those behind the X Factor can’t help but jar a bit. A case in point has to be the latest charade around Gamu Nhengu, the young contestant who was presented to us as a frontrunner in the competition from the first episode.

Her rise to fame has been carefully built – her first audition was subject to much discussion because of the use of auto-tuning technology, this then disappeared from any other episode so we were groomed to notice this as a point of difference. This was coupled with a semi-emotional story of Gamu’s quest to escape to the safety of Britain, marking her out as one of the lead protagonists in the carefully scripted show we like to call ‘reality TV’. Along the way we see various other good, bad and ugly performances before we reach the stage of the competition where Gamu comes back to fight for her five minutes of fame. You’d have to be hidden under a rock to have missed what happened next but in a nutshell, our new favourite underdog was cast aside to make way for Cheryl Cole’s very own mini-me and the ‘baddie’ that is Katie. Cue dramatised reports of Gamu’s imminent deportation from the country alongside stories of her ‘wildcard’ re-appearance in the competition.

To those who haven’t yet succumbed to the cynicism that the X Factor can instil, Gamu’s exclusion is a misjudgement of the highest proportion. To others, it’s yet another incredibly well played tactic to own the tabloids once again and generate a lot of chatter on Facebook and Twitter.

On paper, this campaign is genius. The ‘product’ hasn’t been out of the media spotlight, has taken the audience on a rollercoaster and sparked a significant and very real emotional relationship with the audience. Only this isn’t a product, it’s a young girl dreaming of making it big in the profession she has set her sights on.

And so back to my moral dilemma. The story that has unfolded is an incredibly well executed PR campaign which no doubt achieves its objectives. But is it also a dark and quite disturbing indictment of just how much the contestants have become a prop in a PR game? It’s of course recognised by most that the show has long been a 12 week soap opera and really has nothing to do with finding a pop star, but you do have to wonder whether the contestants themselves can see it like this.

I love the show and I respect the Cowell machine for doing a job so well, but it is staring to leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth in the era of transparency.

@AJGriffiths

Since time immemorial we have trusted our televisions implicitly.  We’ve given the magical little box pride of place in the heart of our family homes, letting it pump out little bits of information/ celebratory dirge/ David Attenborough masterpieces (delete where appropriate) on a daily basis.   The American’s trusted the calming tones of Edward R Murrow so much that he was able to land a punch at McCarthyism.  We Brits – so trusting are we – that when welcoming the Beeb into the living room, we decided to call it ‘Aunty’.

But it has occurred to me that you cannot trust the talking wallpaper as far as you can throw an LCD flat screen.  Look at the evidence:  We can’t trust the commercial business model for starters. Some factions of the press wouldn’t have us trust the BBC Trust (clue is in the name).  But two things happened recently that have caused me to look differently at my television set:

  • Simon Cowell, DEADLOCK! and the Twins: Storm in a tea-cup perhaps, but bottom line is the country can’t trust the judges anymore (perhaps they never did but the facade is shattered, at least).
  • Last night’s Spooks: I won’t spoil it for you, but once again the people at Kudos showcased their mastery in pulling the rug from under the audience,  setting it alight, then dumping it in the Thames.

Square Eyes will be the least of our problems if we can’t even trust the televisual box anymore.  Or will it?

We talk about trust.  A lot.  For companies and brands it is a necessity.  For PRs – helping companies to build trust is in our blood.  But after the bombshell of last night’s Spooks followed by watching Good Night and Good Luck on iPlayer – I started thinking that for consumer campaigns maybe dis-Trust can play an equally important role.

Bear with me.  Spooks succeeds because it goes against convention.  You don’t trust the script writers to play safe and on some level there is an expectation that they’ll boil your favourite character alive.  It’s this tension that gets you to sit on the edge of the sofa.  Arguably the same can be said of the X-Factor.  Cowell is an old school PR genius – he knows how to play the audience.  By creating a bit of drama he guaranteed column inches galore.

So when coming up with campaigns to excite consumers I think we could learn a lot from these tactics: push boundaries, explore the unexpected, embrace the chaos.  As far as I can tell a bit of dis-Trust – in safe hands – could go a long way.

@LukeMackay

I hate most reality TV shows, I resent the way the British public has been duped into thinking light entertainment has to involve nasty, spiteful competitive elements, I’m dumfounded at how the producers of these shows have conned the public into funding them through SMS messages and I’m depressed at the way the media think the “results” of the shows are somehow front page news. THERE’S A F**KING WAR AND A RECESSION ON .

Anyway, as you can imagine, I haven’t sat down in front of TV on a Saturday night for a long time now. It’s even stopped me watching Match of The Day so disenfranchised have I become with mainstream British telly.

But coming out of a client meeting earlier this week, I see a brighter future thanks to technology. Twitter – and Instant Messaging – can kill reality TV.

In the meeting we were discussing IPTV, essentially internet connected & distributed television. Still very much in its infancy, IPTV promises to heighten the TV experience when the interaction and connectivity of the Internet is married with content on the goggle box.

Of course, we have rudimentary IPTV now, but anyone who’s bothered to “press the red button” will know what a generally painful and unrewarding experience it is. If we want to check team line ups and other scores when a game is on for example, we’ll likely fire up the laptop or iPhone rather than go through the 1990’s dial-up-internet-esq experience of digital telly, and it’s this marriage of Net and content that interests me.

So consider its affect on reality TV. Your TV can overlay a Twitter page on top of any programme. You’re watching X-Factor or some other brain rot and you want to express your hatred/love/indifference for Simon/Cheryl/some act with bad hair. You can do it as *part* of the programme rather than on a separate machine. Even though Twitter probably won’t be integrated into the TV programme itself – seeing as you can’t really monetize a hashtag – the fact that it appears on the same screen gives the illusion of a holistic experience, and pretty soon the notion of texting in to vote will seem ludicrous, especially if the “it’s all a fix” story continues to gain momentum (and it is all a fix, you do know that? WWF’s not real either, you knew that too right?)

How many people vote in these shows because they generally give a shit about the acts? 10% I’d wager at best, and these are the people you avoid at dinner parties. Most people I’d argue vote because it gives them legitimacy to have a point of view on the show. Give them instantaneous – and free – access to a worldwide audience via Twitter (or their peers via IM) and the need to somehow register their approval/disgust via an SMS will go, rapidly.

We’re already seeing – well hearing – this in radio. Talksport was awash with SMS-based talk shows and competitions only 2 years ago. Listen now and while they still reference the texts, it’s nowhere near as prominent. Why? Because white van man has got into email big time, and he’s started to wonder why he should pay 50p to say “Wenger is a twat” when he can do it for free on email.

With a decrease in SMS revenues, the commercial radio and reality shows are going to face a tough choice. Do they increase the commercial side in other ways – stadium tours, singles, licensed merchandise – or do they cut their losses on the format and scale back? I’m betting it would be the later, since you need the voting element to fuel the carefully constructed stories and scandals that are fed to the media and help convince normally right minded people to pay a premium to vote for Jedward or cough up £35 see really bad karaoke at the 02.

There’s already a precedent for this in Big Brother, with the format and house mates becoming ever more ridiculous in a desperate chase for ratings and relevance. Fair plays to Endemol, it managed to keep it alive for a lot longer than most expected. It was the TV equivalent of the Queen Mum (or Jimmy Saville).

Taking a macro view, this is all part of the big technology paradox facing the media industry, namely that the Internet has lead to a revolution in how we make, distribute and consume content, yet because we gave everything away free to start with (blame those hippy programmers in the Valley), no one can make any serious money from it, unless you plaster it with ads or are very creative with the distribution model. Sky’s iPhone announcement for its sport’s channels is a great example of the latter.

But here’s the paradox in action, Sky’s owner Rupert Murdoch is trying to put walls around other parts of his content in a frankly laughable attempt to extract value from something that’s been free for a long time, while Talk Sport has reacted by seriously downgrading the prize value of its competitions, airing more adverts and getting all of its shows sponsored despite is listening figures going up.

It’s a trend that will only continue, and I firmly believe that if IPTV does take off and we have imaginative minds looking at how we integrate the Internet into our TVs, then we’ll see an end to the obsession with the public-revenue driven reality TV shows where the verisimilitude of public choice is actually more carefully managed than a North Korean press conference.

Huzzah and hurrahs all round then? Well not quite, because you have to wonder what will come next. The rules are already changing for broadcast regulations on product placement and it’s a safe bet to assume that things are only going to get more commercial, not less.

But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. After all, if the trade-off of being bombarded with adverts is being able to comment instantly on the quality of an act – or show – then perhaps the cream will rise to the top, while the dog shit sinks to the bottom? If we must have reality TV, then at least the British public will have a clear and unhindered path to saying what’s good and what’s dross, and I trust my Brothers and Sisters of the British Isles to do the right thing (apart from 10 years of New Labour and putting Major back in in 92).

So, hurry along IPTV. Bring Twitter to the homes of Tunbridge Wells on a Saturday night and expose this reality TV dross for what it really is. Open up the home television experience, make it interactive & engaging, kill off premium rate SMS as a legitimate TV tool and give me a reason to switch the box back on at the weekend.

paulwooding1973

446spooks_series7Spooks is back on the box tonight! Hurrah. It seems ages since Harry was bundled into the boot of that car by the Russian Alan Davies.

I can’t wait for the start of the new series. I just watched this little re-cap of the last one and got a bit excited.

As it happens, through our own network of contacts, moles and informants, we’ve managed to get our hands on the details of the new series. So if you don’t want to know what happens, look away now…

Harry is rescued. In reality, he’s been turned and returns to MI5 as a double-agent. Ruth’s involved. The Chinese Weather Modification Department is melting ice-caps and stockpiling fresh water on the moon while simultaneously contaminating the water supplies of the UK. Chinese Special Forces are involved. The Chinese deny all knowledge and Harry is warned off by UK Government officials. Harry starts cosying up to Opposition Ministers as a change in Government is in the offing. Malcolm gets a warning for spending too much time at work on social networks. But then he uses Twitter to catch a baddie and it’s all cool. Ros and Lucas have sex. Ros has sex with someone else. And someone else. Malcolm develops an augmented reality application. Terrorist groups are exchanging messages within computer games. Jo goes a bit off the rails. A black woman joins the team. And an Asian man. A 15-year old intern sets up a Ning for MI5 and MI6 which sparks a new era of cooperation between the two departments. The intern is lauded at the highest levels of Government and appointed as Social Media Deity. In a fit of pique, Malcolm sets up an MI5 Facebook page which leads directly to Harry’s murder by a Twitter-fuelled hate-mob, a general deterioration in the social fabric of the UK (much to the delight of the Daily Mail) and a reversal of political fortunes at the General Election. Harry’s hard-won political support dissolves, but he’s dead anyway. Malcolm is disappointed. Ros gives a wry smile. A bloke who looks a bit like Adam is seen in the distance at Harry’s funeral. Plans for a city on the moon are obtained. The flags of both China and the USA fly above it…

Don’t ask us where we got this information.