Sequential Viewing: What Filmmakers Need to Know About Stories That Move Across Devices (Based On Google's Research Into Online Film Viewing)

Are you still watching TV like your grandparents did in the 1950s?

If you want to stay relevant as a 21st century filmmaker, you need to understand how New World consumers are watching films online. Important information about those evolving viewing habits is contained in an August 2012 Google report, entitled “The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior.”

The Google report provides dramatic evidence that users are increasingly moving between devices to accomplish their goals. Understanding how behaviors are changing (e.g., how viewers are receiving - and interacting with - content) just might help filmmakers to make films that don't look hopelessly outdated (like a 1950s TV show?).

In the 20th century content stayed put. But, in the New World, content is increasingly mobile. And - whether Old World filmmakers like it or not - the New World audience is receiving motion pictures in new ways, often choosing to watch motion pictures online and moving between devices in ways that undermine the aesthetic and narrative conventions that have underpinned filmmaking for 100 years.

In particular, the recent Google research into user behavior (polling 1,611 people across 15,738 media interactions and nearly 8,000 hours of activity in the second quarter of 2012) identifies two modes of media usage that, for all intents and purposes, did not exist in the 20th century: Sequential (screening from one device to another to complete a single goal) and Simultaneous (using multiple devices at the same time).

New World filmmakers should pay particular attention to "Sequential Viewing": Apparently a huge new part of how consumers are now receiving their filmed entertainment.

According to the Google report, 56% of online video viewing begins on a smartphone. If those numbers are correct, 21st Century filmmakers cannot wait another minute: It's time to rethink how our films are structured.

If this pattern of user behavior continues (and why wouldn't it?), New World filmmakers need to consider 1) the aesthetics of this sequential experience and 2) how the transition from one screen to the next will be accomplished. In other words, what sort of content works on a small screen, and how can the transition be effectuated (if the user wants to continue with your story onto another larger screen device)?

"[W]hen people use screens sequentially to complete an activity, they often use search to pick up where they left off. So not only is it important for companies [filmmakers] to allow customers to save their progress between devices, they should also use tactics like keyword parity to ensure that they can be found easily via search when that customer moves to the next device."

Effectively, this emerging behavior of sequential viewing requires that filmmakers reconsider how their work will be experienced. I realize that many Old World filmmakers will want to fight these changes. But there's simply no denying how consumers are now finding and sampling films. Whether Old World filmmakers like it or not, many consumers are choosing to experience films starting on a smartphone. And, after a first encounter on a small screen, the user will then decide whether the experience will continue on another device (often a PC or TV).

Yes, films can still be designed exclusively for the big screen. Or for an HD-TV. And films can still be designed exclusively for the small screen of the smartphone. But those are no longer the only ways that consumers are receiving their information and entertainment. According to Google's research, users are increasingly starting on the small screen and then moving to another device once they're hooked.

What does this mean for filmmakers?

Perhaps New World filmmakers should consider a new form of film storytelling... where the initial interaction assumes a small screen. Can we, as filmmakers, build stories that allow for (encourage and support?) transitions from device to device? After an initial part of your story hooks the viewer, is there a way to seamlessly allow the user to move to another larger screen? Does this mean one linear narrative with a suggested transition point - or storytelling that unfolds on multiple platforms with complementary narratives and multiple points of entry?

The data from Google suggests that, while many members of the audience continue to watch films and TV in the Old World ways, media consumption is increasingly online and multi-screen - with users relying on mobile devices as an integral part of experiencing content. Which begs the question: What sort of film experiences will be the most effective in the New World where many users start at first on a phone - and then move to a larger home screen?

Multiscreenworld Final

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