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Books at the heart of a cross media strategy

When it came to book publishing as part of a cross media strategy for a new UK entertainment brand, content producer Nuno Bernardo knew he had to play the long game.  Again.  As managing director of one of the first production companies involved in the creation of short form internet drama, he had learnt about the power of communities and understood a ready made community was essential to brand success.  He also had worked out the best way to build a community was not to actively market to them but to feed them content.

The teen audience in particular craved content. By 2003 UK teens were already living their life out on line through Bebo, the children’s social network.  Teen entertainment is dramatically under-served in the UK – the BBC’s output ends just post your first decade, and there are few slots reserved for teen shows anywhere on the TV schedule.   Ironically, this audience is cross platform literate and extremely comfortable in indicating what it likes and what it doesn’t, both essential in the development of successful IP.  The internet is both intimate and suits confessional and thus works extremely well with the diary format.   And so it was no surprise the UK version of Sofia’s Diary produced by beActive for Sony Pictures in 2008 quickly found a community the like of which has not been seen since for an internet brand.

However, how did it get there? The property had begun life as a daily blog in Portugal, gradually building up over five years to an international brand, deriving a significant proportion of its revenue from book publishing. In Portugal alone half a million Sofia’s Diary books were sold, with another half a million sold worldwide.  This was achieved with no marketing spend, just daily filmed content on a free social networking website.  However, it had always been the creator’s plan to publish books, in fact, the publishing model was the only way this nascent industry could see of generating actual income.  Publishing had a proper business model that worked and so, by the time Sofia’s Diary was publishing books alongside the show, it had built a dedicated loyal community, ready to buy the books.   However, despite the publishing model, the UK show was commissioned under a TV model. When the show wasn’t recomissioned, the community lost the daily reason to come together and the brand disintegrated,  frustratingly showing the dangers of not having complete control over your IP.

However, it also showed how books could work at the heart of a cross media strategy.  Publishers build an audience that is loyal to its characters in a way TV viewers are not to those of production companies.  IP in publishing houses can last decades, generations whereas TV series rarely last more than a few seasons.  There are also ready-made ‘communities’ within publishing. Penguin’s ‘Spinebreakers’ or the Harry Potter website are communities built around a brand and interested in related content.

Before its relationship with beActive, Penguin was already developing its own IP in house, creating cross platform properties through its Genesis project.  However, for a teen project it was developing with writer Ali Cronin (Skins), it decided to partner with the Sofia’s Diary production company to create an immersive multi-platform experience designed to integrate with the books which were to be published known through Penguin’s teen imprint Razorbill.   The first book ‘No Such Thing As Forever’ will be launched in July 2012, with a second book planned for Autumn 2012, the cross platform content (including, blogs, apps, mobile content, and enhanced functionality for eBooks) being created by beActive.

Publishers are changing, times are changing, and publishers e-readers have already mobilised into communities that want new content, cross platform.  Taking the Sofia’s Diary model and attaching it to publishing rather than TV, Penguin and beActive have both played to their strengths, the end result being the creation of a cross platform strategy for a brand they control.   This relationship also means they are ready to create short form drama (if the community will support this) and once the brand is established, with a production company attached, they are able to create broadcast material.

Such a collaboration between the publishing house and an experienced cross media entertainment production company works as an interesting model for both parties.  It allows the publishing houses to take bold steps in to the creation of cross platform content, which pleases and builds their community but doesn’t involve finding a huge TV budget, and allows the production company to take a risk on early TV rights to IP.  It’s these creative collaborations that are the key to producing sufficient content to satisfy and entertain a ready and waiting teen audience.

Other features by Helen Bagnall:

Is BBC’s ‘Fewer: Bigger: Better’ an approach for publishers

Passion for the Pixel – BBC’s Immersive Writing Lab

The Inquisitive Nature of Audience – a look at immersive theatre creators Punch Drunk



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