Content: How the ABC engineered a viral success with a show about going viral

Going viral can be a great result in marketing, not always a good thing in your personal life, and sometimes a good launchpad for content - depending on the response. Mumbrella's Hannah Blackiston speaks with Ludo Studio's Daley Pearson and ABC's Que Minh Luu about Content, their new vertical made-for-mobile show which managed to go viral with its first episode.

My inbox is often full with TV shows/ podcasts/ books/ magazines launching. Any media launch, I’ve got a press release about it. Which is why unless it’s something massive (or something destined to fail) they sometimes don’t get the airtime they deserve.

Content, the new made-for-mobile comedy created by Ludo Studio and developed and produced in association with the ABC, was one of those releases. It sat in my inbox, and I meant to get to it. But then I spotted it online elsewhere, because it was going viral. Damn it!

Content is primed for mobile viewing and has tricked the internet with its realistic effects and filming techniques

“We had hopes when we planned it, but you never know. We had thrown a lot into the screaming void of the internet and it spat a couple back. But we did, we put a lot in there, and it’s probably for 100 things in there, one came back. So there was a bit of design to it but it’s still… is it luck when you work hard?” Daley Pearson is the co-founder of Ludo Studio and a director on Content, and he’s delighted with how well the show has been received.

Content follows the story of university graduate Lucy and an accidental incident which sends her viral. The show is filmed to be viewed vertically on a smartphone, the first scripted comedy to do so, and the result is a really curious experience where the viewer very quickly connects with the characters on an emotional level which usually takes time to establish. When I’m speaking with Pearson, I reference a part in the show where Lucy is stalking her ex online and accidentally ‘likes’ a photo from years prior, a scene which gave me a visceral reaction.

“When we screened it in a cinema and the audience responded – it usually takes time to get those ‘Oh no’ moments, it takes 20 minutes or so to get to know the character in a normal show – but this happens a couple of minutes in and the audience responds. It was a visceral response and it’s exactly what we hoped.”

That feeling is created by the familiar vertical screen, framed in the same way a phone is, and the fact we see Lucy’s actions only through the phone. We see her typing messages, deleting messages, we see her video chatting her best friend Daisy and we see her on a Facebook Live when the incident happens which sends her viral. It’s a confronting and close experience, and one which required a lot more effort than it appears, says Pearson.

“The team worked so hard to make it seem real, and there’s a lot of artifice put in to make it seem real. We had many sleepless nights about that, and we didn’t want to do a show where the conceit was too heavy and didn’t match the characters. I love Blair Witch, and that movie really couldn’t have been made any other way, it was about the glibness of the filmmakers and we really feel like this relationship between these characters suits the format so perfectly. It wouldn’t have been as good delivered any other way.”

ABC executive producer Que Minh Luu says the team wanted to ‘lean in’ to the way people use their phones – warts and all.

“We wanted to lean into the relatable and at times deeply embarrassing ways we use our phones – things we all do but no-one else sees. We had an instinct that watching these behaviours could be very dramatic, or at least funny, and that we could tell a story that way. It took about two years from pitch to delivery, starting with a good year of development and experimentation, incremental steps towards convincing people (and ourselves) that this would work before we could make the show proper,” says Luu.

She says that while there aren’t currently any plans to bring the show to traditional broadcast, the idea of reaching audiences on a phone, where they are, feels ‘natural’ and that the nuances of social media interactions and internet culture are made to be delivered in the mobile-optimised format.

Both Luu and Pearson are quick to say that while the initial response to the show has been amazing, it’s still very early days. The episodes only run for 15 minutes, and Pearson says the initial response has shown that when people press play, they tend to stay until the end. The effects and animation, which was provided by the Toronto-based Shy Kids team, bring the entire thing to life and it’s hard to turn away from the story once you’ve started.

Despite how it may feel, the show isn’t a judgement on social media, says Pearson. Instead it seeks to highlight the way social media exposes us and all the aspects of our personalities – both good and bad. Anything highlighted on social media was always something that was inside you, says Pearson, it just has a tendency to come to the surface much quicker online.

There’s an interesting commercial proposition inside a program like Content. If the format catches on elsewhere and is something the commercial networks could get onboard with, there’s a very intimate connection created by the vertical format and the realistic story and character arcs. With the rise of mobile-focused content, it won’t be long until brands start to see that the relationship between viewers and their phones is a very valuable one from a content perspective, perhaps beyond that which can be offered by other mediums.

From here, both Pearson and Luu are hoping Content will continue to travel well after the first episode’s success. The second was released recently, and it will be interesting to see if it can replicate the path of the first.

Ludo Studio is also the name behind Bluey, the children’s TV success story that has signed deals with BBC and Disney, but is still created out of Australia and will remain so as long as its creators have their way. While there’s still plenty of content to be thrown into the internet void, Ludo Studio and ABC seem to have found a way to hit just the right note which will they hope will continue to provide success for Australian content.


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