Cross-Platform: breaking old habits

Greater media access means that screen-based artists/content producers must now take various platforms into consideration when creating their work. Paul Hayes found that there is no escaping cross-platform.

Screens on which people are now entertained stretch far beyond the traditional home television and cinemas. Computers, mobile phones, iPods, even screens on trains, buses and planes are now all potentially part of a person’s everyday media intake.

“People have access to a far wider range of devices, different screens on which to receive, view, and indeed, create media,” noted cross-platform specialist Frank Boyd told Encore.

Creatives can no longer limit themselves to creating work for a single medium, but should rather think about how they can get their work onto essentially every type of media they can.

They need to think cross-platform. When broken down, the fundamental idea of crossplatform is relatively straightforward: using various media to show a creative piece of work. According to Dale Kim, managing director of Subtitle, a recently founded company designed to deal exclusively with cross-platform production, “It’s the consumption of content, or the engagement of content, beyond the one specific medium.”

What makes this new form of consumption possible, and indeed necessary, is the way that people now utilise their technology.

“We have been immersed in cross-platform media now for some time,” Boyd said. “That’s changing people’s relationship to content in ways which mean that creators have to think more carefully about what platform or which media devices they’re going to use to try to reach an audience.

“The implications of that are that the relationship is changing to one where the consumer takes bigger decision in how they use it.”


Cultural and government funding bodies have come to recognise the importance of cross-platform media. This year’s Adelaide Film Festival is designed to push the boundaries of what a film festival can be, featuring classes and information sessions designed to help  screen practitioners further open their eyes to cross-platform media.

“We’re trying to encourage screen-based practitioners to think more laterally as they’re creating their work about the other platforms that the work could exist on,” AFF head Katrina Sedgewick said. “To think how that might intersect with audiences on the way and  how that might in fact enhance the experience of the work at the end.” The primary arm of the AFF that will be working on cross-platform is Crossover, a five day program that brings together creative minds interested in applying their practice across a variety of  platforms and exploring screen based interactivity.

The program is headed by Frank Boyd, the former director of creative development at the BBC’s Innovation and Learning Team. Boyd has been running cross-platform media events for over 10 years.

Despite today’s ready availability and use of various media many people in any art are really only familiar with how to utilise what they know best. Boyd hopes to raise awareness of other forms of media and both their creative and commercial capabilities.

“People must get a better understanding of these different platforms, and how to make appropriate use of them,” he said.

According to Boyd, fostering healthy and positive relationships between people from various disciplines is further key to successful cross-platform. This can often prove as difficult as any creative process.

“One of the things that has hampered cross-platform production is that almost by definition people are trained in and have had experience working in one particular sector of film, or one silo if you like. They tend to have different professional languages, different  professional cultures, they dress differently, drink in different pubs, and they probably don’t like each other very much.

“I’m trying to get people to begin to understand each other and therefore have the possibility of collaborating together on new productions.”

Sedgewick agrees that those in the film industry can be set in their particular ways and often reluctant to break way from old habit, or adopt new ones.

“Absolutely! I come from the arts into film, and I’m truly amazed at how conservative a lot of this industry is.”

Once people are aware of what else is out there, and that they are in fact capable of working with creatives from other disciplines, these people can then do what they do best. Namely create.

“When you get people working together effectively, and they understand what they can do together, they can then start to generate and brainstorm new ideas and projects,” Boyd said.

ilmmakers need to move beyond their traditional areas of expertise, and sees funding bodies such as the Adelaide Film Festival and Western Australia’s ScreenWest initiative as vital for the future of cross-platform media.

In December 2008 ScreenWest, in collaboration with the Media Development Authority in Singapore, announced funding of US$30,000 for the development of several cross-platform projects in both WA and Singapore.

Other state agencies are also supporting cross-platform production, with Film Victoria investing $650,000 in funding for eight projects last month.

“It’s the role of festivals with substantial state funding to get out there and try and discover this stuff and profile a bit for the broader public,” Sedgewick said.

“The reason we’re running Crossover in partnership with Screen Australia and the South Australian Film  Corporation is to try and encourage filmmakers, and people from all sorts of specialty areas, to see these disciplines from a really multiple range of backgrounds.”


It is no great revelation to find out that people’s media consumption is changing as rapidly as technology can be thrown at them; it seems every six months the market is hit with a revolutionary digital device that will change the way we all think about how we receive  entertainment and information.

“What consumers are prepared to do is changing quite rapidly,” Boyd said.

What this means is that creatives now have to think as much about various digital delivery points as well as the product that they are creating.

“It remains true that because of the way people use different sorts of screens they have access to, whether it’s a desktop screen, a lounge room screen, or even the large screen in the cinema or public space, you do want to design different content,” Boyd said.

“Not so much for the different screen, but for the different modes of use that people make of them. For example, particularly if you’re using a mobile phone screen you are on the move, you’re perhaps waiting for a bus or in a cab, you’re going to be, if you like, snacking,  you’re going to be getting access to something just to while away a few minutes or you just want quick information.

“It remains the case that you’ve got to understand the space consumers are in and the kind of behaviour that they’re engaged in. So you are looking to design very different types of experiences for different screens at different times of day.”


A common misnomer about cross-platform is that it is  exclusively the domain of digital media. The idea that anything involving a screen must be attached to modern and up-to-the-minute technology.

“When we think about cross-platform, we can think not just digital, but also analogue,” Sedgewick said. One such example is the Australian dance company, Chunky Move, whose award winning shows such as Glow and Mortal Engine take the idea of cross-platform into vastly different areas away from the digital screen.

“These are works where the dancer is on stage literally interacting live with a projected image,” Sedgewick said. “It is one of the most seamless and beautiful uses I’ve seen of genuine interactivity.”

Chunky Moves’ artistic director Gideon Obarzanek will be attending and participating in this year’s Crossover. Also in Adelaide will be Matt Adams, co-founder of the somewhat undefinable cross-platform media company Blast Theory.

Recently in Sydney with their interactive game Rider Spoke, Adams and Blast Theory work across game design, documentary, and television and radio broadcasting. Adams will participate in the AFF’s Playground, a series of large scale games designed to take place in  the street all over the city, all with the use of interactive screens.

The first of these games will be Rider Spoke, which is essentially a huge game of hide and seek in which players cycle around the streets of Adelaide with a GPS and an earpiece hunting for hiding spots. When the hiding spots are found, clues and information are uploaded  n the screens for the other gamers.

“It’s all about taking multi-player games off the screen and out of the virtual environment and into a live environment,” Sedgewick said. “Into an environment with tangible people.” A cross-platform marriage of digital and analogue.

Given the relative newness of cross-platform, it is not  surprising that many experienced producers across a range of media are not exactly on top of what it is and what it can do. This is where specialised production companies come in.

“We were really set up to be able to answer that call where a lot of production companies are coming to us now and saying, ‘what can we do to try and leverage this crossplatform content initiative?’” Subtitle managing director Dale Kim told Encore.

Billing itself as “the love child of a digital communications consultancy and a film production company,” Subtitle is set up to help other production companies push their content into cross-platform. Much of what they do is driven by need, namely that of other  producers who don’t know how to get their content across various media.

Much of this need stems from a generational shift. “A lot of producers who probably are a little bit above that internet generation know how to do your documentary, or any type of production, but are having trouble grasping these new fields,” Kim said. “They’re  asking us for assistance and consultation.”

The other half of Subtitle’s supposed love child heritage is in the production of their own material, and that is the other prong of their business plan. Kim and Subtitle want to produce content themselves, not just work with what is brought to them by other producers. “We’re involved in content originating directly for brands who are looking to create their own audiences online.” None of these plans can be set in stone. The idea is still too new for a concrete business model. “At this stage we’re really trying to just get a really successful model working,” Kim said. “Everyone seems to be trying to figure it out.”

The one business plan that producers and content originators must put into action is being aware of crossplatform from the very beginning of a project, and not just as an afterthought once something is created, Kim said. “What we’re finding is, being involved in that  inception allows us to be more integrated in our approach to crossplatform, which I guess is the key to it all, rather than just bolting it on at the end.

“A lot of budgets seem to have that bolt on at the end, and that’s remarkably similar to what’s happened five years ago in marketing space where the digital side was a consideration at the end but it really needs to be seen as a whole thing. It needs to be seen from a  complete 3600 point of view.”

If cross-platform media is the future, then the future is now.

“It has already taken off,” Boyd said. “We have been immersed in cross-platform media now for some time.”

Sedgewick agrees it is working among us already. “It’s ready to go. It already happens all over the shop,” she said.

What she feels is exciting about the situation today is the fact that so much technology is available to anyone, regardless of large or small budgets, making cross-platform eminently doable.

“Technology allows you to do that now,” Sedgewick said. “It doesn’t all have to be about big budget. It has to be about being creative and taking risks and experimenting. That certainly isn’t the province of the necessarily well funded.”

According to Boyd, screen-based success in the future will come only with a knowledge of cross-platform and all of its potentials.

“It’s necessary now for all producers to have as broad an understanding as possible of what the potential is across a big wide range of different media platforms. “There’s no question that the successful media companies in the future are going to be the ones that are, if  you like, platform agnostic and will just try and deliver content appropriately across different platforms depending who they’re trying to reach.”

Dale Kim no doubt agrees cross-platform is the future, his production company is evidence of that. But despite all the platform and delivery methods out there, he is still aware of the age old rule of any creative work. “Content is still king,” he said. “That will never  change.


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