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Message gets massaged

Content integration, sponsorship shape the face of entertainment

With digital technologies, including IPTV, promising to reshape media such as television, it’s certainly inevitable the message will change in fundamental ways, too.

Just as recording technology changed pop music nearly a century ago, programming that is consumed on demand by free-flowing blocks of viewers via non-linear channels will differ significantly from that of the woebegone era of traditional ad-supported television.

But different how?

Even before the emergence of IPTV, technologies like the digital videorecorder were showing TV’s traditional ad model the door. So any speculation about what future content will look like usually starts with the words “no commercials.”

Over will be the days of “half-hour shows having to be 21.5 minutes long and set up in ways that commercials can be dropped into certain windows,” notes Dan York, who’s leading Baby Bell AT&T’s quest to compete with cable and satellite operators.

“If you’re going to create content in this new world, you’re going to have to understand that you can’t just buy 30 seconds of consumer attention anymore,” adds JibJab co-founder Gregg Spiridellis, who along with his brother Evan, has managed to successfully produce and distribute short, inexpensive films over the Internet. “Advertising is going to have to become entertaining so that people want to watch it.”

That’s why advertisers are already shifting away from a basic philosophy of media purchasing to one of content integration and sponsorship, Spiridellis notes.

Of course, a future in which IPTV is the dominant medium for home consumption of video entertainment will render obsolete other monoliths besides the 30-second spot, too.

Take the Nielsen rating.

“We’ll have a direct connection to the audience, and we’ll be able to more accurately track what they’re watching,” notes Lori McCreary, who along with business partner Morgan Freeman, is shooting a feature film, “10 Items or Less,” through the pair’s production company, Revelations Entertainment. After the pic’s theatrical run later this year, McCreary and Freeman — through an arrangement that their technology company, Clickstar, has established with Intel Corp. — plan to distribute the film via the Internet.

Clickstar’s creators believe the Internet will vastly expand the realm of content film fans can enjoy. For example, “10 Items or Less” will come bundled with an array of DVD-like bonus features — cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, etc. — all viewable on demand.

“I honestly believe technologies such as IPTV will increase media consumption overall,” Spiridellis says.

Of course, with so much content available whenever consumers want it, a mass audience might be hard to find. And this will change programming in ways that, well, only a true futurist can imagine.

One such prognosticator — David Brin, author of such forward-thinking books as “The Transparent Society,” “The Postman” and “Kiln People” — sees a future in which the writer is king.

“Writers have a far higher status in TV than they do in film, because in television, story is the product and it has to be delivered in quantity and on time, otherwise the whole thing flounders, no matter how pretty the faces are on the screen,” Brin says. In a world with non-linear channels and on-demand delivery, even more content will be required, Brin believes — and he wonders, in such a choice-laden realm, will one episode a week of the ABC hit “Lost” be enough for avid viewers?

Brin also imagines a biz in which stars go away and viewers become participants in content creation: “As you enter into a realm where quantity of product becomes most important, then you need product that’s self-sustaining, like a reality show, in which the creativity comes from the cast; or a product in which the creative element is constantly refreshed by the clients themselves.”