What we watch and play, and the increasingly diverse and advanced means we use to view video and media content, will be the focus of the Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit, which takes place Sept. 7 at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.
Keynote speeches will be delivered by Eric Berger, executive vice president and general manager of Crackle; Epix CEO Mark Greenberg; and comedian Chelsea Handler, who will speak about her new Netflix series “Chelsea” and “Chelsea Does.”
For Handler, who began her venture into nontraditional television programming via Netflix earlier this year, developments in the technology sector are indicative of a golden future for creative figures.
“I think television is becoming obsolete,” she says. “No one is watching TV — they’re watching their iPads and their phones.”
For Epix and Crackle, the summit provides a plum opportunity to underscore their role in the changing face of media, and how they have set the bar for other networks in terms of harnessing nascent platforms for their audiences.
Crackle, which Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” put on the map in 2012, unrolled its linear TV feature “Always On” in 2015. The feature provides viewers with what Berger calls the “best of both worlds” in regard to live television and on-demand viewing by streaming its programming as soon as a viewer launches Crackle.
“Without breaking sound or video, you have the opportunity to effectively change to any of seven different channels currently playing on the service,” Berger says.
The network will also address the thorny issue of advertising in an on-demand format with its new break-free advertising initiative, which will launch concurrently with the premiere of of the drama “StartUp” on Sept. 6.
Instead of the usual batch of 15 minutes of advertising in a single programming hour, the initiative will focus on just five advertisers per episode for the length of the entire season run.
“Each advertiser will get one pod in every episode, and it’ll be attached to a piece of content that’s threaded through the entire series,” Berger says. “Our data shows that when advertising is attached to a piece of content, the results are dramatically [improved].”
Crackle and Epix are also delving more deeply into original content. Crackle’s “StartUp” is about a company developing a form of cryptocurrency, with Martin Freeman, Adam Brody, and Edi Gathegi. Epix will unroll the spy drama “Berlin Station,” with Richard Armitage and Richard Jenkins, and “Graves,” a single-camera comedy from Joshua Michael Stern, with Nick Nolte as a former U.S. president, this fall.
Technology allows Greenberg and Epix to interact with the audience in deeper and more innovative ways — to let “the fans engage in the fandom.”
For “Berlin Station,” Epix will unveil additional story material in the form of a 360 website that includes first-ever interactive hot spots that allow the viewer to engage with added content from the show.
“We’ll be able to put a spot in there to give interactive elements with clues and cues and let people be engaged and involved,” Greenberg says.
Though entertainment tech will be part of the Crackle and Epix series, both Berger and Greenberg stress that their innovations will play a supplemental role to the actual storytelling in their programs.
“You don’t want this to be the tail wagging the dog, as the old saying goes,” Greenberg says. “You have to be mindful that you still have to deliver a great story. There are things we are considering as we go along, like enhancing [shows] with more webisodes, but those will be additive.”
Crackle is also conscious of addressing the core requirement of storytelling in its original programming, including “StartUp.”
“It’s about technology and money in a way that we’ve never seen before,” Berger says. “But despite all the issues that are going on in this world, it’s about a group of millennials that are dealing with issues of, ‘Where do I sit in this world? How do I better my life?’ We think a lot about choosing quality content that’s accessible and frictionless and gets people into the experience right away.”
Handler believes new platforms and technology will provide greater opportunities for networks and content providers to tap into their audiences’ preferences and retain greater creative control.
“It’s not just about being on NBC, ABC, or CBS anymore,” she says. “Where is the best place for you to drive your creativity with the least amount of notes from a network? That’s where we’re headed.”