Crossing the Chasm
Posted on December 2, 2015
Marco Sparmberg, SINGAPORE
Acting Lead for Social Media, Digital Group at MediaCorp
Marco Sparmberg grew up in East Germany during a period when Berlin was divided by a wall until it fell in 1989 paving way for a reunified Germany. Marco now lives and work in Singapore for the national broadcaster, MediaCorp, and is determined to transform the five decade old organisation inside out by embracing digital technologies.
Growing up, Marco has live in countries like South Africa, Israel and China. Before working in Singapore, Marco has worked in Hong Kong for about 4 years. Marco’s love for Hong Kong films by directors John Woo and Johnnie To, led him to do his graduate studies in film at Hong Kong Baptist University.
“Once I started studying, it was different. Hong Kong (HK) film was pretty much dead. If you want to do HK films you have to align with China. Production is done there and the money is there. When I was doing co-production, I was bringing foreign films to China and not HK. HK is pretty much a branch for the mainland conglomerate.”
Marco’s frustration towards “Old Media” and legacy media stemmed much earlier while working on projects for his graduate studies.
“I was crowdfunding my web series in school in 2008/09 and connecting the web series to social media to the extent of video livestream from the set using Twitch to interact with the audience. When I presented it at film school, nobody understood it.”
“Back then transmedia is called multimedia. It’s only when social media came that we have a name for transmedia but is basically the same thing that Marvel was doing for decades.”
Marco mentioned that film school students today have the potential to do much more and highlighted that talent development is the biggest challenge the industry faces at the moment.
“You have film schools who tell you to do short films. My suggestion is to make short films sequential and turn them into web series optimise for social media channels.”
“Little of the university course outlines are aligned with reality. You have millennials who are social media natives and should be thinking beyond the feature film and film festival route. These people have good understanding on interactivity and fragmented storylines but the end of the day they choose banking or traditional media.”
Marco cites Jeff Gomez as someone who is leading the change in the media industry with transmedia storytelling: the technique of telling a story across multiple platforms and formats.
“Jeff is one of the few that makes money out of transmedia creation. He goes to legacy media companies to understand the how they create and their culture. He then packages properties as a transmedia bible that maps out the entire universe and the story of the world, much like a game design bible. It helps a producer to take the information inside and spin off new content.”
“Transmedia storytelling can also be used for population activation. Jeff essentially helps governments or Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to create national narratives and use transmedia storytelling to connect to the citizens and enable to be more active members in society. He just did some interesting work with that regard in South America.”
LETTING TRANSMEDIA THRIVE IN SINGAPORE
Marco runs a popular transmedia meetup group in Singapore that eventually evolved to StoryCode Singapore. He first tried running a similar group in Hong Kong a few years ago and the group failed to thrive.
“Hong Kong was never a community on transmedia, it was always about startups and is still about startups.”
Crediting the growth of the group to his fellow co-organisers Jacqui Hocking, Don Bosco and Diogo Martins, Marco adds that, “The new addition of Don and Diogo, adds different perspective to the organising team.”
When asked about the media scene in Singapore, Marco displayed greater optimism.
“Singapore compared to Hong Kong has a much wider scene of independent creatives. Singapore centralises many businesses adding diversity to the pool of people. There are much more subsidy schemes in place in Singapore and government entities supporting the scene.”
“There’s much more interest in developing transmedia properties as there’s certain mandate with the Media Development Authority (MDA) in Singapore to have transmedia concepts in the last 2 to 3 years. Every TV series or movie needs to have a transmedia plan.”
“I like what the guys from BananaMana Films are doing. They are trying to lift the local web series by producing their own and distributing through Toggle. They have been winning quite a number of awards around the world.”
Marco quoted the the Infocomm Media 2025 Plan by the Singapore government as a helpful document on how media industries can evolve on a country level. As part of Singapore’s masterplan, a common space for different type of creative studios is being built, some adapting to platforms like YouTube. Filmmakers with a following can use the studio to create their own show. This will lead to different type of content creators.
TRANSMEDIA FOR BRANDS
“In traditional media you have TV advertisements and bus banners. But when it comes to social media you can’t sell ad space. The platform (e.g. Twitter & Facebook) owns the space and you can’t sell that space without risking suspension. If you want to include your advertising message you have to think of a way to package it with the content. Without saying buy my juice.”
As a brand, Marco suggests marketing teams build in-house production capabilities and get out of the building to talk to creatives. Redbull and GoPro are example of companies that have successfully transformed their marketing department into a content production and distribution powerhouses.
Marco noticed that brands in Singapore have used transmedia storytelling for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives but brand advertising has been limited to one-off story-driven advertising.
“What’s lacking here are web series which are used frequently in China and abroad, they’re called micro films or 微電影 where commercial products are shot by a film director in a series or a short film, which can be sold to content networks.”
“When the web series become successful, they become a standalone product. The agency is out of the picture at that stage and the brand can employ a producer to manage and distribute the content.”
When asked if transmedia has picked up in Singapore. Marco adds that audiences in China wish to consume something quick and that fuels the popularity of micro films. But in South-East Asia, the audience is a step ahead and want an experience where they can participate.
Marco warns that in any market, there’s a tendency for legacy media brands to take their reputation for granted and show arrogance when working with creatives.
“Middle men can provide value in consultation and mediation by communicating to the brand and educating them. If the influencer takes your products and smashes, brand stewards need to understand that is his style and it doesn’t affect the brand. Always consider the audience and find the right brand ambassadors and not just decide base on their number of followers.”
YOUNG CREATIVES NEED TO LISTEN
The desire to travel remains strong in Marco as he recounts how he made the leap to shift from Hong Kong to Singapore.
“I find it extremely valuable to go out there to collect experience through thoughtful travel: to travel because of work and not travelling for travelling sake. Understanding culture and living there for awhile to understand what they do. Go where the business is.”
After all, business was what brought Marco to Singapore in the first place after he found himself travelling frequently to Philippines and Singapore to consult on transmedia projects.
Currently working in the digital team for the national broadcaster, MediaCorp, Marco put forth an observation.
“Younger people don’t want to sit down and understand. They think somebody else should sit down and listen to them and not the other way around. Younger people also refuse to join the system because they want to be independent. I think that is ok and at some point if you want to make a real and sustainable change, usually you have to bite the bullet and make the change from within.”
“Break the wall from within and not from outside.”
“I always wanted to be a change-maker and make something that has a longer sustainable effect. It’s more of an East German spirit of breaking down the wall and that defines everything I do.”