James Kay @ StoryDrive China, photo: C.Y.Schmidt

Transmedia and Intellectual property

Interview with James Kay, partner in Sheridans Solicitors's (UK) film and TV department

By Maja Linnemann on May 29, 2012

James Kay is a partner in Sheridans Solicitors’ (UK) film and TV department. His practice centers around the monetization of intellectual property rights with particular focus on the production, financing and distribution of feature films and television programs. His clients include Oscar winning producers, private equity houses, tax advantaged investors, government institutions and talent.

On May 29th he gave the key note speech at Story Drive China, the first all-media platform in Asia exploring new forms of collaboration and business models across media boundaries.

You keynote was entitled “From value chain to value world: New dimensions of media exploitation”. What are the new developments you are watching in the media field?

Transmedia or spreadable media have become extremely popular. As to the concept of transmedia I would like to refer to the definition of Henry Jenkins: “the art of storytelling across multiple platforms where each element makes a distinctive contribution to consumer’s understanding to the world of the story in question”. In my presentation, I have specified the different elements which all together make up “transmedia”: TV, music, publishing, film, consumer products, gaming, gambling, live shows, online content, telephony, home entertainment, format sales, tape sales etc. Any of these elements or any expression of an idea in a transmedia campaign creates intellectual property rights. These rights are the energy used to make money.

In general you can distinguish two kinds of transmedia campaigns, either a so called reverse engineered transmedia campaign, where you already have a successful creative product like a film and build the campaign around it afterwards, or an organic campaign where you start out with an idea and build it up as transmedia campaign right from the start.

With reference to transmedia you also quoted the idea of the “mothership” – could you elaborate on what this concept means?

The idea of the mothership can be understood as a place where all the different types of content exist together, it is the “whole” which keeps all the elements mentioned above together. The idea with transmedia is that there are lots of different types of creative content. It is not just the film, but the whole world which is created around it and will be exploited.

You introduced four (potential) models of monetisation in a transmedia campaign, which are these?

They are the uplift model, the locked box model, the local percentage model and the fee model.

In the uplift model producers of a film will take some percentage of the increased sales of a book after the film comes out; this is a kind of crossover of revenues. This is a rather simple and common model in the non-transmedia model.

In the locked box all the revenues from exploitation of the transmedia campaign end up in a locked box and people share the revenues of the pieces of content in whatever way they agree on. The key here is, that you have to develop a good system to reward the various creative contributions not only in terms of the monetary profit which is generated but also in terms of let’s say brand value or reputation.

In the local percentage model each of the local transmedia elements are essentially a profit center of their own. The provider of services for that local item is rewarded by a percentage of the revenues from that item and the balance is given to the originator of the transmedia campaign.

In the fee based model the provider of any creative element of the transmedia campaign simply receives a fee and does not share in the revenues of the whole.

The uplift model and the fee based model are fairly common now, but the locked box model could gain some ground in the future. In any campaign, it might be suitable to use more than one of these models according to the specific situation.

In your position you advise not only investors and producers, but also the creators, for example authors. How important is the protection of intellectual property rights in its current state for the media industry?

It is absolutely critical, because the only way to make money is by owning the right to something. If you own a right it makes it exclusive, it makes it valuable and usable. Only if you have a right you can turn an idea into money. If you do not own it, anybody can use your content.

Could an adjustment of any kind in the field of intellectual property rights turn into a creative and financial boost for our society?

If you look at it from the side of the investor, people are not going to invest in content , in a film or a TV production, because something is culturally desirable or valuable, that is why in Canada or France there is so much state support for the arts.

The real way to attract investment is to create positive financial opportunities. In the UK and I think also in Germany there are tax advantages and tax incentives to invest in content like for example film and television productions. This is how investment is attracted.

Are you seeing new challenges to the protection of intellectual property rights through digitalization and the fact that digital content can so easily be spread via the internet?

No, digital copyrights can also be protected. But if you talk about piracy, I think the key to combating piracy is first of all accessibility. People must be able to access the content, if they resort to piracy it is either because they cannot get the content or because they have to pay too much. China is a good example, since the cost to see a film at the box office here is roughly the same as in the UK, about 10 Pounds, so in proportion that is extremely expensive. If it cost only 1 or 2 pounds in china, common wisdom has it that there would be no piracy.

Can you imagine the media world without the basis of copyright?

No. That would be disastrous.

Are lawyers increasingly important in the media business? If so, why?

I don’t think all lawyers are important, but lawyers who understand the business are. Because at that point they are more than just lawyers, they provide business advice in a much broader sense.