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ABC’s FlashForward Goes Crazy With Online Content

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[show=flashforwardshow size=large]The premiere of ABC’s (s dis) FlashForward last night was positively Lost-ish, with the pilot episode promising at least one solid season of strong character drama and compelling mystery (not to mention the incongruous appearance of an exotic mammal). It also hinted strongly at being one of the first major network dramas to really understand the potential of social media.

In the pilot, the entire world’s population falls unconscious for two minutes and 17 seconds, at which point they each have a vision of what they’ll be doing on April 29, 2010 — and thus everyone on Earth has a unique experience that, when shared with others, might help decode the mystery behind the Global Black Out. Thus a plucky young FBI agent suggests that they build a web site to compile said “flashes.”

To say that ABC has taken that one bit of dialogue and run with it is an understatement; there are currently at least eight vaguely separate components to its digital campaign right now, which explore and expand the universe of the show to varying degrees of success. First off…

The Mosaic Collective

This technically launched earlier in the summer, long before the pilot episode aired, and is essentially the follow-through on Agent Hawk’s initial suggestion: a sleek Flash interface hosts videos and texts describing people’s visions. However, the visions in question weren’t written by the show producers — it’s all UGC. The videos were mostly filmed at Comic-Con 2009, where ABC had a booth set up to collect visions from passersby, and you can submit your own text comments to the site.

Which means there are some contributions that work better than others — even that of showrunner Marc Guggenheim is a little too literal. But while The Mosaic Collective doesn’t currently function as a storytelling device, it’s still really fun to play with; changing the view on the visions, for example, allows you to make connections between other people’s visions using keywords and see the flow of updates. And folks really seem to be engaging with it, having fun imagining their own potential futures — which is a huge added bonus.

Truth Hack

I could write a whole separate review on Truth Hack alone, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Investigative journalist Oscar Obregon has been reporting for weeks now on the Global Black Out, hoping to dig up answers using his YouTube vlog and Twitter. It’s pretty standard conspiracy theory stuff, but you have to love touches like how the actor playing Obregon appeared at Comic-Con in character to interview those who’d just given testimony at the Mosaic Collective booth. ABC said it couldn’t reveal whether Obregon would be appearing on the show this season.

The FlashFoward Facebook Experience

Brace yourself, because this one’s a trip. Unlike the Mosaic Collective, which gives you authorship over your potential future vision, this site, once connected to your Facebook account, essentially creates a vision for you using your Facebook contacts, status updates and photos. The result is more than a little jarring, and the use of personal information possibly borders on invasive — but overall it’s undeniably creative and memorable.

FlashForward: 11 Things

This isn’t story content, but rather behind-the-scenes stuff. In this 11-part series of short interviews, Guggenheim and co-exec producer David S. Goyer provide hints as to what viewers should be paying attention to in past and upcoming episodes of the show. The first installment is honestly a bit of a letdown, even aside from discovering that the episode in which the present catches up with the future will actually air on April 29, 2010.

The Fate Documentary

A three-part documentary series interviewing show staff as well as experts in the field of fate. Is that a hint at the mysterious reason behind the blackout? There are no answers yet, as you might imagine. Live Chat

During last night’s premiere, fans had the opportunity to live chat with Goyer and Guggenheim via Facebook, after which ABC immediately packaged the video, hosted by Entertainment Weekly’s Lynette Rice, and began putting it online. Rice is a solid host, and the questions asked are great, including, “Do you know how the series will end?”

Other brands are getting to play in this sandbox, too. Sprint (s s) is sponsoring the Flash Ahead experience, which allows customers who text a keyword planted at the end of each new episode to get a sneak peek at upcoming content. And October will bring an eight-episode series of “man on the street” interviews — scripted content sponsored by Lexus.

And this is all coming from ABC’s end. Its team began meeting with FlashFoward producers last January to strategize this content, and will be working with the show throughout the season to continue acquiring and engaging fans. How many fans will plow through the full experience is an interesting question, the answer to which remains to be seen. Having gone through it myself today, I can tell you I’m exhausted — but excited about next week’s episode.

6 Responses to “ABC’s FlashForward Goes Crazy With Online Content”

  1. Liz — terrific article. You’ve saved me lots of time– I’m going to quote and refer to it in my blog AND I can’t believe but somehow last night I MISSED the — awesome stuff….totally proves that if you don’t vision your own life — someone or something like the Mosaic Collective WILL envision it FOR YOU –and what about that creepy computer voiceover?? Note to SportsDigitalconent Maker who posed at 5:31 pm above. Believe me this is what is called an ARG — Alternate Reality Game — so all of this content ties in together as a promo for the show. SOMEONE GOT PAID MUCHO for this — probably an outside promotions or interactive agency or developer. There is some name on but I forgot it about who the characters work for etc. I haven’t seen anything in the ad/new media trades about who did this. BUT the ARG for McDonalds cost more than $1 million and well, the one for LOST??? But the essence of what you are saying is there…there is lots of controversy over who gets paid (writers, actors etc) for addtional footage they do, for repurposing their scenes and for promoting this kind of stuff– even at places like COMICON ! That was part of what the last DGA strike was about and SAG has investigated all of this too! But there isn’t an easy answer except I’m pretty sure this whole thing comes under advertising and promotion and ws covered by a nice fat budget!

  2. Sports Digital Content Maker

    As a professional content maker, albeit on a major sports site, I am under the impression and hence disappointed that writers don’t make any money from these ‘webisodes’ or online content. True?