I joked to a friend the other day that I don't throw around the term "most awesome person on the planet" all that much, but when I do it's usually because I'm either talking about Batman and/or Felicia Day.*
Of course, it helps that
Codex...err, Felicia...is a real person.
The reason I'm talking about her is that she's the keynote speaker for Innovate 2011.
How Do You Know Her?
As an actress, you've probably seen Felicia Day on any number of television programs, in various films and as "Penny" in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
But it's her own award-winning web series, The Guild, that makes her one of the most innovative creators working in the entertainment industry.
What Is The Guild? (or, "Which came first? The pirate, or the hook?")
The origin of the series is familiar: Actress is not getting the roles she wants so she decides to write her own vehicle to showcase her talents.
It's similar to what Matt Damon and Ben Affleck did with their Good Will Hunting screenplay.
But that's where the similarities end. Hollywood said "yes" to Damon and Affleck, they sold their screenplay and made their film inside the existing studio system.
With Day, Hollywood said "no" to her television idea for a sitcom about gamers (Hollywood deals in broad strokes, not niche markets). So, instead of letting the system dictate the rules, she decided to go another way. She decided to make the show herself and distribute it on the Internet.
And that is where it got interesting.
How She Did It
The Knights of Good (Day's production company) own The Guild. Funding has/is done through a combination of online donations, merchandising, sale of DVDs, a distribution deal with the Microsoft Live network and sponsorships from companies like Sprint.
There have been (and are) other web series, but part of the charm of The Guild is that the writing taps directly into the zeitgeist of modern nerd culture and gaming. Of course, it helps that Day is a child of the Internet and a gamer ("write what you know").
It also helps that, see above, she owns the show. No "studio notes." No focus groups. "Final cut" is something entertainers spend years trying to obtain inside the Hollywood system but the new rules of ownership, going outside the system, give Day "final cut" now! "Studio notes" and focus groups have been replaced by direct audience feedback and interaction.
To that point, one of the reasons The Guild works is that Hollywood tends to keep comedy as broad as possible (focusing on the mass audience). The Guild cuts out the "middleman" and manages to combine classic situational and relationship comedy with jokes about hit points and character inventory to an audience that was just waiting for a show that spoke to them.
The Loyal Fanbase By The Numbers
web series business meant that Felicia Day had to become an entrepreneur and as she rose to the challenge, becoming an innovator; building her audience one loyal follower at a time.
Twitter. Facebook. Conventions appearances. She and the cast and crew have any number of ways to interact with their audience and foster their loyalty and participation.
That's one of the most innovative things about The Guild. The level of customer loyalty to the business is considerably high.
As a guy who sits in a room all day doing marketing, I can tell you that fostering customer loyalty is extremely difficult.
But the numbers don't lie. Just looking at Felicia Day's Twitter stats, she has 1.8 Million followers. That doesn't include any of the cast or crew or the official Twitter ID.
To put this in perspective, The Big Bang Theory is a network television show that is targeted towards a similar audience. Of the three actors from that show on Twitter, the one with the highest following is only at 158,000 (and the show itself is nowhere to be found on Twitter, the unofficial ID barely clocks in at 30,000 followers).
Even American Idol, a show that has some level of "active" participation from the audience who vote as they watch the show, only has 220,000 Twitter followers.
While Twitter is only one metric, it does show a level of active participation that indicates Day is doing something right here.
The numbers are just one indication that Hollywood is still struggling to make this Internet thing work for them. The future is in the untapped niche markets, and they're still struggling to get there. Let alone build customer loyalty.
Felicia Day not only has it figured out, but she's successfully pushed well ahead of the curve. Heck, I haven't even gotten into her side project; working with BioWare on a web series for their new game, Dragon Age Redemption.
I could easily go on for another fifty pages further elaborating on why she is one of the most innovative people working today.
Instead, I'll direct your attention to an excellent keynote she did at SXSW (introduced by my friend Christine!). and a great page of links pointing to some of the projects mentioned here and in her keynote (Felicia Day Primer).
And Now, The Sales Pitch
If you're working in software, and you're not attending Innovate...what are you waiting for? In addition to hearing her keynote, there's a ton of amazing sessions and interactions with customers, Business Partners and IBMers waiting for you in Orlando.
Here's the welcome video from Day. Watch it and get yourself over to Innovate. You will be entertained. You will learn from her. And you will be inspired to innovate.
Go here for registration and we we look forward to seeing you there.
To quote Vork, "Pull Forward."
PS the funniest thing about this blog post is that Tiffany Winman "asked" if I would write up something about Felicia Day. It's like "asking" your kids if they want to go for ice cream...at DisneyWorld.
PPS I got to meet her at SXSW and I can say without a doubt: one of the nicest people I've met.
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