The digital transformation has converted companies into producers of audiovisual content streamed across multiple screens and devices. Above all, they have become storytellers, and not just stories to read or listen to, but ones providing an opportunity for interaction, because if there is one thing that stands out about this digital transformation, it is that the audience is now an active part of the communication equation.

Podcasts have gained prominence in the audiovisual sector and easily lend themselves to a range of approaches. Most big companies have various projects in the pipeline involving the adaptation of podcasts and these days they even tend to participate in the creation of podcasts from the get-go, in order to ensure they hold the adaptation rights.

While the first podcasts were much like talk shows on different topics, this medium has developed into an ideal platform for investigative journalism, a prime example being Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes (HBO, US), and is even more apt for true crime stories, such as Veleno (Prime Video, Italy), both of which have been adapted as documentary series.

Podcasts that recount true stories are now a key source of inspiration for fictional series, which was the case with Faking Hitler (RTL+, Germany), revolving around the scandal in 1983 when Stern magazine published purported Hitler diaries that turned out to be fake. Similarly, limited series fiction podcasts that were audio-only are being brought to the screen, as was the case with Homecoming (Prime Video, US) where a series of calls, therapy sessions and conversations provide a narrative thread, very effectively bringing together the different parts of the story into a psychological thriller.

‘Faking Hitler’

Video games, meanwhile, provide a way to enjoy a private fantasy without space-time limitations and are based on discourse and technical strategies that build the emotional bond between player and audience, ripe for a logical progression into adaptation as fictional series. An example is the world’s most popular video game, League of Legends, which has a unique storytelling approach making it a mix of game, sport and show, and has been translated into the fiction series Arcane (Netflix, US).

The webtoon is a digital comic format that originated in South Korea. When printed comics made the digital leap to the internet, a unique vertical way of scrolling through the panels emerged that is ideal for mobile phones. Webtoons usually revolve around the challenges of youth and have been adapted into live action fictional shows, such as Shadow Beauty (Kakao TV, South Korea), about a student who is a victim of bullying but beyond the classroom is a famous influencer, and All of us are dead (Netflix, South Korea), a science-fiction story about a zombie outbreak in a high school.

Still in Asia, comics have become one of the main sources of inspiration in Japan for the production of fiction series with real actors. There are all kinds of genres and themes – youth, crime, drama, comedy and even romance, like Chijo no Seppun (TV Asahi, Japan). Comics are also a big source of inspiration in the United States, such as Peacemaker (HBO, US), a spin-off of the film The Suicide Squad.

Digital footprints and vertical formats

The intrusion of social media in daily life and the risks it poses for young people is increasingly reflected in titles aiming to raise awareness of this issue. Additionally, in many cases, social media is used to help advance the storyline visually. An illustration of this is the international Emmy winner #martyisdead (Mall.tv, Czech Republic), a series telling the story of Marty, a 15-year-old who is killed in a traffic accident, and whose father pieces together his online life to uncover what led to his tragic end. Similarly, the second season of #annaismissing (Mall.tv) tackles the issue of child abduction, delving into the dangers of sharing secrets online.

Mobile phone apps have spawned yet another form of audiovisual storytelling in a vertical format. Snapchat was one of the first apps to make this format its trademark, with users recording short-form videos on their mobile phones. Snap Original offers all kinds of shows in this vertical format, including docuseries and reality shows like Reunited (US), which tells the stories of American citizens who do everything possible to reconnect with their loved ones; and even fiction like Two Sides (US), a series about two friends who discover they are dating the same guy at the same time. The latter is told from each of their perspectives, using a split screen to show both points of view. The vertical format is also found in genres as classic as the soap opera, which is the case with Frow (Instagram, Chile).

Wattpad, the online reading and writing platform founded in 2006, now has 90 million users and is gaining traction as a source of intellectual property for film and TV producers. Anyone can upload their own stories to the platform for other users to read and comment on, all for free. Some of these stories are then licensed out to Hollywood and other global film industries for adaptation. An example is the supernatural thriller for young adults Light as a Feather (Hulu, US), where the script is based on a story by Zoe Aarsen that has been read over 2.9 million times on Wattpad.

New ways to tell stories

There’s a definite quest to tell stories indifferent ways and originality has become an essential element if a product is to stand out amid the enormous offering of fiction worldwide. A case in point is The Afterparty (Apple TV+, US), a strange thriller with comic undertones in which a murder is investigated and each witness gives their own account of what happened, with each episode having its own unique visual style and film genre to match the teller’s personality. The various retellings thus include a romantic comedy, a horror movie, and a musical.

Whatever the format – podcast, video game, webtoon, Wattpad – the crucial thing today is to find a unique way to shine in an increasingly demanding and crowded audiovisual market.

***

Verónica Gómez-Jordana
(Director Teleformat)
Of Franco-Spanish nationality, Verónica studied Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid and the Université Saint Denis in Paris, going on to work as an international television analyst in GECA’s Teleformat department, specializing in French and Italian audiovisual markets. Verónica is currently managing the GECA Teleformat department, which analyzes both audiovisual fiction and entertainment trends and new releases across the principal global markets.
Gloria Saló
(Director of Production and Content Consultants at GECA)
Director of Production and Content Consultants at GECA, Gloria is an expert in International Formats and Markets, Creativity and Executive Production, having initiated her career in the audiovisual sector at Telecinco. Gloria has held executive positions with several channels and production companies including Director of International Markets and Communication, Head of Programming, Head of New Projects, Director of Content and Drama Production Coordinator. Since publishing her book ¿Qué es eso del formato? she has also begun lecturing and writing and is a Doctor cum laude in Audiovisual Communication from the Universidad Complutense, lecturing at the Universidad Francisco de Vitoria and Universidad Carlos III in Madrid and Director of the Postgraduate degree in Fiction Showrunner at CEU Valencia-Madrid.