In Canada, when production companies pitch new shows to networks, their presentation must include a digital component in order for the networks to consider greenlighting it.
“From the very first pilot script, they are already looking for a digital strategy to support the show,” said Jackson Murphy, co-creative director, along with Graham MacInnes, of the Vancouver-based digital creative agency Pound & Grain. “It’s a progressive development template that ensures interactive storytelling occurs in sync with the on-air storytelling, rather than after the fact. “It’s really cool to be on the ground floor before they’ve really shot any frames of the episodes,” Murphy continued. “We can get access when we need it and request additional assets if we need them while they’re in production.”
In partnership with Canada’s Lark Productions, Murphy’s agency recently leveraged the early-access system to create an immersive digital experience for the new Country Music Television reality show “Mom’s a Medium.” The show chronicles the daily life of spiritual medium Carmel Joy Baird. For Pound & Grain, which has created sleek, ultra-modern interactive companions for brands ranging from MEC (Canada’s version of REI) to Rutgers University, the “quirky story of a medium [was] a little bit out there from things we’re normally doing,” said Murphy. “She’s a mom on the outskirts of Edmonton [Alberta]. She has six kids, lives on a farm, has chickens and goats and all this sort of stuff in a show that no one has ever heard of on a country music network.”
But Baird’s quiet, rustic lifestyle proved to be a boon in creating an effective digital outlet for her show.
“For us it was how do you recreate that in a fun way, to get people to understand her process in a way that is unique,” Murphy said. “Really quickly it became [clear we needed to] recreate the experience of her reading room – where she presents herself to her guests and makes them comfortable. Everything’s really comfortable.”
On the website, Baird greets visitors as she sits behind the table in her reading room. The simple, clean space is carefully populated with knick-knacks and furniture, as well as a billboard covered with photos. Each item is clickable, offering its own window into “Mom’s a Medium” bonus content. The billboard offers touching stories of the dead offered up by other viewers. A bowl of “spirit stones” invites the user to select the stone that appeals most to them, which then offers insight into their character. Landing on a stack of Oracle Cards in front of Baird rewards the user with their own spiritual reading. It’s pre-programmed, but sharing the results on social media offers the chance to win an in-person reading with Baird. Meanwhile, shelves along the wall offer episode-specific bonus content behind thematically linked objects such as a framed wedding photo and a horse statuette.
“It’s an ecosystem at the end of the day,” said MacInnes. “The goal of what we’re doing is to get people to watch the show. There has to be a connection there. What we do on the website drives people to the show and stuff on the show is going to be driving people back to the website.”
Though bright, colorful and dynamic, the site also has an endearingly creaky feel, which Murphy explained was entirely intentional.
“What was really cool for Graham and I was to be able to conceptualize it a bit like an old Flash website that would have appeared mid-2000s or earlier,” he said. “It strikes the right chord. She’s such a happy-go-lucky, fun character and if you go to an actual reading with her it’s at her farmhouse on the outskirts of Edmonton. So trying to recreate that visually was a huge part of this process.”
Creating digital experiences for Canadian television, Jackson said, is ultimately “a little more complex” than the work Pound & Grain does for other brands. “You’re working collaboratively with the brain trust and producers on the show itself, and then collectively you have the client which is the broadcaster… That makes it interesting because it’s all about trying to find the right solution for their audience and then also balancing the capabilities of their website.”
While Pound & Grain generally builds its projects from the ground up, online infrastructure and all, in the TV space a website must fit into the given network’s unique platform, each of which “has its own limitations and constraints,” Murphy said. The agency doesn’t view that as a problem, but as an opportunity for growth.
“We always want to build the biggest kind of experience,” he said, “and try to push the broadcasters to think a little bit outside of their boxes.”