New narratives: How Wattpad is disrupting the multimedia industry


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People always need of entertainment. Whether it’s a good book, a favorite series, or a  blockbuster movie, we crave consumable content. And with the swelling audiences around digital media, the platforms through which we consume that content are growing by the day. What’s in short supply, however, are original stories.

Streaming platform Netflix expects the demand for their Originals to overtake that of licensed titles. Their $12.04 billion production spend last year is projected to increase to $15 billion, with Netflix continuing to loan money to keep up with the demand.

With an audience that’s getting hungrier by the second, where can multimedia industry pull material that’s both audience- and investment-friendly? Wattpad, a Toronto-based multi-platform entertainment company, bets that they have the solution.

A treasure trove of content

Founded in 2006 by former engineers Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen, Wattpad started out as an online publishing platform where writers could post their works and interact with readers. As more and more content was uploaded, the team dreamt of expanding into other industries.

“Wattpad was very small at that time, so we didn’t have the scale or resources to do it,” said Allen Lau, co-founder and CEO of Wattpad. The first opportunity came knocking in 2014 when Filipino channel TV5 proposed to co-create a TV series. Through Wattpad Presents, an anthology of some of the best stories on the platform, the company learned more about the entertainment industry, eventually branching out to various media.  

Last April, Wattpad launched Bliss Books with Anvil Publishing which caters to young adults. They’ve also published the most popular titles on the platform with Summit Media, Gallery Books, and Random House, among others.

Some of these stories even crossed over to television or film. She’s Dating the Gangster by Bianca Bernardino became a blockbuster movie starring Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla. After by Anna Tood was optioned by CalMaple Media and Offspring Entertainment into a full-length feature. And the Netflix-produced The Kissing Booth, written by Beth Reekles, became the most rewatched film on the service in 2018.

Throwing tech into the mix

One could argue that cross-platform adaptations have long been part of the multimedia industry. But what’s interesting with Wattpad is that they combine technology and human ability in their adaptation process.

It starts with Story DNA, their machine learning technology that analyzes both story content and reader behavior. This helps them pinpoint parts of a story that resonate with the audience. So in coordinating with the editor or screenwriter, Wattpad can suggest keeping a certain portion of a chapter or to remove a character because of the readers’ comments.

This data is further reviewed by a team to determine if the material is suitable for the required media format. And since many of the stories have cultural nuances, the diverse staff — at least half comprised of women, persons of color, and bilinguists — ensures that the content isn’t lost in translation.

With this combination, publishers and production companies are assured that they’ll be hitting the right notes with audiences.

“If you look at the traditional entertainment industry, 2 people may make a hundred-million dollar budget decision because they love the story, but there’s nothing to back this up,” said Lau. “But now, the stor[ies] that we pick… [are] loved by a million people. Story DNA analyzed the content and a human from outside made sure that [these are] right. That’s how we can improve the quality and success rate of the movie, TV show, or book.”

Breaking down barriers

For Lau, his firm’s greatest achievements aren’t the advances in machine learning and editing workflows — it’s Wattpad’s vibrant community. Writers and readers regularly connect with each other, creating what he calls a constant feedback loop. “The engagement increases… and so, as a reader, I feel like I invested in the story as well… In some cases, both the writers and the readers feel like they can shape the story together.”

And they’re able to amplify these voices from all over the world, resulting in an exchange that removes geographic barriers and brings out local cultures. Singaporean company MediaCorp, for example, adapts Singaporean-targeted content, but this isn’t limited to stories written within their country. If your story exemplifies Singaporean culture, it’s a candidate even if you live in another continent.

After all, it’s how the story resonates to its audience that truly matters. “If the story is relevant to local people, who cares where it’s coming from?”