The photographic highlights of a very techie trip.
Photography: Lewis More O'Ferrall
Editing: The Whitehouse
Photography: Lewis More O'Ferrall
Editing: The Whitehouse
“Keep Austin Weird.” This message is screamed at you by every tie-dye t-shirt in every gift shop in this city. They’re a proudly eccentric bunch, these Austinites, and it’s hard to visit the home of SXSW without spending some time wondering what they mean by their slogan. What exactly makes Austin weird to start with?
Presumably it’s down to the city’s status as a liberal blueberry in the middle of the republican T-bone steak that is the Lone Star State. Conservative Texans think Austin is freakish with its thriving creative scene and its welcoming of the LGBT community and occasionally even vegetarians. I spent a week in the Texan capital for the Interactive part of the all-encompassing festival that is SXSW, and my experiences there were definitely out of the ordinary. It’s hard to speak for Austin, but SXSW is full of weirdness.
The festival goes through three major stages, as the Interactive, Film and Music events fade in and out. You can tell which festival is at its peak from the particular type of weirdo you see on the streets. Later in the festival the people making up the throngs moved towards the cool indie film crowd and then on to the feral, youthful music crowd, but for most of my time there the city was filled with hordes of the Technorati – some socially awkward nerds a-la-Zuck, others the newer breed of hipster developers, replete with the uniform of aviators, backpacks and beards that has become standard since geekdom crawled out of its dark bedroom and moved to the open plan offices of creative agencies.
During this part of the festival I overheard a lot of internet jargon piled into sentences that don’t quite make sense, such as “I could hashtag it for you if you like,” or “It’s like Spotify meets Pinterest.” I occasionally got into a conversation with someone whose job description was little more than a jumble of words like “developer,” “start-up” and “innovation.” There’s a heady combination of nerdiness and revelry in the air and it’s possibly the only place in the world where attractive young women will invite you to a Linux programming party and insist it will be fun without a hint of irony (this happened – I didn’t attend).
One of the strangest things about a global techie festival is how different it looks since the smart phone has changed our lives. Aided by the fact that the SXSW schedule runs from an iPhone app, nearly everyone has a phone welded to their hand at all times, checking which panels are on and how to get to them, RSVP-ing to every possible party and trawling Twitter to see what sort of swag they can pick up for free.
And that’s a definite SXSW thing – there are free tacos, drinks and t-shirts all over the place and some of the festival’s attendees are rampant to find the best loot they can. In fact, I read that on the first day of the Interactive festival “free” was the word most used on social media around Austin. I was approached several times by hippies and spring breakers asking where they could get a free drink from – a fairly unreasonable request anywhere else in the world, but usually not a challenge at SXSW.
Partying and free stuff is always welcome, but to get your money’s worth on your Interactive badge you have to go to some of the events that make up the festival’s schedule. Of course, these are quite weird experiences as well. People at SXSW don’t tend to look at presenters and speakers. Again, the smart phone is the most interesting thing in the room for most.
In some seminars, panels and keynotes there is a tangible race on to be the first to tweet a quote with the appropriate hashtag – a race that is usually over within seconds of any given sound bite’s occurrence. FOMO is the trendy acronym for this – fear of missing out – and if you look at your smart phone at any point during SXSW then you are guaranteed to experience this neurosis.
Every event has a dedicated hashtag, and unlike the limp attempts to show off social media savvy at some events, they actually get used. In fact, if you wanted to pretend to your boss that you attended the boring session on SEO she wanted you to write a report on, you could probably just go off for a couple of drinks, find the hashtag later and get all the notes you’d need.
Which is odd. Because a lot of the sentiment behind a lot of the panels and lectures I attended was that all this digital engagement is ultimately pointless and we need to learn to stop relying on being plugged in all the time – that we need to start single tasking again.
People didn’t listen to this. Or maybe they did but couldn’t make the change. They continued part listening, constantly tapping away at their tiny keyboards before scrabbling around all afternoon looking for a free plug socket in the Austin Convention Centre – a sight that became a rare thing once Interactive was in full swing.
I’d been advised by several “beginners guides” to SXSW that you shouldn’t go to panels or talks on what you specialise in. Thankfully that left a lot, because SXSW seems to be more about the newest applications of technology than much that’s directly branding or marketing related. So I dove into some of the events that sounded non-specific, such as “Is this Progress? More Meaning in our Digital Lives,” and “How to Make the Internet Care.”
I soon discovered that the best way to approach the festival was just to listen and let the ideas being discussed stimulate your brain. This sort of worked. There were moments when I actually felt inspired. Hearing how social media is being used in North Korea was fascinating, and watching a director/developer showcasing his work in interactive video definitely sparked some ideas. It’s just good to flex the old knowledge muscles.
There’s a lot going on and inevitably there are problems with being too strict on what you do. Like any festival, SXSW is an oversubscribed logistical nightmare. There are clashes, queues and venue problems all over the place. So the key is not to set your heart on any particular event. You can never tell from a description whether a talk will be useful or even interesting, so you might as well not worry about schlepping across the city to see that talk on 3D printing in advertising; I would just go in the nearest room that has a few seats spare and see what you learn.
The Interactive festival is interesting, but still largely business focused. While the people there eat more barbecue and drink more margaritas than usual and talk in an unusually technophilic way, they’re in town for mostly professional reasons. It was a peculiar experience because these people are from some of the most creative industries out there, but if you want so see the weirdest side of SXSW, I suggest you go to the Music festival. I had a tiny taste of it towards the end of my stay and even from the fringes, without a badge, I could see the beast for what it was. Head to 6th Street in the heat of that festival and I suspect you’ll get a pretty accurate picture of Sodom and Gomorrah. It will be weird.
Irish animator Conor Finnegan is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. His reel contains 3D and 2D, hand drawn animation, stop-motion, Claymation and live action with puppets and live action with actors. Refusing to stick to one style, he often mixes techniques according to what works for a project.
Fear of Flying – his most recent short film – uses several different animation methods to tell story of a cute little bird with no inclination to use his wings. He’s picked up a good few awards for it while it’s been touring the festival circuit.
Watch some of his work here:
This is surprisingly oddball considering it's a global campaign for a well-known brand. But it leaves us with so many questions. Why are the goat lady's nipples poking through her top? What is the human lady talking about? Where can we buy some Orangina, because the fear of giant pigeon shit is making us want some now.
During the APA’s Creative London Comes to Silicon Valley event, I listened to a lot of digital-deft, future-savvy, interactive-y types. Most of what they said was enlightening, but they sure have a peculiar way with words. Here are some of the more amusing examples of the tech-talk I encountered; some of it solid wisdom, some of it pure waffle. I’ll leave it to you to work out which is which. Not even sure I know myself.
“We take a deep dive into ‘what's our DNA?’ Be warned, as you pivot don't lose your DNA.”
“It was amazing for them not to know how much they didn't know.”
“They no longer control the problem. They are a smaller part of a much bigger eco-system.”
“The coming storm is linear TV versus the new landscape.”
“There is an inherent assumption because we are an online company that we have everything... we don't.”
“It's a mezzanine format that can be transcoded into the distribution model that suits an intelligent network.”
“Traffic shaping is the new future.”
“They burst a load of data getting a multicast, thus saving battery life.”
“The area of uncertainty is going to dominate for some considerable time."
“We are moving toward qualitative metrics"
“I'm completely spacing out on the new users number.”
“The way we look at it, we are at the front end of the wave.”
“"Here in the U.S.A. the rights landscape is not clean”
“I'm sure there's a weighted matrix behind it."
“The boundaries of enterprise are becoming less rigid.”
“Incubation acceleration is booming in Silicon Valley.”
“The mobile has become an extension of the human anatomy.”
“We deliver to any kind of screen you can think of.”
“It is the only place where you can earn £20m without owning a suit.”
“Would you rather send 100 ads to a million people and not know how many watched them, or 100 ads to a million people and know the stats?”
37 delegates representing 27 companies, with the support of the British Government, have come to learn and build business relationships between London and Silicon Valley, to benefit both.
At 08:30, we boarded the bus and headed off towards the offices of the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). The UKTI support UK-based businesses by helping them to hunt out and seize opportunities overseas. They also encourage the best overseas companies to look to the UK as their global partner of choice.
Steve Davies from the APA introduced the event and Arthenie Cossey van Duyne (Vice Consul Trade and Investment Office - Creative & Digital), to the podium, to explain that last November, the APA had approached her for help to put together a week long programme of meetings with the great and the good of Silicon Valley to learn more about what's happening in the region.
Through making her numerous calls, Arthenie had to discover what 'Eco System' we would fit into. She explained that as Commercials Producers, "the market will view you in two ways: a service provider or a creator/ curator of engaging creative content". SV's strength in Advertising is anchored in platforms and tools needed for the creation, distribution, monetization and targeting of ads. She soon discovered that the market is interested in meeting makers of IP; especially IP which, when put together with their own IP, can create unique and exciting opportunities for users/ consumers.
This is one of the reasons why Framestore has sent me here. Last year for example, Framestore collaborated with Coca Cola and Wieden+Kennedy, to develop and create Coke Polar Bowl, a real time animation, 2nd screen experience which enabled users to watch the famous CGI Coke Polar Bear mascots respond and react in real time, not only to the goings on of the Super Bowl game, but also to the half time entertainment, (they Vouged to Madonna), and the advertising around the game, (they fell asleep during rival Pepsi's spot!). More than nine million people watched the Coke bears on Facebook, Twitter and at CokePolarBowl.com, where visitors spent an average of 28 minutes each. That's a long commercial!
Arthine explained the lengths that she had taken on behalf of the APA to obtain the meetings they felt would be of the most benefits to the delegates from London. Arthine also offered this sage advice, "Be open minded about how your company can fit into the different Eco system which exists here. Brainstorm with these companies to learn what opportunities might exist".
Our first company presentation was given by a very bright entrepreneur called Susie Opare-Abetia, CEO and Co-Founder of Woven Media. Woven Media offer brands a cloud platform used by businesses to program their own private video networks for TV, web and mobile; essentially what one might refer to as in-store TV, the sort of thing you'll watch in dentist waiting rooms, or shopping aisles. In the US it's a $ 2 Billion industry. For example, Wall Mart use it in 500 stores nationwide to promote new products, which drove $100m new business last year.
Susie has cleverly developed an easy to use, intuitive piece of software, which Marketing people at Brands can use, like iTunes, to create a playlist of content to show on their screens. And it's not all endless infomercials about products. Susie has put together partnerships with 60 leading media companies, including CBS, Fox and Sony, who make their content available to Woven Media, for free, so that the Brand TV channel playlist can include sports footage, or fashion films, or whatever will enrich the viewing experience and help to balance the product sales films.
Retailers will use their own agencies to produce their own content for the channel. But station partners provide rest of content. Some clients, such as Sam's Club, will also sell time on their network to other advertisers.
Clients pay Woven Media in the region of $ 50 to $ 100 per screen per month. It's a very cool business and with Susie at the helm, Woven Media, who are only a couple of years old, are bound to succeed. But at these pile 'em high, sell 'em low prices, I don't think it's an area which necessarily fits with the expertise of the APA members. Good to learn about it though!
After a nice lunch at Letterman Campus, the new home for Lucas Film, where the geeks amongst us thrilled at the photo-opportunity of being snapped next to the original Darth Vadar and Boba Fett costumes, we jumped back on the bus to head for Radium One.
Radium One was set up 3 years ago by Gurbaksh Chahal. He set up his first company, 14 yrs ago, aged just 16, selling it 2 years later for $ 40Million. He sold his company second company, Blue Lithium to Yahoo! for $300 million.
Bill Lonegan, COO kindly took time to explain what the company does. They're privately owned, employing 220 people across Chicago, Atlanta, NewYork and Minsk. What do they do? They prove that George Orwell was right and Big Brother is truly watching your every move!
Bill explained that they, "Take creative and place it across web, in a targeted fashion". They realised brands were placing ads in a non focused way across the web.
Radium One is one of 10 to 20 Facebook partners. What they bring to FB is propriety data which can reach target audiences over and above what FB already offer. People are still trying to work out how beneficial FB is to advertisers. RO compliments FB with Internet user behaviour data outside of FB, thereby providing a broader targeting mechanism.
75% of user behaviour data takes place outside of FB. A massive amount of non FB behaviour occurs on porn sites, which brands obviously don't want to position themselves alongside, which is why RO don't buy too much user data from 3rd parties. Instead, they developed their own, gaining data from 1000s of non porn, great sites to measure behaviour. Audiences are tracked through cookies and anonymous data.
RO use this data to roll out advertising to individuals. In short, if you have some content which you want to make sure gets seen by ginger haired, camel farmers, aged between 20 and 30, with a penchant for ladies shoes, Radium One will find them for you. And through the use of URL shortners, they're able to 'leverage understanding' of their online behaviours and let brands know, how many 'engaged', how long they 'dwelled', whether or not they 'liked', if they ''clicked for more info' or even hit the ''Buy' button.
So what's in it for my fellow APA member? Well, content is needed to feed the targeted audience. But we were told that with ever decreasing attention spans, vastly busy Twitter streams and so much aggressive competition for our attention, photos are where it's at! Videos take too long to watch, can take too long to buffer and users often skip, or switch off. Photos are instant, quick and easy to share.
In the closing Q&A, someone asked if this user behaviour data could influence creative. Bill suggested that it already did, and that Brands increasingly go to RO to get an idea of what sort of content works best. However, for now, RO's business was really about taking existing content and getting it to the targeted audience.
The final meeting of the day was at Twitter, where we were given an excellent presentation by Melissa Barnes - Head of Agency and Brand Advocacy who fired out a bunch of factoids. Here are a few:
• Twitter's current slogan is "Twitter Brings You Closer". "We leave it blank as it down to the user what it brings you closer to", explained Melissa.
• When Barak Obama was re elected he tweeted, '4 more years', before going on stage to celebrate his victory. It became the most retweeted tweet ever.
• During Hurricane Sandy, most conversations were happening on Twitter, especially as mobile networks were down. Melissa described an example of, 'Cleaning in real time' when Piers Morgan tweeted that there was 3 ft of water on NYSE floor, and it was officially falsified a moment later by the NYSE.
• Twitter is the shortest distance between you and what interests you most. Or, alternatively, the shortest distance between @ and #
• Twitter has done much to bring back event TV, such as the XFactor, because people want to tweet live as it happens. If you miss the event, you miss the sharing moment. Marketeers want to know which shows are most social.
• This Super Bowl, 50% of ads carried hash tags and 30% of all 'during game' tweets were around the ads.
When the stadium blacked out during Super Bowl, Audi tweeted a picture ad 4 minutes after the blackout, of an image of the rear view of the car, carrying the slogan, 'Don't worry Super Bowl. LED lights on way!'. Oreo followed up 2 mins later with a picture of an Oreo biscuits in a pool of light, and the line, "You can still dunk in the dark". Agencies are positioning themselves to be able to respond in real time to events as they happen.
An eventful first day ended with a drinks reception back at UKTI, attended by representatives from San Francisco media companies.
It was an interesting day. I feel like I'm consuming very different sorts of information to those I normally attain on work trips such as this. With every presentation comes a better understanding of how Silicon Valley operates. Each one like a small piece of a jigsaw puzzle. By the end of the week, I'll hopefully be able to assemble them together into one clear picture, or at least have taken enough on board to create parts of a picture which will become clearer as continue to create content for this brave new world.
We're learning something new about the way in which Silicon Valley works in every meeting we attend here. I hope that by the end of the week, I'll be able to join the dots and put together a picture which helps explain how advertising is changing and evolving, due to advancements in technology and the impact they have on how we consume and experience advertising.
Well, today we had a meeting at AT&T Foundry, which really did help me to connect some of those dots. Geoff Worth and David Price explained that due to the work their company was doing, a massive change is happening, especially in North America, where Verizon and AT&T have laid a huge 4G pipe which will make a massive difference to the way in which we work, play and interact online.
We were told that there are 50 billion connected devices 'out there'. "There is so much uncertainty and unpredictability right now", says David. "Different things are changing the way people consume information. The richest form of information is Video". Good news for APA members, right!
David used the word, 'Unicast' to describe the fact that of the billions of people surfing online, no 2 individuals are using the web in the same way at exactly the same time. It's their own unique broadcast experience. In order for service providers to cope with that volume of traffic and be able to deliver that much data as quickly as possible, companies like AT&T develop new softwares and solutions.
Take for example the new codec H265. Currently, at Framestore, when a client asks us to send them a QuickTime of their work in progress, we use the H264 codec to create a file which has nice image quality in a small size. The new H265 is twice as good as H264, using just half the bandwidth, which is better for consumption of larger media, such as video.
David claimed that new video formats, such as Mpeg dash and Mpeg5 are going to revolutionise the way we experience online content. (Netflix, who we had seen earlier that day, use Mpeg Dash to stream their enormous volumes of content data).
So how did hearing about these advancements in content delivery technology help me to connect the dots? Let me try to explain by first looking at those dots...
• At Twitter we heard how during the black out at the Super Bowl, a couple of clever agencies had placed ads for Audi and Oreo on Twitter which connected their products to the black out moment.
• We also heard Twitter claim responsibility for the success and growth of event based, live TV shows, such as XFactor, which viewers watch and use 2nd, and often 3rd, screens to interact and engage with. The experienced being enriched by the sharing possibilities brought about by # and @, the hashtags. (Interestingly, # was not a Twitter invention; it was created by a user!)
• Radium One also told us that currently, still imagery rather than video was King, in terms of communicating a brand message to an mobile audience with a short attention span, confronted by so much information on crowded twitter feeds, who don't have time to wait for video to buffer.
• Jason Smith, Head of Art and Animation at LucasArts showed us incredible advancements in real time animation, where it won't be long before we have almost human looking cgi characters, act as TV presenters, responding in real time, to event TV, sports, current affairs, you name it!
Take away that buffering time, speed up the users Unicast experience and a huge new world of possibilities opens up for creators of video content. But it's not just video content... It's what the APA members do best, which is create well produced, engaging visual stories, with rich characters, filmic qualities, well delivered dialogue, stunning animation and great performances.
The increase in the popularity of event based TV, and a users desire to engage with 2nd screens whilst watching such shows, will see a boom in brands wanting to create fantastic 2nd screen experiences, to sit alongside the shows. They may employ CGI presenters, who always look great, represent the brand perfectly, never complain, or get caught with their pants down, and who can animate in real time. In the past, there were some limitations on how the Internet could sync with live TV, due to latency between what you see on TV, and what you see simultaneously on the 2nd screen. But these advances in 4G, H265 and Mpeg Dash, will help synchronise the two screens, thereby enhancing every individual 'Unicast' experience.
Someone needs to create these 2nd screen experiences, their content, and the advertising which sits within them. Who's up for the challenge? Anyone... Bueller... anyone!?
I'm sitting in Vesuvio cafe on a street called Jack Kerouac, where the Father of the Beat Generation used to hang out with his crazy gang of friends. So forgive me, Dear Reader, if today's report on Day 3 of the APA trip to San Francisco flows like a stream of consciousness akin to Bird blowin' his Sax.
The day began at YouTube's, impressive offices. We were taken to a section called BrandLabs, where Jim Habig - Product Marketing Manager, explained what BrandLabs is all about. "This is where we dig into clients' brand challenges; spending time with clients to figure out how to best use our tools".
He played us a video which opened with images of 'The Hoff' and a voice-over telling us that if you wanted to reach a global audience 20 years ago, the best way to do it was to place a TV spot alongside Baywatch.
The video went on to inform us that today, viewers watch, on average, 7 screens every day. Everything is going mobile. 10% of all video consumed happens on mobile. By 2016 that will be 60%. People are linked by devices and connection speeds. They are 'Generation Video". YouTube is the '2nd most used search engine', with a 'global community' of 1Billion people, making it the "3rd biggest country in the world".
BrandLabs' goal this year is to help brands make better content for YouTube. They start with the question, "How can we build better brands on YouTube?". Back in those Baywatch days, you couldn't measure engagement directly. Jim showed us a diagram of the Traditional Marketing Funnel, which basically showed that brands used to have to pay a big ol' pile of dough to put a 30 " spot out to a big audience. However, only 5% of those people might actually engage with the spot, with a further reduced percentage going out to buy the product.
"We can now tell who is engaging and how", claimed Jim. "Using user analytics data means you can effectively flip the funnel on its head and start with the 5% who are truly engaged, targeting 80% of creative effort towards reaching them".
"This is all well and good for established brands, who can let their existing brand awareness and TV spots kick-start their online campaigns, but BrandLabs needs to look at ways to help new brand, who don't necessarily have the TV budgets", Jim continued.
So, BrandLabs opens its doors to brands and their agencies, inviting them to come in and discuss what it is they want to achieve. Jim and his friends then use their data to inform the clients of the sort of creative their target audience responds best to.
So, does the client take that info, say goodbye and thanks to YouTube, and go off to employ Production Companies to produce that content? Of course not! Jim told us about Nexlab, a 'think-lab' for producing content. "We just launched YouTubeSpace LA, an aircraft hanger with editing suites and production facilities. People come into BrandLabs and talk about what they want. Then they fly down to LA Nexlab to make it!"
Hmmm, kinda reminds me of the Hit Factory. Remember the Hit Factory? It was Stock, Aitken & Waterman's music company in the late 80's which claimed to have the magic formula to write No.1 hit after No.1 hit. It worked for a while, but you can't avoid the inevitability that if you keep putting all your creative through the same group of people, the magic soon wears off and Hit Factory soon becomes Shit Factory. If every brand wants to reach skate boarding kids aged 16 to 20, and you tell them all exactly what it is they like and keep making the same stuff for them...well... guess what's going to happen.
Jim outlined some steps of advice that BrandLabs offer clients when considering how to make a hit spot, including:
Throw out the old production model - "Long lead times are detriment to making good video", said Jim. "Strike a deal in the first 5 seconds. Compel them to watch. If you can grab them, you can keep them".
In a TrueView* 'Skip Ad' culture, I guess this makes good sense, but to the music lover in me, it feels like being told that every good song needs to start with the chorus; don't take time to build and tell a story. I can't help but feel that this is wrong and undermines the intelligence of the viewer. But what do I know! YouTube is worth billions of dollars and they have the data to know what's best.
(* TrueView - Jim said, "All ads on YouTube are TrueView, i.e. ads people want to watch. You don't have to watch ads you don't want to. We believe in the choice. Ads people chose is our rallying cry!")
San Francisco is the Land of the Start-Up. More start-ups come out of this city than any other in the world. We've been told that in the 60's and 70's, LA was full of guys walking around with an original screenplay under their arm. Today San Francisco is packed with with people claiming to have invented the next Instagram. The city is positively buzzing with a start-up culture; hundreds of new open-plan offices, in old warehouse buildings in the centre of town, surrounded by the suburbs and the enormous architect style houses of the VCs, (Venture Capitalists).
We followed our interesting meeting at YouTube, with visit to TOUT, an exciting new start-up, in one of those old warehouses. Open plan and no land-lines.
They say: Tout is the free app for creating and sharing 15 second real-time video status updates to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, SMS, email
Launched 2 years ago by the ex-Stanford research team which created Siri, Tout is touted as 'video twitter' or the Instagram of the moving image. And just as tweets are limited a number of characters, Tout videos are restricted to 15 seconds. "15 secs is good length for short attention span"' we were told. "Politicians and lobbyists have to pitch their message in that amount of time. If you haven't communicated your message in that amount of time in the online world, you've lost your viewer".
Tout's 'flashpoint' moment occurred when Basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal used Tout to announce his retirement from the game. http://www.tout.com/u/shaq
Entertainment companies, including Wall Street Journal, are using a Tout widget to capture their video reports. Premium users can shoot up to 45 second clips. One such user is WEE, a huge World Wrestling TV network who are now major investors in the application. The rest of the funding comes from VCs.
Tout encourages brands to create their own brand channels. "Simply Put widget on your website and you have control of your own 15 sec video channel, which carries hashtags, making them shareable, just like Twitter". Brands drive consumers to Tout from their website, and vice versa.
Other networks using Tout include BBC, France 24 and Sky. Sky had a TV show called The British, a 10 episode, once a week series. In order to keep interest throughout the week, actors stayed in costume and character and posted 15 second bespoke films to Tout. This is something I find particularly interesting. Brands are always asking us to find new ways to provide better value. The creation of a CGI asset, such as a character, can be a quite big, so being given an opportunity to repurpose that asset though a different channel, extends the reach of that brand and provides greater economies of scale.
By this stage of the trip, the group of delegates are thick as thieves. We went out for a lovely dinner at the Foreign Cinema, followed by a visit to a bar on Mission, called The Latin American Bar. Piñatas were hanging from the ceiling and The Pixies were playing on the stereo. As paper animals and super-heros spun above my head, my mind started spinning with ideas of my very own start-up. This town's infectious!
Our final day of meetings on the APA trip to Silicon Valley took us to telecom giant, Orange. Unlike in the UK, Orange doesn't offer hand sets in The States and has no media presence here. Instead, they started out as an RnD group in SV 15 years ago, attracted by vibrant start-up Eco-System, from which they aim to benefit.
Julian Gay - Senior Product Manager explained how they study the ever changing state of the Gartner Hype curve, which looks trends which are currently hot. As an RnD group, Orange focuses on ideas and products at their earliest point on the curve, the 'Tech Trigger' moment. They then develop products which will work alongside them. Sometimes this will lead to new partnerships with start-ups to help develop early prototypes.
"There is a growing trend here in Silicon Valley, called AcquHire", explained Julian. "In order to stay ahead of the game, big companies like Facebook will acquire new start-ups, more to buy the people within the company, rather than the company itself".
In line with this thinking, at 09:30 this morning, we were told of an exciting new 'incubator' initiative, which Orange had just launched at 09:00 that very day. "How can we leverage our assets to attract the brightest ideas of SV and make the best new stuff in Orange?", posed Orange Evangelist- Pascal. "We created Orange Fab!"
With Orange HQ based in France, they wanted to find a way of being able to interact with the SV Eco-system as effectively as possible. Many companies have tried to create programmes to make it easier for start-ups to create their products and make them successful. 'Incubators' are designed to, "help entrepreneurs to raise money to build best products and make their dreams come true".
Check out Orangefab.com/programme/#overview and you will see a Dragon's Den style incubator, which invites start-ups to apply online and pitch their products to Orange. The lucky ones receive many benefits, including funding - offering up to $ 20k, introductions to mentors, finance Demo Days - in which entrepreneurs pitch their stuff to VCs as a way to raise money.
Halfway through the meeting, we were introduced to Orange SV CEO, Georges Nahon, who kindly took the time to share some of his company's observations and findings in SV.
"Orange Fab is a way of being influenced to the ways culture is changing. People here in SV really want to change the world behaves. SV is one of the only places in the world where you can get $ 20milion without wearing a suit", claimed Georges.
He went on to explain that SV is No.1 in the Top 20 start-up places in the world. It is responsible for, by far, the highest percentage of US patents.
Academia is an important factor in all this. Local schools, Stanford, Berkley and UCA have significant impact on number of start ups. Stanford and Berkley rank 1st and 3rd in terms of investment from VCs given to alumni. (Harvard being 2nd). Software is the most important area of investment for VC and stats show that the amount of time it takes a company to gain a market value of $ 1Billion, has reduced significantly in the the past 2 years.
Georges showed a slide listing the 'The Five Big Trends':
He said that we should pay particular attention to No. 4, Big Data, as he reckons this is the area which will soon occupy the No.1 spot. (That would confirm exactly what the APA group have heard at YouTube and Radium One earlier in the week. Big Brother really is taking over. Be warned people... they're watching your every click!)
The last speaker at Orange was Guillaume Payan, one of Orange's experts in Transmedia. He talked about the rise in the number of smartphone ownership, making multi-tasking easier, particularly amongst young people. People are getting better at multi-tasking, especially those born in the 21st century who will happily watch TV on one screen, whilst interacting with messages on a 2nd screen.
As a result, people are less engaged. We are seeing raise in 2nd screen applications, such as Waking Dead storySync. As 'Waking Dead' is playing on TV, this App runs in sync with show; and only when when it is live; (bringing to mind both what Twitter said a couple of days ago about the rise in hashtag related, 'live-event TV', and what AT&T said about bandwidth and improvements in delivery time).
The Waking Dead storySYNC App invites 2nd screen viewers to 'join fellow viewers online for snap polls, cool trivia and exclusive video, only available whilst watching the premier, pre-recorded, broadcast of the latest episode is on-air'.
Another area where many of us were up to speed, was that explained by Guillaume at the end of the session: Transmedia - a way of telling story across platforms. Take Harry Potter for example. the story is told in books, films and theme parks. Quidditch has even become the No. 1 sport in US colleges!
Most of the APA companies felt that their key strengths already lay in the ability to create content and tell stories cross platform. Some of us have also been creating unique IP to enhance this experience, such as Real Time animation rigs, which enable CGI characters to react and respond to events as they happen.
With that in mind, we conclude this excellent APA trip to SV with the optimistic sense that, 'The Future's Bright. The Future's...'. Hang on... Where've I heard that line before?
There have been quite a lot of good commercials for beer over the years; the same goes for charities and cars. They are the sort of products that traditionally allow space for a good idea without too much detailed selling. But all these products have their clichés too, and what this month’s selection of the best ads do is defy these clichés to get your attention.
Production Company: A+
Director: Marcus Söderlund
Production Company Producer: James Cunningham
Director of Photography: Ula Pontikos
Ad Agency: VCCP
Executive Creative Director: Darren Bailes
Creatives: Thierry Albert & Faustin Claverie
Agency Producer: Larissa Miola
Editing Company: Assembly Rooms
Editor: Sam Rice-Edwards
Post Production House: MPC
Post Production House: Finish
Directed by Marcus Söderlund, A+
When it comes to telling a brand story (a buzzword we all know and love) the inspiring personal tale of a company’s founder is one of the most powerful routes to take. McLaren have the incredible story of Bruce McLaren’s life and tragic death. 50 years since their founding, it’s surprising they haven’t used it before. The film, helmed by Marcus Söderlund, uses understated visuals that slowly unite with the voiceover to tell a poetic tale.
Title: A Taste Suprême
Production Company: Stink
Director: Ivan Zachariás
Production Company Producer: Nick Landon
Director of Photography: Jan Velicky
Ad Agency: Ogilvy & Mather
Art Director: Mark Harrison
Copywriter: Paul Mason
Agency Producer: Ruth Darsow
Editing Company: tenthree
Editor: Filip Malasek
Sound Company: Wave
Post Production House: Framestore
Kronenbourg, A Taste Suprême
Directed by Ivan Zachariás, Stink
This is a clever idea and bang on the money for the brand, managing to squeeze footballers, subtle comedy, supercars and the charming Gallic countryside all in without any awkward shoehorning. It’s a good job they got Eric Cantona on board, because we can’t think of anyone else that could have made this idea really work. He’s just a lovable guy.
Production Company: Rattling Stick
Director: Daniel Kleinman
Production Company Producer: Johnnie Frankel
Ad Agency: adam&eveDDB
Creative Director: Ben, Ben & Emer
Creatives: Aidan & Laurent
Agency Producer: Matt Craigie
Editing Company: Cut+Run
Editor: Eve Ashwell
Sound Company: 750mph
Post Production House: Framestore
Directed by Daniel Kleinman, Rattling Stick
There’s not a lot to the script of this commercial. It’s basically just some old-fashioned Aussie blokes standing around in the heat waiting to hear if another bloke likes their new beer. But when you take into account that the heritage aspect is secondary to the idea of waiting for refreshment you can see the inspired direction of Daniel Kleinman doing its job. It might just make you thirsty.
Product: Marie Curie
Production Company: Blink
Director: Tom Tagholm
Production Company Producer: Gwilym Gwillim
Director of Photography: Luke Scott
Ad Agency: DLKW Lowe
Creative Director: Matt Lever
Art Director: Ben McCarthy
Copywriter: Seb Housden
Agency Producer: Gill Loftus
Editing Company: Stitch
Editor: Tim Hardy
Music Company: Envy
Post Production House: MPC
Marie Curie, Symmetry
Directed by Tom Tagholm, Blink
Cancer care charities have a default format that they almost always fall back on – showing the grim effects of cancer on people and their loved ones. And fair enough. It’s tried and tested and it strikes an emotion chord with almost everyone that might lead to them donating to help others. This one takes that default and puts an interesting spin on it with the first/last format. Sensitively handled by Tom Tagholm, it’s a touching film.
Production Company: MJZ
Director: Tom Kuntz
Director of Photography: Chris Soos
Ad Agency: H
Creative Directors: Luca Cinquepalmi & Marco Venturelli
Art Director: Luca Cinquepalmi
Copywriter: Marco Venturelli
Agency Producer: Sarah Bouadjera
Editing Company: MacKenzie Cutler
Sound Company: Kouz
Post Production House: Eight
Directed by Tom Kuntz, MJZ
A baby. With ridiculously long hair. On a white stallion. On a beach. Soundtracked by Spandou Ballet. No, that wasn’t a dream. You just saw that. Where this idea came from is a mystery that should probably remain inside that creative’s head. The fact that Citroën let them make it is pretty incredible though. Just imagine reading the script for this. Like Spandau Ballet, it’s crap, but you still enjoy it when it comes on.
Every two months since 2007, a celebration of music video has taken place at the BFI. Hosted by comedian Adam Buxton, BUG has showcased the best visual accompaniments to popular music and spoken to the directors who made them. It’s grown into a bit of an institution among the advertising and video production industry and with a TV series on Sky Atlantic behind them, it’s a pretty big deal. They’re celebrating this later this month by putting on a big show - The Best of BUG – at the Odeon Leicester Square on 19 March.
We spoke to BUG’s founding partner and curator about what’s in store for the audience.
What sort of thing can we expect from The Best of BUG show?
It’ll be recent greatest hits [of the BFI BUG shows] plus a few things from the TV show. So we’ll show a couple of the videos that we’d made especially for the show. We’re also going to have a special guest: Edgar Wright [director of Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World] which is great. He’s actually done a BUG show before, but weirdly, it wasn’t with Adam [Buxton].
It was a strange one. A few years ago now we did a BUG Halloween special and the host was Corin Hardy. Corin is a video director and he’s done various things we’ve featured at BUG. But he’s kind of like a horror fanatic. At this stage he was making real horror shorts. That’s how he started and that’s the same way that Edgar started – making little Super 8 films as teenagers – and that’s how they met. This wasn’t long after Hot Fuzz had come out, but because Edgar’s got his material and his music videos also fitted into the horror theme, he was invited as a guest. And Edgar invited John Landis, the director of Thriller, who was our secret special guest.
It was a great night, but weirdly Adam hadn’t hosted it. I think he feels a bit bad about that, really. So we’re sort of putting things right. And he’s an old friend of Edgar’s, so it’s strange that we’ve never had him on as Adam’s guest. This is kind of like the perfect setting for it.
We’ll no doubt show some excellent music-related Edgar Wright stuff, both music videos and clips from various films. So that’s going to be a good part of it. Edgar’s going to come up and have an on-stage chat, show some stuff and goof around in the inimitable Buxton fashion.
Do you think Adam is integral to the format?
We started nearly six years ago, unbelievably, and I could count on a few fingers when Adam hasn’t hosted a BUG show. I think he’s done every one at the BFI. He was always in our mind as the ideal person to do the show because he’s got such a feel for videos. He knows what it’s about. He’s mates with some of the top directors, including Edgar and Garth Jennings, Dougal Wilson, Shynola. He’s even made a few music videos and obviously now he’s made a few more with the TV show.
How was BUG first created?
Taking it way back I was the editor of PROMO magazine – the music video trade mag – for years. And at the beginning of the millennium me and this producer from MTV2 – when they were quite and arty adjunct of MTV – Nick Hutchens. We did a co-production between PROMO and MTV2 where we did these millennial best music videos ever made shows, where we’d filmed interviews with the directors. They went out on MTV and at the same time they were shown at the BFI.
It was the first time they’d shown music videos at the BFI, or the NFT as it was known then. They would just sell out. They were hugely successful. And we did a few more.
And then the BFI got a regular music video night than ran from about 2002-2007, which was called Antenna. But it was different. It was quite straight. It was very popular with ad agency people, full of great creative work.
At the end of 2006 they said they weren’t going to do it anymore. But then they got Adam to host the very last show. He’s got this character called Ken Korda, who’s a movie nerd who fancies himself as a great critic. He often likes really terrible movies. He did the whole of this Antenna night as Ken Korda and I was like ‘this is good but why?’ So when we wanted him to do BUG, I said ‘Adam, it would be great if you can do the show, but please do it as yourself. I don’t think you need to do a character.’
He knew it would involve him interviewing people and he was very reluctant about [that]. The very first show we had about five guests all on stage at the same time, so I really sort of punished him. It’s settled down since then. His interviewing technique has improved but he wouldn’t call himself an interviewer. He’s more of a fan.
What do you think people love about BUG?
Obviously people come to the show for the comedy, for Adam’s YouTube comments etc. – the important thing is that we put everything in context. That’s our remit at the BFI. This is a show with the best creative work we can find (well, what we think – others may disagree). It’s to explain who these directors are, what they do, where they are in their careers. And Adam’s very much down with that. He wants to tell the story around the video. And then the YouTube comments are part of the story.
The lucky thing was in 2007, when we started BUG, YouTube had just started. The growth of videos as a YouTube phenomenon had already started but was just getting going. We called it The Evolution of Music Video because it was a way to take it on from Antenna that had preceded it, but also it was a way to refer to everything that was going on at a particular time.
The internet affected the music video pretty much more than anything. At least, it was the first thing. It needed that injection of excitement. It’s always been the thing about music videos, being the length that they are, that’s the perfect length for the YouTube generation.
Music videos, as they’ve always been, you can quite happily watch on YouTube. It’s not like they’re out of place because you should have watched them on TV. The classic music video lives and is actually being seen online, whereas previously it was getting increasingly not seen on TV.
How do you decide what to put in the shows? As editor of Promo News you must see practically everything.
It’s impossible to see everything. There is so much stuff. It’s like you’ve got the videos that are commissioned out of labels, which is pretty much the same as it always has been. But then there’s the other massive tsunami of material that comes from everywhere else.
The whole scene and music industry has changed so much and then there’s a lot of stuff being made that’s not been commissioned at all in the conventional way. What I’m trying to say is I get sent so many videos from all over. Essentially it’s completely changed from back in the day, which means I can never take a holiday, basically.
It’s incredible how you can miss things. Everyone else knows about it then you find out about it. You think everyone has seen something and then Adam asks the audience ‘have you seen this?’ [and they haven’t].
Gangnam Style is the perfect example. It was still a vaguely minor viral and hardly anyone in the audience had seen it when we showed it at BUG. At that point it hadn’t gone absolutely ballistic global. Somebody had sent it to me a few days before the show. I think that was in May last year.
It’s about trying to show people things they haven’t seen. And obviously there’s a lot of very obscure videos that deserve to be seen and we provide that service.
Do you feel it’s your duty to focus on the obscure, rather than the stuff people will see anyway?
I tend to think that the mainstream stuff is generally by definition not as interesting. Obviously there are exceptions that can be extremely well made. We will show videos from big bands as well. It doesn’t really matter. The definition is if it’s good enough as a piece of film. It’s got to at least hold your attention for the whole length of the film. There are a lot of things that don’t do that, but that’s really the criteria, otherwise people are walking out the cinema.
Click here to reserve tickets for The Best of Bug.