Simon Gosling’s Silicon Valley Diary

March 14, 2013 / Features

By Simon Gosling

The APA will be providing its members with a full report from Creative London Comes To Silicon Valley. In advance of that we bring you the diary of one of the delegates- Simon Gosling, Executive Producer, Framestore commercials.

Day 1

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.

 

Day 2

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, through their ability to use cookies, individual user data gathered from thousands of websites, are able to target a specific audience and deliver a client's content directly to them. This means that in future, advertising messages will be much more personalised, which in turn is more fitting to our 'Unicast'.
• 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!?

 

Day 3

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!

 

Day 4

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':

  • Mobile
  • Social
  • Cloud
  • Big Data and analytics
  • All video on the cloud

 

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?

Comments (6)

  • Thank you Simon, that was a great write up. Saved me a trip - at the end of the day I am going to leave big data to the media guys, I’m going to stick to the trans media story telling, I’m loving the idea of apps and video / tv working as one. As to advertising I rest in the idea that great ads are worth watching - and who’s to say we are not going full circle to the 50s when say Colgate created entire programs, integration is the key, story, brands, entertainment, multi platform. What a great world we work in. Thanks again Simon in being so generous in sharing your experience.

    by Asa Bailey on 2013 03 14

  • Thank you Simon. We enjoyed having you all at Orange in SF. Georges Nahon

    by Georges Nahon on 2013 03 15

  • Simon, this was a wonderful summation of our trip.  it was a pleasure to be in your company and hope we get to do it again very soon.

    by Andy Traines on 2013 03 19

  • With thanks, I enjoy it!

    by Della on 2014 06 27

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