Archive | November, 2013

2014 Digital Media/Entertainment Trends

17 Nov

notliketheothersI was recently asked to research and report on the digital media trends that would have the most impact on the entertainment world in 2014, and I wanted to share my findings.

NOTE: If you are new to this blog, please note that this is not the ordinary fare. Will return with more posts about mind-blowing experiences and technology, once I return from IAAPA.

First the list, in case you’re a “just the facts” kind of person:

1. 2nd Generation “Smart TVs” Will Establish a New Platform Paradigm
2. Cross-Platform OS Convergence on Non-PC Devices
3. Entertainment Platform Convergence
4. Biometric Gaming Leads Innovation of Quantified Self
5. Internet of Things Creates New Opportunities for Location Based Entertainment
6. Google Glass Will NOT Take Off in 2014
7. Augmented Reality Will Not Be Mainstream Without HUD and Killer Apps

And here is some brief discussion on each:

1. 2nd Generation “Smart TVs” Will Establish a New Platform Paradigm

smarttvThe first generation of Smart TVs got a bad rap for either being difficult/nonintuitive to use or providing a lot of un-TV-like functionality that consumers didn’t care for. They also suffered from performance/processing issues related to hardware & bandwidth limitations. Some critics went so far as to write off the Smart TV as a failure.

The next generation of Smart TVs should be more intuitive to use and will be designed to integrate with and complement tablets as a second screen. Generally speaking, a tighter integration between TV, internet, and peripheral devices will be a catalyst for derivative trends in content creation & consumption.

Despite modest market forecasts, some retailers suggest that they will only be selling Smart TVs.

An entry by Apple into this space may have a “Rising Tide Lifts All Ships” effect. See Trend 2 for further thoughts on this.

References

http://www.trustedreviews.com/news/john-lewis-we-will-only-sell-smart-tvs-in-2014

http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2013/mar/11/beyond-apps-future-smart-tv

2. Cross-Platform OS Convergence on Non-PC Devices

While all eyes will likely be on Apple’s anticipated 2014 release of an actual Smart TV (not to be confused with their “Apple TV” set-top box), there are other players to track. Samsung currently enjoys a dominant position in the mobile market with their Android devices. However, they have announced plans to incorporate Tizen, an alternate open-source operating system, into phones and eventually TVs. On a smaller scale, Amazon expects to launch a set-top box (not an actual TV) to compete with the Apple TV set-top box.

For Apple and Samsung, these moves suggest that customers will have an optimized experience when they consolidate their media platforms in a single operating environment. For instance: iPhone + iPad + Apple Smart TV (iOS) or Samsung phone/tablet + Samsung Smart TV (Tizen), etc. Amazon’s popular Kindle Fire is built on the Android platform, which shows that rather than reinventing the wheel from a hardware standpoint, they will probably continue to deploy solutions on popular open architectures, and focus on strategies and relationships that leverage content.

What this means for entertainment is uncertain, but this type of convergence will give these companies extraordinary market leverage with respect to both direct competitors in the hardware space as well as content providers.

References

http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/10/29/amazons-anticipated-apple-tv-competitor-not-expected-to-launch-until-2014

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-22/apple-preparing-65-inch-tv-for-release-next-year-analyst-says.html

http://www.businesskorea.co.kr/article/2143/tizen-phone-tv-samsung-reveal-smartphone-smart-tv-based-tizen-os-2014

3. Entertainment Platform Convergence

6a00d8341c858253ef00e55215cad98834-640wiSony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One will both contain features that point to a convergence of different types of home entertainment on a single platform, including gaming, social media, TV, internet, etc. The lines between what are traditionally seen as separate, non-integrated forms of entertainment/media will start to become blurred, and this will pave the way for the development of “hybrid” experiences.

References

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2013/10/31/the-top-7-technology-trends-that-will-dominate-2014/2/

4. Biometric Gaming Leads Innovation of Quantified Self

indexThe Quantified Self movement is primarily associated with self-help and health-oriented applications. However, as the underlying technology develops, it can be integrated as a unique component of entertainment, media, and marketing applications. Biometric sensors will be integrated into next-generation gaming platforms in an effort to provide a richer experience. The gaming industry, with its dynamic, competitive environment, combined with its commitment to large-scale R&D, is well-positioned to lead this development. Precedent strongly suggests that other industries can expect to benefit from a trickle-down effect of these innovations.

“Kinect 2.0 goes a step further by being able to determine where in the room a player is looking, what their facial expressions are to determine their mood, and even pick up the player’s heart rate based on tiny fluctuations in their skin color. All this information can be used by game developers to deliver tailored experiences that create more immersive and engaging gameplay.”

References

http://www.biometricupdate.com/201310/obje-acquires-novalon-games-in-push-for-biometric-gaming-revolution

http://www.psfk.com/2013/09/entertainment-trends-nbc-curve-report.html

5. Internet of Things Creates New Opportunities for Location Based Entertainment

worlds-first-flying-car-07With many trends focused on enhancing the home/mobile experience, LBE can start to feel dated. However, the paradigm of the “Internet of Things” provides a number of opportunities to enhance & streamline these types of experiences. Walt Disney World’s MagicBands is already old news, and despite its massive development and deployment cost, it really only scratches the surface of what’s possible. In the referenced video, Intel even uses a theme park as a complex model to show what IoT can enable. The focus continues to be on operational aspects, but extending these techniques and infrastructure to more entertainment-oriented applications is a natural next step.

References

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pkhL432GNg

6. Google Glass Will NOT Take Off in 2014

3dglassesDespite all the hype, Google Glass will be more of a long-term play. Glass will continue to play a central role in the overall future of wearable technology, but it may not be the first device that people gravitate toward in this sector.

I think that Google overplayed its hand by introducing a photo/video capture capability in its pre-release product. This functionality has been a lightning rod for privacy concerns, and has possibly generated more negative controversy than positive anticipation for the product as a whole. Moreover, although they couldn’t have anticipated it, their timing couldn’t have been worse with the general climate of privacy-related issues in the news on a daily basis. The Google Glass mantra is to provide users with technology that is “there when you want it, and out of the way when you don’t.” This is achieved through a rudimentary yet effective integration with their “Google Now” service, and this in itself has the potential to radically shift the way people consume information on the move. That said, I appreciate their “go big or go home” approach to rolling out this product, and they clearly have the resources to back the long play.

References

http://marketingland.com/180-days-with-google-glass-hits-misses-what-marketers-need-to-know-64289

7. Augmented Reality Will Not Be Mainstream Without HUD and Killer Apps

grandma-ocularGoogle Glass is not AR. I’m 100% sure Google would agree with me on this. The AR landscape still lacks an effective, consumer-grade Heads-Up Display (HUD) and applications that really matter. I do not dispute that anyone who experiences AR for the first time, even in its current, clunky handheld-device modality, will feel awe, delight, and even a sense of magic. However, until it can be more seamlessly integrated into everyday life on both a hardware and software level, it will will continue to have limited penetration as a novelty or will be most effective in specialized, controlled use-cases.

References

http://www.thorntech.com/2013/04/augmented-reality-will-wearable-hardware-bring-ar-to-the-mainstream/

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Life After Blackout

13 Nov

gogos_vacationSome people go to Hawaii on vacation to enjoy a little R&R in a beautiful setting. Others prefer a staycation where they can catch up on hobbies or just get back in touch with the simple pleasures of home. Me, I head down to LA for three successive nights of immersive horror theater. At least, that’s what I did in October.

It’s probably no surprise at this point that I enjoy haunted houses, but I have my limits. I think they’re great fun if I happen to be in the area, but I typically don’t drop everything in my life to go out of my way to obsessively check them out. As it turned out though, I heard about a few productions that got my attention. Delusion: Masque of Mortality bills itself as interactive horror theatre in which you find yourself a participant in events surrounding a mysterious plague. The Purge: Fear The Night is a guided experience through “six floors and 70,000 square feet of horror theater,” based on the movie The Purge. But it was BLACKOUT: elements that actually did make me drop everything in my life and plan a trip to LA.

My daughter was guest-editor of this post

My 3 y/o daughter guest edited this post

NON SPOILER ALERT: I’m hardly going to tell you anything about Blackout. If you want to know what happens in this show, then go see it. I realize that as of the date of this post, this is probably only possible unless you live in Chicago, but there’s always next year.

You’re probably wondering why I would bother to review a show without providing any details. It’s real simple: Blackout succeeds on a level and to a degree that is perpetually sought and rarely achieved in the production of immersive experiences. Period.

All you know about Blackout is: you need to sign a waiver before entering, it takes place in the dark, you must do as you’re told when prompted, there’s a safe word in case it gets too intense, and you must walk through alone. Is your imagination working yet? Mine was. From the moment I purchased the ticket, my mind was filled with questions. What the hell happens in there? What are they going to make me do? Does anyone use the safe word? Am I up for this? Can’t we just have a nice dinner somewhere and tell everybody we went?

The secret of being a good producer

The secret of being a good producer

I was experiencing a level of anticipation that most producers either 1) would enter into some Faustian bargain in order to consistently engender in their customers, or 2) are completely unaware of how significant this is to the overall experience and are probably in the wrong line of work. This was not a temporary state of mind either. Having bought my tickets about one month in advance, these thoughts crossed my mind with alarming frequency. Moreover, the show enjoys a certain notoriety; I have a friend who works in the haunted attraction industry — this guy scares people for a living — and he won’t see the show. So by the time I got in line, I was pretty worked up and more than a little nervous.

Unfortunately, this is where the details stop. I’m not even going to tell you about the line, except to say that in its own way, it’s part of the experience. I had waited for weeks, but those last minutes and seconds were an elasticity of dread. It’s maybe up there with riding Space Mountain for the first time as a kid. But different. Very different.

tumblr_m4n6fbTBra1r0gxhgo1_1280Fast forward about 30 minutes. I emerge, running, out of the dark, out of the building and onto the same sidewalk in downtown LA that I had lately and nervously ambled along on my way in. My eyes scan for something familiar; I see the people I befriended in line. I see my wife. We all breathlessly exchange snippets of experience, but it’s not really a time for words, and we all arrive at that conclusion at about the same time. I feel the crisply soothing autumn air on my skin now that I’m outdoors again. I’m soaking in the vibe of people milling on the fringes of this nondescript corner of downtown LA. I can hear and feel my heart beating; it seems to be returning to a more normal pace, but it’s not in a hurry. And neither is the rest of me. I’m alert. I’m aware of this strange, animal feeling where I can experience the world in five or more senses, and calmly it alights on my understanding. This feeling — it’s the feeling of being alive. Not the “oh my god that was so scary, I’m so glad to be alive” feeling. Quite the opposite: I realized that I hadn’t had that much fun in a long time.

Blackout is a visceral, emotionally turbulent, raw experience. It’s also not for everyone. But the feeling that I had after experiencing it, IS for everyone. If extreme haunted houses (note: criminally reductionist label) that have a safe word aren’t your thing, I get that. However, Blackout made me realize that I don’t get that feeling en0ugh, and I don’t necessarily need to go to Blackout to get it. Feeling alive is what being alive is all about. Making people feel alive, or feel, respond, think, react is an achievable goal for any experience designer. Whether they realize it or not, that’s what your guest wants when they come to check out your production.

brain-on-fireAs we made our way through the city, back to the car, out in public, it became very clear that there was US and then there was everybody else around us. We moved through the crowds in this glowing bubble that only we could see. We just had this incredible experience that lit our brains on fire, and nobody else had any idea as they went about their evening. There was no judgment or condescension on our part, but we felt different and special. And that feeling was important and persisted for the rest of the night, and for several days afterward. In fact, I can still conjure that feeling and remember what it’s like to feel my senses rip into the texture of life, and for that I’m both grateful for the experience and inspired to create something that can have that kind of effect.

Fried Cheese & Coke: Branded Experiences and Iconic Retrospectives

6 Nov

I lived in Prague during a period when email was still a novelty, mobile phones were seen in Tom Cruise movies as devices used for making phone calls, and internet cafes actually had computers in them. A popular means for distributing information was known as a “newspaper,” and a few were published in English for the benefit of the expat community. One of these featured a column called, “Easy Targets,” which was an unannotated list of people, institutions, concepts, etc. that would be recognizable to a contemporary reader. And that was it. Further commentary was neither provided nor required. A similar list published today might include, “Congress, Miley Cyrus, Facebook status, gluten-free beer, you get the idea.” One fateful afternoon, I picked up said newspaper and immediately sought out the Easy Targets, and at the top of the list was, “Smažený Syr.” For me, this was and is the absolute soul of wit. There is so much depth and commentary packed into those two words that it can still bring a smile to my face today. Let me explain.

I’m ready for my close-up

Smažený syr is Czech for fried cheese. In the fight for daily survival, which occurs at the intersection of 30-cent beer, a national/institutional disdain for last call, and an ambiguous notion of employment, sustenance is a fickle ally. At certain single-digit hours, one’s options are typically limited to: 1) hot-dog 2) sleep or 3) smažený syr. Smažený syr was notoriously and reliably available at a kiosk outside of one of Prague’s train stations, day & night, rain or shine. Many expats have had their lives temporarily saved (and ultimately shortened) by making this pilgrimage. Moreover, smažený syr often found its way onto the menu at almost every local restaurant, often masquerading as a main course, sharing the stage with a sidekick of french fries. The most common description of what it feels like about half hour after eating this is, “I think I just swallowed a hockey puck.” It’s a rite of passage. It’s a way of life. It’s wrong. It’s an easy target.

You can't make this stuff up

You can’t make this stuff up

So when I tried to wrap my head around the idea that there could be an attraction in Atlanta dedicated to Coca-Cola, my first thought was smažený syr. It’s not a terrific stretch to prejudicially pigeonhole the World of Coca-Cola as a temple to American capitalism, providing dubious educational value and celebrating a product that is bad for you. Now, that’s an Easy Target. Seriously, Coca-Cola makes smažený syr look like a health fad. I had to check it out.

Figure 3

A shadow passes across the land

The attraction chronicles the impact that Coca-Cola has had on world culture for the last 100+ years. After a guided introduction followed by a screening of a surprisingly psychedelic animated short (i.e., commercial), guests are left to explore the rest of the attraction on their own. Setting aside for the moment the photo-op with the company’s polar bear mascot and the 4D theatrical feature, WOCC resembles a traditional museum with a number of exhibits focused on corporate artifacts culled from various times and places. Love it or hate it, Coca-Cola has some of the most recognizable, inventive, and iconic branding of any product sold anywhere, and the various exhibits make it clear that they haven’t rested on their laurels at any point in their efforts to get us to keep buying it. What’s even more remarkable is that as a product, Coke has remained relatively unchanged, which makes it somewhat of an outlier in the fast-paced world of global corporate commercial one-upmanship. In fact, this nuance lies at the heart of WOCC’s best feature: Vault of the Secret Formula.

Last known whereabouts: Atlanta

Last known whereabouts: Atlanta

The Vault immediately appealed to me, and it was the first exhibit that I visited. The theming begins as soon as you enter the exhibit through the larger-than-life vault door that looks like it was lifted from the set of Goldfinger. Next, you are visually scanned and cleared for security in a waiting area before entering the actual space. The first thing you notice as you enter is that it smells like Coke; it sounds weird, but it’s very subtle and it works. The exhibit proceeds to relate the history of the Coca-Cola company from the perspective of the secret formula. You learn how the formula was developed/invented by a pharmacist, and how it made its way through successive entrepreneurs, visionaries, and businessmen whose primary objective was to safeguard the secret. The formula is transformed into a character that enhances the fortunes of everyone who possesses it, and for the last 100 years, it has literally been kept inside of a vault with extremely limited access.

The exhibit is filled with interactive features including a steampunk device that allows you to try to replicate the secret formula by manipulating some primary flavor characteristics, and a motion-controlled interactive game in which you attempt to successfully transport the formula back to the vault before it falls into the wrong hands. Throughout, there are cleverly immersive ways of revealing additional information including whispered rumors from overhead and drawers containing information that you can peruse. In essence, they have taken the history of a corporation and turned it into a riveting adventure. Moreover, in this telling, the history of Coca-Cola is made out to be nothing less than the realization of the American dream. The exhibit ends with a 360 degree movie projection which is reasonably impressive, and in a surprising twist, the screens slide apart to reveal the star of the show: the actual vault.

A proud day for Coke marketing execs

A proud day for Coke marketing execs

I exited the exhibit a bit surprised at how roped in I got to the experience. I feel that on the basis of its creative execution, the Vault is an unqualified success. However, in the context of the idea that a museum about Coke is a classic “Easy Target,” it seems all the more impressive. After this experience, I was able to set aside my sense that the Polar Bear photo-op was kind of creepy, and that the 4D theater experience felt out of place, and that the other exhibits, while interesting, felt a little self-congratulatory. On the other hand, the Vault works because it’s not just another attempt to make you believe that drinking Coke makes you a better, happier citizen of the world. What lingered for me was the journey I felt that I had taken, and it had everything to do with the effort that was made to transform this material into a story, and to involve me in its telling. Personally, I didn’t come home and fill my refrigerator with Coke and hang framed pictures of John Pemberton in my office. However, I felt that it was well worth my time to visit WOCC, and it provided yet another opportunity to learn/re-learn/remember something that I will carry forward into my own practice: a good story and an earnest effort to creatively involve your audience in it can make ANYTHING compelling.

Now, if they had only served fried cheese in the Tasting Room.

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