An introduction to transmedia in Singapore: outlook and predictions for 2014-15

It has been two months since I went to Singapore to join the pioneering efforts of South East Asian content creators that shape the future of Asian storytelling, but already lots of things are in motion. It feels like the market just waited for the right technology impulses to wake the sleeping transmedia Merilion.

Most certainly we will see significant projects coming from the SEA region in 2014-15 and among them will hopefully be the long awaited proof of concepts for the industry traditionalists that kept saying “wait and see” for the past couple of years.

Defining transmedia in Asia

Regardless of a long Asian tradition in creating vast cross-platform story universes in genre productions, comics and monster franchises, “transmedia” is nothing but a buzzword at this point in time. Storytelling practices of the old masters have been lost in pop culture, ignored by the education system or arrogantly dismissed by recent generations.

Local creators who read up on the topic and try to apply means of transmedia to their projects are rare and mostly visionaries with a strong sense for business development. Ultimately, transmedia does not have much of a pure storytelling character in Asia anymore nor are its primary drivers public funds or academic projects.

Seen as temporary bridge solution, at best, a transmedia concept is something that can add value to entertainment properties and brand building campaigns, but only when you got the right media strategy, partners and production set up.

Budget-wise it is still a nightmare and there are very few qualified agencies around that could handle a full transmedia campaign, creatively and administratively. The question of qualified local talent that brings in a hybrid education and right mindset will be a pressing issue for the months to come.

The Asian tradition and the lack of innovation

Ad agencies and production house still hire people with decades of expertise in banner booking on shopping mall facades instead of looking for digital natives with a storytelling background. It just makes no sense when you see a brand looking on JobsDB for a Social Media Manager with 12 years working experience. Only a few institutions offer hybrid models of education for jobs in the digital and design space only to see their graduates becoming flight attendants or button punchers at TV show control rooms.

Project and content development is still the weakest point in the production chain and barely taken seriously by anyone with money. Being common practice for independent producers to develop their own content bigger production houses frenetically push this unprofitable work toward summer interns from film schools where project development is not even on the curriculum. Too many industry deals are made simply based on name and reputation of project partners regardless whether they can deliver or how they address recent market trends.

The main obstacles of innovation in Asia, however, are corporate structures that have not been altered for the past 50 years and there is no motivation to change something that has worked so well for so long. Everybody got money for the quick fix but not for sustainable long-term strategies with build-in future add-on revenue streams.

Adding to this comes a social factor that prevents innovation to grow like putting salt on soil. The fear of failure is the industry’s biggest enemy. Spreading especially in Japan but lately in China and SAE as well, due to the fierce competition on the market, creatives tend to play safe by copy-paste. The fear of failing by doing something new and subsequently being socially isolated is just too overwhelming.

In general, Asia is a very fragmented market, different cultures, languages and systems. Pan-Asian projects have barely proven to be successful yet, while main driving markets like China and Japan becoming more and more self-isolated. South-Korea is still ruling the Asian entertainment segment with its strong content exports while China fails to gain its desperately desired international soft power share. Dynamics in the market are great and a structural rearrangement imminent.

Why is SAE such an interesting market when it comes to digital media?

For one, far different to any industrial country in the West, the average age in the SEA region is 30, most non-metropolitan areas even far below. A demographic that embraces new technology and is culturally more inclined to experiment – unlike the same demographic in China, where a consumption-only mentality reigns.

Within the years to come, all SEA countries that have not done so yet will install full coverage 3G mobile networks. This might sound like a long overdue technical adjustment of development countries. But one should not forget that this region never had coherently working (landlines) broadband internet yet, due to vast geographical challenges. Hence, we will soon see a number of demographics and generations that never had internet in the first place being exposed to mobile connectivity everywhere and anytime. The way these people will use and behave in the digital space will be radically different.

Creators’ independence in Singapore

Singapore happens to be one of the few Asian countries that hold specific public funds for new media projects, although those funds are new and barely taken advantage of. Fund criteria are often excluding the majority of projects up front or address an entirely different medium altogether. Four years back I was involved in the Singapore Integrated Media Fund, which is still up and running. Despite its fancy title the fund exclusively addressed the local production and spent of feature films.

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) has and is about to set up funds for digital hybrid media projects, in fact it recently opened a call for projects in partnership with Unilever. But word on the street amongst local producers is: “We’ll do it on our own”. There seems to be some sort of public funding fatigue going around as every creator in town has had his/her personal share of adventures with these funding structures.

The general opinion is, and I strongly agree with this, a local industry can only thrive when it finds its own independent ways to survive on a sustainable level. Subsidization models create an atmosphere of self-censorship and misleading self-content that could work against the growth of the industry. Hence, one could say Singaporean creators are about to discover their digital creative identity by finding new business models for the entertainment market outside the obsolete system.

Every time I go to Singapore my horizon of what transmedia can deliver widens tremendously. Personally, I am stepping more and more away from feature film and TV to get involved in the advertising side of things. Transmedia strategies for brand building, business development and corporate training. Transmedia as means for experiential marketing.

The line between entertainment and advertising is gradually but quite distinctively disappearing. Branded entertainment, specifically for mobile consumption, will soon be a major industry pillar. Obviously, transmedia is simply a form of mindset. How creators approach projects, open up content to audiences and deal with new revenue models.

Empathy Led Activation

During the countless meetings and talks of the past two months I met the Singaporean media producer turned transmedia visionary Isaac Ray Thomas. He created a concept that perfectly sums up where Singapore is headed with the commercial side of transmedia projects. He calls it “Empathy Led Activation” (ELA) and you can check out his SlideShare here:

ELA embodies terminologies company execs and marketing directors can relate to and provides a very precise angle on the qualities of transmedia strategies in Asia. It is the mere design thinking methodology in telling stories that explains how this power can be leveraged to create specific audience/consumer actions.

ELA does not stop at a simple action or reaction a consumer will do after or while being immersed in a story experience. It also can influence audience behavior in daily life. This aspect is especially interesting to brands when it comes to social issues as well as corporate social responsibility programs. Just recently Unilever addressed this aspect of story marketing.

Language & identity

Traditionally, Singapore as a market in itself is far too small and film & TV producers have turned to Malaysia or China a long time ago. Despite the huge success of Singaporean film in 2013, domestic box office as well as international festival circuit, more and more filmmakers read the digital signs of the market and want to transition into alternative formats of production.

While Singapore is still a new nation and storytellers trying to find their very own narrative voice, the city-state is also one of the most international cities in the world. I have been around quite a lot but that many nationalities and religions on one single island is quite unique. Hence, there is a significant potential for international content that can travel to come from this country. Expanding productions into the SEA region is just the start. Many creators want to go beyond and could prove that a successful cross-cultural transmedia project can exist.

However, this cultural diversity also comes with an ongoing struggle about language identity within the traditional entertainment sector. “While we love movies from Hollywood or the United Kingdom, we do not want to see locals speak the same language they do.” Evidently, it boils down to the instant comparison between production values of Western English and local English movies/TV, where Singapore always picks the short end.

Traditional media around the world is facing the same issue, whereas transmedia can offer alternative points of entry for audiences; outside the boundaries of its own preoccupations and expectations. Therefore having barely international established formula or standards for transmedia production values is an advantage and eliminates quality comparisons up front.

On top, dealing with a variety of languages is something most local new media creators already do on a daily basis. Social media interactions and maintenance is done in at least two languages (English and Chinese), often even specialized channels for Tamil and Malay are being included to a project.

Hence, transmedia creators will be better equipped in dealing with various languages at ones and know how to work them into the stories in the first place, while those coming from traditional media need to adopt. New media technology also enables more diverse language implementations and is often more flexible to expand with the audience, like adding subtitles or providing more language options inside apps. This integrative aspect makes it an easy way to address and reach out to an audience outside the borders of Singapore.

Technology drivers

NFC/RFID appears to be a technology tool with untapped potential for creators in the region. Despite the wide use in the public transportation and card payments sectors it has yet to be commonly adopted by event organizers and especially storytellers for location based interactions.

OTT (Smart TV) will be one of the major drivers across Asia, tied in with m-Commerce. Spearheaded by the Chinese market, where a number of video platforms and media groups started co-operations with TV manufacturers, we will soon see an epic merger of mobile, commerce and entertainment. Tencent for instance, which runs highly popular web and mobile chat services like QQ and WeChat develops an in-house mobile payment system that integrates to their new Smart TV system WeChat TV, rolling out before Chinese New Year.

Meanwhile in Singapore, TV networks are still hesitant when it comes to leveraging OTT’s full potential with tailor made content and integrated cross-services. During a panel discussion at Screen Singapore in early December 2013, Lee Soo Hui, Head of Media Business Unit at Starhub, mentioned that the network is interested in going into the transmedia direction but still has not found the right local content. The other TV network giant, Mediacorp, does offer a variety of integrated (very) early stage OTT and online viewing infrastructures with its services Toggle and Xinmsn but seems to struggle taking the next step forward. The sociocultural conundrum outlined above is still in play here.

As one of my personal pet projects, I still see entertainment potential in the live action content Fulldome format, which has proven to be the most immersive tool of visual storytelling on the market. High-resolution Fulldome features tied in with an extended (mobile) transmedia experience outside the projection venue will take up a major stake of the business.

However, the venue infrastructure in SEA has yet to be established. China on the other hand will surely lead the introduction of this format as it has been subsidizing new dome venues for the past years and is ready when it comes to digital distribution infrastructures.

Transmedia in Singapore will start small and incremental. Dealing with the budget issue lean ways of rolling out a project will become the best practice. Given what kind of projects are being developed and pitched right now, location based transmedia experiences appear to dominate the first wave of projects.

I am reminded of this trend every day when passing the construction site of the new National Stadium. Singapore’s new sports hub and jewel of interactive media architecture. Once the stadium opens it will surely be a sandbox for advertisers and experience designers.

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The journey ahead

Now, this article might sound like that there have been no substantial projects produced in Singapore so far. In fact, talented Singaporean creators already came up with remarkable transmedia experiences over the past 6 years. Some even commissioned by large brands, others gained short-lived international media recognition. However, still, the market kept dismissing the trend and the signs of time, till now.

There is no doubt that Singapore is about to become a pioneering hub for transmedia in Asia. However, this development is not ignited by government initiatives, festival labs or academic programs. It is a movement solely headed by a small but growing group of independent creators that circumvent the corporate gate-keeping mentality by offering integrated strategies execs cannot refuse.

Communicating and educating what transmedia concepts are about in a language brands understand while creating tailor made content for and with the local audience will be their selling point. Once this is clearly communicated it will be obvious for brands and agencies that without pivoting to a transmedia approach in customer relationship management there will be too much left on the table.

Singapore is no media paradise at this point in time, but rather a rough territory for digital prospectors. The chances for striking gold are plenty but also risky. While the journey ahead is still long and bumpy, the direction is clear.

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Notes:

As there are a couple more factors that come into play but have been barely touched upon, I will publish an extended and updated version of this article, especially addressing the implications and changes of the movie industry in SEA with the emergence of transmedia in the region, in the upcoming edition of our Asian Screen report series.

For all Singapore creators and producers, I created a monthly meetup series where we discuss about transmedia concepts, latest local projects and exchange ideas. Please join the community of storytellers here. For everyone outside of Singapore feel free to join as well and stay in touch with the local industry on news, projects and future reports.

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#transmedia watch Hong Kong (Summer 2013 edition v.2)

This HK Transmedia Watch follow-up post will showcase a small local student project that combines Indonesian Puppetry with transmedia elements as well as take a look at the endorsement culture and stalling strategies of local film distributors when it comes to promotion gambles that potentially maximizing the box office results.

Digital Wayang

I stumbled more less by “accident” upon this project as Facebook was targeting a sponsored post to my wall on the day of the event. Created by a group of media design students from HK Polytechnic University, this project attempts to revive the almost lost artistry of the Indonesian Puppet/Shadow Play and its vast and rich storytelling heritage by the use of digital means.

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Core of Digital Wayang was a live performance of renowned puppet artist Aldy Sanjaya who came to HK with his whole set of traditional puppets to present a part of the well known Ramayana story. He was accompanied by a set of story world supporting animations projected onto the stage.

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The project also includes a board game of which I was fortunate enough to receive one of the prototypes. A digital version of this game will soon be released as iPad app and brings the user deeper into the fascinating universe of Wayang. After the digital show Sanjaya gave an introduction to Indonesian culture and the history of his puppetry art.

IMG_7564 Digital Wayang offered a mesmerizing experience of visuals, game and culture. It gave a glimpse into how traditional art can be garner to a young audience by the use of transmedia. While the limitations of the project within this academic environment were outweighing its commercial appeal, it still displayed the potential of interdisciplinary media and experiential entertainment based on traditional storytelling and local culture. It most definitely made me research on Indonesian puppet theater and think about other ways of “media-upgrading” this unique story experience.

http://www.digitalwayang.com/

https://www.facebook.com/digitalwayang

http://digitalwayang.blogspot.hk/

Endorsement culture

The heavily buzzed local dance film The Way We Dance launched at HK theaters early August after being locked up for 5 months following its premiere screening in March 2013. The distributor applied the frequently used and favored strategy of withholding a local film, produced for a local audience, from the local market while running it on festivals all over the world. I’ll talk a bit more about this specific market stalling tactics later on, let me walk you through the marketing choreography of this film first.

Obviously, The Way We Dance comes off as HK’s version of Street Dance and taps into the most desirable target demographic imaginable. Street dancing is tremendously popular amongst local teens and even tweens, and presents its local story about following your dreams with up and coming music and model stars. Hence, the vitally important Millennial audience group is perfectly served. In fact, this concept is the wet dream of a HK producer and sounds like a money making machine. The Street Dance films have produced solid box office results so far. What could possibly go wrong with a localized version?

The traditional marketing machinery was quickly ramping up after screenings at Udine and Edinburgh. Appearances of cast and crew at preview screenings, radio shows, TV and a street performance of graffiti artists tied in with people holding up pre-selected cards with dream wishes for a nice Facebook photo. Social media was leveraged to its fullest. Events at HK universities and WeChat where actors talk, talk, talk, talk and talk… (not dance).

The 360-buzz worked. Word of mouth and reviews have been dazzling positive throughout. The distributor lined up a typhoon of veteran film stars and director legends like Ann Hui to endorse the project publicly (without understanding the culture behind it though). One could have the impression this project is a collective effort of the entire HK film industry, at least what is left of it anyway. The veterans praised the film with comparisons to the HK New Wave movement from the early 1980s. Wait! WHAT??? A film that is about street dancing and targeted to Millennials? Kids that consider everything older than 5 years is dusted movie history?

Clearly there is a significant disconnect between this traditional art film campaign and and the YouTube generation it is created for. It does not matter how often the audience sees the film’s cute actors talking about themselves and how amazing the production time was. A campaign simply renders ineffective once no one thought about how to get these kids involve and let them interact. After all it IS about dancing and music. Fast, vibrant, connected and energetic. This is what a campaign needs to serve to keep pace with its audience. What they got instead was a snail race and the films own audience outrun it the moment the crew started shooting in silence.

In fact, cinemas saw what was going on with the film’s marketing and gave it a limited amount of shows for it’s opening weekend. The first 4 days (including previews) cashed in a solid but not overwhelming HK$ 1.4 million. Considering the amount of buzz this borders at the realms of under-performance. But HK kids love the film, they want it to be a success. Hence, they jump in where the distributor failed. Large amounts of tickets are being bought up by fans, sold amongst their friends via WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook. Others create Facebook events to get their peers mobilized. The effort was enormous and picked up speed quickly. Usually, a local film would drop in admissions during it’s first week in cinemas but The Way We Dance managed to keep steadily afloat, with a total box office of HK$ 3.54 after the 2nd weekend.

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Just as side comparison, Dante Lam’s new film Unbeatable (admittedly a more commercial and mainstream production) just made HK$ 9.46 after 4 days (including previews). Even though it got more screens in cinemas it had a slightly less buzzed traditional campaign going, mainly based on 1 single magazine cover. While Unbeatable aims for a clearly higher demographic that is fewer in numbers, I dare to say that the core message of following your dream is equally included like in The Way We Dance.

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Recently, another local release went for a similar basic marketing campaign. The horror film omnibus series Tales From The Dark. My very first encounter with Tales was at the cinema. Right in-between thundering trailers to Men of Steel and The Wolverine there was this two and a half minute something with a supposedly scary background music and a dozen of HK stars trying to convince me how horrifying and cool this flick would be. Essentially I sat through interviews disguised as trailer.

This is a very common way of promoting films. Usually the first teaser to a local production is always a 2 minute making of. Personally I find that most irritating. After all, Hollywood studios won’t show you how the Avengers look like in front of a green screen before the first teaser trailer with all the smashing effects is out there for months already.

Endorsements have become the prime objective to all marketing efforts. The actual film has become less important than the person that is endorsing it. What distributors forget is that this situation resonates very little with the Millennials demographic but rather engages a far older audience that is less willing to spend their quality time in dark rooms with small screens. Eventually the economics are simple. When distributors target the senior demographic group the box office result will be less due to the discount schemes. On top, this audience group will most likely choose weekend morning shows which brings the discount ticket price even further down.

Stalling as promotion

Let me cycle back to the notorious stalling tactics by distributors. It has become fashionable to premiere and run a HK film abroad for a period up to 1 year till it finally hits the locals screens in its own market. Usually this involves screenings at festivals while domestic press is reporting about the raving reviews and marketing stunts this film does somewhere on the other side of the globe. Ann Hui’s A Simple Life was such a case. The cultural conscious proofs this tactics right. HK audience seems to react very strongly to things that they are excluded from. Hence witnessing a local film doing its theater run in North America builds up an enormous urge to see this “forbidden” treasure once the local distributor is gracious enough to allow it to its own viewers.

Since this has proven to ensure the success of a film in HK we usually get to see all the highlights of HK  cinema for the running year during the industry’s fair Filmart in March as stealth screenings or one-off events until their actual release far later down the road. Pang Ho Cheung’s Vulgaria was such a shelved title. But different to most films it gained significance in cultural meaning and momentum during the months of hiding from the screens due to political developments and trends in HK happening in spring and summer 2012.

Apparently, some local films are being shelved for several years as the distributors wait for a miracle. Obviously the main trouble does not lie within distribution but rather the fact that local films are being produced without the slightest attempt to gather the needed market and audience research up front. In fact most local films are never intended to be appreciated by a local audience and hence will never see the point of significance for a release.

What strikes me recently is the silent underground movement of the Bollywood films on HK’s screens that discloses what’s wrong with the city’s marketing thinking of maintaining the status quo instead of pivoting to innovation. Evidently there is a growing community of HK moviegoers that appreciates the extravaganza only an Indian film can offer these days. It is a rare exception that Bollywood films get picked up by local distributors or even see a wider release despite the proven recent success of films like 3 Idiots or Barfi. However, there are still day-and-date released of all the big blockbusters.

Specialized niche distributors like Cineworld, sitting somewhere inside Chungking Mansion, with strong connections to the home land buy up entire screens and resell the tickets. Shows are usually limited but always sold out. In fact ticket sales go so well that after one of the major cinemas in town that had the seat capacity and “willingness” to book Bollywood films closed down earlier this year, shows moved to an IMAX screen.

#transmedia watch Hong Kong (summer 2013 edition) Hong Kong’s movie marketing 2.0 and the attempt to be “transmedia”

After Hollywood’s two reigning emperors proclaimed a soon implosion of the movie industry distributors are under pressure to make this summer’s tent-pole blockbusters work. In fact the pressure is so great that even lethargic HK distributors uppen their game. The “innovations” that are hitting the streets right now would not be worth mentioning in any other city, but here in HK they are a big step forward after years of ignoring what happened in other markets.

Hurray, we got NFC!

One of the major players and often innovation implementers is JCDecaux. Simply because it runs all signages and ad spaces on the MTR, an environment with traditionally steady amount of foot-traffic as well as tech savvy consumer demographic. We have seen a great deal of escalator redesigns via custom made large scale sticker posters and turning entire corridors into Canon’s scenic photo landscapes or giant crawling babies trying to sell diapers and milk formula.

Let’s first talk about an old troublemaker, the QR code. It is still a constant in the MTR ad sphere despite the countless failing attempts of advertisers to make it work. Posters with QR codes are regarded as interactive advertising and hence can considered as paramount practice (from a HK perspective). JCD tries different ways to make them work as this means business to them. Entire poster campaigns were created that help educate the usage of QR codes.

Earlier this year JCD launched Pricerite’s virtual e-store on the MTR by installing posters displaying the company’s product range, each with a QR code that would let you order products on the spot (http://www.campaignasia.com/Article/340614,jcdecaux-helps-pricerite-launch-8216virtual-e-store8217-campaign-in-mtr.aspx). Tesco ran this campaign already 2 years ago and it was picked up in Japan and Europe before this began making sense to a HK based brand.

As Samsung gained tremendous market share on the HK smart phone sector in the past year the introduction of NFC enabled advertising has become a viable option. As integrative measure, JCD came up with a QR/NFC bundle package that not only provides the physical linkage on site but also the online content. Film distributors (and other advertisers) do not have to worry about their landing page content anymore and whether it works.

After introducing this strategy in March quick responding brands like Osim or SKII used this offer, even before Samsung itself jumped on it. Now, we see the first movie campaign rolling out with this technology, Pacific Rim. I talked about Warner’s mobile content debacle with the Dark Knight Rises last summer in my 2012 recap post. This time they simply outsourced to JCD to make it work and it really works. But then again, what do people who actually scan either of the codes get? A small mobile enabled landing page with 1 link to like the movie’s HK Facebook page and 2 links to YouTube trailers.

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Last year we were already experimenting in-house with NFC enabled posters to our projects, using the same NFC stickers like JCD is doing now. A poster would have several NFC spots and users that scan would receive different video clips according to the character pictured. However, as a standalone gimmick this did not make much sense, so we tried to include it into a wider outdoor experience concept. However, we decided to use NFC stickers for BluRay covers to our projects in order to provide an additional story extension tool.

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At the end of the day, NFC is a 1 way communication channel. So what exactly is the interactive value from JCD’s code bundle product and why should passengers on the MTR bother scanning the codes? To be honest, I have yet to see someone stopping in front of any poster and scanning a code. In fact, when I did pictures of this poster and tried the code passersby looked at me as I were crazy and would do something socially offending. Do we have a certain behavioral barrier on interacting with content in HK? Unfortunately, when it comes to regular content like this, yes. But not so much when it comes to yellow rubber ducks or cute, fluffy monsters.

Hurray, we got ice cream and games!

I also mentioned in the 2012 recap that Disney is being heading the transmedia game in HK. They continue doing so with Monster University by creating the movie’s campus in front of the Time Square shopping mall. Tie-ins with fashion brands and countless other merchandising deals flooding the city for weeks now. When something is rolling out that huge in HK it must be successful at the box office, at least that is the traditional thinking pattern. The illusion of “it’s big” always prevails over “it’s good” and people will flock to the cinemas. But will Disney break even on these marketing expenses just by the theatrical run revenue in HK? Probably not, and they do not have to anyways.

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Other distributors trying to gain some ground at the animation front. Fox started to deploy an all branded ice cream truck for its latest features The Croods and Turbo. But what is more important to Fox than animation is Wolverine this year. The studio’s very own super-hero franchise summer blockbuster that goes up against Warner’s Man of Steel and Marvel’s (Disney) Iron Man 3. Hence, the movie’s importance is so tremendous that Fox set up an interactive game screen that uses motion recognition and a touch screen to be controlled by the visitors of a 2nd tier shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui East.

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What we might get and others already have…

In South-Korea, CJ Entertainment experimented with the Wi-Fi Poster to get people engaged. Passersby can access a dedicated wifi network that is being send out by the poster in order to access the movie’s webpage. Ultimately this bears little potential. While the technology is intriguing it just replaces the process of scanning something with logging into an open network without having actual content value add on or interactivity with the movie’s story universe.

Last year, we also experimented in-house with image recognition apps that would overlay video content on specific photos or locations as sort of augmented reality interface for your smart phone’s camera (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUeSLLpKsrQ). The app is called Aurasma and is connected with Google Maps. Users can create their own points of photo recognition and input own content. Recently, Getty Images picked up this technology for their “Transmedia Storytelling” campaign. The campaigns preferred carrier app is Ogle which is based upon Aurasma. In June, we had the chance to present Getty’s augmented reality enabled photo packets at the HK Webfest 2013 for the first time ever.

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While the above mentioned technology is available for your smart phone, you always need to do a step or 2 before actually “interacting” with the content given. Either downloading and installing an app or connecting to another network. I always tell participants in my transmedia seminars that they need to start thinking about how to create content for interactions with something users/audience are already using instead of establishing something new which creates additional work and education.

Something that comes this concept the closest are the Weibo walls found in Beijing cinema lobbies. You can log into the wall directly from your Weibo account on the phone and grand the wall access to your phone’s photo folder in order to add your pictures and messages to the wall by a swipe. The technology is simple. There is no direct communication between the wall and the phone, it all runs through Weibo. Hence, the possibilities for service providers/advertisers/content producers to gather a vast amount of behavioral data is enormous.

In HK we also have a number of tech startups already holding solutions that help tracking and collecting such data. When we visited this year’s exhibition of the ICT Awards 2013 Winners there were 2 companies that offered digital signages that not only provide a large touch screen solution, for example for cinema ticket bookings, but also recognize and analyze facial expressions while customers using the device. Now, content can be specifically tailored for usage. This technology also works in app form on tablets or smart phones. Admittedly, while this technology is the wet dream of every advertiser it also sounds scary as we already arrived at Spielberg’s Minority Report, with which the loop of the industry’s imminent implosion would come to a close.

5 future uses of immersive FullDome entertainment (incl. investment opportunities)

Content, Interest, Platform

Till now, most content that is projected/produced on FullDomes around the world is either fully CGI based imagery (cartoons, educational shows, animations, etc), or space/nature imagery through Time-lapse capture or IMAX shot and later blown out footage.
With the rise of “high pixel count” stitching and other computer augmented devices, the necessity of distorting imagery or simply creating it digitally is becoming a thing of the past with the possibility of live action shooting in a FullDome delivery thought out process.IMG_5530This is where the technology/workflow presented at the HK Filmart 2013 comes in.   

IMG_5532Please refer back to our previous post for the technical specs/presentation of what was showcased in the March event.
The information presented below is bearing in mind the production and presented workflow/technology used from SalonFilms and presented in March of this year.

Possible Usage of FullDome technology

Environment simulation (integration to a 3D cave simulator) for technical training
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For all problematic, complex and dangerous training situations, nowadays, big services and technology companies train their technicians through a mix of simulators and 3D projection caves (example of the technology).
This technology helps qualified personnel in getting used to the environment they’re going to find in the field and adapt their processes and workflows into the situation they find themselves in, generating better and more prepared technicians.
FullDome live action capture can, not only replace some of these environments with real life imagery and therefore help with a better integration of the user into the environment, but it can also better prepare these technicians as place illusion can be essential for a better capture of the learned outcomes through the simulators and having them totally immersed in their environment.

House and building reproduction through CGI or through model reproduction with High-Def cameras (Property Showroom)
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Property development in HK grows at a rampant and unstoppable speed year on year.
Every month, companies try to find new ways of attracting possible buyers into their properties with new and innovative gimmicks, with some of the most popular being house and environment demos (built on the spot exhibits of what the environment inside a house would look like) and beautifully simulated environment videos (2-3 and sometimes even 4 wall projections of the environment). These simulations/demos also have a more tactile component to them as some property developers create a real set experience where people can walk through a built apartment near where the construction of the property will be developed.
A FullDome simulation/capture of these environments, not only would give clients a better understanding and immersiveness of the house/property they are interested in buying but it would also give the property developers a much broader and cheaper way of transporting and multiplying their simulators into different locations in Hong Kong and even Worldwide.
With the use of the portable Domes and the high quality, high pixel count projectors with great looking content, property developers would have a great way of “wowing” their costumers and better influencing their buying habits.
If the production of the property is still under development or there are only computer generated
 images of the environment, then the technology developed through FullDome projection can also be incorporated to fully CGI’ed imagery, but with a much higher resolution than now available in the market.

A seamless integration of content in entertainment environments like park rides, haunted houses, etc
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One of the biggest uses of large projected images in the world today, are entertainment experiences through simulated locations (Universal Studios, DisneyLand, etc).
These locations are usually designed so people walkthrough or are escorted through environments with single points of attention (like screens, posters, tactile simulations) and are limited to the construction of the environment in accordance to the better POV’s that can be captured from the audience.
HAUNT_1_998With a FullDome integrated environment, these experiences would not only be much more fun and interactive, but they’d have a much larger component of entertainment to them, as any location, environment, situation, could be enjoyed through different perspectives, and hence give the audience a multiple try experience (they’d go to the location as many times as possible so they’d be able to enjoy it always from different points of perspective).

Educational purposes for better image capture of remote locations
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One of the main usages of FullDomes around the world is education.
Having a great sense of wonderment and immersiveness while being at a FullDome experience is an integral part of a tech savvy and habituated child’s growth and with the newly presented tech this niche market can become bigger and bigger.
A common FullDome is a still and limited look at an environment, projected and captured through a single view point/perspective. With the new technology from Filmart, this might not be a limitation for content/educational creators anymore, as the attention of a child on the screen can be captured by multiple viewpoints of the content that is being presented.
A full 360 degree image is simulated (rendered or captured) in the FullDome environment and children that way have a constant interaction and immersion to the imagery presented, always having a point of attention on the screen with their movements.

Live entertainment opportunities in concerts, sports events and environment projection for new shows Simulating different environments in home or live use.
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Interactivity in events is something that is becoming more and more seamless in the tech community, with event planners and production specialists always trying to find new ways of capturing the attention of their audience.
A great example of having a specially created FullDome experience for an audience is them having the possibility of experiencing a 360 degree event that they can enjoy without being preoccupied with the people around them covering what they are looking at during the event.
A FullDome environment has multiple attraction points of content for an audience and with the immersiveness that that brings to them, the audience has a further satisfaction from the content (concerts, sports events, etc) that they experience.
Watching live coverage of the Olympic games in multiple countries with totally designed experiences of the events presented (one of the limitations existing in the Olympic Games is several specialized sports events in single locations at the same time, that have to be cut down or edited in broadcasting or post-production), being a part of an audience at a Formula1 event, watching a total immersive experience at a concert with beautifully shot surrounding environment shots, Having concerts inside different locations in a matter of minutes while the musicians are playing inside the Dome… these are some of the experiences a FullDome installation and Live Action capture can give to an interested investor and audience.

Investment opportunities

As with all state of the art technology, the necessary initial funding and development process is long and arduous, with a lot of focus being targeted at the feasibility of the tech in accordance to the market’s needs.
In this aspect, FullDome technology isn’t any different, although it brings new and exciting possibilities to the table.
Not only are investors, producers and developers in a stage where they can influence the integration and evolution of the technology, they have the possibility of revolutionizing several norms of entertainment and experience based technology into generating fully immersive environments with beautiful and seamless imagery.
Although the technology has gotten to a stage where great possibilities are foreseen, the necessity of content generated to attract possible costumers is a must and this is where Haexagon Concepts brings to you a call to arms.

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If you have great ideas or are interested in seeing where this technology can take you and your costumers, contact us at: concepts@haexagon.org or through one of our several Social Media Networks.

LA Webfest 2013 – defining the future of webseries

Short observations from the LA Webfest (March 28-31, 2013):

In 2010, LA based TV writer, producer and director Michael Ajakwe gave birth to a simple idea, creating a place for the new story format webseries, to be seen, find like-minded creators and exchange ideas. Soon, the concept took up international speed and a group of visionaries around French producer Jean-Michel Albert launched the Marseille Webfest in late 2011.

2013 marks the 4th anniversary of the LA Webfest and Ajakwe’s idea has grown into a global movement by now. This year we have 2 more webfests to follow his lead: Melbourne, Australia in July and ours in Hong Kong, June 5-7.

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Not only did the movement grow, more webseries are produced worldwide today than ever. Vast communities fueled by Google Plus connecting internationally and the big players in the industry start to jump in on the game. Canada created various media funds webseries makers can tap into. Hollywood started launching digital departments with each of its studios, that are solely producing targeted webseries content with high production value. France sees a vivid content market where webseries get licensed into TV networks.

For the second time, the LA Webfest took place at the Radisson LAX, providing all events and screenings under one roof. The 4 day event saw a total of 220 series screened (each twice) as well as a large variety of panel discussions with makers and industry experts. Most notable were Henry Jenkins’ transmedia storytelling panel and the “woman taking control” round tables.

Festival director Ajakwe made a strong focus on how to turn a webseries into a TV show by hosting a seminar in which he showcased the adaptation of his webseries “Who…” into the soon to be aired show “Trophy Wife”. This topic was paramount to most round table discussions and private conversations as well.

Turning a webseries into a TV show seems to be the more realistic scenario in Hollywood as opposed to TV licensing content for straight syndication in Europe. Also, questions of how to monetize a webseries kept popping up throughout the 4 festival days but were barely answered comprehensively. While most proposed Kickstarter, product placements or private investors others went for self-financing their shows with day jobs or the 3 “F”s.

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Only few I met were thinking about alternative business models in order to finance their shows. One of them was the team of Dark Pool, Karen Pollard and Rick Gott based out of Sacramento. Due to their educator background they give local film students the chance to participate in professional productions within their newly created studio Indie Episodic. While having a constant fundraiser running on Indiegogo they make finance deals with local businesses and offer web commercials in return. Such commercials are being produced by their students as well, which provides them with the opportunity to get their work seen and even onto TV. Pollard & Gott’s mission is to bring webseries to a mature audience. They want to create stories that are accessible to a demographic that is mostly ignored by commercial creators as it is a less tech savvy but sophisticated one.

The other end of the spectrum was Jill Golick with Ruby Skye P.I., based out of Toronto. Her mission is to serve another neglected demographics in web entertainment, teenagers. With her award-winning young detective show she was able to tap into the Canadian Independent Production Fund as well as secure some tax incentives which gave her show a comparatively generous budget. Prepping for season 3 right now, Ruby Skye holds a vast web universe of interactive clues from the show and a wide range of merchandise articles.

Opinions widely differed when it came to distribution platforms. While YouTube turns increasingly into a legal troublemaker for shows when it comes to music rights or other (often falsely flagged) copyright claims alternative platforms where seen as critical too. For most creators Koldcast seems to provide a good deal once the show is selected. Others criticized the platform for not providing topic separation between the shows, thus kids shows appear next to adult targeted ones.

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General consensus, however, was to follow the model of the music industry. Michael Ajakwe brought up several times the comparison to Rap music in the 90s and how this new underdog style gradually moved into a fixed position between all other accepted popular music styles like Rock, Pop, Classic or the like. Webseries will eventually be seen in the same way, as a standalone medium next to film and TV.

While the medium matures finance models will too. At this time in history creators still think about micro payment models for the “end-user”, similar to the 99cents per music track iTunes offers. Eventually, a model needs to be created that is not inspired or oriented by outdated business practices of the old media like feature film or TV but rather adapts to the situation of mobile technology and audience behavior on both ends, online and offline.

On June 6, 2013, we will will discuss this point in further detail at the HK Webfest. As Asia holds a different stance within the new media entertainment landscape we will tackle the finance issue primarily from a branded content angle as film and TV industry have yet to fully comprehend and implement the concepts of transmedia and subsequent webseries.

For the first time, LA Webfest was selecting shows from Hong Kong to be screened and run in competition. A total of 10 awards went to Mr French Taste, Squattertown and Galaman.

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