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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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.

Fulldome & the future of immersive storytelling

fulldome

Three years in the making, during Filmart 2013 we will finally reveal one of the most innovative projects we worked on so far: Fulldome live action high resolution immersive entertainment!

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Following, some Q&A to gain a better understanding of the topic:

What is Fulldome and why is doing it in live action such a big deal?

The Fulldome format is a half sphere (360 degree plus top) projection onto a screen inside a copula venue. Usually space or science museums have such a special venue and offer educational programs about astronomy and nature. Those special cinemas and their shows have been around for a long time, ever since the early 1980s. In order to be able to project into a spherical shaped screen the video content needs to be rendered into the so called Fulldome Master, which holds a square aspect ratio with a circular image in the middle and blacked out corners. This Fulldome Master will be split into a certain number of separate video streams during projection and a software blends together all edges of each projector’s image.

The nature of this format has it that the resolution of the entire Fulldome Master image is 4K at best (depending on the projection system) but not coherent within the image itself. The sides of the round Fulldome image usually hold up on the original resolution while the number of pixels dramatically decreases towards the top (center) point. Hence, a full resolution is not guaranteed.

The market for Fulldome is comparatively small and the number of productions very limited, new productions are in fact almost stalling. Most Fulldome shows are full animations, primarily targeting a school class audience or short lived family entertainment on weekends. The few live action productions were mostly done by the use of one single camera fitted with an extreme fish-eye lens shooting upwards. Besides the strong distortion effect, most the image content is occupied by the sky and hence less attractive. Now, everyone who has been to a Fulldome show will attest that the factor of immersiveness is far greater than any other media out there, only the content that is presented is anything but enticing. And that’s where our project started.

What is the project about?

Geographically, in terms of Fulldome, HK is located in a very prestige spot. Three of the world’s four only 8K projection enabled Fulldome venues are in “close” neighborhood: The HK Space Museum, the Macau Science Centre and the Beijing Planetarium. All three venues are technically equipped but got no high resolution content to display.

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On top, four years ago the Chinese government set up a development scheme in which it subsidizes the building of new Digital Dome theaters all over the country. A great number of smaller Domes are already completed, many others in the pipeline.

The simple challenge is, that the market lacks content while the amount of screens steadily rises within the Greater China region. Content is key, hence we came up with the idea to serve the gap with live action high resolution productions. At this moment, our strategy is to shoot with seven RED Epic cameras, each on a resolution of 5K. We developed a special back end pipeline to process those seven video streams separately as well as project them without the usual stitching into the Fulldome format. This guarantees a far higher end result. The nominal resolution is estimated roughly at around 12k+. Of course, this cannot be technically handled by the venues yet, thus a down convert to facilitate the full 8k by 8k resolution will be necessary.

The downside and primarily the reason why live action Fulldome has not been established as a viable production model is the comparatively increased costs as well as technical challenges. A 20 minute Fulldome feature can cost as much as a medium feature length cinema movie. This, of course, is in respect to the budget situation in HK, not to US or Europe! Hence, we see a fundamental advantage for financing this type of production in China as costs can be controlled within a lower segment.

Content-wise there are no limitations. Fulldome already works with 3D and real time interactions which elevates the immersiveness factor. Fiction formats work as good as documentaries or educational and instruction videos. Dome setups are widely used as simulation environments as they offer a great deal of realism. One of the most viable scenarios are concert and music formats.

Who is participating in this project?

Headed by Salon Films, the project was jointly developed in close collaboration with domeprojection.com, a German company specialized on dome projection and auto-alignment technology, that also developed the camera rig for the live action shoot. Also, as operator of the HK Space Museum and the Macau Science Centre, PCCW functions as supporter in terms of venue and subsequent distribution partner. RED Cameras is supporting the prototyping with their RED Epic cameras. Haexagon Concepts participates in business as well as project development.

What will happen at Filmart 2013?

Salon Films will install a Fulldome tent inside the HKTDC’s booth and project certain test video to showcase the technology. This will be the first time ever, HK Filmart is hosting a Fulldome projection. Interested parties can receive an invite and get access to the industry market in order to visit the booth and discuss future opportunities. Salon Films will have information material on site as well as a representative. We from Haexagon Concepts will also be assisting and giving insight in this project. Please contact us for more details: concepts@haexagon.org

Links:

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