DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.


Innovation from the North

I'm pleased to announce a panel I've assembled for the fall Digital Hollywood conference track on virtual and augmented reality: Innovation from the North: A Look at VR, AR, and Immersive Entertainment in Canada

Last spring Victor Harwood produced a stellar group of sessions on virtual reality and related innovations at this long-running conference. Sessions were so well attended and interesting that expanded the number and breadth of topics across three days of the conference. Take a look at all the sessions here.

With VR literally exploding across the landscape of entertainment and technology, I wanted to make sure we included innovators in this space that I've met during my work in Toronto with the IDEABOOST Accelerator. Here's what I came up with:

As the market for new VR and immersive technologies explode, centers of innovation like Canada are making significant contributions, both creatively and technologically. With two of North America’s busiest film/TV production centers and arguably the deepest bench in 3D animation technologies in the world, Canadian artists, entrepreneurs and institutions are making waves in a market that requires both. Join Nick DeMartino, senior advisor to the Canadian Film Centre, and a stellar panel from north of the border to explore the cutting edge of entertainment.

Speakers include: 

  • Ana Serrano, Chief Digital Officer, Canadian Film Centre
  • Eric W. Shamlin, Managing Director / Executive Producer, Secret Location
  • Sean Ramsay, Founder, Bubl Technology
  • Roy Taylor, Corporate Vice President and Head of Alliances, AMD
  • J. Lee Williams, Producer-Director, 1188 Films & Occupied VR  
  • Nick DeMartino, Chair, IDEABOOST Board: Moderator

Date: Wednesday, October 21st. 9:00 AM - 10:15 AM - Marina Vista Room. (Billed as the Immersive Breakfast Roundtable).

Click to read more ...


The 'Third Wave' of Media Brands, according Allen Debevoise

One of the joys of chairing the IDEABOOST Board of Advisors is when I'm able to successfully recruit those whose work I truly admire to the cause. Case in point: entrepreneur and investor Allen Debevoise joined the IDEABOOST Board of Advisors in 2014, just a few months after launching Third Wave Digital, an investment fund focusing entirely upon digital media startups. He is a perfect choice to help guide IDEABOOST, because of his long history in building, running, and investing in media businesses over the past 30 years. I interviewed him and wrote an article that was published in a slightly different form by the Canadian Film Centre: here

Allen Debevoise, Third Wave DigitalThird Wave Digital is named after the “third wave” of media innovation – the first was conventional linear broadcasting; the second came with the rise of cable and satellite infrastructure that generated new business models and programming brands like HBO, CNN, MTV, and Discovery.

“With broadband, we saw the emergence of new video brands that were driven really by the Internet, like YouTube and Netflix,” says Debevoise. “This was the beginning of the Third Wave of video programming brands being born. A bunch of other brands started to build on the new platforms – companies like StyleHaul and Maker and FullScreen. And then we got totally original brands like Vice. We’ll continue to see new brands emerge on places like Snapchat, brands that are about programming.”

I met Debevoise in the 90’s, first as a player in interactive television and new forms of cable TV, and later as he became one of the first web entrepreneurs, with Creative Planet. As online video swept the world, Debevoise went on to co-found companies, such as Machinima, StyleHaul, DanceOn, INDMusic, MiTú Network, and Tubular Labs. Debevoise has invested in over 70 companies as an angel investor, including IDEABOOST startups Bubl Technology and Raur. Though he has left management of gamer-oriented Machinima, he remains Board Chair.

Third-wave brands impact both the business and the content of incumbent media. Netflix’s on-demand library of binge-watchable content has stimulated the growth of serialized story content on other platforms – the second “The Golden Age” of TV. YouTube, along with mobile devices, has created an entirely new category of short-form content and an ecosystem of influencers that has created a new form of content discovery.

Third-wave brands are becoming valuable and viable more quickly than previous waves, says Debevoise. “We can build a brand more efficiently, we can be global, and we can start to activate some content deals.... We find an audience, we have a basic business model and then we grow it over time. That’s the model.”

And so he notes the success of certain properties from Vice or Style Haul or Awesomeness TV which are already competitive with mid-level cable, even theatrical product, all the while continuing to generate revenue from multiple sources such as licensing, merchandise, branded entertainment, ads on vast repositories user-generated content.

In Debevoise’s view, there is plenty of room for more entrants in the video business – “I know people like to talk about TV viewing vs. online viewing – but, I just call it video consumption! It’s huge, right? Whether kids are doing it more on mobile phones and short form and older generations sit in front of a TV set, the video consumption category in aggregate is huge. So, if you’re good at creating content you’re going to have a lot of opportunities to monetize that content to create new brands.”

More than anything, Debevoise is looking for companies that care about a specific audience: “They get really good at the content and social and community management, every issue around that audience -- that’s a winning formula in a world that is going to be cluttered with platforms and apps and junk all over the place. Building a brand that cuts through it and is really clear and crisp is going to be increasingly important.”

In addition to his programming investments, Debevoise likes tech-based startups that serve this new ecosystem of emerging brands. “Some of the newer companies can’t afford to build analytics or data warehousing or how to move audiences across platforms. So we have companies like Epoxy and Social Edge that enable smaller programming brands to be more effective.”

Third Wave Digital is also actively investing in the emerging virtual reality ecosystem. Debevoise would like to see strong programming and content brands in VR, just like other third-wave segments, but “in VR, quite frankly, I haven’t seen a lot of them yet. It reminds me a little bit of the early days of computer graphics where you had companies trying to do everything – like Pixar. At some point they got great when they said, oh, we’re just making movies, right?”

Part of the problem is that the VR platform issues haven’t been sorted out, with players like Samsung, HTC, Sony, Oculus, Valve and others offering proprietary solutions. “It’s the kind of mess we had in the telecom world before Apple and Android,” he says. So until he sees “entrepreneurs show up that say, I’m going to offer VR for children, or be the VICE of VR – crisp audience-focused brands,” Debevoise will focus on companies like WEVR, that has built a cross-platform VR system and is helping to grow content.

Debevoise is always seeking new opportunities – Third Wave has averaged two investments per month since its founding last year. How does he find them? “Typically, I know founders already or they are referred to me by somebody I trust from a content or platform partner or from investors that I think are smart.”

Increasingly, he finds deal flow from accelerators like IDEABOOST, which he believes serve a critical role in the early stage seed financing model.

Debevoise has great things to say about Canada as a source of innovation: “Canada has a tremendous legacy and terrific capabilities ... I think Canada is in an incredible position given its legacy in animation and filmmaking and gaming and computer software.”

Nick DeMartino is chair of the IDEABOOST Board of Advisors, a consultant in media and technology, and former SVP at the American Film Institute.



A Warm Emmy Feeling

It’s kind of like that feeling on Christmas or maybe your birthday when you got a gift you weren’t expecting, that’s what I had last night at the annual ‘Celebration of Excellence’ event for the TV Academy’s Interactive Media Peer Group (IMPG). I was recognized with the “Lucy Hood Digerati Award” for exceptional contribution the group (and presumably the industry, since much of what I think earned me this award actually predated the founding of the IMPG, e.g. the programs I created in the 1990’s at the American Film Institute.)

It was a great feeling when I was a kid, and it feels pretty good now, especially coming (literally) from my peers. As I said to the group, I used to call the Enhanced Television Workshop, launched in 1997, the “Why Bother?” program, because that’s what most people in Hollywood said to me when I described what we had in mind – a creative sandbox that would allow talented storytellers to meet technologists, designers, and programmers who could help them bring audiences into their stories. We attracted a lot of brilliant people – I once called them ‘interactivists’ – many of whom are my colleagues in the IMPG to this day. As I looked out at the crowd last night, the answer to that “Why Bother?” question was obvious. That’s why we bothered.

BTW, for you history buffs, I wrote a blog post about the origins of the IMPG a few years ago. 


Ten Things To Know about Today’s Music Biz

I recently organized and moderated two music panels at the Digital Hollywood conference, showcasing the views and expertise of eleven professionals from virtually all aspects of the contemporary digital music business. There were two panels with two discussions (music & YouTube; music and social), but truthfully, this is an ongoing conversation in which music is the canary in the coal mine – trends we see now in music are trends we’ll see throughout the digital media ecosystem.

Many thanks to the panelists, listed below, for their enthusiastic and frank discussions, and apologies that I don’t have direct quotes for attribution. I was busy moderating :) Here’s some of what they said:

The “traditional” music business has collapsed – meaning consumers spend dramatically less on recorded music today than they did at the peak of the business --- whether it’s CDs, downloads, or subscriptions to streaming services. And yet, the ecosystem survives, with money flowing from more sources to more participants.

This was and still is a blockbuster business, with a disproportionate share of the revenue going to the most popular artists. In some ways, the “network effect” has cemented this reality even more than the old days when radio ruled (which, by the way, it still does, sort of).

There are only 300,000 songs that make any money, and 20+ million songs that don’t. That “long tail” can be monetized, but it takes focus and innovation to do so (and one of our panelists has a company that is doing just that). With the cost of production so low, professional musicians now compete with millions of amateur tracks.

We are in the era of music discovery, but most people don't really want to discover anything new. Socially connected apps and streaming services providing many new ways for consumers to sample new artists. And yet, statistically, in the blockbuster music economy, we find that most people don’t actually want to discovery new music. They want to listen to the music that everyone else is listening to.

Now that Everyone (including you) is a brand, all that seems to matter is the size of your audience. Emerging artists are increasingly required to conduct their lives as if they were a commercial brand – connecting with consumers on many different social platforms, and providing content (video, posts, images) well outside the creation and distribution of the music itself, in order to accumulate fans. Partnerships and additional opportunities are now determined at least as much by fan metrics as the music itself. (Ouch!)

Brand partnerships is perhaps the fastest growing source of revenue for artists, with many examples of relatively non-intrusive sponsorships of artists, music, and events emerging. Brands want the cool factor. And they want the exposure potential of the artists’ fan bases.

Social Media Platforms are the Banks; Engagement is the Currency. The savvy artist understands that the levers of their career (building a team, getting a record deal, booking gigs and tours, etc.) depend upon how much currency, e.g., fan engagement they have. In some cases, that is literal currency, because there are numerous ways to purchase fan-count and fan-engagement.

Careers can be made in A Single Event. A tune on a social platform like YouTube (or now Vine, Instagram, Snapchat) can go viral, and sometimes all it takes is attention from somebody with a huge fan base. From Justin Bieber to Shawn Mendes, talent

Radio exposure is still important for an artist, and is one of the best things a record label can get for talent.

Very few people have bad things to say about YouTube, at least in public. Google’s massive video site provides free distribution for every artist, and therefore has the most comprehensive library of music content --- mainstream and niche. Millions of people, especially millennials, use YouTube as their audio streaming service. It’s pending launch of a paid subscription service may be bad news for the Spotify's and Pandora's of the world.

Tidal Will Fail. The high-fidelity music subscription service launched by JayZ and a bevy of blockbuster artists are swimming against the tide, and, our panelists uniformly predict it will not survive. Most of the panelists thought that Apple’s new streaming service, without the “Beats” name, would be one of the survivors, because of its hardware.

Music is inextricably tied to the tech economy, which is why the battle will be slugged out between tech giants like Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc – these companies are fighting versions of this same fight over video, television, books, and much more.

Thanks to my speakers: Take a look at their sites to find out where the business is going.


What's Next? "Music Next" @Digital Hollywood 2015

I'm moderating two panels at this year's annual spring Digital Hollywood Conference, nothing new there -- I've been attending and speaking since the first edition way back in the early 90's. What's new for me this year is the topic -- what's new in the music business.

It all started because one of the standout companies I'm advising in my role as chair of ideaBOOST accelerator -- TuneStars. I was really struck with founder Anthony Shannon's social music app, cleverly calibrated for what's happening now in the music scene for fans, artists and industry types. It's what you'd get if you created a mobile-first version of MySpace married to Linked-in, only better.

Well, as these things happen, I recruited a lot more speakers, and so did Digital Hollywood President Victor Harwood. Before I knew it, I was moderating a second panel in the music track, this one on YouTube & Music, a bit closer to my wheelhouse.

I expect to learn a lot from all the great speakers on my panel and across this great conference, and I know you will too. Drop by if you are attending DH this year, or message me if you want to know more about these great speakers. I'll write a summary after the sessions are over. If you'd like to meet with me at DH, just shoot me a note or DM me. 

Here is the entire MusicNext Forum Track, part of Digital Hollywood, which runs April 27-30, 2015 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Marina Del Rey, CA. Here are my panels:

1) Tuesday, April 28th -12:30 PM - 1:45 PM Salon III (Live Webcast from this Room) "YouTube and Music – The Meeting Place for Music"

·      Doug McVehil, Head of Content & Programming, Vevo
·      Jeff Daniel, CEO/co-founder, Starmaker; 
·      Daniel Rosen,  Sr. Music Talent Manager, Fullscreen; 
·      Ryan Tomlinson, President, SKEEmatic; Exec. Prod., SKEE TV
·      Dana Shayegan, VP of Music, Collective Digital Studio (CDS)
·      Nick DeMartino, Principal, ND Consulting, Moderator

Speaker Bios and Session Information - Click Here

2) Wednesday, April 29th - 3:50 PM – 5:00 PM, Poolside Tent I - "Music Apps, Social Media and Technology:  The Explosive World of Music Engagement"

·      Brad Sphar, Vice President, Sony Music
·      Madeline Nelson, CEO/Managing Member, Heads Music
·      Heiko Schmidt, CEO, Parasongs
·      Rami Perlman, VP Music Talent & Influencers, theAudience
·      Anthony Shannon, Cofounder & CEO, TuneStars
·      Ian Roberts, Cofounder & CEO, Hive
·      Damian Hagger, co-founder/Marketing Director
·      Nick DeMartino, Principal, ND Consulting, Moderator

Speaker Bios and Session Information - Click Here