For the fifth year in a row, Finland's Simon Staffans has published a unique compendium of opinion about what he calls "now media," a coinage designed to side-step the flame wars over nomenclature ("transmedia" being the most notorious) that were underway at the time. It was a wise decision, as you will see if you dip into his document, which is divided into two parts -- a survey of Simon's own views as expressed in a year of quite sharp blog posts; and a series of online interviews with thinkers and practitioners in this space, including Lance Weiler, Jeff Gomez, Caitlin Burns, Michael Monello, among others -- and me.
To read or download the complete document, go here, or flip through the embed below. For my opinions, read on. Once again, Simon provides me with an excuse to review trends and themes driving creativity in this digital world of ours, as the year comes to a close. (BTW: Shortly, I will post my 2015 "best-of" lists in books, films and television.)
SIMON: In your opinion, how has the media world evolved this past year?
NICK: 2015, the year of mainstream streaming. Not only are the market leaders (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon) continuing to grow and thrive, but we’re seeing significant streaming offers from most broadcast and cable market leaders, including CBS, HBO, Viacom, Fox, and Disney. Cable and satellite subscriptions are flat or declining (depending upon how you read the stats), but clearly younger viewers see relatively little reason to sign up at all.
The native online video world is exploding as well, with an impressive amount and quality of original programming – certainly from the aforementioned streaming market leaders – but also from what used to be thought of as the YouTube ecosystem, a content environment which is getting quite complex with new platforms and models for content, whether it’s YouTube itself (with a new subscription model), Vimeo originals, BuzzFeed, Facebook video, Snapchat and Vine, and live streamers like Periscope and Meerkat. Or even old-school content providers like the NY Times are becoming more video-centric.
All of this is being driven by increased mobile consumption of video content, which is perfect for “snackable” short-form video we associate with UGC, but increasingly is the screen of choice for longer-form content as well. Millennials don’t seem to need giant surround sound home systems, maybe because they don’t have giant homes or incomes to support those kind of form factors. Mobile screen sizes are approaching iPad mini size, perfectly adequate for most video viewing. Even geezers like me watch everything in the morning on my iPad mini while the coffee kicks in, before I move to the computer and on my iPhone when in line or bored.
Business-wise, the hot hot hot trend is virtual reality. 2015 was the year of exploding awareness within the content creation and tech communities, with events like VRLA ballooning from a meetup to a giant trade show in less than a year. Everyone is scrambling to find their niche as we wait for the consumer rollout of Oculus and the other high-end VR head mounted displays. Even next year, there won’t be many sold, but unlike the failed Google Glass or AR experiments of a few years ago, full-featured VR experiences are blowing people’s minds. I worry a bit about low-end VR experiences like Google Cardboard providing the first experience for many, because that’s a bit underwhelming as a visual or storytelling experience.
What has been the best of 2015? What made you squee with joy?
My first try of the Vive head mounted display from HTC at the studios of WEVR blew my mind. This is a system that includes motion tracking of the user, which means the scene you see in the glasses is rendered in relationship to where you move. In almost real time. WEVR’s experience of encountering whales while walking on the prow of the ship really did blow my mind (theBlu: Encounter). Ditto with my first visit to the top-secret VR labs at Lucas Films. I can’t reveal details. Suffice it to say, R2D2 and C3PO were there, and we’re now close personal friends. Really, it’s not too hard to imagine the rapid fan attraction to certain kinds of story worlds being perfect for full-scale commercial VR applications. Breathtaking.
And the worst of 2015? What made you hide behind the couch in agony? What do you think we could learn from it?
I saw a lot of crappy VR this year, most of it generated not by storytellers but by engineers who seemed delighted with themselves that they have solved certain kinds of optical, motion blur, or other technical problems – all very important – but I don’t want to take an eye test when I put on an expensive device like the Oculus. I want my mind blown. Lesson: keep the engineers in their place, or they’ll kill the medium.
What are you looking forward to for 2016? What projects will you follow?
I’m working with the Canadian Film Centre, which will shortly announce an exciting VR collaboration focusing upon fact-based content. I’m following Nonny de la Pena, whose humanistic sensibility intersects with imagination to create some deeply impacting experiences of the immersive sort. Ditto with Chris Milk. Both have created companies to explore the new medium, as have many others.
I mention these, because I think it is critical that original content by original artists emerge from these (well all) media. I’m fine with work-for-hire type productions. As was the case with ARG’s and transmedia, most of the budgets are marketing budgets. And some of that work can be extraordinary, beautiful, innovative and so forth. Especially when the client is a media brand or an artist – think of the creative impact of music videos on other artforms. (An agency won one of the interactive Emmys this year for a really cool interactive Taylor Swift project, for example. And l’enfant terrible film director Xavier Dolan directed the first video from the new Adele album, triggering a world record on YouTube and Vevo.)
But it is imperative that these artists be given the chance to create work that consumers can experience, and hopefully buy direct – the model is more like video games or movies. Will we have a range of budget sizes with different levels of talent able to engage and explore? I sure hope so. I’m also enough of a realist to realize that such a model is dependent upon having a sufficient player population to sustain the costs of production, which are quite high, not only because of the complexity of cameras, editing, etc., but because the workflow is still being figured out.
If I should follow one person or one company in 2016, who or what should it be?
Can’t pick one. For VR, probably Chris Milk. For media content spinoffs, Guillermo Del Toro’s Mirada, even though his tends towards the genre. And of course, and always, for almost everything: LucasFilm.
Let’s not dive into the eternal debate over ”transmedia”, neither as a practice or as a term, but I remember your definition from way back over what is a proper art form ... that is, if it’s something that has the power to make you cry. So whatever we call it – multiplatform or now media or transmedia or something else – has something made you shed a tear?
I had a tear duct surgery in April, so I have been shedding more tears this year than I want to think about – but only from my right eye. As to tears generated by a media experience, I’m still waiting. Hell, it’s rare enough to get emotional from linear media like movies (this year: Tangerine, Me & Earl and the Dying Girl, Still Alice).