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.


2015: TV's Embarrassment of Riches

Habit, if not my so-called audience, compels me to once again unload my opinions about the best of the media I experienced during the past year, as delivered by television, books, and motion pictures.

I begin with television, still the most watched medium overall, though what worries the industry is TV’s absolute decline among young consumers, who watch a whole lotta video from “non-TV” type sources, much of it driven by social exchanges with peers and icons unknown to those of us still stuck on the couch with a big flat screen. 

Ironically, of course, as the historical form of “television” (note the quotes) is in the process of getting shoved around by new competitors for the time and allegiance of audiences, the industry continues to create ever-greater experiences that somebody, somewhere is probably calling the new Golden Age, because it is. There’s so much good TV these days that my list cannot possibly stop at ten shows, and so I don’t.

How long this can possibly last, who knows, but I have really enjoyed a bunch of TV-type stuff, described below. (BTW, here are my 20112012, 2013 and 2014 choices, if you’re curious about which multi-season shows sustained my interest, and which departed).

In no particular order, here are my favorites: Transparent, The Americans, Rectify, The Leftovers, Mr. Robot, Justified, Fargo, The Jinx, Show Me a Hero, Better Call Saul, Mad Men, Last Week Tonight, Unreal, The Affair, Silicon Valley, and You're the Worst. Read on for "why":

Transparent, Season 2 (AMAZON)

Yes, I binge-watched all 10 episodes of this brilliant Amazon series the day it dropped. I hadn’t intended to, but I just couldn’t stop, because each successive chapter delivered another revelatory angle on the supremely selfish Pfefferman family, further proving that Mort’s transition into Moira is the least outrageous behavior. Moira’s three grown kids continue to make poor choices that hurt others, and so does Moira, for that matter. Here we have a deep exploration of the consequences of a “Me Generation” steeped in “doing our own thing.” 

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2015: One Year in 'Now' Media

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.)

CFC's Ana Serrano at WEVR Studios, where our minds were blown by the HTC Vive and TheBlu: Experience.

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.

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At the Dawn of A New Medium

Last week I moderated a panel that was part of Digital Hollywood's impressive lineup of sessions on virtual reality and other forms of immersive entertainment. My four very interesting speakers helped the audience explore VR innovation in Canada: Ana Serrano, Chief Digital Officer of the Canadian Film Centre, Eric W. Shamlin, Executive Producer from Secret Location, Roy Taylor, Corporate VP at chipmaker AMD, and Ian Tuason, producer, Dimension Gate.

The focus of the discussion was the complex of new aesthetic and production workflow considerations being developed in this early stage of VR content creation. Taylor urged creators entering the VR space to create "really great" work that will blow the audience away. If yours is the first VR experience a user has, your work define the medium for that user. For that reason, he and his company AMD are focusing on the higher-end experiences possible with the new generation of head-mounted displays such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, rather than the more rudimentary VR delivery system of Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear. 

Serrano reviewed two VR projects at the CFC -- Mind, Body, Change, a VR extension of a transmedia production inspired by the films of David Cronenberg, and VR Sketches, a collection of short VR experiences by various artists who explore a specific aesthetic property of VR. Shamlin shared two recent VR experiences produced by Secret Location: a site-specific VR extension of the Fox series Sleepy Hollow, created for ComicCon, which was recently awarded an Emmy, the first VR project ever to do so; and Van Beethovan, a collaboration with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tuason shared his experience as an independent VR filmmaker. He shares his work in the horror genre on YouTube's 360 channel, so that he can utilize fan feedback in the comments thread to shape his story in a medium for which there are few fixed rules. Did fans have the intended experience, or did they miss the action? Did the story get advanced, or was it unclear? YouTube as a real-time focus group for VR filmmaking is an idea that could only happen with today's digitally connected fans.

Take a look at the video, now available on the Digital Hollywood site, and while you're there, check out some of the other fascinating discussions of this emerging art form. Every day we gather new evidence that VR is finally, after two decades, about to reach a turning point. The New York Times has ordered one million Google VR devices for its subscribers. Most VR device manufacturers are ready to release their devices into the consumer market. Major content players are jumping into the VR fray -- from Fox, which has announced VR extensions for many of its hit movies to AFI Fest, which is devoting a day of its mainstream Hollywood film festival to the creative aspects of VR production and content. 



Dare to Write

Attention Writers. If you have something to write, I know somebody who can help. My friend, teacher and editor Dan Nussbaum is now available to all. A new slate of workshops begins this week in L.A., with more to follow.

Dan is now available to any writer needing editorial services, in person or via Skype and the web. Dan is a spectacular teacher and a very fine editor. On top of that, his background as a meditation teacher gives Dan special powers of attention and compassion that makes the process of working with him a truly heart-centered experience.

For years Dan’s writing workshops were offered privately by groups and word-of-mouth. Now he is doing the marketing himself, in order to make his very special workshops available to all. Check out his new website  “Dare to Write, L.A.”  for the details of his current and upcoming offerings.And please pass this note along to other writers you may know who could benefit from meeting and working with a truly gifted teacher who can help writers at any stage of their development, experienced, newbies or periodically frenzied like me. Dan helped me overcome my own resistance and doubt and has dislodged my writers blocks more than once.

If you want to learn more, send me a message and I'd be glad to set up a time to chat. Or contact Dan directly from his website. 


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).

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