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.


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).

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.