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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.

Monday
Dec022013

Dawn of the Next Big Thing: I Get Glass

While other Americans were trampling each other for retail bargains on Black Friday, I was driving through the rain to Google’s Venice Beach facility for an appointment with a Google Guide named Sam, whose job was to introduce me to my new Google Glass wearable technology device.

We traversed a predictably whimsical courtyard (giant chess board, etc.) and a gourmet lunchroom (Sushi Specials!!) bereft of the 600 Google employees housed in the former Chiat-Day binoculars building because of the Thanksgiving holiday. The joint was empty except for Google Guards, Google Guides, and Google Explorers, the latter group being the one that includes me.

My first pic with Glass.The Explorer program launched back in the Spring with a #ifihadglass contest. Some 8,000 folks were offered the chance to buy their own Glass (at $1,500) and, as Google put it, “Being part of the Glass Explorer program is pretty insane (good insane): let's face it, using cutting edge technology that changes every month requires a certain sense of adventure.”

I did not enter the contest, though I must say, I was tempted. A friend and colleague Shawn Hardin had told me privately that his next company, Mind Pirate, was developing a full-scale game and app platform for Glass and other wearable computing devices, premised on the conviction that this market will be huge.

Shawn is incredibly convincing. His research suggests that the wearable tech market, which includes smart glasses, watches and clothing, will grow to $18 billion by 2018, up from $1.4 billion this year, with more than 64 million units worldwide. He told me that 10 million smart glasses will ship by 2016, and not just from Google – many companies are jumping into this.

In the intervening months, I’ve joined the Mind Pirate Board of Advisors and helped formulate a new production lab program between the company and the Canadian Film Centre’s ideaBOOST media tech accelerator, which I advise. We launched that program November 21st in Toronto with five participants (SmokeBomb Entertainment, Imaginary Computers’ Sean McCracken, Normative, and Little Guy Games and the CFC Media Lab). It was an extraordinarily creative and energized experience, diving deep into the technology of developing for Glass, learning about Mind Pirate’s Calisto platform, and jamming with some insanely smart folks. It’s called Flow.

So, of course, I had to apply to the Glass Explorers program and I had to accept when my invitation arrived a few days after my return from Toronto. I plunked down my own dough at a decidedly non-Black-Friday price, even though I know that other, cooler wearable gear is likely to make this thing on my head seem quaint in a matter of a business cycle or two. I’ve got to hurry up and be cool.

Rainbow outside the Google office, taken with Glass.So here I am again at the dawn of the Next Big Thing:  a new and very disruptive generation of devices, applications, and services, to rival previous revolutionary platforms such as the PC, Internet, broadband, social media and mobile.

I’ve been in the land of tomorrow in the past. Somewhere in the closet I have, for example, Apple’s QuickTake camera (boo), a Newton (ugh) and several Palm Treos (yea). None of those turkeys lasted. In general, being on the bleeding edge is messy and time-consuming, since pioneering devices are never as useful as their progeny. Which is why it’s better to get them for free.

Still, I do like the idea of being first, seeing the technolust in the eyes of my fellows, though so far, most people have ignored me. As my friend Carol said, “I thought it was going to be Goggles.” No, Carol, Googles, not Goggles.

So far, I’m just learning the interface, which is kind of tricky. I’ve set up my account, learned how to take a picture and record a video, set up WiFi and navigate pointless Twitter posts on my eyelids. When I sent an email to my college roommate, I couldn’t figure out his reply, which was “Wow, Alice, is it really you?” until I read what I had actually sent:

hi Michael this is my first email response on Google glass

Followed by:

Sent Through the Looking Glass

Seriously, the Glass default signature is THAT?

Then there’s social etiquette of using the device – the Internet was alive with the story of an Explorer who got kicked out of a Seattle restaurant.

I’m more afraid that I’ll look like I’ve got Tourette’s or epilepsy as I twitch, tap and shout to my little friend in the screen inside my head. 

I will be in Silicon Valley and New York City in the next week, which should give me plenty of experience to report here, and on the Explorers website. I figure I’d better hurry up and act like an early adopter before everybody gets these things, rumored to be in a matter of months.

Tuesday
Nov122013

The Walking Dead & The Era of Fan-Powered Media

"The Era of Fan-Powered Media" was a talk I gave last week at the Broadband TV Conference (formerly OTTCon) in L.A. -- a riff I've been developing for a long time, and sharpened over the past year as I've worked Theatrics.com, a really interesting platform for participation and collaboration. We were required to use a PPT template and focus on a theme, not a company sales pitch. 

My premise is simple: the actual TV show itself is the hub of interaction, participation and content-creation by fans who now have both the desire and the means to step into the story. The smart showrunners and networks generate many opportunities for fan involvement -- but, whether they do or not, today's fans are going to engage & create in dozens of ways across the Internet. Oftentimes, over the life of a TV property, these fan-engagement engines generate more views than the original content, although this is difficult to measure by traditional means because the fan-centric experiences are so fragmented. Work needs to be done to expand "engagement metrics" beyond a handful of the most obvious social networks.

Theatrics and other platforms that focus on fan-generated content offer some fascinating pointers to how the future might look as "shows" become authentically co-created. I've included some examples towards the end of my presentation, but for more, please see the presentation I gave for StoryCode in September. 

In this presentation, I decided to dive deeply into one property -- AMC's The Walking Dead. What resulted was a parade of examples of both official and unauthorized fan content production across the web in text, graphics, and video. The choice of the AMC hit was, in one sense, low-hanging fruit. It's a mature property with ten years of the underlying IP (comic book) and five seasons on television. It's a sizzlingly hot genre, e.g., zombies. And it is, arguably, the most successful cable show ever, in terms of the growth and maintenance of the audience. 

One would also have to give kudos to TWD's creative and marketing team for their consistent and inventive brand extensions and deep understanding of the social media ecosystem. They keep feeding the hunger of their fans (pun intended) and recognize that mash-ups and remixing and other unauthorized expropriation of their copyrighted materials (video, images, gameplay, etc.) only serve to generate a virtuous spiral of excitement and commitment by other fans. 

These Super Fan are the target for certain kinds of popular culture, not just because they may be the sort of "influencers" that marketers covet, but because they are collectors, curators, makers and sharers. When a Super Fan makes a mark inside her story world of choice, they feel that they are a part of that story. 

Put another way: The TV show of the future includes its fans.

Note: Huge hat-tips to Henry Jenkins, whose understanding of fan culture is unrivalled; and Kris Longfield, who calls herself a "fanthropologist" and proves it in the work she does to leverage fan culture for content and brand innovators. 

Monday
Nov112013

Amazon Studios Woos Hollywood 

The smart guys at Netflix have torn a page from the HBO Bible with their success at launching watchable original programming, and perhaps more importantly, conveying to mainstream Hollywood talent, that they have a hit factory and an open wallet for the “right” type of projects.

Now it’s Amazon’s turn, with the launch of two new original series and a full-scale hype fest at the TV Academy’s huge Goldenson Theatre last week. Hosted by Seth Shapiro, one of two Governors for the Academy’s Interactive Peer Group (disclosure: I’m a member and serve on the Exec Committee), the evening was light on video and long on positioning for Amazon, with the main focus firmly placed on Roy Price, Director of Amazon Studios. Price, who will forever be introduced as the son of former studio chief Frank Price, has a background in animation with Disney.

You can watch an archived version of the live-streaming feed here.

Price has woven Amazon’s own version of the HBO “not TV” narrative from the beginning, with the announcement of his appointment in 2010. Amazon (in loose partnership with Warner Brothers, which wasn’t mentioned last Thursday) made a big deal of crowd-sourcing scripts and allowing fans to vote all along the development process.

From the outset, many observers dissed the scheme, either because it was an unlikely way to generate network-quality material ... or because this approach could easily be seen as exploiting talent and bypassing the Writers Guild.

Turns out, the whole crowd-sourcing thing was kind of secondary. Price noted that “exactly 8 percent” of the submissions made it to pilot. Most of the projects that earned Amazon investment came in the time-tested way via experienced producers and agents coming in with pitches. (Have my people call your people.)

The result was an initial slate of comedies, dramas, and kidvid – many, but not all from experienced Hollywood hands. Indeed, input and votes from fans played at least a partial role in the narrowing down of the pack and providing data, which Amazon loves. For Amazon’s description of their development process, see this FAQ.

Price clearly wanted to convey to Hollywood that Amazon was an A-List network. Yes, we have this wacky, data-driven DNA and we’re part of a business that sells diapers and so forth, but rest assured, we’re looking for awesome storytellers. Once we’ve found them, we ourselves are awesome to work with. You’ll get freedom, better notes from our suits, and the money isn’t bad. (Wildly paraphrased, yes it is).

Shapiro was a lively, informed and respectful moderator -- No gossip. Nothing transgressive (except maybe a bit of the material that was shown). But once past the Amazon positioning, this event was like any other – a very large group of cast-and-crew vied to describe what they did (and how cool it was to do, basically).

It must be said: Amazon Studios’ first two projects are both male-dominated sitcom series -- ALPHA HOUSE and BETAS, snippets of which were sandwiched into sequential cast-and-crew gabfests featuring only two women on camera and NONE behind the scenes. If Warner Bros was once known as the studio of gritty realism, Amazon is a sausage festival.

Go to Amazon to watch the pilots, view the trailers on YouTube here and here, and watch the first three as they premiere in a modified binge-watching release pattern this week and next.

Alpha House would be a hit anywhere – it’s like an all-male “Veep”, which on paper sounds awful, but-- did I mention?--  it has John Goodman? And Clark Johnson? And other fine actors whom you will recognize, even if you don’t know their names. Two Congressmen and two Senators live in a group house in D.C. Hilarity ensues. Really, it does.

At first, I liked the clips of “Betas” less than “Alpha House” (Seriously: is Amazon going to do a Sue Grafton thing with the Greek alphabet, would you think?). The young (also primarily male) cast play Silicon Valley start-up types, trying to build the next social network, or more accurately, the next Grindr for horny straight people. Another log-line that sounds awful, but I found the humor sharp and the timing excellent when I watched the entire pilot.

One thing puzzles me: these are digital-native series. Why no interactivity? Or multiplatform backstory? Or even a decent website. Weird....

This week also marked the premiere of a new Hulu Plus comedy/mystery called “The Wrong Mans” (trailer here), a co-production with the BBC. This one will have legs, trust me – there’s already a great Tumbr (oh, those Brits!), but mostly two really terrific leads, the funny and awkward duo James Corden and Matthew Baynton.

What makes these projects, and those from Netflix, Xbox, and other emerging Internet-based networks unique? I’d have to say, the ambition and directness of the creative process – Emerging players are working hard at curating, selecting, and managing production and promotion with less bureaucracy and more intensity, for one thing.

These new networks understand TV history – whether it was ABC in the 60s and 70s, Fox in the 80s, HBO in the 90s, AMC and FX in the past few years – history shows that it is great shows that a great network makes. And great shows are made by teams of great talents, sometimes guided by the inspired hand of a network team, but usually best left to deliver quality on the merits.

Leave aside the way the fans will find and consume this content – that is a topic for another post. The show’s the thing. Probably always will be. 

Wednesday
Oct022013

The Coming of Wearable Computing Content

It's disconcerting now, going to some tech-centric event where a handful of folks are sporting Google Glass (and fending off the curious), but in a few years, we'll get used to (and wear) a slew of new computing devices coming onto the market -- not only eyewear, but watches and who knows what else. 

What will the killer app be for tech-powered eyewear? To date, most attention has been paid to video, in part because the market is just emerging and developers haven't applied their ingenuity and genius to the new form factor. (There are lots of accounts from those among the select Glass users, my favorite being from novelist Gary Shteyngart in The New Yorker.)

But here's a safe bet: games will be very, very popular, just as they are on mobile devices, laptops, desktops.. hell, people just love games.

Google Glass is in the early stages of defining the user experience and engagement structure of the platform, which includes head movement, voice commands, and earpiece touching. Oh, and lest we forget, the experience is inside the real world, so it's 3-D. 

So what happens in a game when you add all of those variables, especially when most game developers, even on today's sensor-rich iOS and Android devices, do not take advantage of many of the functions that they could use to create unique gaming experiences?

We are about to find out with the announcement of a new games production lab focused on next-generation wearable tech devices like Google Glass. 

Toronto-based Canadian Film Centre (CFC) and Menlo Park CA-based Mind Pirate have teamed up to create the ideaBOOST/Mind Pirate Production Lab. The Lab will recruit North American developers of games and other interactive content during a three-month boot camp, the results of which may be published and brought to market as early as Q1 2014.

Mind Pirate is a start-up focused on multi-platform game development and has created a next-generation game platform, Callisto, to create products for mobile wearable devices, like Google Glass.  Callisto does not release publicly to third parties until 2014, making ideaBOOST/Mind Pirate Production Lab program participants among the first in the world to get their hands on this next-generation technology.

Mind Pirate is headed up by my old pal Shawn Hardin, a serial entrepreneur whom we recruited to serve on the Advisory Board of the CFC's new digital media business accelerator called ideaBOOST. Synergy ensued as he and his team connected and brainstormed with Ana Serrano, CFC Chief Digital Officer and the visionary behind ideaBOOST. You can read their quotes in the press release here.

Mind Pirate and its investors are betting on their platform called Callisto which they believe will be a game-changer as the market's first and only tightly integrated client-side and server side game-focused platform that supports leading mobile devices with a special emphasis on so-called 'wearables'. It enables developers to create content and experiences that merge the virtual and physical worlds by taking advantage of the native capabilities of the underlying hardware while creating a consistent experience across different devices, including iOS and Android.

Interested parties can start submitting applications on October 2, 2013 by visiting ideaboost.ca/mindpirate. The application deadline is October 22, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. PST. The program will begin November 20, 2013 at the CFC headquarters in Toronto.

Disclosure: I am a senior advisor to the CFC and ideaBOOST.

Wednesday
Oct022013

Fan Centric Media

I work with Theatrics.com, an interactive media company offering a cloud-based co-creation platform for storytellers and brands. The focus of our work recently has been what I like to call "fan-centric" media. Once known by the geeky acronym UGC (user-generated content), fan-centric media is, in a real sense, taking over the world. Of course, all media works because of some kind of mysterious psychic exchange between the artist and the audience, each working according to rules of the story form -- that's why adaptations of books into movies often annoy hard-core fans of the former, and movies into games, well, I digress.

The emergence of true fan-centric media has come about because of the Internet, and especially socialized media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, etc. Again, each of these and many other platforms vary in how they address the issue, but what is new here is the interconnection between content created by fans or average people with professional content. 

Theatrics.com was born to support a story world, a fictional town called Beckinfield, where the residents were all fans of the show. Unlike an open UGC platform like YouTube, Theatrics invites fans to co-create a story by uploading content (video, images, text) in a contained and defined story world with guidance from the show creators and other fans. Over time, as content is uploaded and the story or experience grows, the general audience has many ways to access and experience the content. It's multi-dimensional.

Next week Theatrics will launch two new shows with some excellent partners. I will post more details when the content is released on Monday, but in the meantime, here is a presentation on the topic of "Fan-centric Media," adapted from a talk I gave at Story Code in mid-September 2013. (Story Code is the New York City transmedia meet-up.) Also presenting was Elaine McMillion with a reall remarkable interactive documentary about an Appalachian town, called HOLLOW. 

Story Code posted a video of the talk on YouTube (Elaine is first. My talk starts around 46:30). Here are my slides:

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