Reality, VIRTUAL REALITY
Get ready to be immersed in VR this year. Not only is there now a headset and app for the pioneering technology, but the first stabs at VR content are also appearing on the market. Juliana Koranteng reports
O KEEP delegates up to date with what the in-
dustry admits are still the early days of Virtual Reality (VR) technology’s commercial evolution, MIPTV is bringing you a comprehensive package of VR-related events. These include VR Creators Making Waves In Canada, the Virtual Reality Experience Showcases and Feed The Passion, Engage Your 360º Fans. “With the technological developments in the smartphone space and several big players such as Facebook-owned Oculus VR, Samsung, HTC and Valve currently launching their virtual-reality devices for the mass market, we are entering a very exciting phase now,” says Matthias Puschmann, managing director of Berlin-based Vast Media, a digital strategy consultancy for the international TV industry. “These initial releases are likely to attract mostly early adopters. Headsets are still quite expensive and some require additional
hardware. But with more and more attractive content being produced for VR devices, mainstream consumers might also consider making purchases.” Puschmann, who is among those speaking about the technology at MIPTV, has seen a host of TV broadcasters and producers take their first steps into VR-content production and marketing. They range from Discovery Communications to Fox Sports. Analysts say video entertainment will be a key driver in the future business of VR. UK-based Futuresource Consulting predicts VR content alone, led by movies and games, will generate $8.3bn in revenues by 2020. When marketing, e-commerce, theme parks and other commercial niche uses are added, Silicon Valley-based Digi-Capital predicts revenues of up to $30bn by 2020. Among the new generation of tech companies specialising in VR content development and distribution (including live streaming) is US-based NextVR, which
only better raised more than $30m last year from investors with TV interests, including Comcast Corporation and Time Warner. Meanwhile, PAVR, from Los Angeles, has coproduced VR content on baseball for Fox Sports Live. Jaunt’s financial backers include The Walt Disney Company, UK satellite TV giant Sky and German broadcast group ProSiebenSat.1 Media. And Californiabased Wevr, which specialises in distributing VR content via its technology and has been described as the “YouTube of VR”, has worked with Hollywood independent studio Lionsgate and Adult Swim, the Time Warner US cable network. “Users as well as producers first have to find out more about VR’s potential and areas of application,” Puschmann says. “It also requires a completely different form of immersive storytelling, which
makes it challenging to produce content at this stage. At the same time, VR has the potential to radically change the way consumers experience media and entertainment content.”
Orange, the French telecoms giant and one of the country’s pay-TV operators, is also showcasing its VR activities in Cannes. The company’s funding unit, Orange Digital Ventures, is an investor in Wevr. Orange recently unveiled plans to set up a VR channel via New Livebox, the latest version of its set-top box, which is now able to transmit high-resolution video content produced in Ultra HD. Orange has also partnered with Mauritius Telecom and US-based VR software developer EON Reality to create an educational and entertainment VR and 360º video platform aimed at African mobile subscribers.
VR has the potential to radically change the way consumers experience media and entertainment content Matthias Puschmann
FEATURE Toronto-based Deep is one of the go-to VR companies courted by screen entertainment producers. Its package of proprietary technology, called Liquid Cinema, includes software for making 360º videos and VR immersive content. Franco-German broadcaster ARTE and TVOntario are among the TV ventures using Liquid Cinema. “This is the first of a new medium, not an extension of an old one like 3D. For the first time, we have a medium that eliminates the distance between the observer and the observed,” says Thomas Wallner, Deep’s cofounder and CEO. He is in Cannes to inform delegates that the technology for VR production exists. He cites a recent 11-minute VR documentary called Edge Of Space, which involved Deep, ARTE, US-based creative agency Koncept VR and the Canadian Space Agency. Two 360º camera systems (featuring a combination of more than 20 cameras) were attached to a hot-air balloon to capture “the highest spherical film of the Earth” as it ascended into the upper stratosphere. And viewers can experience what it would have been like to be inside the ascending balloon by downloading the app via the ARTE360 platform. “Traditionally, we’ve had cameras that shoot scenes frame by frame,” Wallner says. “Now we have a camera that can look in all directions simultaneously to capture an entire moment in time. And broadcasters have the ability to tell their stories in this new medium. This is not science fiction — it is here now and it’s going to be huge.”
We have a camera that can look in all directions simultaneously to capture an entire moment in time. This is not science fiction — it’s here now and it’s going to be huge Thomas Wallner
Wallner advises creators of VR content to be prepared to invest in new skills for both VR production and postproduction. For example, a director must find a way to hide all crew members during a shoot, as 360º shots will include even those standing behind the cameras. Also, once the VR footage has been gathered, postproduction requires expertise in “stitching”, whereby different shots have to be digitally sewn together to achieve the panoramic feel of being immersed inside the scenes. “The end result can deliver an emotional depth that standard online video content rarely reaches,” Wallner adds. Anthony Geffen, CEO and creative director at UKbased Atlantic Productions, is not waiting for the TV industry to become fully immersed in VR production before investing in the technology. “We set up one of the largest non-gaming VR companies [Alchemy VR] about two years ago, because we believe VR is not competing against TV and film — it is complementary,” he says. “Although it is still the Wild West and early days, we decided to build our cameras and train producers. We’re after the eyeballs that don’t watch traditional TV.” Among Atlantic Productions’ VR projects to date is
Vast Media’s Matthias Puschmann
David Attenborough’s First Life, based on the BBC TV documentary of the same name. Jointly created by Alchemy VR and London’s National History Museum (NHM), the experience offers visitors to the museum a 15-minute immersion into prehistoric oceans based on how life would have been 540 million years ago. One of the ancient creatures met during the VR trip is the Opabinia, which has five eyes and a trunk, and the Anomalocaris, one of the first creatures to have evolved a mouth. Also at the NHM is Atlantic’s David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive, where the revered British broadcaster accompanies you on an exploration of the ecosystem inside the world’s largest coral-reef system. Meanwhile the headsets required for VR, Augmented Reality or other holographic 3D experiences have started to go on sale. Based on data provided by UK research consultancy IHS, 77% of VR funding during the past two years has been for entertainment-related VR companies. And an estimated $1.7bn will be spent worldwide this year on the headsets, compared to $535m on VR games. However, IHS notes that the headset sector is already fragmented. Pre-orders for Oculus Rift, the headset made by Facebook subsidiary Oculus VR, began late last year. It is competing against Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR, which came free for anyone pre-ordering the company’s new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge smartphones before March 18. Alternative headsets include the HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR, Microsoft’s HoloLens and Google Cardboard. Even Nokia, once the world’s largest mobile-phone maker, has entered the VR fray to manufacture to OZO camera for shooting content for 360º live VR broadcast. To experience VR entertainment, users have to download the content via an app from a VR platform (effectively a dedicated website) on to their smartphones and then plug their headsets into the phone to enter the virtual world. One reason why mobile VR is ready to go mass market this year is because headset manufacturers say they have eliminated the cause of the nausea that many wearers, unable to see their physical environment, suffered from during the early experimental phases.
FEATURE Virtual reality entertainment: Bubble or next big thing?
Although it is still the Wild West, we decided to build cameras and train producers. We’re after the eyeballs that don’t watch traditional TV
Consumers evolved use of connected devices and entertainment means the market conditions for the introduction of VR are better than ever before 77% of VR funding and acquisition deals in the past two years have centred on entertainment-related VR companies.
Anthony Geffen TV MEETS VR
WHAT is TV doing to prepare itself for what could be the future of onscreen entertainment? The following are some current examples: • Discovery Communications launched its own Discovery VR platform last year for fans to access its VR productions. It recently linked up with Toyota produce a 10-episode immersive VR series called Let’s Go Places: Austin, which enables viewers to take virtual car rides throughout the Texan city. • CNN invited viewers to wear Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR headset and experience a front-row view of the recent US Democratic presidential candidate debates. • Fox Sports has joined forces with NextVR to live stream a series of Premier Boxing Champions matches, NASCAR motor-racing events and golf matches in the US. • LeBron James, the NBA basketball superstar, and Facebook’s Oculus VR collaborated with Canada’s Felix & Paul Studios to produce Uninterrupted, a 12-minute VR film on James’ training methods. • Via its Syfy Labs division, NBCUniversal and its international cable network Syfy International are working with Canadian digital production house Secret Location to create Halycon, a 15-part short-form scripted series that includes five VR episodes. • In Asia, A+E Network’s History channel co-produced a VR version of Alone, its reality survival series, to promote the show in the region. Via Oculus Rift headsets, fans were invited to an event where they could experience a virtual version of living in the jungle. • ARTE adopted the Liquid Cinema technology developed by Canada’s Deep to create the ARTE360 app last December. Users are able to watch ARTE-made content in both 360º video and VR. The project follows another successful collaboration, Polar Sea 360º, which launched last October and involved ARTE, TVOntario and Canada’s Knowledge Network. • UK-based Barcroft Media is to co-produce and develop content exclusively for California-based Jaunt, one of the fastest growing cinematic VR platforms. Barcroft is also working with filmmaker Drew Gardner to produce a series of 360º documentary shorts for Barcroft’s YouTube and Facebook channels.
● Tech is more advanced ● VR smartphone adaptor headsets start from $6 ● VR video emerges ● Start-up critical mass ● Big tech investment ● Market and industry conditions are more suitable
● Entertainment related ● Other industries
However, content companies will have to deal with a fragmented headset market and in fact more will be spent on VR hardware than content in the early years
The VR headset installed base share in 2016 showcases the level of fragmentation and competition in the market 3
12 Sony PlayStation VR
16 Samsung Gear VR 21 Google Cardboard 44 Other headsets
Spend on VR games will be dwarfed by VR headset spend in 2016 VR headset spend ($m)
VR games spend ($m)
To find out more about IHS' virtual reality research visit: https://technology.ihs.com/550973/ihs-covering-the-emerging-world-of-virtual-reality Sources: IHS
© 2016 IHS: 1645500
Augmented reality as demonstrated by Magic Leap
Taking a leap into the future Fresh Innovation: Tech Rocks Content; What’s Next? Futurologists Talks; The Innovation Show: The Start-ups To Come — these are just some of the MIPTV panels dedicated to the new, the inspiring and the surprising. Juliana Koranteng looks at the face of innovation in 2016
T IS increasingly critical to watch the emerging technology players,” says Ben
Keen, vice-president of consumer, media, telecoms and displays at UK research group IHS Technology, which is contributing to the MIPTV Innovation debates. “Only 10 years ago, YouTube was a startup. One of the most eagerly watched startups right now is Magic Leap, which is working on technology to beam holograms directly on to the eye. Over the 10-year horizon, we will certainly see profound changes in the way that video is produced, distributed and experienced.” Florida-based Magic Leap is among the futuristic ventures that are very likely to be discussed during this year’s MIPTV series of innovation-themed panels. Magic Leap aims to add significant advances to the already revolutionary augmented reality (AR) technology by working on systems that will one day enable viewers to watch any audiovisual content without the need for a screen. And impressed investors, including YouTube owner Google, Hollywood’s Warner Bros., Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Hold-
ing and venture-capital giant Andreessen Horowitz, which co-funded Airbnb, BuzzFeed, Facebook and Skype, among others, have already tipped $1.39bn into Magic Leap’s coffers. And it has not even launched yet. Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox is among the global media and entertainment conglomerates not waiting for future technology to come to its door. Instead, it is working with US-based futurist Ted Schilowitz to examine where it should be focusing its attention on tomorrow’s entertainment today. “Imagine a future where the physical screen in front of you is removed. That will be possible because we’re already using the [digital] devices to move in and out of entertainment, production, communications — they all blend because the technology is so powerful,” Schilowitz says. “Even a term like ‘filmed entertainment’ is becoming antiquated because the technology we touch is becoming cross-divisional.” Among the projects that Schilowitz and Fox are working on is virtual reality (VR) entertainment. The Martian VR Experience is based on The Martian, the
FEATURE Fox movie starring Matt Damon and created by Oscar-winning director Ridley Scott. Jointly developed with Scott’s RSA Films, Fox Innovation Lab and Los Angelesbased VR content-maker The VR Company, The Martian VR Experience uses immersive tech to take viewers right on to movie’s version of Mars. Ben Keen Once inside, they will see nothing of their physical surroundings, only an exact simulation of the adventure that Matt Damon’s astronaut character undertakes in the film version of life on the Red Planet. To take part, viewers need a Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR headset and a smartphone to download the app. Once the headset is plugged into the smartphone, they will be participating in the 20-minte narrative that Schilowitz describes as “the first commercial VR entertainment by 20th Century Fox — and it’s very ambitious”. On the one hand, Schilowitz notes, what VR tech is doing today is similar to Walt Disney’s original vision for his theme parks back in the 1950s. This was to take visitors inside a virtual fantasy (as opposed to watching it on screen from a distance). “Since then, there have been many simulations, including theme parks’ 4D theatres. It shows Disney had a good grasp of where to take entertainment. Today, this is now more portable and accessible. Instead of you going there, we’re bringing that immersive experience to you.” Another entertainment experience in which Schilowitz is involved is VR cinema as created by Barco, the Bel-
gian multinational most famous for manufacturing cinema projectors. The Barco Escape technology uses ultra-wide multi-screen theatres to entertain headset-wearing cinema audiences with a panoramic threescreen film. It has been described by experts as “movies on steroids”, with each spectator feeling he or she is right inside the movie. Fox has created Barco Escape editions of The Maze Runner, its youngadult action-film franchise. Australia-based Franklyn Street Films has produced a five-and-a-half minute short in Barco Escape called Touching Heaven. Scott Waugh, another Hollywood director, is reported to be developing the first movie shot entirely in the Barco Escape format.
It’s increasingly critical to watch the emerging technology players. Only 10 years ago, YouTube was a startup
But the MIPTV Innovation Talks are not all about escapism technology taking viewers into another dimension. Other speakers are discussing enhancements to tech formats already in existence, but believed to be close to commercial availability. Scheduled to contribute to that dialogue is Eric Scherer, France Televisions’ director of future media. His company is one of Europe’s most inventive public broadcasters when it comes to offering the new and innovative. Scherer, who is appearing on April 5’s What’s Next? Futurologists Talks panel, is known for his authoritative views on VR technology and its prospects for TV broadcasters. Another technology set to influence TV’s future is 4K Ultra HD (cinema-quality sound and vision) video production, which has started to impact upon an industry continuously raising the bar when it comes to image resolution. Also speaking at the Futurologists Talks is Bill Baggelaar, senior vice-president, of postproduction technologies at Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), who will be unveiling details about SPE’s recent developments in this field. The company’s plans include the introduction of the first movies in the 4K UHD Bluray format this year. eSport, the new competitive activity that sees digital gamers compete against each other in online videos as well as on mega video screens inside large venues, is also at MIPTV via French eSports platform Glory4Gamers. The company, which is participating in April 5’s The Innovation Show: The Start-Ups To Come panel, is among several next-generation online entertainers carving out a share of the rapidly growing international eSport sector. Globally, live-streamed, pre-recorded and venue-based eSports generate a reported $748m annually. They are forecast to grow to $1.9bn a year by 2018, according to SuperData Research. Almost 490 million people watch online eSports every year.
The Martian VR Experience uses immersive tech to take viewers to Mars
FEATURE Accessible via a host of platforms, ranging from Sony PlayStation consoles to the YouTube Gaming online service and the pioneering live-streaming website Twitch (an Amazon.com subsidiary), eSport is now one of the world’s fastest growing online and stadium-based entertainment businesses. France-based Afrostream is another startup using online and mobile devices to fill a recently acknowledged chasm in global digital entertainment: content for the African diaspora. Focusing on movies from the African, the Afro-Caribbean and the African-American territories, Afrostream is currently reaching the world’s Francophone markets. It is scheduled to launch in English-speaking Africa before this year ends. Orange Digital Ventures, part of the French telecoms giant, led a round of investment for an undisclosed amount in Afrostream last October. The funds will be used for international expansion. The platform is already winning business deals with major contentrights owners, including a multi-year contract with the UK’s ITV Studios Global Entertainment, as well as
Imagine a future where the physical screen in front of you is removed Ted Schilowitz
agreements with leading French commercial network TF1, Viacom subsidiary BET France and Sony Pictures Television. As IHS’ Keen notes: “Broadly, there are developments that will be more obvious to viewers and others that will be less visible, but still influential in shaping the future of the video experience.” In the former category, he talks about the accelerating development of hyperrealistic TV with both more pixels (as in 4K and even 8K resolutions) and “better” pixels. These advances, he says, are part of the wider availability of high-quality video-capture technology inside consumer devices such as smartphones. “This dramatically lowers the barriers to entry for production, opening the way to an explosion of crowdsourced video,” he adds. “For example, there are more video minutes of the Syrian war online than the war’s actual duration.” Keen also observes that there is an uncompromising disaggregation of the traditional TV channel as a result of the direct-to-consumer platforms like HBO Now. Other disruptive developments include the emergence of the so-called “skinny bundle”, designed to appeal to cord-cutters, and “virtual” pay-TV operators like Sony’s PlayStation Vue. “We are only just beginning to witness the resulting ramifications for the economics of production, distribution and platform ownership,” he says.
Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland’s Comedy Rocket
TV for the next generation Among those making innovative use of digital technology in Germany are the leading TV media companies. Juliana Koranteng looks at the digital ambitions of four German heavyweights
HILE TV accounts for almost 50% of total ad spend in Germany, according to Nielsen Media Research, digital media is catching up fast and leading TV companies are planting their masts in the fast growing tech-driven sector. Take Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN), a subsidiary of the US media con-
glomerate Viacom, which has felt pressured by the internet’s rise to be as relevant to today’s generation X, Y and Z as it was when its MTV network used cable TV technology to reach the youth of the 1980s. And it is responding accordingly. In 2016, it has already unveiled two new digital entertainment formats with millennials in mind. MTV + YOU is arguably the first
FOCUS ON GERMANY • APRIL 2016
ever live-streaming TV series transmitted on a social-media platform — in this case, Facebook. Via Facebook Mentions, the app dedicated to targeting content to a brand’s Facebook followers (as opposed to a user’s friends), VIMN delivers a one-hour interactive show every Tuesday evening, hosted by German YouTube celebrities Maren Merkel and Tobias Wolf. By its second episode, it
FEATURE Our focus in the German-speaking markets is to combine digital-first products with the linear TV world, which is mostly still watched via big-screen TV
30 Jubadoo recorded almost 80,000 views and 6,000 comments by fans interacting that evening. Another new VIMN digital-first venture is the German-language edition of Icon, the YouTube channel co-founded by Endemol Beyond and Michelle Phan, the US lifestyle YouTube star vlogger and entrepreneur. The format’s German edition, created by VIMN, is called FLiP–Powered By Icon. In addition to being aired first on YouTube and VIMN’s youth-focused website Nicknight. de, a catch-up version is available on the Nicknight show on linear TV network Nickelodeon. “It (FLiP) is a perfect combination of linear and non-linear content with a clear focus on digital first,” says Mark Specht, VIMN’s general manager GSA (Germany, Switzerland, Austria). “Our focus here in the German-speaking markets is to combine digital-first products, be it online or mobile, with the linear TV world, which is mostly still watched via big-screen TV. This can be established by telling transmedia stories as well as by connecting or reaching out to the devices and platforms technically.” In Germany, VIMN brand-specific mobile apps for VOD aimed at different age groups
are also popular. These include MTV Play, Nickelodeon Play, Nick Jr Watch & Learn and South Park. RTL Group, the pan-European TV network, is Luxembourg-headquartered, but it is controlled by German media giant Bertelsmann, where different divisions benefit from its in-
FOCUS ON GERMANY • APRIL 2016
vestments in digital content and services. Included in high-profile RTL Group digital deals are its major stakes in BroadbandTV (BBTV), the Canada-headquartered YouTube multi-channel network (MCN). BBTV is evolving into an international media empire in its own right following digital collaborations with The Huffington Post, music publisher BMG, and global TV production giant FremantleMedia Group. The last two are part of the Bertelsmann empire. RTL Group also has a stake in beauty and lifestyle digital platform StyleHaul, another fast growing international MCN. Furthermore, FremantleMedia owns 51% of Divimove, the Berlin-based MCN that has 1,750 online video creators reaching 110 million subscribers. The three MCNs are part of RTL Digital Hub, a dedicated new unit launched last year to oversee the company’s digital media-related investments. These include acquiring 65% of US-based SpotX, the international video programmatic advertising platform the delivers sold and bought ads across websites. It recently launched a Germany-dedicated division, SpotX Deutschland. Another investment is in US-based clypd, another programmatic ad service but de-
FEATURE Additionally, it is hiking its stake in online sports tech startups targeting the German market. After nabbing interests in London-based football fan site 90min.com, it is planning a jointly owned version for German fans. And in October last year, it backed EverSport.tv, the Silicon Valley-based online live-sports web hub.
Comedy Rocket signed for linear TV. In November, RTL Group led the $15m funding round for VideoAmp, the California-based multi-device video-content and advertising-delivery system. Domestically, Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland has invested in OTT streaming platforms for its six free-to-air channels, which include RTL Television, Super RTL and entertainment network Vox. With 28 million fans registered to its TV-related websites, Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland is able to extend other digital services to its viewing customers. Last year, it launched a host of German-language online channels with original video content designed to evolve organically. The first two are the irreverent Comedy Rocket and Jubadoo (which is devoted to lifestyle tutorials and do-it-yourself videos). Additionally, via acquisitions, it has become Germany’s leading service for e-couponing and e-vouchers for e-commerce thanks to its interests in Gutscheine.de and Sparwelt.de. ProSiebenSat.1 reached a milestone in March when it became the first media company to float on DAX, Germany’s stock exchange for blue-chip companies. And among the key reasons given for this achievement are its digital-media and tech initiatives. In addition to subsidiary Maxdome — the home-grown streaming-TV service giving Amazon Prime Video and Netflix a run for their money in Germany — ProSiebenSat.1
has gained the attention of young audiences thanks to its apps for reality hit shows such as The Voice Of Germany. In 2014, it added Berlin-based digital games publisher Aeria Games Europe to the ProSiebenSat.1 Games division. Last year, it snapped up 80% of Smartstream.TV, the Munich-based multi-device video-advertising start-up; and 51% of Virtual Minds, a developer of digital video-advertising tech. In September, meanwhile, it joined a group of major corporations to invest $65m in Jaunt, the start-up specialising in virtual-reality (VR) filmmaking.
FOCUS ON GERMANY • APRIL 2016
Although Axel Springer SE is more famous for its print publishing brands, such as newspapers Welt and Bild, those publishing businesses now have their own online video channels. Digital media accounted for 62% of Axel Springer’s revenues in the 2015 fiscal year and it plans to invest in more digital ventures this year. Among its mostly news publishing-themed digital assets is the international financial news portal Business Insider, which it acquired for $343m last year. Upday is an aggregated-news app co-founded with giant smartphone-maker Samsung Electronics; and via US subsidiary Axel Springer Digital Ventures, it owns a minority stake in NowThis Media, a New York-based producer and distributor of short-form video content. Also in the US, it was the lead investor in the $54m funding gained by Thrillist Media Group, which publishes online men’s lifestyle content. Like rival ProSiebenSat.1, Axel Springer is one of the investors in VR filmmaker Jaunt. And through its Axel Springer Plug and Play Accelerator, set up in Berlin to help startups during the growth stage, the company constantly has access to some of the most innovative tech concepts in development.
FEATURE ORIGINAL WEB SERIES
Bite-sized entertainment The original web series as a commercial format might still be in its early stages. But, with its own dedicated events at MIPTV this year, it looks as if it’s here to stay. Juliana Koranteng reports
URING the MIPTV Showcase The Best Of Web Series, MIPTV delegates can discover how far this video category, designed to grab audiences’ attention during snappy 10- to 15-minute episodes, has come. And at the panel that follows — Why Web Series Will Be The Nouvelle Vague In Fiction — speakers debate why the format should no longer be treated as the poor cousin of the traditional 30-minute or one-hour TV series. Once associated with quirky user-generated content (UGC) at worst and TV show trailers at best, these snackable short-form series are turning into premium scripted-entertainment brands. “They will help TV make its transition to the digital age because these short programmes are perfect for reaching the audience using tablets and smartphones,”
AMC Global’s Fear The Walking Dead – Flight 462. Each webisode is less than one minute long
says Joel Bassaget, the Web Series Mag journalist who is curating the Best Of Web Series showcase. “They offer TV entertainment to enjoy at any moment of the day. Also, they allow networks to reach specific niche viewers by offering them unusual genres. And finally, they can be built into a fantastic catalogue of emerging talent, constantly updated with new ideas, new styles and new stories coming from young creators from all over the world. This is probably where TV will find its future writers and successes.” Among the (mostly independently produced) web series that Bassaget cites in terms of having made an international impact are the award-winning High Road from New Zealand, Anna Kerrigan’s The Impossibilities from the US, El Partido from Spain, and Australiabased More Sauce Production’s Low Life.
FEATURE GROWTH BY OSMOSIS PARIS-based Anne Santa Maria, producer and founder of Taronja Prod (part of the Telfrance Network), is making history in Europe with Osmosis, the first serialised web shorts commissioned by ARTE, the Franco-German public-TV network, for its online platform ARTE Creative. In addition to speaking at MIPTV, Santa Maria is also promoting Osmosis, a sci-fi mystery, in Cannes. The series is sold via Newen Distribution. “The financing of short-form projects is still not at the same level as traditional fiction formats, but OTT platforms are investing more and more and the appetite for these new style of comedies and dramas is growing,” Santa Maria says. “When it comes to distribution, each buyer [SVOD or OTT platform] has its own strategy. The more they invest, the longer the exclusivity and the more territories they request. The exclusivity is usually for one to two years, although it could be longer for premium platforms, depending the territories.”
Taronja Prod’s Anne Santa Maria
This is probably where TV will find its future authors and successes Joel Bassaget
Numerous high-level developments in the production and distribution of bite-sized web series confirm Bassaget’s views. The US’ Warner Bros. Television Group launched Blue Ribbon Content in 2014 as a studio dedicated to short-form series. Its most recent projects include commissioning a serialised web version of cult comedy movie Beerfest for distribution on its US mobile app CW Seed. US telecoms giant Verizon Communications, meanwhile, has launched a millennials-dedicated mobilefirst platform called Go90, which is devoted to web series. It has commissioned a spate of content from AwesomenessTV, Blue Ribbon Content and a new subsidiary called Verizon Hearst Media Partners, a joint venture with media conglomerate Hearst Corporation. Hearst and its international TV subsidiary A+E Networks are direct investors in YouTube multi-channel networks (MCNs) including Vice Media and AwesomenessTV, which are making fortunes creating and distributing popular short-form content. Even BuzzFeed, the international online publisher partly owned by NBCUniversal, has been happy having its viral videos picked up by several third-party digital platforms worldwide. In February, it launched its own dedicated mobile app featuring a proprietary video player so that it can reach consumers directly for the first time. UK public broadcaster BBC has converted its BBC Three network into an online-only brand targeting young viewers. And the recently published NOTA (New On The Air) report by Eurodata TV Worldwide shows how popular YouTube shorts are being extended
AMC Global’s Harold Gronenthal
to linear TV. Examples include Klaes The Roommate’s move to Denmark’s young adults channel TV 2 Zulu, and Lolywood, which can also be seen on France’s Canal+ Group’s D17. Thanks to the internet’s growing bandwidth and speed, the emergence of multiplatform streaming-video platforms, the ubiquity of YouTube channels and improvements in smartphone technology, there is increasing digital shelf space for high-quality short-form videos. Their concise and compact size makes them flexible for inserting into existing digital services. They can be experiments for unconventional concepts. They have become validated sources for discovering new talent. And advertisers have gained an appetite for being associated with them. ABI Research predicts revenue from short-form video could reach $13bn by 2019 —and the web series is expected to be a key driver of that growth. Fear The Walking Dead: Flight 462 provides a case study of how seriously AMC Global, the international network present in more than 115 markets, takes the web series. Originally conceived as a companion to the record-breaking apocalypse horror series Fear The Walking Dead, the 16-part Flight 462 went live last October, between the end of Fear The Walking Dead’s first season and the start of the second this April. Each webisode is less than one minute long. Not only does it retain the suspense and tension of the original series, but it can also be seen as a standalone show. Now a Flight 462 character is set to join Fear The Walking Dead’s season two. “We’re utilising Flight 462 in a number of ways,” says Harold Gronenthal, executive vice-president of programming and operations at AMC/Sundance Channel Global. “This includes offering it in an exclusive window to AMC Global affiliates, as well as on AMC Global’s websites and social-media channels. The rollout has been planned closely with affiliates in each country to complement the overall marketing. We’re hoping it will help attract new audiences to the upcoming season.” New Form Digital hit the floor running when it launched in 2014 to offer cinema-standard web series to its own YouTube viewers and to buyers of its online content.
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NEWS IN BRIEF THE SUBSIDIARIES of international news content and service provider Tima include a live broadcast news joint venture with Reuters. In January, it launched Tima Film with a remit that includes meeting online publishers’ growing demand for video shorts. “We believe that, in the future, most if not all video content will be viewed online or on mobile phones,” says Alla Salehian, CEO of Tima Film, Tima’s new global production arm. “Understanding the nature of user demand and engagement on these platforms is crucial in providing compelling content. Content for online platforms has tended to be shorter in length and tightly edited, as the general view was that long-form video content does not play well online. We still provide short edited versions of our video content for online and mobile platforms, which require specific editing skills and knowledge. But we are increasingly being asked to send the same package to linear and online users.”
Joel Bassaget of Web Series Mag
FYI’s Paul Greenberg
Backed by Discovery Communications and Hollywood hotshot producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, it had a lot to live up to — and it is already delivering. It has been commissioned to make six original web series, including the 12-episode The Fourth Door, for Go90. The company has a catalogue of 19 web series, including Oscar’s Hotel For Fantastical Creatures by YouTuber KickthePj (real name PJ Liguori) and Shitty Boyfriends, which is executive produced by Lisa Kudrow, of the classic sitcom Friends. They are also available on
Vimeo’s Sam Toles
online platforms including Vimeo On Demand, fashion and lifestyle website Refinery29 and the subscriptionfunded YouTube Red. “This mobile-friendly format will become increasingly important for distributors on TV and digital platforms internationally,” says Kathleen Grace, chief creative officer of New Form Digital. “In the US, for example, [OTT] platforms like Watchable and Seeso are where audiences are consuming such content. Also, the social online and YouTube influencers who produce these
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shows have a direct relationship with audiences and, because they know how to use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Vine and Snapchat, they go where the audiences are. It’s about knowing how to navigate social platforms in a smart way.” UK-based Little Dot Studios creates YouTube-distributed shorts based on 90 established TV shows for clients that include international media companies (such as Scripps Networks Interactive and Channel 4), producers, distributors and marketers (such as PepsiCo and Samsung Electronics). Combined, they generate more than 500 million views monthly. It also produces for its own original YouTube channels — Daily Mix for millennial girls, Tonic for female adults, comedy platform Dead Parrot and culinary channel Crumbs Food.
You need to grab the viewer’s attention in the first minute, while at the same time look for hooks that make the video shareable Andy Taylor
Dot Studios was commissioned by the BBC to produce the documentary Rise Of The Superstar Vloggers because of its partnerships with the influential online celebrities who produce web series around-the-clock for their insatiable generation Z viewers. “The viewing has a broad age group, but you’ll find young audiences consume much more of it,” says Andy Taylor, co-founder and CEO of Little Dot Studios. “You’re producing for an environment with unlimited bandwidth. It calls for different skills. You need to grab the viewer’s attention in the first minute, while at the same time look for hooks that make the video shareable.” While YouTube — now with more than 1 billion registered users — first made its mark by appealing to amateur UGC creators and supported by advertising, Vimeo positioned itself as an advertising-free platform devoted to professional video producers. It targets filmmakers who pay a monthly subscription to use its proprietary high-end technology and ultra-HD digital player. Today, Vimeo boasts more than 1 billion monthly views, 200 million-plus unique viewers and more than 30 million registered users. The subscription-funded Vimeo On Demand platform offers them opportunities to monetise their works. Vimeo is also an investor in original web shorts, some of which have attracted international TV-industry attention. It funded the second series of US-based Janky Clown Productions’ comedy High Maintenance following its popularity with viewers. US cable giant HBO has now picked up the series for a third season.
There’s no point having a billion views of a film if people only watch 10% of it Tom Thirlwall
“The web series has been gaining recognition and traction in the industry,” says Vimeo’s Sam Toles, head of global content acquisitions and distribution. “It has led to a new generation of content started by amazing creators who realised they didn’t need a Hollywood agent or a connection with a TV network.” Toles adds: “We are also approached by big-name talents who have a story to tell that doesn’t necessarily fit into a TV half-hour or an expensive 47-minute drama. They use Vimeo to extend their creativity.” A+E Networks, famous for the linear brands History, Lifetime, Biography and Crime + Investigation, has made its US cable and satellite network FYI home to online and on-air short-form series. FYI is aimed at young audiences that would otherwise be paying attention to online entertainment only. Its most popular web series include the digital-only extensions of shows such as the social-reality TV series Married At First Sight, Nicole And Jionni’s Shore Flip and Lifetime’s Dance Moms. A+E Networks’ linear channel History also offers serialised comedy shorts in With Dan Harmon online and during Night Class, the channel’s late-night TV slot. “Web series offer a great new way to reach an audience that may not be reached on linear TV,” says Paul Greenberg, executive vice president/general manager of FYI. “It’s also terrific for making content available on social media. In addition to the web series, you can also add two-minute virals, six-second Vine videos and Snapchat’s Stories.” Bigballs Media began creating online fictional shorts for Bebo, one of the first social-media platforms, back in 2007. Since then, it has been producing a variety of hit video entertainment, including its co-production of Hollywood comedy drama You, Me And The Apocalypse. But its short-form videos, which include global football YouTube channel Copa90, remain a core business. Tom Thirlwall, CEO of Bigballs Media, has also noted that the genre is attracting a new set of investors: telecoms companies. “The main driver has been the mobile — the TV screen in your hand that the average person looks at 30 times a day,” he says. “The amount being spent by mobile networks on commissioning [short-form] content is only just beginning because it is proving valuable to them. This is opening up a world to talent that previously had no outlet. With shorts, the quality of audience engagement is crucial. There’s no point having a billion views of a film if people only watch 10% of it.”
A+E web series Nicole And Jionni’s Shore Flip
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