The Importance Of Storytelling For The Modern Marketer

When you think of storytelling, films and books come to mind—but what about new platforms like virtual reality or 360 video? Believe it or not, the same basic themes that make Star Wars a modern mythos can create an everlasting legacy, regardless of the medium used. During the [a]list summit, Joey Jones, creative director for Ayzenberg shared some valuable insight into why some stories are forgotten and why others last forever.

Explanation, meaning and ritual

“Myths are public dreams and dreams are private myths” – Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell was a mythologist who traveled the world learning about how stories are shared. When ancient societies were spread far apart with little to no contact, it’s amazing to think about how many stories have managed to survive to modern day. The reason these tales endured, it turns out, was because of how they were told.  Campbell realized that the most popular stories offered explanation, meaning and ritual to those listening, and all these tales used the same 20 to 26 beats in their structure.

Dubbed ‘The Hero’s Journey,’ Campbell’s breakdown of successful myth has evolved into what screenwriters call the three act structure. Joey Jones has experience working in Hollywood, even selling a development deal to Disney. His experience through the world of storytelling as a business has provided him with the tools to understand how The Hero’s Journey applies to any successful story, no matter how it’s delivered. Jones breaks down this story progression into six basic beats:

  1. Departure – here we meet our protagonist in their uncomfortable and mundaine environment
  2. Call to adventure that he/she refuses – they don’t think they’re ready for the challenge
  3. Mentors and allies help the hero prepare – the main character is usually given a ‘talisman’ to help them. Examples include Luke Skywalker’s light saber and Marty McFly’s time-traveling Delorian
  4. Crossing the threshold – our hero takes the first step out of his/her comfort zone and accepts the challenge. (Stepping through the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice jumps down the rabbit hole, etc.)
  5. Initiation – through trials, travels and temptations, our hero comes back a changed person with treasure, power, wisdom or all three.
  6. Return – armed with these new experiences, the hero returns to where he/she started. The result can be redemption, salvation or destruction.
Luke Skywalker's light saber is a classic example of a talisman in The Hero's Journey.
Luke Skywalker’s light saber is a classic example of a talisman in The Hero’s Journey.

The evolution of storytelling

In Jonah Sachs’ book, Winning the Story Wars, he describes the evolution of storytelling from ancient civilizations to modern day viral videos. This evolution is important to understand because it applies to the open-source nature of today’s content creation.

  1. Oral Tradition – only the best stories survived and no one owned those ideas. Each story evolved through the elaboration or storytelling style of the individual, which allowed for a story or idea to spread freely.
  2. Broadcast Tradition – when the first book was published, it created gatekeepers who determined what ideas could be shared and in what way. This was the dawn of what Sachs refers to as ‘survival of the richest.’ Although you’re free to enjoy the story they are telling you, the idea is controlled by an intellectual property owner and you are not allowed to share it without paying.
  3. Digitoral Era – in the digital age, the best stories once again rise to the top. A great example of this is the idea of a ‘meme,’ or viral video. Although intellectual property still exists, parodies are common.

A brand can either embrace or challenge how the public shares their ‘story’ through parody, social media and the like.

Today and beyond

Stories are finding a new home on VR, AR and 360-degree video and these immersive worlds are creating new, non-linear ways to introduce concepts to modern audiences. Jones is optimistic about the prospect of exploring new mediums, but reminds us that The Hero’s Journey should remain in the forefront of our storytelling strategies.

“If this new advance in technology is here to stay and not a novelty,” says Jones, “It’s gotta talk about these archetypes; the stuff that’s hard wiring us—this myth building which is so important to telling stories. It’s also important to realize that we’re in this digitorial era like, I think Facebook gets it. They’ve put a ton of money into Oculus, they’ve also put out this 360 camera which is open-sourced, that’s pretty ballsy. And we also need to realize that storytelling is communal. The fact that my wife gets mad at me when I watch Breaking Bad episodes without her is a testament that storytelling, even though we’re standing or sitting right next to each other watching the same flat screen and not saying anything, there is a sort of special bond that we have when we’re listening to stories.”

Jones left us with a new way to think of content creation in the digital age, and believes that VR, AR and 360 could take audiences to new worlds in a compelling way, just as the myths of old.

“Transmedia [has been] fighting for its place for many years now.” he concluded. “I think that can really find its nest, its home and really be able to tell stories that cross many different platforms.”


YouTube Adds 360-Degree Livestreaming

The next-best thing to virtual reality (VR) is 360-degree video, and now YouTube is bringing that capability to livestreams. It’s instant immersion without the need for expensive or inexpensive VR hardware, and marketers are already using it to attract and engage consumers. What’s up with this technology, and why is it important for social media and marketing? Let’s take a look at what 360-degree livestreams are doing now, and what they can do in the future.

YouTube is going all-in with livestreaming, eSports and VR in a big way with its new service: 360-degree video livestreaming. Google launched support for recorded 360-degree YouTube videos a year ago, which was quickly taken advantage of by brands like Nike, Gatorade, GoPro and Lionsgate. We’ve seen some interesting experiments from these brands, such as Lionsgate’s 360-degree video for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.

Now the cool factor has been boosted by making 360-degree livestreaming available, so that events can capture audiences with an even more exciting and immersive way to experience the event without actually being there—or having expensive VR hardware. This required some technical wizardry on YouTube’s part, and as part of this unveiling YouTube also announced support for 1440p, 60fps streaming for livestreams. That’s 70 percent more pixels than HD, which required some significant improvements in algorithms. That increase in resolution an, more importantly, frame rate, is perfect for gaming, which you can bet is part of the plan. YouTube Gaming is looking to cut into Twitch’s huge audience for livestreaming, and one way to accomplish that is by improving the visuals you can get.

As a splashy way of introducing 360-degree livestreaming, YouTube will be streaming some performances in the format from Coachella from April 22 to April 24, with T-Mobile sponsoring the stream. (Google has been livestreaming the music festival since 2011.) This should draw plenty of interest in a key demographic.

According to Adweek, YouTube is planning on equipping its YouTube Space locations with 360-degree and spatial audio technology in order to more rapidly disseminate this cutting-edge technology. YouTube is deadly serious about getting 360-degree live streaming out there, and it’s not at all a coincidence that this announcement comes right after Facebook announced a 360-degree camera spec at its F8 developer conference. YouTube, though, is looking to democratize this technology as much as possible, and that’s great news for marketers looking to grab a piece of this excitement.

“This will work with the kind of high-end cameras that folks like Next VR make, but the cool thing is, this will also work with low-end stuff like a Theta [which runs for $350],” said senior YouTube product manager Kurt Wilms, speaking to The Verge. “You can livestream 360 of your kid’s concert, or set up a camera next to the sideline of a soccer game and stream it 180.”

Google’s intense interest in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is being supported by YouTube with the concept of 360-degree streaming. Of course, the real attraction for 360-degree video is that it’s the closest thing marketers have to giving people a VR experience without VR hardware of some kind. That’s important for Google as it tries to move forward with VR and AR for a mass audience.

The other attraction of 360-degree video livestreaming is the sense of immediacy and presence it gives you. “Now anyone, with just their phone, can have that front row experience without having to be there,” said Google’s Neal Mohan, the chief product officer for YouTube. Google and YouTube’s motivation is clearly to get this experience into the hands of as many people as possible, without the barrier of expensive hardware in the way. “There is no fancy technology to purchase or integrate,” Mohan points out, letting you fill in the missing part of that sentence—’without the need to buy an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive.’

Google has also introduced spatial audio for on-demand videos on Android. Simply put, that means the audio changes dynamically depending on the way you’re facing. That’s not implemented in livestreams yet, but that’s probably in the future. “Right now live 360 doesn’t support directional audio or stereoscopic (3D) video,” noted The Verge. “But you can see how adding these two features would be the next logical step. YouTube announced 360 video in March of 2015 and support for 3D 360 eight months later. It took another six months to get support for Live 360 now, and as the technology becomes cheaper and more powerful it will almost certainly move to support Live 360 video with 3D depth and directional sound—the kind of high-end broadcast that NextVR is bringing to live basketball and boxing for Fox Sports.” The point is to increase the immersion of viewers in the subject matter, much the same way that VR does—but without requiring any purchases.

“What excites me most about 360-degree storytelling is that it lets us open up the world’s experiences to everyone,” writes Neal Mohan, chief product officer at YouTube. “Students can now experience news events in the classroom as they unfold. Travelers can experience faraway sites and explorers can deep-sea dive, all without the physical constraints of the real world. And today’s kids dreaming of going to a basketball game or a concert can access those experiences firsthand, even if they’re far away from the court. What were once limited experiences are now available to anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

“I think 360 video is good to fill the VR content gap,” wrote Alban Denoyel, co-founder & CEO of the 3D-imaging startup Sketchfab, in an email to The Verge. “But in its essence, 360 video is a format of today (flat video) stretched to fit platforms of tomorrow (VR).”

The combination of immediacy, intense media interest, and high engagement should make it clear the 360-degree livestreaming video is something marketers should be paying attention to as part of their strategy. It’s a natural fit for expanding interest in live events like concerts or conventions, and any time you’re creating an event you should consider the utility of 360-degree livestreaming. This is a great way to capitalize on the desire of fans to share experiences. Not everyone can be at Coachella, or a movie premiere, or an eSports competition. But everyone can get close to that presence with a 360-degree video livestream, and without having to invest in VR gear. Of course, VR gear could make the experience even better—and that’s sure to be a selling point VR marketers will make in the future.

For now, 360-degree livestreams are going mainstream, and marketers are going with it. When will you jump in?

What Brands Need To Know About Marketing With VR

SPACES is an independent virtual- and mixed-reality company founded by members of DreamLab, a creative division of DreamWorks Animation. After three years of creating solutions in the rising world of virtual and mixed reality, the team received DreamWorks’ blessing and became its own company. Shiraz Akmal, CEO and co-founder of SPACES shared his insight into the lessons learned and his advice for creating or expanding your brand within this new medium.

“Over those three years,” Akmal said, “In all the dozens and dozens of different hardware we got to touch, we were busy working, and building, and trying to figure out how we actually leverage VR in a way to tell our stories to leverage the technology in a way that can bring new experiences to our fans and audiences around the world.”

Look Around The Mountain

“One of the important things we realized early on when we found ourselves talking about VR was the idea that it’s three-dimensional. This is a really important thing, especially for those of you who haven’t had a chance to try it or build a project. But if you think about VR, we kind of think about it as a space. Our definition is, it’s a unit of virtual or mixed reality. A space is a unit of virtual or mixed reality. The idea of a space is the building block for VR. Design spaces rather than pages.”

Akmal compares the challenge of designing for virtual reality to a scene in the film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. After a group of people each expressed their vision of Devil’s Tower through art, climbing it in real life proved to be a challenge. While most of their group failed to imagine the mountain outside of their flat drawings, Roy was able to see the best route because he had sculpted it in three dimensions. “Maybe you should try sculpting,” Roy famously suggests.

“What we thought about a lot at DreamWorks, and what we think about at SPACES, is the idea that you need to look around the mountain, because that’s the first step in designing for VR.” explained Akmal.

Design Spaces, Not Pages

Theme parks are designed in a way that they encourage certain behavior, and Akmal stresses the importance of mapping your virtual reality space in a similar fashion. He compares a creative space to the layout of Disneyland, which was meticulously designed to direct visitors along paths—interacting with characters, visiting attractions and ultimately ending up at the central castle.

“Virtual reality is kind of a fun thing,” he said. “The simple definition we like to say is, ‘it can take you anywhere’ and part of that is a challenge of figuring out where you start. With the myriad of choices and decisions, we think it’s important, at least for 2016 and on, to think about a publishing strategy, if you will. Part of that strategy is deciding what you’re going to make.”

For the DreamLab team at DreamWorks, one such publishing strategy was a virtual reality app that allowed users to interact with upcoming trailers in a unique way. One scenario allowed people to watch trailers alongside the Madagascar penguins, who will turn to look at you and wave if you face them individually. Internal studies showed that 7 out of 10 people waved back, which was an important realization for the team when designing VR experiences.

Location-based VR Brings Marketing Campaigns To The Audience

To promote the launch of DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon 2, DreamLab designed a location-based virtual reality experience in which users could actually fly on a dragon for 81 seconds. The attraction was made to look like a viking ship and in itself, made an instant photo opportunity. The DragonFlight simulator was a big hit at movie premieres and conventions around the country, attracting over 14,000 flight sessions since 2014.

Although virtual reality may be popular in Seattle or Los Angeles, Akmal reminds us that bringing your marketing campaign to the rest of the country without regular exposure to VR is vital to your strategy.

Utilize Social Media Influencers To Spread Awareness

Although the DreamLab team initially decided never to release video of the DragonFlight simulator, they found that social media influencers were an efficient and amusing way to spread the word. During his presentation, Akmal showed a video clip in which a young YouTube influencer named Josh Carlon took DragonFlight for a spin, much to the entertainment of his followers.

Your Best Partners Are Your Competition

“For content creators and brands, one of the best partners you have today, especially over the next few years really, are the hardware manufacturers, who have every interest in promoting your content in order to help sell the hardware itself.”

DreamWorks partnered with Gear VR for its hardware launch in a mutually beneficial strategy to promote the hardware and Kung Fu Panda 3. As a result, the large television ad campaign marketed for both companies simultaneously.

Although partnering with hardware manufacturers may seem obvious, seeing other content creators as allies may not come naturally. Since the audience for VR and mixed reality is still growing, Akmal recommends reaching out to other software manufacturers as peers and not seeing them as competition. “Today we look at all our partners and allies in the VR space as partners rather than competitors, because there’s so much more that has to be done to create an audience and a market.”

Push Yourself To See What’s Possible

Mixed reality has the power to bring anything into a space, and Akmal is especially excited about a recent partnership with Blue Bubble’s My Singing Monsters game. Also called augmented reality, this form of combining real and virtual elements is a new and promising way to reach audiences.

“What’s real exciting is pushing yourselves from a creative perspective to see what’s possible,” Akmal concluded. “I’m really excited to be at the forefront along with any of you in figuring that out.”

Why You Should Care About 360 Video

360 video is connected video… or at least it can be. Imagine what you could accomplish by allowing your customers to react and explore your products in real-time.

“If you create any other digital asset that’s a dead end for consumers or for people, you’d lose your job, right?” smirked Wirewax CEO, Steve Callanan, as the audience laughed at today’s [a]list summit. “But with video it’s just acceptable. With this, you get to continue the conversation. Whether you want someone to go through and buy something or book a car for a test drive, you can do that with interactive video. You can’t do that with a plain old video.”

Wirewax is the world’s first interactive video platform, adding clickable hotspots, or “tags,” to any moving person or object in a video. This technology can be used for facial recognition, learning more about a piece of art or clicking on a video of food to get a recipe. The small company typically works with traditional video, re-purposing TV ads, for example, and breathing new, interactive life into them. As 360 videos grow in popularity, the small company has found itself going from 2-3 requests a quarter in 2015 to 2-3 requests a day.

“In the same way that we’re adding value to traditional, non-interactive video, people are looking to us to add value to 360 video, as well,” said Callanan. “360 video, as it turns out, is a bit tricky when it comes to adding interactive content.” The Wirewax team of engineers had to build their own 360 video player, reposition their Javascript from a 2D space to 3D and account for different 360 video formats, gyroscopes and accelerometers across different devices.

“About a month ago, we started working on this. We pretty much got everyone on it for a couple of weeks—we cracked it,” Callanan announced. All that hard work was for a good reason, as co-founder, Dan Garraway explained.

“We’re actually working with Ayzenberg to launch the first interactive 360 thing we’ve ever done and first in the world actually, as part of a new drama series,” announced Garraway. Although details cannot be shared at this time, the series will launch on July 1.

Wirewax ad

The Advantage Of Interactive Video

When it comes to marketing through interactive video, 65 percent of audiences will not only interact at least once, but an average of 3 times according to Wirewax. People also spend 3.5 times longer on a Wirewax video than with a video without interactivity. With a 16-48 percent click through rate and availability across all media devices, there are three main reasons why interactive video works.

  1. Video publishing is a noisy space: make your content stand out.
  2. Return on investment (ROI): Wirewax clients see five- to ten-percent return. One interactive ad for Ted Baker earned over $100 thousand in sales its first week.
  3. Continue the conversation: get people talking about your brand.

By putting the user in control of how they explore a video, this allows impulse to make purchases rather than rely on the usual conversion funnel (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action). Now you can see it, click on it, buy it.

Doing 360 Video Right

Although impulse actions are great for allowing your customers to make purchases, creators should not create 360 video based on impulse alone.

“360 is a thing that needs to be creative,” warns Dan Garraway. “It needs to be thought about as much as [when] you’re making a normal video. A lot of the problem with technology when it applies to creative industries [is that] people get very excited about the technology but lose the creative. So one of the reasons why this 360 interactive project we’re launching with Ayzenberg is so important is that the guys have been thinking about it from concept outwards. It’s about using the narrative and actually making a point for making it 360. There is interaction which adds to the narrative of the story.”

“The big point we’re trying to make about the whole 360 thing here is… do it for a reason and then make an action with it.”

When a well-planned, interactive 360 campaign is executed, Garraway believes that brands will reach audiences in a lasting way.

“They’re going to interact, they’re going to understand, they’re going to nurture, they’re going to get the message, they’re going to get something out of it and they are going to remember your brand.”

For more information on Wirewax and their interactive video platform, visit


SuperData: Virtual Reality Still Has Hurdles To Overcome

While virtual reality is still one of today’s hottest tech trends, a new study indicates that its rise may have hit a slight bump.

SuperData Research has released a new report, which provides a revised forecast on virtual reality revenue for 2016. The numbers have dropped a little bit from earlier estimates, going down 22 percent to $2.9 billion in combined sales for hardware and software.

The company made these revisions based on new data, including how device shipments have not met demand (both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have a months-long backlog of orders to fulfill), and how a huge portion of the market is still unaware of virtual reality technology.

That said, the report is still optimistic that VR will still meet previous sales forecasts, which is set to reach $22.86 billion by 2019, and then doubling to $40.24 billion by 2020. Hardware is also expected to slightly increase over the next few years, from just under $5 billion in 2016 all the way to just over $15 billion in five years’ time.

“The general public are mostly unaware of Virtual Reality with 50 percent of Americans showing no interest in or knowledge of VR,” says Stephanie Llamas, director of research and head of VR/AR strategy at SuperData. “Broad consumer adoption relies on building awareness, but today nearly 80 percent of consumers only occasionally or never hear about VR.”

Following that, Llamas, speaking with [a]listdaily, said, “If someone hasn’t had a positive experience with VR they are more likely to dismiss news about it. The only way to understand VR is by experiencing it so driving awareness is going to require enticing people to try it first hand as much as possible.”

Llamas also noted that early adopters play a big part in the success of these units, as they’re likely to share with friends and family, as well as posting their impressions across social media. But, again, production has been an issue with these companies, with more than 13 million Americans saying they intend to purchase some form of virtual reality headset, but only 7.2 million are ready to ship.

Regarding the hardware shipping delays, Llamas noted, “It is not going to have a long-term impact, but it will cause a bottleneck early on. Enough major players have thrown their weight behind it that there is no reason it won’t skyrocket—just a little later.”

Meanwhile, some companies are benefitting from promotions surrounding VR. For instance, Samsung provided a free Gear VR headset to those that pre-ordered its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge devices, bringing a total of 3.5 million VR devices shipping to consumers. It too is hitting its fair share of delays, but that won’t stop it from keeping the lead, according to Llamas. “Samsung will have the largest share of the market until another mobile device beats them out, but mobile devices will always have the widest adoption.

“Samsung’s devices are on back order for the next couple months so it’s not that they haven’t thrown enough weight behind it, it’s that it worked too well and they can’t meet the demand. The mobile device is also still very much a novelty. What’s most promising about VR is how much you can do with high-end devices. It’s fun to get a taste of that with a mobile device, but it will take time before a smartphone can power a VR device the way it needs to be.”

Sony also has a say in the VR race, with projections that its PlayStation VR headset will ship 2.6 million units when it ships in October. That’s a larger number than the 1.1 million combined units that both Oculus and HTC will sell, although there’s some question as to whether PS4 hardware will be ready for the hardware. There have been rumors that the company is looking into releasing an upgraded model that will be more “VR ready,” but nothing has been confirmed yet. That said, Llamas was quick to point out how it would be a hit with kids. “Yes,  it [PlayStation VR] is already the most well-known headset among Americans. It will be a major device around the holidays and new year when parents are willing to spend $400 on a gift and adults get their bonuses,” she said.

The Google Cardboard offers a simple alternative to virtual reality, but Llamas doesn’t think it counts. “Google Cardboards don’t convert people into VR fans; they just give someone a new but fleeting experience. And because mobile is still a novelty, people use it knowing it’s still the on the lower end of experiences.”

Other findings in the report are as follows:

  • Just 28 percent of Americans have heard of PlayStation VR versus 22 percent for Oculus Rift, 21 percent for Samsung Gear VR and just 5 percent for the HTC Vive
  • Gamers will be key to initial consumer adoption, accounting for 78 percent of sales in 2016, however, by 2020, gaming will fall to 28 percent of overall spend
  • 26 percent of VR-aware consumers say headsets are too expensive, providing a significant barrier to adoption
  • Mobile adoption of VR is expected to be slower than initial estimates due to the lack of premium headsets for non-Samsung smartphones, with majority of growth coming in 2018 and beyond, and a projected year over year gain of 175 percent
  • By 2020, nearly 41 percent of sales from VR headsets, software and peripherals will be driven by PC usage

So, it appears that virtual reality will still make a big splash this year, but probably won’t take off in the consumer market until both supply and promotion pick up.

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How ‘Halo’ Created A Smarter A.I. In Real Life

In a world where users can ask their phone to do just about anything, the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) is bursting from the pages of science fiction and into the lives of consumers. Frank O’Connor, creative director of the Halo video game franchise joined us at the [a]list summit to discuss this transition, as well as practical applications for the future.

When Halo: Combat Evolved launched in 2001, the world was introduced to a super soldier named Master Chief and his AI companion, Cortana. Now perhaps the most widely-recognized example of AI in pop culture, it was no surprise Microsoft named its new interactive digital assistant “Cortana,” after the intelligent and helpful blue lady. When it came to how Microsoft’s version of Siri would operate, they turned to the very same studio that introduced its namesake to the world.

“[Microsoft] came and talked to us about AIs, the fictional wrapping of AI personality because personality was the thing that they wanted to make distinctive about Cortana,” O’Connor relates. “They wanted her to be super helpful and logical and rational, but they also wanted her to be relatable, and we kind of had a prototype of that. So I got to work with them on how Cortana behaves; how she tells jokes, how she sings songs, how she engages with you.”

Beyond telling a user what time it is or where to find the nearest coffee shop, O’Connor believes that artificial intelligence could even the playing field when it comes to education. In the Halo universe, child soldiers are taught military tactics by an AI named Dejá. Although it was science fiction when the story was written, this kind of technology may soon be available to everyone.

“An AI could literally be the best college professor that Harvard could ever produce. It could absorb that college professor’s persona, it could absorb his teaching style, but importantly, it’s a one-on-one experience.” O’Connor goes on to explain how artificial intelligence could make education available to anyone. “A teacher could teach a Harvard-level education in French to a kid in a village in Ghana if he has a phone. That’s, I think, going to be the future of education, and it’s also going to help us solve the cost of education, having an individual, one-on-one teaching experience anywhere in the world in any language is going to reduce the cost and the risk of education.”

Vehicle manufacturers are introducing safety features such as muting the stereo until a seat belt is fastened. These measures are meant to keep teenagers safe, but O’Connor poses the question of how a computer might accomplish this in the future. “Imagine if an AI was with your kid all the time,” O’Connor challenged. “And instead of just being a spy for a parent, it’s actually a real, moral compass explaining why things are bad.”

Although O’Connor admits that vehicles that far into the future might be driving themselves, the idea of something to keep you on the straight and narrow, so to speak, is still a very real possibility. “Moral guidance is something that a thinking AI could do as a peer in a way that isn’t bullying or parental.”

Marketing With Artificial Intelligence

AI will pose challenges to marketers, O’Connor warns, because they will be programmed to filter unwanted content. The solution, he says, is to build their own intelligence to overcome the resistance. “I would never, never, ever have used Uber had it not been explained to me by a person. People are the best negotiators and they’re the best at convincing people of things.”

O’Connor predicts the sale of synthetic personalities or even personalities of celebrities to gain popularity, but that our dentist AI or the one caring for elderly patients will require their own bodies. How these bodies look will depend on the function for which they are designed, calling to mind the friendly, marshmallow-like appearance of Baymax in Disney’s Big Hero 6.

Having recently lost both his parents, O’Connor added that AI will someday be able to capture the personality and appearance of loved ones. Although a moral debate on electronically cloning an individual is inevitable, learning about physics from a synthesized Albert Einstein would be quite the experience.

“As Arthur C. Clark said,” O’Connor quoted, “‘Any technology significantly advanced is indistinguishable from magic.’ I believe this will be magical.”


The Tribeca Film Festival Showcases The VR Era’s Possibilities

Art, entertainment and technology converge at events like the Tribeca Film Festival, where creators find new ways to tell stories and communicate with each other. This year, the Festival features a number of virtual reality exhibits that range from experiencing “sight” as described by the audio diaries of a blind person (Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness) to the premiere of a humorous animated short film called Invasion! This takes interactive virtual reality exhibits even further with the debut of the VR Arcade, which launched earlier this week. These experiments give attendees a glimpse of what’s possible in the future, as use of the technology becomes more refined.

To get a deeper understanding of how VR technology is impacting the world of entertainment, [a]listdaily spoke to Opeyemi Olukemi, senior director of Interactive Programs at the Tribeca Film Institute. She explains that the immersion of VR could just be the start of something greater.

Opeyemi OlukemiHow has VR become such an integral part of Tribeca Film Festival?

Loren Hammonds has a good deal to say on this. I think that people are really inspired by what can be achieved in terms of immersion and losing yourself to story. Our founder, Jane Rosenthal, is a huge proponent of things that advance the way people connect and tell stories. And I think we’re just investigating, seeing what we like, playing with the public and keeping the pulse on culture. But I don’t think VR is the end-all, be-all. I think it’s the beginning of a much larger landscape of media and technology combined.

In what ways do you think the technology will grow in the future and impact entertainment and the way we communicate?

I always advocate that story should come first. Whenever you think of tech and then figure out it’s going to connect, things turn out a little bit iffy. I think technology will continue to evolve, in the same way a bicycle or pen might have once been considered very forward-thinking, but now it’s commonplace. It’s not necessarily that these new technologies are available, it’s the fact that the technologies that we have now allow us to connect at a greater capacity beyond our usual network.

What are some of the big exhibits that can be seen at the Tribeca Film Festival?

I have to give credit to my colleague, Ingrid Kopp. She has done fantastic work around Storyscapes, which are large-scale installations. My other colleague, Loren Hammonds, is launching the VR Arcade here at the Festival for the first time. I’m really excited to see that. Then we have TFI Interactive, which has the Playground that shows eighteen truly diverse tech focused and story ranging projects.

We keep growing. We started our platform about five years ago and expanded from one day to about eight now. So, we’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished and the community that has supported us.

With the immersion that VR offers right now, where do you think interactive technology has left to go?

Immersion without the headset.

Learning To Measure Earned Media Value

The Frontline marketing approach to creating and sharing brand stories is usually defined by the cyclical Listen, Create and Share process. As part of this, listening-centric analytics are needed to fuel content creation, validate results, and provide benchmarks that help optimize and understand what type of engagement activity is resonating with consumers. However, earned media values (EMV) are remarkably difficult to measure.

That’s why, for the past several years, Ayzenberg’s paid media and social divisions have used earned media as a core metric to validate engagement for content, and the result was the Ayzenberg Earned Media Value Index (AEMVI). Vincent Juarez, principal at Ayzenberg & ION alongside the director of Analytics at Ayzenberg & [a]insights, Robin Boytos, explained how the AEMVI provided deeper insights into measuring earned media at the [a]list summit today.

To provide some context, the launch of the ION Influencer Division further increased reliance on earned media to justify the transition a traditional marketing approach to a more content-centric one. As the reliance on content and influencer marketing increased, so did the need for reliable metrics, and so the AEMVI was created to provide marketers with an evolving benchmark to evaluate campaign ROI.

Although many marketers know what earned media values are, few feel that they have a thorough understanding of what it is. Juarez explains that “earned media values are essentially the value of the extended paid media that happens as a result of those types of actions and the dollar value associated with it. More importantly, they validate the increasing use of high-engagement content marketing and influencer marketing tactics. You can look at this from the perspective of, ‘if all social media activity ceased to exist, what is the what is the media value that’s needed to drive that kind of result?'”

Although we all know that there’s an inherent value to a Facebook Like or Instagram comment, it’s difficult to show that to an upper-level executive. So, in the first step in figuring out how to measure EMV, they evaluated how much it would cost to create the same level of engagement using paid media. It’s important to note that neither Juarez or Boytos originally set out to create a metrics system from the ground up, but searching the internet yielded vague or outdated numbers. There was a clear need in the marketplace for updated values and an industry standard to measure influencer campaigns, which is why Boytos concluded that a new study had to be commissioned.

For sources, the team gathered as many comps as they could find and grouped them into four main categories:

  • Auction based pricing. For this category, they went into social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and set up campaigns on five key verticals (gaming, automotive, beauty/fashion, entertainment and consumer electronics). Then they pulled real-world pricing data for any action that can be bought on a paid media basis.
  • Years of paid media and social data from Ayzenberg. The study took all the resulting actions from these campaigns and derived a cost per every action.
  • Organic social campaigns. Although some may question why organic campaigns were included when they were looking for costs of paid campaigns, Boytos explains that “even if paid media costs don’t apply, there are still managed service fees that go into creating them. Whether you or an agency or company, it costs money to produce this content, so there’s still value to those actions.”
  • Third party publications. Anything that was published on the internet as a rate for each of these action, was included into the index. This creates a normalized view, since the study isn’t solely based on Ayzenberg’s data.

They then tied all the pieces together by evaluating every comp, throwing out any major outliers, and factored in whether these campaigns were engagement focused or funnel focused, then adjusted the comps accordingly.

Juarez presented the results for video view metrics, which were based on a foundation built using data from YouTube, since it has such a long history. Factoring in the premium nature of influencer and content marketing, the study settled on a $0.12  cost-per-view standard as a starting point. A conversion had to be applied when looking at Vine videos, given their short nature. So, it was determined that every five loops equated to one completed view, which makes each loop worth about two-cents.

Snapchat was trickier because there wasn’t a lot of history, and it doesn’t sell on a cost-per-view basis. Videos on the social channel turned out to be lower than YouTube, so the team took a step back and looked at the content being created. That’s when they realized that they had to adjust up, because Snapchat content has an “inherent sense of urgency,” said Juarez. Videos on Snapchat have in-the-moment engagement like a sporting events and livestreams. Audiences are engaged at a different level.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter initially came out 3-6 times higher than YouTube, but they had to be adjusted down to $0.12 because the data is based on a three second dwell time, which isn’t the same as a completed view.

Boytos presented a look at the cost per action breakdown across social platforms. Actions include cost-per-click (CPC), cost-per-each-engagement (CPE), cost-per-comment (CPCO) and cost-per-page-like (CPPL). Boytos added that CPE data shouldn’t be relied on unless you don’t have visibility into Likes, shares and comments, since “not all engagements are created equal.” Some engagements take more effort than others, so they shouldn’t be all valued the same.

Facebook’s EMV highlights include a CPC value of $0.15 and a CPE of $1.97. The system breaks each engagement down into individual values, and Likes ended up being the least valuable ($0.39), because they’re so easy to do, while comments ($1.75) and shares ($1.93) require more effort. Shares are the most valuable, because shared content is cast to a wider audience, which is extremely valuable. Cost-per-page-likes can be purchased through auction bidding, and the team also factored in organic campaigns. Page likes are especially valuable to organic campaigns, because it’s proof that your campaign did so well that people want to subscribe to it, which can lead to other actions like comments and shares, so that’s why it’s valued at $1.72.

On Twitter, CPE came out to $1.73, replies are worth $1.58 and retweets are $1.67 and favorites are $1.49. Many of the values closely match Facebook, but Twitter’s most valuable action is gaining followers, which are valued at $2.39 each.

Juarez then discussed practical applications for the study. Several large clients across many different verticals were used to put the EMV metrics through a real-world stress test. The first involved a travel series that included five videos and over sixty-six content pieces across YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. Based on calculations, the campaign generated $143 thousand in earned media value.

The second campaign was from the consumer electronics space that revolved around creating slice-of-life brand stories through the lens of the consumer electronics products. There were eleven video pieces and dozens of Instagram and blog posts, which brought in about $248 thousand in earned media.

To conclude the presentation, the final sample included a mobile game based on a top comic book franchises. They worked with top-tier influencers across multiple platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, which generated two-thousand earned media actions, which came out to more than $180 thousand in earned media value.


How Activision Blizzard Is Introducing A New Kind Of Athlete

Frontline is about being where your customers and prospects are, and many audiences are playing and watching video games, which helps explain the meteoric rise of eSports in recent years, and few people are as knowledgeable about eSports than Mike Sepso, head of Activision Blizzard Media Networks and MLG Co-Founder. His keynote speech at the [a]list summit outlined the growth of eSports, and how the Activision Blizzard Media Networks was working to bring it to mainstream audiences.

Together with Steve Bornstein (the former CEO of ESPN who launched the NFL Network), they are working to combine the best of eSports and traditional sports to appeal to a mainstream audience. In doing so, they will help mature the eSports and turn it into a sustainable business, which will galvanize what hundreds of millions of fans around the world have done when they turned a passion project to a real business.

“In the simplest terms, eSports is just competitive gameplay,” Sepso explains. “It’s me playing you in Call of Duty, Counter-strike, or whatever your favorite game is. And just like football or basketball, there are professionals who do this, with professional broadcasts and professional broadcasters announcing the games. There are lots of amateurs trying to make it into the big leagues, and most importantly, there are millions of passionate fans who really love and engage with this as a sport and are really focused on the personalities behind the sport and drive it forward.”

For Sepso and those at Activision Blizzard, this is an opportunity to not only build an interesting and big new media business, it’s also about celebrating these personalities. ESports personalities are just like any other athlete, who work really hard to perfect a skill. On question that often comes up is, “How do you know this is a sport, and not a bunch of people who happen to be very good at video games?”

Sepso responds by saying, “The skill gap between top professional players in eSports is very similar to me trying to play basketball against Lebron James.” It’s enormous, and a lot of that has to do with innate talent, but it also takes a lot of hard work.

ESports currently brings in over 100 million unique viewers worldwide. The sport, in aggregate, is bigger than the NBA in terms of viewership. That is a very far cry from 14-years ago, when the MLG started in hotel ballroom spaces, using folding tables and a lot of duct tape. Traditional sports have had decades and billions of dollars to invest in infrastructure and mature business models to drive it forward. ESports doesn’t have it yet, but it’s quickly getting there.

As evidence, Activision Blizzard recently hosted the biggest Counter-strike event in the history of eSports, the MLG CS:GO Major Championship, at the Nationwide Arena. It’s interesting to note that Counter-strike: Global Offensive, the game featured in the event, was developed by Valve, not Activision. Activision Blizzard Media Networks is out to push the whole industry forward, so it is working alongside companies that would otherwise be competitors to further grow eSports.

To demonstrate the strategy for bringing eSports into the mainstream, Sepso presented a video featuring Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, who is one of the best Counter-strike players in the world, and moved from the Ukraine to the U.S. to join Team Liquid. Sepso points out that the interesting thing about the video is that there is very little gameplay. When you think about traditional sports, it’s much less about the technicalities of the game or understanding the rules. It’s really all about understanding the personalities and storylines, and the Activision Blizzard Media Network is working to bring those personalities to the forefront.

ESports has grown from events where players had to bring their own Xboxes to sold-out sports stadiums, with tens of millions of people turning in over the course of the weekend. The Nationwide Arena, where traditional sports like hockey are normally played, was packed with ten thousand fans for the whole duration of the tournament. We’re not talking about two or three hour sporting events, either. These were 10-hour events held three days in a row.

Sepso remarked about how the experience was very much like attending a regular sport. Then he broke down what that meant in terms of numbers.

The CS:GO Major tournament brought in:

  • 10 thousand live spectators.
  • 71 million video views.
  • 45 million hours viewed over the course of six days, globally. The event was broadcast in 15 different languages on a variety of digital platforms, but none were television.
  • The peak was 1.6 million concurrent viewers across all the platforms, which is one of the largest eSports broadcasts in history, and the biggest for Counter-strike.

The next level is to get mainstream sports fans involved, and Activision Blizzard Media Networks is in the best position to do that. There are already 126 million eSports viewers globally, which is an audience that’s a little bigger than Major League Baseball, and just under the NBA. Projections show that next year will see over 300 million viewers globally.

ESports Engagement

Bringing eSports to the mainstream means opportunities such as monetizing at that level. Activision Blizzard Media Networks is working to bring the personalities and storylines to the forefront and help brands attach to them. There’s a tremendous amount of potential for brands to take advantage of. In terms of engagement, eSports fans spend twice as much on gaming peripherals, 30 percent more on gaming hardware and 30 percent more on gaming software. But the industry is still in the very early stages compared to the audience for on traditional sports.

The earned investment is significantly lower, as the four traditional major pro sports bring in about $29 billion in annual revenue, which comes out to $21 per viewer. ESports, on the other hand, earns $200 million, which is $2 per viewer. But using conservative projections, the growth of the audience will put eSports at about a $1 billion in revenue by 2018. So, not only is it big and scaling, it’s growing quickly.

ESports Investment

Activision Blizzard wants to deliver the fans a lot more value. By driving up the value for brands and advertisers to get into this, they can help better monetize events, which means they can invest a lot more back into value propositions for players and fans.

Focusing on telling the stories of these interesting athletes is key to capturing the mainstream audience. Technically, Activision Blizzard Media is following traditional sports formulas to present a new kind of athlete to the world so that their popularity goes beyond those of hardcore fans. Not that hardcore fans should be overlooked, since they can be even more hardcore than traditional sports fans.

Celebrating Players

Two years ago, the ESPN Austin X-Games allowed eSports in, and it hosted an app that let fans “favorite” the different athletes. Positions 1-26 were dominated by eSports players, while well-known athletes like Travis Pastrana ranked 27. Sepso noted that eSports competitors have incredible fan engagement because they are “digital first, social media trained athletes.” They are in front of their fans “in a way that might make Kim Kardashian feel overexposed.”

Ultimately, Sepso concludes that it’s not really about the games, leagues or any of the technical stuff, which is still great for the core fans—it’s the storylines behind these talented young people.

YouNow Brings A Different Kind of Streaming Experience

YouNow is a live social network that enables audiences and performers to connect in real time and is devoted to the unlimited potential of human creativity.

Paula Batson, the company’s vice president of public relations and communication, emphasized that there is an evolution toward real-time video during her presentation at the [a]list summit at the W Hotel in Seattle on Wednesday.

“The audience is demanding participation media,” she said. “This is a new kind of media where viewers are contributing to the media, as well as the broadcaster. It’s not just a push medium. It’s a great way brands can get involved because 70 percent of users can interact. It’s ‘one to many’ that feels like ‘one to one.’”

Backed by Oren Zeev and venture capitalists Venrock, Union Square Ventures and Comcast Ventures, the platform choice-for-youth—13-to-24 demographic—has over 100 million user sessions a month and live-streams 50,000 hours of new video content every day. Batson noted an average viewer spends 50 minutes a day on the social network. They’ve also gained the attention of publishers like The Huffington Post, MTV and Refinery29 in recent months.

“Teens are going crazy for YouNow. The audience is part of the content, and we encourage influencers with companies if they feel like it. They’re at the interaction, and want to be a part of the media that’s being created. Broadcasters do an amazing job getting involved with their audience by engaging with them in real time.

Batson continued: “This is the early days for us. Brands and agencies are beginning to work with us, and we want to experiment together for a drive-to-action. When brands make the investment, they’ll be able to communicate in an authentic way. We’re really looking for creative brand marketers to work with us and talented creators, and see the potential.”