YuMe: Branded VR Content Yields More Emotional Engagement

Can experiencing branded entertainment in virtual reality elicit a stronger emotional response from consumers compared to other mediums? And can you simply convert existing commercials into VR to get the same result? Technology company, YuMe, Inc. partnered with the good folks at Nielsen to find out and the results are fascinating.

In the study, 150 participants were shown content from an entertainment advertiser and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). The content was designed to be viewed in a highly-immersive platform. These experiences were shown on a variety of platforms including VR on a headset, mobile VR, 360-degree video on a flat screen and flat, two-dimensional TV screens. As they watched, emotional responses were gauged by Nielsen’s neuroscience team through eye tracking, a biometric monitoring device measuring electrodermal response and heart rate changes, as well as behavioral-coding methods.

Above: The Los Vegas Virtual Reality App.
Above: The Los Vegas Virtual Reality App.

Consumers elicited 27 percent higher emotional engagement in the branded content when viewed in VR compared to 2D, and 17 percent higher emotional engagement than a 360-degree video on a flat screen. VR viewers are emotionally engaged 34 percent longer than when they view the same content in 2D and 16 percent longer than when they view the same content in 360-degree video on a flat screen.

Overall, consumers enjoyed the virtual experiences more than static ones, but allowing viewers to control their own experiences through exploration poses new challenges for brands.

“Advertisers need to artfully balance freedom of exploration and storyline flow in new immersive environments to deliver highly engaging viewer experiences,” said Stephanie Gaines, VP of corporate marketing for YuMe in a press release. “As an industry, we’ve spent a lot of time deep in the conversations about virtual reality. Now is the time, however, to move from hype to action—and this report clearly shows the path to incorporating these powerful new formats.”

YuMe says that VR requires a new breed of content directors to rise to this challenge, noting that the use of audio and language are critical for guiding viewer attention and narrative flow. In addition, guided exploration is critical, which YuMe stresses in the report for brands to convey their message and leverage branding opportunities.

A number of brands are exploring virtual experiences, particularly in the travel industry. The applications are limited only to the imagination, and the use of VR has extended to car dealerships such as Audi and Chrysler and even retailers like North Face and Ikea. While VR may be ushered in by the video game industry, A recent Juniper Research study predicts that hardware revenues from VR headsets, peripherals and 360-degree cameras will reach over $50 billion by 2021.

Let’s Celebrate: Video Game Anniversary Marketing

The original Xbox gaming console launched on November 15. It went on to make an undeniable mark on video game history by introducing a third party into a console race that was largely dominated by PlayStation and Nintendo systems. Xbox, and especially its successor, the Xbox 360 took the video game industry by storm by emphasizing online play, growing the Xbox Live service, and bringing beloved franchises such as Halo, Gears of War (which is also celebrating its 10-year anniversary) and many others.

Xbox celebrated its 15-year anniversary yesterday, with players having spent over 100 billion collective hours gaming, unlocking over 32 billion Achievements, and finding more the 4 billion friendships. Microsoft encouraged fans to post their favorite memories on social media using the hashtag #15YearsOfXbox, which has led to a huge number of well-wishers and waves of nostalgia. The Xbox team also spent the day playing both alongside and against its community across a variety of games, some of which were livestreamed so that those that couldn’t participate could still watch. All this, of course, was accompanied by giveaways featuring special content for games such as Forza Horizon 3 and Halo 5: Guardians.

This year is rather exceptional for its anniversaries. The PlayStation Store began celebrating its 10-year anniversary last week with (what else?) a huge sale, which is currently in its second round. Blizzard had three reasons to party hard the week before, given how it was the 25th anniversary of the company, its 10th BlizzCon, and the 20th anniversary of its immensely popular Diablo series. That’s a lot of celebrating, and 2016 has plenty of marketing opportunities to take advantage of nostalgia to promote new games and hardware.

For example, PlayStation went all out in celebrating its 20th anniversary by not only hosting a massive sale last year, but also by announcing the PlayStation 4 20th Anniversary Edition on December 3, 2014, marking 20 years from when the first PlayStation console launched in Japan. Only 12,300 of the gray (matching the original color of the PlayStation) PS4 were made, which included a matching controller and PlayStation Camera. Sony also made a special 20th anniversary playlist via PlayStation Music on Spotify. Meanwhile, fans in the UK could pick up a special limited-edition SteelBook patterned after the original PlayStation, containing a £20 Wallet for the PlayStation Store and a 12-month PlayStation Plus membership.

Getting back to 2016, a number of exceptional game franchises reached major milestone years. The Civilization series celebrated 25 years of rewriting history with a special collector’s edition of the recently released Civilization VI, which includes a hardcover art book and a commemorative coin set. Sonic the Hedgehog celebrated 25 years in July by throwing a big party for San Diego Comic-Con attendees and announcing Sonic Mania for next year. Bethesda and id Software announced Quake Champions at E3 earlier this year, marking two decades for one of the first game franchises that regarded first-person shooters as a kind of sport. The Dead Rising series celebrated its 10th anniversary by releasing a remastered version of its first game for current consoles and PC, paving the way for the launch of Dead Rising 4 in December. The new game features Frank West, the original protagonist of the series, giving fans all the more reason to jump into the zombie stomp.

Tomb Raider went the extra mile in celebrating 20 years of adventuring with Lara Croft with a multitude of events and releases, including a specially composed music collection, an art book, and the Rise of the Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary Edition, which supports high-end hardware such as the PlayStation Pro and PlayStation VR.

Nintendo celebrated 30 years of The Legend of Zelda by revealing a set of special Amiibo figures in addition to a deluxe, limited edition 2-disc music CD collection in Japan called The 30th Anniversary The Legend of Zelda Game Music Collection. That’s in addition to dedicating a giant E3 booth to promoting the franchise’s newest entry, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which launches next year for the Wii U and Nintendo Switch. This year also saw the 20th anniversary of Pokémon, which was celebrated in a myriad of ways, including a Super Bowl commercial and a special web page where fans look through the franchise’s history among other activities. However, the immense success of Pokémon GO and the newly released Pokémon Sun and Moon are reason enough to celebrate by themselves.

Resident Evil has been celebrating its 20th anniversary for the better part of the year and perhaps longer with remastered versions of previous games releasing for current-generation consoles, the launch of a new game, Umbrella Corps and releasing a T-Virus perfume in Japan. All the celebrating is building up to the launch of Resident Evil 7 in January, which will be one of the first full-length games to include PlayStation VR support from start to finish.

Gamers have a tremendous opportunity to support their favorite franchises, while brands can take this opportune time to join in the festivity with promotions and products that help celebrate decades of video game history. And it’s not too early to start planning for next year, as Final Fantasy’s 30th birthday will take place on December 18, 2017. Square Enix opened its official Final Fantasy anniversary portal website in Japan last September, which currently doesn’t have much, but building anticipation is something that the role-playing series has grown quite adept at.

Gaming Brands Filter Out The Competition On Snapchat

Snapchat’s disappearing photos and videos bring the “fear of missing out” to an engaged audience consisting mostly of millennials. Despite rising competition from Instagram, the “ghost” is still a strong platform for reaching over 100 million users who watch over 10 billion videos per day. Video game brands know this and they are getting creative when it comes to reaching audiences.

The most obvious and unique feature on Snapchat is the sponsored lens—transforming selfies into characters from a game or transporting them to fictional worlds. For the launch of Dishonored 2, Bethesda offered a Snapchat filter that superimposed either Corvo’s iconic mask or Emily’s decorative bandanna pulled over the nose and mouth.

Microsoft, meanwhile got fans ready for Gears of War 4 with a special lens that transformed users into Marcus Fenix, the game’s protagonist. Even women got in on the action, stubble and all. Activision celebrated the launch of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare zombie mode, Zombies In Spaceland by offering a unique twist on the Snapchat filter—not only did it transform users into a zombie dressed in 1980s-inspired garb, but the zombie sang “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.


Activision Blizzard also released a sponsored filter to promote Overwatch featuring characters from the popular game. Last year, Nintendo purchased a sponsored geofilter that superimposed a holiday theme as gamers did their seasonal shopping.

Filters aren’t the only way for gaming brands to engage their fans. The sense of urgency that comes with disappearing posts means that companies can offer limited time exclusives or first looks. Bungie, for example, released a trailer for its Destiny: Rise of Iron expansion over Snapchat in June. The trailer was accidentally posted ahead of the official announcement, which worked to get fans that much more excited.

Trailers, behind-the-scenes looks and special promotions make Snapchat the perfect place to offer limited-time campaigns. Plantronics hosted an Easter Egg hunt giveaway on the platform in April, offering fans a free RIG headset. As always, social networks like this are perfect for Influencer partnerships. When Flaregames debuted its mobile title, Nonstop Knight in June, the company teamed up with four influencers to promote a contest. Snapchat users were invited to submit creative videos using the fast forward option and tagging it with #NonstopKnight. The winner took home a filming drone worth around $1,400. When the developer added pets to the game, it was a great excuse to raise brand awareness through an animal-based competition. Four more Snapchat influencers competed for votes to raise awareness and funds for the animal charities of their choice.

‘The Martian VR Experience’ Is One Big Leap For Twentieth Century Fox

After multiple delays, Fox Innovation Lab launched The Martian VR Experience for PlayStation VR and HTC Vive on November 15. The $20 experience was created by RSA Films and The Virtual Reality Company, executive produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Robert Stromberg. The interactive experience was built using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology and marks the first public release from the Fox Innovation Lab.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Fox Innovation Lab president, Mike Dunn, told [a]listdaily that The Martian VR Experience blurs the line between games and movies. “Games are bringing more emotion to gameplay and we’re bringing some interactivity to our film VR experiences,” Dunn said.

Following the plot of Scott’s Oscar-nominated film, users can interact with the surface of Mars, steer at zero gravity through space, drive a rover across the red planet and play basketball with potatoes in a variety of mini-games as a virtual Mark Watney. The experience uses footage from the film starring Matt Damon to connect these interactive elements.

Dunn said the Fox Innovation Lab first explored virtual reality with a Wild 360-degree experience from Felix and Paul Studios featuring Reese Witherspoon. “We did a test shoot on Wild and proved to our studio and creative execs that VR can be a narrative emotional experience,” Dunn said. “The Martian matched the target early adopter VR audience and we felt we could take them to Mars in a new way.”

Robert Stromberg, co-founder and chief creative officer of The Virtual Reality Company, explained to [a]listdaily that multiple companies were involved in the development of this experience. “It’s still a new frontier of where everybody is jostling for all of these answers on how to make VR work,” he said. “We worked with the Q Department for sound and The Third Floor for the game controls. You have to have the right companies and specialties in a specific order, just as you would put together production on a film.”

Stromberg said additional mini-games were added to the experience after the positive reception they received. Dunn also added that the team targeted a 25-30 minute experience that is broken up into interactive segments, which can be replayed. “We weren’t sure if consumers would be comfortable in headsets more than 25-30 minutes at that time,” Dunn said.

The goal was always to create a VR experience that could be sold directly to consumers. “Some of the other studios are focused on the marketing angle of VR, but we wanted to create a commercial experience and help to shape the marketplace,” Dunn said.

The Martian VR Experience, which debuted at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), was accepted into the prestigious New Frontier Program at Sundance and is the recipient of the Cannes Silver Lion in Digital Craft as well as the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) Next VR Award. The VR experience missed the theatrical window as well as two home entertainment windows, in part, because the hardware wasn’t ready. Now that PS VR has launched, The Martian VR Experience is available across two platforms.

The Fox Innovation Lab did release a non-interactive teaser of The Martian VR Experience on Samsung Gear VR, which became one of the most-watched VR experiences on that platform.

“For future products, we’d like to have a mobile experience that could be played untethered,” Dunn said. “We’re very bullish on the expansion of mobile VR.”

The Fox Innovation Lab was established to drive the advancement of groundbreaking technology and new consumer experiences across all platforms and distribution models. The Lab works closely with production, marketing and distribution across all Twentieth Century Fox divisions as well as key external partners to advance next generation technologies including 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range, mobile content experiences, and virtual, augmented and mixed reality, all featuring immersive audio.

The Fox Innovation Lab also serves as a research hub, demonstrating and testing technologies with consumers throughout the development process to obtain qualitative data and hands-on feedback in order to bring innovative and premium products to market. Dunn said that all current VR, AR and mixed reality platforms, as well as some future platforms, are tested inside the lab.

“The idea behind the lab is to get out in front of media on the horizon and actually partake in those media,” Dunn said. “We started very early with VR, and we hope that we’ll be out in front of that media in terms of knowledge and production capabilities, and also introduce established and upcoming filmmakers in that media.”

Dunn believes the key filmmakers participating in VR today are going to try to push the emotional boundaries of storytelling. “At first, entering VR as more like a video game, but talking with Stromberg and Felix and Paul, they’re going to bring emotion to this medium. It’s an art form, nevertheless, and these guys have game.”

Additionally, the lab is working with filmmakers across North America, Europe and China. “There are a lot of filmmakers very interested in this medium,” Dunn said.

Brands Have A New Advertising Avenue With USA Today’s ‘VRtually There’

USA Today Network has partnered with YouTube and flagship sponsor Toyota for the debut of VRtually There, a new weekly show billed as the first-ever branded news experience presented in virtual reality.

The innovative show will allow journalists from the Gannett-owned USA Today Network— which currently is headlined by USA Today and 109 other local media brands like the Arizona Republic and Indianapolis Starto dive deep into their stories to deliver immersive and original VR content.

The USA Today Network joins other news organizations like The New York Times, ABC News, Getty Images and Reuters as old-guard media institutions that are pushing the limits of journalism and storytelling in VR.

VRtually There should be of particular interest for brands who are seeking to connect with VR-hungry consumers in the digital publishing landscape. The “cubemercial” is being touted as the industry’s first VR ad unit created specifically for the medium.

Toyota is featured in the first cubemercial by promoting the 2017 Camry with 60 seconds of branded VR content through the Australian wilderness. “We believe in creating amazing experiences for our guests, so we’re excited to help launch USA Today Network’s innovative VR show, bringing incredible virtual reality experiences to its audience,” said Lisa McQueen, media manager for Toyota. “The Network’s approach to bold storytelling and use of new mediums aligns with our brand and our creative approach.”

Emmy Award winning director David Hamlin will serve as executive producer VRtually There and will attempt to pioneer new ways to reach USA Today Network’s 110 million unique monthly users.

Niko Chauls, director of emerging technology at USA Today Network, joined [a]listdaily to discuss why their new VR vertical is an enticing fit for brands.

Why was it critical for USA Today to deepen its commitment to VR with VRtually There?

USA Today Network is setting the standard of innovation, allowing its journalists to have a new opportunity to tell their stories, share news and information and deliver engaging content to its audience through VR with the launch of the first weekly VR news shows. We’ve been a leader in VR as a publisher and with its increase in adoption, we felt the time was right to launch a weekly show for our audience. For instance, we’ve been able to bring stories to life through VR such as our Des Moines Register’s story “Harvest of Change,” or showing viewers what it’s like to be a “Blue Angel.” This is something we’ll continue to encourage our writers to do, and bring to life across the Network.

How does VR change journalism for storytellers across the world in the digital publishing landscape?

VR is giving our journalists across the entire USA Today Network a new way to tell their stories, and we will see this in the industry as well. We feel VR has allowed our journalists to be more creative with the stories they choose to tell. For instance, in one episode, a journalist stitched together photographs and audio from man’s last exploration on the moon during Apollo 17. Our journalist decided to bring historic photos back to life and tell this story in a new way with VR, which is just one new way storytellers can use VR. We can expect to see several new ways as VR continues to evolve.


How will you measure success of VRtually There?

We will be looking at several metrics—specially on consumer engagement—but we also see this as an experiment for us in VR. We want to make sure we tailor what we’re creating in VR makes sense for the medium and brings new and innovative experiences for our readership. We’ll of course look at things such as a viewer, new viewers and completion views. For advertisers, we will provide various consumption metrics and information about whether their ads were viewed with sound and in full ‘VR’ as opposed to ‘360-degree video’ mode on non-VR devices.

VRtually There provides new advertising opportunities for brand partners with the introduction of your “cubemercial.” How will you be marketing the cubemercial?

When we launched VRtually There, we touted that we launched the first ad unit native to VR and we hope brands recognize our innovation in the advertising industry. We’re bringing brands a new way to share their stories and join us on this exploration into VR which is something we aren’t taking lightly, but rather, being very thoughtful about.

Why should advertisers and marketers begin incorporating 360-degree video and VR into their business strategy?

360-degree video and VR has been on the uptick over the last year, with new headsets and devices allowing consumers to view content in 360 across devices. While it’s important for brands to be where the consumers are, it’s more important that they incorporate 360 and VR into their marketing strategies when the story makes sense to be told in 360 or VR, and not because they feel they should or need to.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Branded Content Favors Stories Over Traditional Ads

While product placement is still very much a thing, a rising trend in the marketing arena is for companies to produce their own branded entertainment. These companies are trading in static ads and traditional commercials and instead telling compelling stories in line with their brand’s message.

Nutella, for one, is timing a weekly web series with the holiday season in Spread the Happy. This feel-good show tells the stories of individuals who make the world a better place by spreading kindness to others. The first episode is about Brooklyn, a three-year-old girl who strikes up a sweet friendship with their garbage man. Aside from a fade-in title at the beginning and an image of Nutella spread at the end, these stories don’t feature the product at all. “You’ll notice that these are not ads—it’s a webseries brought to consumers by Nutella so we’re not trying to brand it,” Eric Berger, marketing director for Nutella USA told Adweek. “We’re just generally trying to spread happiness and inspire others to do the same.”

Cap’n Crunch teamed up with Funny or Die last week to create a comedy series called The Earliest Show. Ironically airing in the middle of the night, the campaign tells the story of a talk show host who goes through a very public break-up. Aimed at millennial males, The Earliest Show stars Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation, House of Lies) and Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is the New Black). Aside from purposely wacky infomercials for Cap’n Crunch and a cooking tutorial, parent company Quaker wanted to focus on the story and original concept by Schwartz.

Starbucks began a similar campaign in September with Upstanders, an original series that aims to inspire positive change amidst cynicism in the United States. The series features ten stories told in written, video and podcast formats about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities.”

Going a different direction, Chipotle’s Love Story animated campaign focuses on two entrepreneurs whose judgment is clouded by competition and processed food ingredients. The message is that the company cares more about what goes into their food than how they sell it. Love Story is the third in a string of short films by the restaurant chain that share a theme of quality food products.

Geico took a similar approach with its web series about its sponsored eSports players, Team SoloMid (TSM). TSM’s New Neighbor is shot in mockumentary-style and explores how a professional eSports team living in a house to practice deal with an overly enthusiastic neighbor. Aside from a deliver of Geico “swag” at the beginning of the first episode, that’s the last you’ll hear about insurance. Geico saved plugs for separate, mini ad spots in which different team members would discuss an insurance offering while their neighbor interrupts in the background.

Branded entertainment puts control back into the hands of marketers and if successful, elicits an emotional response from the viewer. A recent study by Television News Daily shows that original branded content outperforms traditional pre-roll ads. These stories also generate an average of 86 percent brand recall among consumers—a much higher number than the 65 percent with pre-roll advertising.

‘Invisible’ Brings Supernatural Action To VR

The Tribeca Virtual Reality Arcade opened at the Westfield World Trade Center in New York City on November 4, giving visitors free access to four different immersive experiences. The arcade will be showing for one last time this weekend from November 18-20, giving shoppers and tourists a chance to try out VR, perhaps for the first time, using Samsung Gear VR viewers.

One of the stand-out experiences is an episodic VR series called Invisible, a supernatural drama created by director Doug Liman (The Bourne IdentityEdge of Tomorrow), Oscar-nominated screenwriter Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club), and Emmy-nominated Julina Tatlock at the 30 Ninjas film studio. Invisible is also produced in partnership with Jaunt VR, Samsung VR, and Condé Nast Entertainment and is presented by Lexus.

Both Doug Liman and executive producer and director for Invisible, Julina Tatlock, spoke on a panel about creating VR content. One challenge was a list of “rules” for VR, which Liman, Tatlock and others at 30 Ninjas decided to cast aside. As a result, Invisible has a look that is distinct from other VR experiences, with different camera cuts and out-of-body camera positioning.

During the panel, Liman explained that after working to bring audiences close-up into the action in his movies, “The first time I put on VR equipment, I thought ‘this is even more immersive than anything I’ve been able to accomplish.’” That experience helped inspire the director to bring the action from his 2D films into the VR world.

Julina Tatlock also discussed the technical challenges, adding that “the fact that things were hard just made us want to crack it more.”

Tatlock and Lewis Smithingham, director of photography and editor for the show, spoke to [a]listdaily from the Tribeca VR Arcade premiere. They are joined by Jaunt VR executive producer, Tom Vance, and the three discuss how virtual reality technology is impacting filmmaking and how it could influence the future of moviegoing entertainment.

From left: Lewis Smithingham, Julina Tatlock and Tom Vance, Invisible
From left: Lewis Smithingham (30 Ninjas director of photography), Julina Tatlock (30 Ninjas executive producer) and Tom Vance (Jaunt VR executive producer), for Invisible

How did the idea to create Invisible come together?

[Tatlock]: Doug [Liman] and I started 30 Ninjas about seven or eight years ago, and we were talking about creating Invisible in some form—TV, movie or graphic novel. At the same time, I was looking into VR and started to get excited about it. So, the creative development and creative interest in VR came together, and it was about in the early spring of 2015 that we had a script and started talking to partners. I was talking to Samsung, Jaunt and Condé Nast separately as a VR project when it occurred to everybody that all three were interested, and maybe the project would be better if everybody pooled both their financial and creative resources.

What made you decide on an episodic format instead of a single film?

[Tatlock]: The expectation, when we wrote this in 2015, was that people would not want to wear a headset for very long, so you needed to build in Acts because people wouldn’t be comfortable or they would have a short attention span. What we found, as we were making it through the year, was that we wanted fewer and fewer Act breaks. It was initially conceived of as a six-episode series, and we broke it down into five episodes. I think we’ll be discussing, when we do the next thing, that longer is probably better. It gives you more runway for the story and time to invest in the characters and experience.

[Vance]: For us, releasing all the episodes at once—allowing for a bingeable experience—gives the viewer the option of sitting and watching the show in one fell swoop or watching episode-by-episode. We were certainly interested in seeing how the user experienced the episodes, and when we made the determination to release them all at one time, we all felt that if one single person sat through the entire show that we did our jobs really well. What’s great is that, more often than not, people are sitting through the entire experience.

From your experience working on Invisible, how far are we from having a full-length VR film?

[Smithingham]: We could do it. It’s just a matter of funds.

[Vance]: Not far away at all. There are feature-length projects happening around town and at Jaunt. So, it’s around the corner.

How is Invisible being distributed?

[Tatlock]: You can find Invisible on Samsung VR as well as through the Jaunt VR player.

[Vance]: In our partnership with Samsung and CNE (Condé Nast Entertainment), Samsung was an exclusive distribution partner. It is now being widely distributed both on the Samsung VR store and the Jaunt VR app.

On the panel, you spoke about following or breaking the rules of VR content creation. Do you feel that you’re writing the rules as you go?

[Tatlock]: We did think we were making it up. I like to say making up, Doug likes to say, “break the rules and create new ones.” We looked creatively at what the right thing to do was. Sometimes we did shots that were covered a couple of ways because we weren’t quite sure how well they would work. But we went in knowing a couple of different things:

  1. We knew that we were cutting; you’re not a person—you’re inside a story, but sometimes you’re on the floor and sometimes you’re hanging off a building. We’re not really concerned with what you, the audience member, thinks of where your feet are.
  2. We weren’t writing to any kind of audience role, because as an action-thriller, we wanted to tell a compulsive story and we were not stopping.
  3. We knew that we were going to be moving the camera. We didn’t quite know how much, but we certainly knew we were going to.

But there were rules that we weren’t going to break. [For example] we pretty much knew that we were always going to be stabilizing the camera. But even some of the rules we thought we were never going to break, we ended up breaking.

[Smithingham]: What’s truly amazing was that essentially, we had shots that were safety shots and then we had shots we were calling experimental. They were experimental because we had never tried them before. Almost every single one of those shots made it into the show.

[Tatlock]: Every day we had a first on set. You could not go through a day without asking, “Will that work? I don’t know, let’s try it.”

[Smithingham]: The idea of us making up rules feels so final. The one rule we did have was: “Don’t make it boring. Ever.” I think we followed that.

With different location-based VR experiences, particularly how IMAX plans to create VR movie theaters, how do you think the technology will impact Hollywood filmmaking?

[Vance]: What I think you’ll end up seeing is that there will be a VR theater within a larger Cineplex, and that will be a draw that will eventize the filmgoing experience. Already, you’re seeing VR being used to market and promote feature films. There are things happening within the film industry today where VR is part of the theatrical experience. I absolutely believe that VR is going to change the world and I think it’s going to affect every aspect of the moviegoing experience, but I don’t mean to suggest that VR will replace film. I see it as something that is totally distinct.

Has any consideration been given to adding more interactivity to experiences like Invisible?

[Smithingham]: Absolutely. This piece doesn’t have interactive, but I think there’s couch VR and not-couch VR. We’re developing a project right now that has some heavy-duty interactivity in it. But Invisible is interactive in the sense that you can pick where you’re going. There is a path, but you can sort of choose to not follow it, adding a level of interactivity. I think there is thought to developing interactive storytelling, and a lot of it has to do with technological constraints, such as the lack of a universal control set, which is hampering experiences right now. But as things get better and VR evolves and becomes more universal, interactivity will progress further.

I also think there’s always going to be a place for passive viewing.

How Lifestyle Brands Promote Video Games In Style

For many, video games are more of a lifestyle than a hobby, and studies have shown that passionate gamers (particularly in the realm of eSports) often share a crossover passion for other lifestyle brands.

Nike, for example, comes with its own loyal fan base of sports enthusiasts and sneaker collectors. When the company joined forces with EA to promote FIFA 17 with a new cleat, the coming together of fandoms just made sense. “This collaboration came together rather organically,” Nathan Van Hook, senior design director for Nike Football told The Mirror“Our design team spends a lot of our free time playing football—both on the pitch and via video game—we’re pretty obsessed with both. We wanted to create something memorable that brings together the physical and virtual worlds.”

Vans is another brand that represents far more than shoes. Surfers, skateboarders and more don footwear from this iconic brand as an expression of their active lifestyle. Earlier this year, Vans powered up with Nintendo to offer officially-branded shoes featuring retro game controllers and icons like Mario, Link and Donkey Kong.

In January, Louis Vuitton made an unprecedented move by casting a fictional video game character as its spokesmodel. Lightning, a recurring character in the Final Fantasy series, appeared in a number of magazine ads and videos as the star of Louis Vuitton’s Spring-Summer 2016 “Series 4” collection. The partnership with game developer, Square Enix was a celebration of not only Lightning as a character, but of the “global, heroic woman,” as stated on the company’s website.

“This collaboration is not just a promotion of a game, and it is a great honor that the character herself received an offer from a world famous brand,” said Tetsuya Nomura, Lightning’s character designer. “As a result of this collaboration, this has infused new breath into the character.”

Bandai Namco is now offering limited edition jackets inspired by Tekken 7. Previously, merchandise for the popular fighting game was limited to t-shirts and ball caps but now includes a numbered, premium sukajan jacket that retails for $449. We’ve seen how fashionistas have been open to video game crossover, but will gamers be willing to pay premium for designer fashion? Abelina Villegas, e-commerce specialist at Bandai Namco is confident the answer is “yes.”

Designed by Carrie Sleutskaya of Project Runway fame, these jackets are highly-detailed with 440,000 stitches in its embroidery. “Our goal on the Bandai Namco Official Store is to develop merchandise for our most passionate fans,” Villegas told [a]listdaily, “so the creation of this kind of high fashion piece was also an opportunity for us to expand the messaging around our Tekken 7 campaign to acknowledge that Tekken is a lifestyle brand.”

Nokia’s Deal With Sony Pictures Further Immerses Hollywood In VR

Nokia Technologies continues to connect Hollywood studios with its Ozo 360-degree camera. The tech company signed Sony Pictures to a multi-year worldwide agreement that allows it to use Ozo hardware and software tools to create filmed and livestreamed content for the growing number of virtual reality platforms, including HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Daydream and PlayStation VR.

Ghostbusters Is Hiring mobile VR game

Sony Pictures Entertainment has released a variety of VR experiences, including the Ghostbusters Dimension at Madame Tussauds live-action experience and the Ghostbusters Is Hiring virtual reality game. Sony also created live-action 360 experiences based on theatrical releases Goosebumps and The Walk.

Nokia will collaborate with Sony Pictures and provide equipment and VR technology to support the creation of special VR content. Sony Pictures will also leverage Ozo Live to transport fans to special events that they can’t otherwise attend. Ozo Live allows content creators to produce fully immersive live experiences through 3D 360-degree video and audio playback technologies.

“Partnerships with cutting-edge technology companies like Nokia are critical as we develop the market for VR experiences and build scale in our production and distribution efforts,” said Pete Wood, SVP of digital sales at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Scot Barbour, vice president, production technology at Sony Pictures said, “Nokia’s Ozo camera and its suite of professional tools are an excellent solution for content creators because they seamlessly integrate into established production processes and workflows, and enable the real-time capture and broadcast of VR content.”

Moving forward, Sony Pictures could use Ozo to market directly to consumers by livestreaming events or capturing 360-degree footage on-set and create behind-the-scenes featurettes.

“The 360 possibilities are endless,” Paul Melin, vice president of digital media at Nokia Technologies, told [a]listdaily. “From the obvious promotion of the movie in 2D to a fully-immersive interactive experience inside the movie. How about things like—after the movie theater experience, what if we can see best scenes of the movie from the eyes of your favorite character? What if we can walk around in the same environment of the movie while it is playing? These are the types of creative possibilities that make VR so exciting.”

Melin said creating VR short films based on the story and characters of a movie introduces a myriad of new opportunities for a franchise. “VR can also deliver a different ending or an element of the story that wasn’t unfolded in the movie originally,” Melin said. “It can bring people into the story in from the point of view of one of the characters, allowing viewers to be fully immersed in the movie—an experience that can never be achieved in a frame.”

VR also brings fans closer to the Hollywood experience, as Nokia has done with Disney Pictures.

“We’ve livestreamed from the red carpet at movie premieres like Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass as well as the Pink concert on YouTube,” Melin said. “We are currently deploying and testing this with the over-the-top broadcasters as well as the larger broadcast community and hope to share more on these efforts in the near future.”

Sony Pictures will also integrate the Ozo Player SDK into Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s Privilege Plus app, available through Google Play. Privilege Plus is an Android application that allows customers to redeem and watch content included with the purchase of selected Sony Mobile devices and accessories like bundled movies or VR experiences.

Melin said the company is collaborating very closely with Hollywood studios to exploit the full potential of its VR technologies.

“Together, we are pushing the limits of VR—both from a creative/storytelling perspective and from a technology perspective and we incorporate their feedback in our product roadmap,” Melin said.

Nokia Technologies has partnerships with Disney and Sony, and works with many of the leading VR studios like Here be Dragons, Magnopus, MPC and Reel FX.

“We recently won the Proto award for best live-action with Argos, which we produced with Magnopus,” Melin said. “We also created one of the best VR experiences to date with Universal Music Group and OneRepublic: a music video for the new hit ‘Kids.’”

Melin said Ozo not only supports 360, but it also enables the delivery of 3D immersive experience for multiple platforms and hardware including Oculus, HTC, PlayStation VR as well as newer and emerging ones such as Lenovo, Microsoft and others.

“This emerging audience is growing exponentially as more and more users are buying devices, including Daydream,” Melin added.

Melin said Nokia is learning through its partnerships with the Hollywood studios that storytelling doesn’t have to be limited to one take and fixed camera positions.

“New shooting techniques are being created and used as a result of Ozo’s form factor and on-board recording capability,” Melin said. “A great example is OneRepublic’s ‘Kids video. The story unfolded as the camera was moved on a cable cam from the boy’s room to the girl’s room and then to the street—allowing the director to guide the viewer in 360 by moving them to different locations, yet still able to have the freedom to look wherever they like.”

Other techniques include using Ozo in very remote areas that require battery-operated solutions, as well compositing special effects like Oscar-winner Magnopus employed with the Argos video. In the Argos video, the viewer becomes the murder victim and relives his memory in point-of-view. Ozo also operates as stand-alone, fully-contained device that can be flown on a drone.

“The full potential of VR will be best realized by providing the most creative minds, storytellers and production teams the professional tools to explore the medium,” Melin said. “Others are providing production-for-hire platforms that enable content creation but are not necessarily giving the creative community the opportunity to fully explore what VR can bring to their content.”

In addition, Melin said Ozo provides a real-time VR preview that enables live use with multiple cameras like at Austin City Limits, where up to 10 cameras streaming live at the same time enabled the viewer to instantly go to all those locations.

The NFL Wants To Win Over Millennials By Curating Social Media Content

The National Football League has partnered with Whistle Sports in a collaboration that offers companies an opportunity to participate and engage with sports-themed content to reach social-first, millennial fans around the world through brand integrations.

Whistle Sports, a digital sports media company that delivers sports content for fans and brands across multiple platforms and has already negotiated $60 million in investment, will regularly create content for the NFL that ranges from short-form comedic takes, impersonations, fan subculture documentaries, workout and training videos, skill competitions, alternate histories, trick shots and eSports face-offs.

“Our fans continue to demonstrate an insatiable appetite for NFL digital video content,” Julie Moeller, vice president of media strategy for the NFL, said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to working with Whistle Sports and its creators to develop and distribute this exciting new content across a broad range of social media platforms, providing another key touch point for our fans and sponsors to participate in NFL conversation online.”

NFL games almost always dominate every single one of the 30 most-watched TV time slots, but this season they’ve dealt with a surprise decline in TV ratings largely due to the presidential election, and more obviously, lukewarm matchups in primetime slots.

The nation’s most powerful sports league—who earlier this year banned all 32 teams from posting videos and GIFs—is now blitzing forward to a second-screen stronghold on social media. Earlier this season, the NFL became the first pro sports league to begin livestreaming games on Twitter, and to launch a Snapchat Discover channel. Last week, they also announced an original, nine-part virtual reality series for YouTube and Google Daydream. Even NFL’s broadcast partners are taking notes. NBC Sports launched a millennial-driven marketing campaign today that highlights custom content from their top primetime shows to drive young viewers viewers to its programs.

Given the demographic of Whistle’s reported network of 257 million fans and followers across social platforms, their partnership is yet another move and opportunity for the NFL to reach and capture younger fans who are cutting the chord by the minute and turning to mobile for content consumption. Reaching a younger demographic and fan base is a growing problem franchises like the Los Angeles Rams are currently facing.

Whistle Sports president Jeff Urban, who previously worked for eight years as a senior vice president of sports and event marketing at Gatorade, joined [a]listdaily to discuss how they’re enabling brands to leverage social content.

Jeff Urban
Jeff Urban, president of Whistle Sports

Why is it important for brands and advertisers to activate around NFL-themed content to reach their audiences? 

Football fans are fanatics about their sport and incredibly loyal to their teams and favorite players. The brands that are part of that conversation get the benefit of that passion. Those that are not get left out. This effect gets magnified even more as you migrate from linear TV to social platforms where the content lets fans stamp it with their own opinions and share it.

What do you think is the most highly effective way to engage sports fans on social channels?

We are data-driven in everything we do, so research informs so much of our content decisions before anything goes up and goes live. But whether it’s a single post on Instagram or a longer-form series on a different platform, the same question guides the creative team: ‘Is this something people react to emotionally and feel the need to share?’

What makes Whistle Sports such a unique vertical? What are you doing better than the rest?

We’ve grown into a global sports media company with an aggregate audience of over 250 million that specializes in content creation and distribution across social platforms. This content lives across Whistle Sports Media. We combine the incredible passion sports fans bring to the game with our data-first approach to content and a unique combination of pro leagues, broadcast partners, multichannel coverage and a creator network.

Why are your top-notch list of investors so interested in your company? What has captivated the likes of Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter?

Derek and Peyton got involved years before our formal launch because they saw the potential to engage fans in a way that others had not, and built a company that stayed true to the same kinds of values and principles that they brought to the field every time they played. We remove ‘no’ from our vocabulary. We are one team. We move fast to change the game. These were the values we launched with and guide our growth.

How are you tracking your goals? CTAs, EMV or CPM?

Different brands bring different requirements and approaches to how they want to measure the success of their collaborations. The best part for us, and brands, is that starting with social means it becomes very clear, very quickly, on what’s working, and how to make sure everything outperforms.

How are you positioning the company specifically for eSports? What does this vertical offer brands, and how can they reach a somewhat finicky audience?

We have an audience of over 24 million aggregate fans and followers dedicated specifically to eSports. We have a very narrow focus on sports like FIFA that you can play on your console and then head to a stadium to see in person. Top FIFA players have become celebrities in the space with fans who spend hours watching their games on platforms like Twitch, and turn to them for advice and guidance on the brands they use as part of their daily lives.

What do you think is the secret sauce for building a sports network for the YouTube age?

Build a great team of focused, driven and positive people that love to work with each other and bring top talent to the game. Let data drive your decisions to maximize your chances of success. Make your core values clear and ensure the partners you work with share them. Make sure you’re talking with, learning from and serving your target audience every minute of every day. Most importantly—make compelling content.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan