This week, TV sets get lonely, Nintendo gets hopeful and consumers want options for loyalty-based communication.
TV Ads And Assumptions
Do advertisers project their own lifestyles and media consumption onto consumers? Apparently so, the Video Advertising Bureau found. The company’s report—Do We Have Consensus—found that advertisers believe 32 percent of viewers watch content on live or recorded TV, while Nielsen’s figures for viewers 18-years-old and over show that 82 percent are engaged in TV viewing. Likewise, advertisers who participated in the study believed that adults spend two hours or less viewing TV daily when the actual figure is four hours and 35 minutes.
When consumers do watch TV, they prefer to do so on a computer, according to an Accenture survey of 26,000 internet users around the world. The percentage of consumers who prefer watching TV shows on television sets plummeted by 55 percent over the past year, from 52 percent to 23 percent. Thirteen percent said they prefer watching TV shows on their smartphones, compared with 10 percent last year.
When it comes to pre-roll ads, viewers pay attention to a higher proportion of ads on connected TV (CTV) and CTV ads deliver higher brand metrics. A new report by YuMe studied ad effectiveness by comparing the actual time a viewer’s eyes were tracked watching an ad against the total time the ad was viewable for CTV, desktop and mobile campaigns. Tracking showed 89 percent of a CTV pre-roll ad is viewed, compared to 81 percent on mobile and 78 percent on desktop.
The State Of Ad Spend
Advertisers spent a record-breaking $72.5 billion last year and 51 percent of that was on mobile, according to IAB. Mobile experienced a 77 percent increase from $20.7 billion the previous year, hitting $36.6 billion in 2016. Video revenue more than doubled to nearly $4.2 million—up 145 percent year-over-year. Digital video hit a record $9.1 billion in 2016, a 53 percent year-over-year rise from $5.9 billion in 2015.
A recent survey conducted by AdsNative found that 92.3 percent of those polled (7,500 web and mobile publishers) saw native ad revenue increase in the last year. Of those surveyed, 69.2 percent are getting the most revenue from direct sales, 84.6 percent do outstream video and 68.9 percent are monitoring ad blockers but haven’t been greatly affected by them yet.
Loyalty Requires Options
Last year, mobile marketing company 3Cinteractive surveyed US internet users to see how they preferred to receive loyalty-related communications from brands. Participants were asked to choose one channel. In 2016, nearly half of US internet users surveyed said they preferred to receive loyalty-related communications via SMS and roughly one quarter said they preferred email. A year later, only 21 percent of respondents wanted texts from loyalty programs.
Given more options in its 2017 poll, 10 percent selected virtual assistants and 18 percent wanted communication via wallet.
Nintendo expects its new Switch console to more than double annual operating profit and end the eight-year sales decline, according to a news briefing on Thursday. “We are hoping to change the tide of our business with the Switch,” Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima said.
Nintendo estimated profit to grow 2.2-fold to 65 billion yen ($584 million) in the year through March 2018, with sales jumping 53.3 percent.
Digital revenue grew by 15 percent in March across all platforms in the US, according to SuperData. Total US digital revenue came in at $1.46 billion, up from $1.27 billion in the same month last year. Console digital grew 17 percent thanks to new releases Mass Effect: Andromeda, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Nier: Automata.
Free-to-play and mobile grew 12 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Worldwide, the digital video games market grew seven percent in March to a new high of $8 billion.
Top Grossing Titles For March 2017 By Category (Globally):
The first live activation under Evil Geniuses sponsorship deal with Chinese TV brand Hisense will take place at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the May 26 weekend of the Hisense 4K TV 300.
NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Erik Jones of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and Clint Bowyer of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), both claiming to be the best gamer in all of NASCAR, will compete on Halo 5 alongside Evil Geniuses pros and a pair of fans. The Hisense Dual Threat Challenge tournament will take place on the 16,000 square-foot Speedway TV.
Peter Dager, CEO of Evil Geniuses, told AListDaily that NASCAR serves as the perfect backdrop for this competitive gaming event because the team already works with big NASCAR partners Hisense, Xfinity and Monster Energy.
“All of these brands are expanding into esports and are looking to us for a lot of North American representation,” Dager explained. “It makes sense for Hisense as a digital technology company because of console video games like Halo.”
Dager said that one of the most important things the team is focusing on with these brand activations is finding ways to not force the brand into esports. With this NASCAR activation, there’s also the added element of integrating video games into traditional sports fans’ expectations. “We’re finding ways to make the collaborations feel very genuine,” Dager said. “You don’t want traditional sports fans to say video games aren’t sports. It’s important to understand that traditional sports are very different, but video games are on the rise. And just like there are a lot of NASCAR fans in the US, there are also a lot of esports fans.”
Dager admits there are a lot of similarities between how NASCAR promotes its brands across the drivers’ uniforms and how esports teams showcase companies on their jerseys. “I’m not a huge fan of NASCAR, but you can’t deny it has a giant audience throughout the US,” he said. “Not everyone is a fan of everything. As a brand that’s interested in bringing in new types of fans, it’s important to not limit yourself and try new things.”
While it’s still early days with the Hisense partnership, Dager said Evil Geniuses has worked with a lot of different partners over the years and it always takes some time when developing strategies with a new sponsor. “We communicate what works and what doesn’t work in this space,” Dager explained. “It’s a big advertisement and we’re trying to help them promote the brand. But we need to present the brand as something we believe in and are genuinely behind.”
Dager said indirect promotion of brands, like the upcoming NASCAR activation, can result in a positive connection for esports fans the next time they’re in the market for a new TV. “There’s an honesty you have to present on the internet because everything is fact-checked. If you stretch things too far, people will call you out if it’s not entirely genuine,” Dager said. “People aren’t afraid to speak up and rally against something that’s not authentic.”
Ultimately, the message Evil Geniuses wants to help spread to gamers is that “Hisense offers consumers one of the best TVs for their affordable dollar.” Hisense is currently outfitting all of the Evil Geniuses gaming houses with 4K TVs, which will allow the brand to appear during practices and through social channels.
The fact that Hisense, a global consumer electronics brand, has jumped into esports is good for the entire ecosystem, according to Dager.
“More non-endemics getting involved in esports is groundbreaking for everyone involved,” Dager said. “It provides a substantially larger bankroll to compete in the space. As the cost of business goes up every year, the more sponsors we can bring in at a higher rate allows us to keep going. But it also encourages other non-endemics. It’s easier to bring in the next brand when they see Hisense come on board—and not just for Evil Geniuses, but for other teams or leagues or tournaments.”
While millions of VR headsets are in the hands of consumers, there’s fragmentation between mobile VR, PlayStation VR, and PC VR adoption, even though many VR titles are platform agnostic. Growth in the VR market has been less than many analysts first predicted, and we’ve yet to see a “killer app” emerge as the market continues to expand. However, we’ve seen some early successes, such as the Survios game Raw Data which has generated more than $1 million, and Owlchemy’s Job Simulator which has generated more than $3 million in revenue. At the same time, hardware sales have been close a million units for PlayStation VR, and analysts estimate less than a million for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive combined (with Vive a clear leader), while Samsung’s Gear VR has around 5 million units installed.
We’re still far from a large-scale VR market that can generate billions in software revenues, but HTC Vive is working on a variety of ways to get to that point. The one-year anniversary of HTC Vive showed a market that’s small but growing. To further accelerate that growth, HTC introduced the the Viveport Subscription service.
HTC Vive launched Viveport Subscription on April 5, celebrating the first anniversary of the HTC Vive by introducing the first-ever subscription model for a VR app store. Viveport Subscription customers pay $6.99 a month and choose five titles from an ever-growing library of curated content. Users get unlimited access to those apps and they can rotate out their selection every month. All apps in the subscription service are also available for sale, letting customers try an app before they decide to buy. Viveport Subscription includes a one month free trial offer for all new users.
“We’re surprised every day by what our fans and developers have brought to VIVE in its first year,” said Daniel O’ Brien, GM US, HTC Vive. “We’re astounded by the impact that VR is making in the home and in the enterprise, and we want to celebrate Vive’s first birthday by giving a bit back to our fans and by introducing Vive to more people.”
Rahul Sandil, vice president of marketing at HTC Vive, sat down with AListDaily for a wide-ranging talk about Vive and where VR is going from here.
The first issue that Sandil wanted to establish was HTC Vive’s goal as it expanded the VR market. “What helps us build more trust with developers and consumers? We weigh both those things together,” said Sandil. “We believe the subscription is a great way to do this for developers and consumers. For developers, it’s a whole new business model—they can bring their content and get access to the Vive and Viveport audience. It’s another way to monetize apps for them. One of the missions of Viveport is to give developers the most ways to monetize their content.”
Sandil then described the Viveport Subscription model. “Consumers pay a low monthly price, in the US that’s $6.99, and consumers can pick five apps every month, and once the month is over they can swap those out for five new ones, or keep any the want to keep playing,” Sandil explained. “We believe it’s a great opportunity for consumers to try before you buy.” Sandil noted that the average price of a VR app is somewhere between $10 and $15, and thus paying around half of that average for access to five apps is a great deal. It’s also an easy, low-risk way for people to try out more apps to find ones they might want to buy.
“The VR ecosystem is still very young and growing. We are coming up on almost 300 apps on Viveport, of which half of them are free and the other half are paid,” Sandil said. “In Viveport Global, which includes China, we have already crossed 650 apps, probably half are free and half are paid.”
With an increasing number of apps, it’s becoming ever more difficult for customers to find the apps they’d prefer. The Viveport Subscription aims to solve that problem. “This is a great way for customers to try the selection,” said Sandil. ” We believe that one of the best ways to grow the VR ecosystem is to have a great selection, and at the same time we want to make it easy for customers to try things and get to try different kinds of VR experiences.”
HTC Vive is concerned about providing a good value not only for consumers, but for developers as well. “It’s not based on usage for developer monetization,” Sandil explained. “We’ve tried to make it simple and fair, both for well known devs and new apps. If you get picked in a month, you will get paid.”
There are a lot of exciting prospects for the VR market in the year ahead. “There will be a lot more innovation on the hardware side—making it untethered, making the hardware more ubiquitous,” Sandil said. “We just launched a deluxe audio strap, better form-fitting, making the experience more comfortable. There will be more comfort, more ways to track your presence in virtual reality.”
But major growth isn’t going to come just from hardware innovation. “We’ve just scratched the surface on content,” Sandil said. “Today, there are over 1,600 apps on Steam and Vive, but I think we’re just getting started. There’s going to be a real multiplication effect on content happening this year. I think this is also going to be the year we’re going to see a lot more AAA content, larger production budgets on VR content. We’ve announced a partnership with Warner for Ready Player One, we’ve got plans to create multiple pieces of content to support that. There’s going to be some really big things happening on the content side.”
Improvements in hardware and more VR software will help expand the market, of course, but Sandil believes the real opportunity lies in business model innovation. “Most importantly is the business models, we’re starting our year two with subscriptions but we believe arcades are going to be that force multiplier, it’s going to bring in audiences who have always been interested in VR but haven’t experienced it yet,” Sandil stated. “I would say there will be a minimum of 10x multiple of people experiencing virtual reality.”
Earlier this year, Glu Mobile announced that it had signed a multi-year deal with the MLB, Chicago Cubs star player Kris Bryant (who was named the National League Most Valuable Player after the Cubs won the World Series last year), and other facets of the MLB. The partnership allows Glu to make MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 one of the most realistic mobile baseball games around by including 30 teams along with current players and select former players. Bryant is being featured as the game’s cover athlete for the second year in a row.
Jerome Collin, Glu Mobile’s VP of sports and racing games, talked with AListDaily about what the MLB licensing deal brings to the attention Bryant continues to bring to the franchise.
“MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 is easily the most realistic baseball experience on mobile,” said Collin, describing the game. “Its one-touch controls are easy to use, which makes it a breeze to jump right into a game. Its quick session lengths make it perfect for playing on mobile whenever you have a little extra time to kill.”
Collin continued by saying, “At its core, MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 lets you assemble your own team of real-world players. You get your favorite players and top MLB stars to challenge your friends, and you can build and level up your guys to top leaderboards against the best-of-the-best. For the first time this year, with our MLB partnership, the game lets the users pick their real-life favorite team and then use their authentic logos and uniforms. Users have access to all current players as well as select Legend players so they can bring their fantasy team to life.”
When asked how the licensing deal helps the game stand out from other sports titles on mobile, Collin replied, “Having all of the MLB, MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association), and MLBPAA (Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association) licenses certainly sets us apart, and the game really brings the world of Major League Baseball to life.
“We’ve done it in a way that’s extremely realistic,” Collin went on to explain. “For example, there’s a robust stats component—about 40-to-50 different stats on every player that users can look up, including all the advanced SABRmetric stats that baseball fans love! Our deep internal gameplay model ensures that pretty much all these stats turn out similar to how a player’s stats would in real-life for every player. It’s important to us that strategic elements of baseball are all in play and work exactly as they do in real life, and that’s felt throughout the game.”
The licensing deal allows the game to include authentic uniforms, and Collin discussed how it and the graphics worked to make MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 a realistic sports game. “Having the MLB license and also the great new graphics makes it visually true-to-life,” he said. “We have day and night games, dynamic shadows, all-new animations—including cool dives and celebrations—and other features that surprise users. Then add in the logos of all 30 teams, the league marks, and the uniforms. Users just don’t expect that level of visual realism in a mobile game. Our ultimate goal is to provide users with the most believable experience on mobile, both visually and in gameplay, and make them feel like they’re part of the game with the fantasy team of their dreams.”
Collin then talked Kris Bryant’s continued involvement with the mobile game franchise. “We have a great relationship with Kris Bryant, and we’re really excited to have him return as the featured player for MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017,” said Collin. “We’ve worked closely with him to create a fun and engaging commercial to promote the game.”
Having the Chicago Cubs win the World Series must bring extra attention to the game. “In 2016, with the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series in over 100 years, there was a lot of excitement and attention around baseball and the Cubs,” said Collin. “Of course, Kris Bryant helped lead the Cubs to victory, and was also named the National League MVP. So, having his name attached to MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2017 definitely creates some commotion. He’s a great guy and a talented player, and I think the whole world is excited for what the 2017 season has in store for Kris and the Cubs team.”
The NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software will launch the NBA 2K eLeague next year, a professional competitive gaming league that will unite the best hoops gamers in the world. They now have hired a managing director to steer the ship in Brendan Donohue, who’ll oversee the league strategy and operations.
“[I’m] just taking what 2K has already built up in terms of popularity around the game and really building an audience around this,” Donohue told ESPN. “It is the most popular sports title in North America and, most importantly, the most highly regarded in terms of the actual game.”
Cinematic virtual reality company Jaunt has hiredJean-Christophe Curelop as their head of sales for VR camera systems. Curelop formerly worked as head of business development and digital media at Nokia where he was responsible for the development and execution of strategies centered on Nokia’s OZO VR camera.
“JC’s extensive expertise at the intersection of entertainment and technology are the perfect compliment to the growing sales team here at Jaunt,” said Jaunt chief revenue officer Jean-Paul Colaco. “As we look towards 2018 and the rapidly evolving VR camera market, there’s no one better suited to lead strategy and sales for the Jaunt One camera and Jaunt Cloud Services. We’re excited about the continued success of Jaunt One and future products.”
Apple has hired one of NASA’s brightest stars to lead it efforts in augmented reality. Jeff Norris, who led AR and VR projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, will now take his talents to the iPhone maker.
Jennifer Breithaupt has been appointed global consumer chief marketing officer at Citi, where she’ll be responsible for crafting distinctive, impactful campaigns that differentiate Citi’s card products and partnering closely with global branding and sponsorships to enhance Citi’s brand positioning.
Kia Motors America has hired former Chrysler advertising executive Saad Chehab as its new vice president of marketing communications. The former global CMO of Maserati will oversee strategy and execution for all Kia Motors America marketing, advertising and communications activities.
Jonathan Helfgot has been named executive vice president of theatrical marketing for 20th Century Fox. Helfgot previously worked for Open Road.
Tony Vinciquerra, a former Fox television chief, is headed to Sony to lead their film and television studio, the WSJ reported.
Demos Parneros has been named the new chief executive for bookseller Barnes & Noble.
Michael Fanuele, the chief creative officer at General Mills, is leaving the company.
Lionsgate has namedMonica Bloom as their senior vice president and general manager for Tribeca Shortlist.
Dana Anderson, the chief marketing officer for Mondelez International since 2014, is departing the consumer goods giant for the same position at media and ad consulting firm MediaLink. The move was made official on Monday.
“Dana has been a creative and change catalyst for our company, and we’re deeply appreciative of her many contributions,” Tim Cofer, chief growth officer at Mondelez International, said in a statement. “Our search for a successor will focus on finding a digital-first, disruptive and innovative leader who can build on Dana’s legacy and mobilize breakthrough marketing in a rapidly changing global consumer landscape.”
The move continues the string of key departures within the company’s marketing department over the last month. The makers of Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers are currently in the process of laying the groundwork to replace Irene Rosenfeld, their chief executive. Roberto Marques, president of Mondelez International’s North America business, left the company last week. Last month, Bob Rupczynski, vice president and global head of media, data and digital, announced that he’s departing the company, too.
Leanne Cutts, a former senior Mondelez International executive, has been appointed as HSBC’s group head of marketing.
Online lender Quicken Loans announced the hiring of Casey Hurbis as their new chief marketing officer. Hurbis will lead Quicken Loans’ consumer-facing marketing team and will be responsible for all online and traditional marketing initiatives, as well as managing the nation’s most trusted and recognized home lending brand.
“Casey is someone who is not afraid to push the envelope. We are confident he will take Quicken Loans’ leading national brand to the next level and beyond,” said Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner. Casey brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from both the agency and corporate perspectives. “Our millions of clients and future clients will see Quicken Loans in creative and unexpected ways as Casey leads our tremendously talented marketing team to leverage our brand, technology, culture and award winning client service record.”
Sundance Feniger has been hired to run Boomerang’s recently launched cartoon subscription-video service as their new vice president and general manager. Feniger is a former Nickelodeon executive.
(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Friday, April 28. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Digital Content Newfronts—digital entertainment’s answers to TV Upfront season—kicks off May 1 and the schedule is packed with presentations on what’s new and hot for this year’s entertainment season.
Last year, we saw emerging trends in technology and creation that will set the stage for what’s to come. A major part of Newfronts is celebrating what each brand is doing—and therefore why companies should advertise with them. That being said, Hulu may benefit from the timing of their presentation with the critically-acclaimed debut of A Handmaid’s Tale.
A number of brands have opted to forego large, public presentations at the event and focus their money on private pitches. Among these brands are Yahoo, BuzzFeed and Fullscreen Media.
Warner Bros. Digital Networks, which includes Machinima, has canceled its session at the NewFronts in New York, which had been scheduled for May 5.
“We have decided to postpone our NewFronts presentation so we can focus on presenting an even more immersive and comprehensive unveiling of the Warner Bros. Digital Networks to our Warner Bros. family, our partners and our loyal fans, early this summer,” the company said in a statement.
Twitter was more than happy to take an opening day slot. They detailed plans to live stream content 24/7. Other new additions to the schedule include BBC.com, MediaLink, Astronauts Wanted and Uproxx Media.
Embracing New Technology
Virtual reality played a large role last year, with The New York Times offering VR journalism. Refinery29 announced VR29, a reality studio devoted to creating VR and 360-degree video programming.
Hulu partnered with Live Nation for a VR concert series, while NatGeo announced a number of original media created specifically for the medium.
The momentum is expected to keep rolling ahead full steam through entertainment and VR journalism. Although Facebook isn’t a presenter this year, we wouldn’t be surprised to see presentations revolving around brand partnerships for content, streaming and/or VR applications.
Reaching Gamer Audiences
Presenters YouTube and Major League Gaming will no doubt educate audiences on the marketing power of esports and gaming video content (GVC). This type of content (esports, gameplay, tutorials, humor, etc.) is on track to generate $4.6 billion in revenue in 2017 through advertising and direct spending, a level that would outpace revenue generated by sports. Females now make up 46 percent of the GVC audience and viewers have a higher average income than traditional gamers, SuperData recently reported.
When gamers hear the name “Microsoft,” they might imagine an Xbox more often than a PC, even though the large majority of PC gamers use Windows, but the company is determined to change that perception. Microsoft has a long history of gaming—publishing hit titles like Age of Empires and Halo—a pedigree that proves its PC gaming chops. Over the years, game development focus has shifted to the many iterations of Xbox—but through Windows 10, Microsoft is making considerable efforts to appeal to PC gamers with AAA titles, exclusive features and more without abandoning the controller wielding masses.
An OS For Gaming
Every first-party Microsoft game announced during E3 2016 was released on Windows 10 in addition to Xbox One—a precursor to the company’s renewed passion for PC gaming. Windows 10 Game Mode gives priority to the user’s CPU and GPU over normal background tasks and apps which, in theory, results in more consistent frame rates.
“We needed a contemporary, game-focused version of Windows, and that’s Windows 10, the best version of Windows ever for gaming,” Peter Orullian, Xbox group product manager told TechRadar. “Since the launch of Windows 10, each update has come with new gaming features and integration. It’s part of our focus now with Windows. We’ve also extended Xbox Live, our social gaming network, to Windows, creating a rich way for gamers to connect, compete, and share.”
The most recent Windows 10 Creators Update adds integrated Beam functionality, so players can easily watch and broadcast game livestreams. Easy streaming is a smart move, considering the rising popularity of Game Video Content consumption. SuperData predicts that the worldwide audience for GVC will reach 665 million in 2017, more than double the population of the US. Also, let’s not overlook how players can stream Xbox One games, including Xbox 360 games via backward compatibility, from their consoles to Windows 10 PCs over an in-home network. This feature may become even more valuable when Microsoft’s Scorpio console launches, since its high-end graphics can be streamed to mid-range computers. Xbox One games can also be streamed to an Oculus Rift headset for a giant virtual screen experience.
Peter Warman, CEO of Newzoo, told AListDaily that marketing a PC video game is no longer just about the players, but those who are watching livestreams as well. “There are a large number of game enthusiasts out there that spend more time viewing than gaming,” he said. “This also offers strategic opportunities for developers to branch out in terms of business models or to create interactive elements on top of streams. There already are some games in which the viewers determine the sequence of events in multiplayer games that are played by others.”
Xbox Play Anywhere finally bridges the gap between console and PC games, with compatible digital titles interchangeable between Windows 10 and Xbox One—a number of which in native 4K resolution. Gears of War 4 was the first game to offer this feature, followed by Forza Horizon 3, Halo Wars 2 and several others. For games that feature Play Anywhere, both versions of the game will automatically sync. For example, buying a game on Xbox One will automatically add it to the users’ Windows 10 library, and vice versa. Saved games, achievements, and other information carry over between the two versions, as well.
Being able to play games on both platforms means buying them the same way. That’s the idea behind Microsoft’s Anniversary Update that makes it possible to purchase games in one location. Microsoft will reportedly offer self-service refunds for digital game purchases through Xbox Live across Xbox One and PC, according to an image of an upcoming update posted on Reddit.
While the added convenience is great news for gamers, Microsoft is nurturing its video game ecosystem by making it easier for developers to sell their games, too.
“One store [across Windows PCs and Xbox consoles] . . . means a more streamlined submission experience for developers that will also offer new monetization scenarios that span across devices,” Orullian said. “Beginning with the Anniversary Update, the Windows Store now features new scenarios including the ability to pre-order games, bundles, purchase season passes and more.“
Microsoft is also working with PC makers for an increased gaming presence. For example, the Lenovo IdeaCentre Y710 Cube comes complete with built-in Xbox Wireless and VR capabilities right out of the box. “In the future, we plan to enable direct integration of Xbox Wireless into PC motherboards with our hardware partners,” Microsoft stated in a blog post.
There are currently 12 Xbox Play Anywhere titles available, with several more on the way. As the library grows, so will the potential for Xbox gamers to make Windows 10 their next platform of choice. Project Scorpio is also coming this holiday season, with specs that will keep all those cross-platform games looking pretty.
On August 4-12, dance teams from over 50 countries will be in Phoenix, Arizona to participate in the World Hip Hop Dance Championship finals. The massive dance competition, produced by Hip Hop International, will have an extra twist this year because it will be livestreamed in virtual reality by Mandt VR, the production company that also created severalThe Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration 360-degree video experiences.
Hip Hop International has televised multiple street dance competitions, including Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew, and it is always looking for new ways to present the popular art form. This year, not only will viewers will be able to enjoy every move the performers have to offer, but they’ll be able to (virtually) jump on stage to see things from the dancer’s perspective.
AListDaily sat down with Bradley Scott, head of production at Mandt VR, who was joined by Howard and Karen Schwartz, co-founders of Hip Hop International, to talk about how the partnership got started and why hip hop moves and VR blend so well together.
How did the partnership between Mandt VR and Hip Hop International come together?
[H. Schwartz]: We were actively involved in producing the United States and World Hip Hop Championship last summer, and during that time, we contacted by Bradley. He called at a time when things were really happening and we’ve been talking ever since. This is what came from those discussions.
[Scott]: I knew from the get-go, when I got hired at Mandt VR, that I wanted to find things that were poised to enhance the medium of VR. But I was also looking at some of the oldest forms of expression and art—some of the simplest stories that we all want to hear because VR is an experience—something that people could relate to. Right off the bat, dancing came to mind. Choreography is something that can be an immersive experience for people watching, but we also wanted to give people the thrill of being on stage with thousands of people cheering you on. Virtual reality is all about taking you places, and being on stage at one of these shows with Hip Hop International is an experience that people won’t soon forget.
What can viewers expect from the VR experience?
[Scott]: Access is always key to a good VR experience. We’ll have the perspective of what it’s like to be in the middle of five to nine dancers doing their routine on stage. They’ll also get to look out to an audience of thousands of people and see their reactions. Then we’ll also have cameras backstage to see what the hustle and bustle is like as the dancers prepare to go on stage—seeing that emotion going on. Also, we all want the best seat in the house, so we’ll have a camera up front and center at the event. People sitting on their living room couches can still feel like they’re there.
[H. Schwartz]: Often, when you’re at a world-class competition show like this, you wonder what it’s like from the dancer’s perspective, looking out into the audience. Putting yourself in that perspective and seeing how everyone is looking at you—that experience is something most people will never get to feel.
What does VR bring that a 2D experience can’t capture?
[Scott]: VR is what’s happening right then and there. There’s no editing and no scripts. We’re not trying to hide anything behind the camera. It’s like going to a restaurant that has an open kitchen for everyone to see—it makes people feel like they’re part of the event. I think that’s what people enjoy about 360 video right now. Also, it’s going to be livestreamed, and VR technology is advancing every day. So, we’re hoping that by the time the live events arrive in August, we’ll be able let the audience direct their own scene. They can sit in the audience, then switch angles and go to the stage or backstage.
How will you be directing the viewer’s attention toward key moments during the livestream?
[Scott]: The key to keeping people’s attention drawn to where we want is camera placement. You always think that the best place to be is front and center, but that’s not always the case. The closer you are, the more out-of-focus people will be when they move. You want to be far enough back to catch their movements. So, we’re working closely with Howard, Karen and the choreographers so that we know the gist of where the action is going to be. We’re going to make sure our cameras are perfectly placed so we won’t miss any of it. The past eight or nine months has been a learning experience for us, covering different events, and we’re ready to handle the challenge of live dance.
What convinced Hip Hop International to incorporate VR into the show this year?
[K. Schwartz]: It allows us to be on the cutting edge. We have millions of viewers around the world who watch the championships, and they follow the dance crews and battles even after the completion of the event. By allowing them to also watch in virtual reality or 360, they’ll have a better and more immersive experience. We feel that it is the future, and we’re very impressed with what Mandt VR has been doing.
Our expertise is in producing top dance championships around the world. We have 91 qualifying events that will lead up to the World Championship. Although we have a huge audience that comes to see it live, our internet and social media world is also huge, and we want to give them something more.
[H. Schwartz]: We also know that our dancers and consumers are much more technologically advanced than we are, and they’re always looking for something new and unique. We’ve been livestreaming this event for several years now, and this will give viewers the opportunity to see it in a new way that we think will be very well received.
The hip hop community seems to be very enthusiastic about VR. What is it about the two that go together so well?
[Scott]: I think hip hop has always been on the cutting edge of technology and adding twists on existing art forms. We’re seeing that now with some of the current artists. Lil Wayne is a huge VR proponent, and he did a live 360 show for Hulu in addition to doing some Samsung Gear VR ads. Chance the Rapper just did an upfront VR experience and Run the Jewels did a 360 music video for “Crown.” I think it’s just part of what the hip hop culture is all about—they’re going to keep changing and doing things differently.
[K. Schwartz]: I think it’s also our audience. It’s that market and it’s the age—they’re always driving and looking for the next thing—and virtual reality is that.
[H. Schwartz]: Our dancers thrive on innovation as well. They’re creating moves and routines people have never seen before. Anything that’s new, raw, real and alive—that’s what they’re looking for.
Do you think the competitors will try to tailor their routines to look better in VR?
[H. Schwartz]: I think it already does [look good]. When you watch these routines, they’re so electric and creative that it’s up to VR to capture everything.
[K. Schwartz]: Beyond the championship, we’re going to brainstorm and develop some experiences for the dancers. Perhaps they’ll be able to upload and share them with all their friends and followers. Maybe in that way, people can develop moves that could be shot in virtual reality. It could be a whole new way to share their talents with other people.
How are you letting fans know about the VR livestream?
[Scott]: We shot a little teaser for Hip Hop International. The big event is the finals in August, but there are lots of countries doing their quarter and semifinals. So, we’re going to go out there and capture some of those moments to lead up to the big event.
[H. Schwartz]: The way we promote the most is through our affiliates in all the countries. Presently, we have 48 affiliates around the world. We have newsletters, and we’re always online with them, sharing the information, starting with the initial press release and the press conference in Phoenix. We’ll also be sharing through all our social media networks.
[K. Schwartz]: The press release was picked up by many of our affiliates, and there’s a lot of excitement there. In the upcoming months, we’ll be developing a lot of social media announcements and getting the word out. We have a big social media reach.
[H. Schwartz]: Our motto is, “Uniting the world of hip hop through dance.” Now I see it as, “Uniting the world of hip hop through dance and VR.” We have the opportunity to do it, hopefully do it first, and do it better than anybody who comes along in the future.
[K. Schwartz]: We’re just excited to expose the championship in a different format and reach even more people using virtual reality. We’ll have a [live] audience of ten thousand, but we have millions at home. Now we’re giving them a better firsthand, front row experience that immerses them in the event and anything else we’re developing. We also produce a program called Urban Moves Dance Workshops. We can imagine that people at home can feel like they’re in the front row of a class. There’s a lot that we’re still working on between now and the championships to enhance the experience.
[Scott]: At Mandt VR, we’re excited for the challenge of doing our biggest live event to date. We can’t wait for people to watch it.
The Macallan brand of whisky was established in Scotland in 1824. But for a very old company, the brand has been actively using the latest tech innovations to connect with a millennial audience.
The Macallan launched a 360-degree video marketing campaign last fall in tandem with a Facebook Messenger chat bot initiative. And the company just launched a touchable video program to market its $3,000 “The Macallan Masters of Photography: Steven Klein Edition.”
Charlie Whitfield, director of fine and rare whiskies at The Macallan, told AListDaily that the traditional image of old men drinking whisky in a private club in between puffs of fine cigars isn’t what the brand is after today.
“At The Macallan we want to reach out to new consumers, and new technology is a way to do that,” he said.
Whitfield explained that the brand’s demographic is younger than you might think.
“We’re seeing a lot more millennials, young whisky consumers in their mid-to-late 20s and 30s,” Whitfield said. “We’re also seeing more women. When I moved to the US six years ago, it went from 80-to-20 to 60-to-40 male to female drinkers today. Females have better noses than males, so it’s great for the industry.”
Whitfield said his brand is also attracting more multicultural consumers in the US, especially Asian and Latin drinkers.
It’s with this in mind that the brand has utilized new technology and social outreach to connect with existing and potentially new consumers.
“We created a 360-degree VR video taking consumers from the forests of the US to Spain and to Scotland to witness the creation of Double Cask through the journey of the wood, from acorn to cask to bottle,” Whitfield explained.
The company held a press event last fall with Google Cardboards and then shared the video across digital channels, including YouTube 360 and the Double Cask website. It’s still used as a tool for continued education with influencers and media.
In September, The Macallan created a Facebook Messenger chat bot that Whitfield said is “on call” 24 hours a day/seven days a week to engage with consumers who are looking to learn more about whisky, The Macallan brand and to get some advice on how to pick the proper whisky.
It was the first whisky brand to jump into the chat bot fray, according to Whitfield, who added that the chat bot not only helps teach consumers about The Macallan, but about whisky in general.
“This was created as an educational platform where we’re giving people the knowledge to be able to talk about whisky and bourbon with more knowledge,” Whitfield said. “It’s a teaching tool, not just a driver of sales.”
One thing users will learn is that the Scottish spell whisky without the “e” while the Irish spell it whiskey.
The Macallan worked with its agency to create a “touchable video” to promote its high-end, extremely limited $3,000 “The Macallan Masters of Photography: Steven Klein Edition.” Only 1,000 were made—and only 100 were released in the US.
Whitfield said as the viewer watches the video on PC, smartphone or tablet, there are 13 touch points that he or she can mark with an icon that appears at the bottom of the screen. Once the video is complete, each of those touch points unlock additional information about the whisky and the limited edition project with photographer Steven Klein.
“You can read more and see more photos about the content,” Whitfield explained. “It allows someone to cherrypick the bits they are interested in.”
Whitfield said this technology came about because the brand is trying to be different and innovate with new ways for consumers to engage more with the context. And so far, it’s working.
“We’re finding consumers are spending about 40 percent longer engaging with this touch video compared to traditional videos,” Whitfield said. “There’s a lot of interaction engaging with the content.”
Ultimately, all of this technology is helping The Macallan differentiate its brand—from the photography series in which a photograph inspires the ingredients and flavor of the whisky to virtual reality, where consumers learn about the long process (six years before the whisky even enters a cask to begin maturing) to the chat bots.
“We try to make people aware of the different styles of the brand, but also introduce different ways to enjoy it,” Whitfield said. “The goal is to make the brand more approachable.”
Liberty Mutual is driving their brand strategy forward by merging marketing with safe driving and gamification through the HighwayHero app, a free experience that allows consumers to earn discounts—and bragging rights—by unlocking badges such as “safest driver.”
One thing is clear from the get go, however—you’re never supposed to actually use the app when operating a vehicle.
The century-year-old brand is identifying new ways to leverage technology to add additional value for customers. HighwayHero is a telematics-based app that allows the Boston-based brand to cater with personally tailored advice, information and even policies.
According to Accenture Strategy, 80 percent of insurance consumers are looking for personalized offers, messages, pricing and recommendations from their auto, home or life insurance providers.
Some of the other avenues of personalization that Liberty Mutual has been working on this year include an Open Developer Portal that combines public data with insurance knowledge, helping to inform future apps and products. They also expanded in the telematics category with customized safe driving programs with a “pay as you drive” insurance called ByMile. Also getting the gamification treatment is RightTrack, their customer discount program that compares driving behaviors.
Nicholas Grant, senior director at Liberty Mutual, joined AListDaily, to explain how they plan on fostering positive relationships with consumers through new experiences.
Why is a gamified experience now a part of Liberty Mutual’sbusiness strategy?
We want to demonstrate our suite of safe driving discount programs and the technologies that power them. The HighwayHero app has an element of gamification that gives customers discounts based on how well they drive based on a 14-day trial period. What we measure is things like hard braking, hard acceleration, late-night driving, as well as mileage. Then we wrap that up into a score and a customer has a chance to save up to 25 percent.
What have you learned? How are you driving conversion?
What we found is that it’s more of a test drive program that allows customers who are not yet with us to see if they like it. During the program, we’ve learned from our vast experience in driving-based programs. We amped up the gamification to allow information that is able to be collected from smart phones to provide customers coaching, driver feedback and overall, how to be a better driver. One of the other elements we’ve understood for potential customers, versus customers who come in the door, is having amped up, gamified and engaging experiences. That’s important. So what we’ve done is taken a lot of inspiration from mobile gaming apps to make it more compelling, like achievements and unlocking badges. We built in things like leaderboards, where you can compare yourself to people in your city and state; you can invite friends and compete with them, too. Ultimately we want to create an experience where there’s a little bit of competition, and a little bit of drive to be a better, safer driver, and as a result, you might earn a better discount off your insurance.
How are you going to be marketing this?
This particular app is an opportunity for us to gain new customers by providing a fun experience and value proposition by saving money on your car insurance. The million-dollar discussion now is “how do you expand the reach?” We started with 16 states and are adding more states as we go by the end of the year. A few different things that we looked at doing is standard active marketing to boost the awareness of the program so that more and more customers participate. But how do you show the fun of the app? We want to encourage a vast group of customers to participate at the same time and earn prizes and benefits along the way. What we ultimately want to do is make customers happy, and make them better drivers.
What’s the best kind of marketing that works best for insurance customers?
Insurance companies are very active in the TV advertising space. Everyone is saying “switch and save with us.” You see a lot of commercials out there with well-known brands. The way that we think we’re differentiated in this way is that not only can you switch your insurance to Liberty Mutual and save, now you can save more with a gamified discount-based experience that rewards you for safe driving. The customer takes control of their own premium, and that’s not something our competitors are doing. It’s something different. It’s not the standard “call us up and get a discount.” Hopefully it breaks through and excites customers in a way that is not currently happening today.
How are you going to be leveraging the data that you collect?
One of the things we’ve learned is that if you can help a customer save more, that’s a winning formula. We’re using data in actionable ways. We’re also incorporating our learnings by building in things like emoticons in our core apps. . . . People only want to pay for things that they are going to use. Technology is changing the way we do business. We use information about driving through a bunch of different technologies—like mobile phones and Bluetooth—directly from the vehicle. It allows us to provide new value propositions for the customer and create entirely new products. Our industry is being disrupted by technology. Our goal is to be at the forefront of technology and stay on the cutting edge of product offerings, so that we’re the ones providing the value and fun experiences before others do. That way consumers stay with us.
What platforms do you plan on experimenting with to further drive your message along?
Connected car and connected home are big areas of focus for us so that we can differentiate ourselves for consumers. When we’re able to use technology to provide incremental value to customers, whether you have safety sensors in your home, or information coming from connected vehicles, tailoring our products, and providing new ones to understand those pieces is going to be critical.
Thank you for your continued support and readership.
-The AList Team
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