How Coca-Cola Is Using Entertainment To Connect With Consumers

Branded content as entertainment is growing in propensity as companies bypass the traditional ad and marketing models to connect with consumers through pop culture.

For a world famous company like Coca-Cola, where more likely than not you’ve enjoyed their soda pop products at one point or another—or even right now—they are bringing flavor into the music and film space with a series of activations that compellingly mixes caffeine with content.

Coca-Cola’s roots in music go back to 1899 when Hilda Clark, a dance hall singer, became the first celebrity for their advertising campaign. For the 131-year-old company, there is plenty of lineage in the space, highlighted in recent years by championing and helping develop emerging artists by partnering with licensing company Music Dealers, releasing anthem songs for the Olympics and EURO Cup, and more recently, launching the social music app Placelists with Spotify, who they also curate a #FirstTasteFriday music playlist with as part of a strategic partnership. There’s Coca-Cola’s catchy melody, too.

Last year, Coca-Cola, who has a product portfolio made of 500 sparkling and still brands and a near $4 billion annual marketing budget, accidentally discovered their new brand platform after pulling off a spontaneous and successful live video activation during the Rio Olympics with singer Cody Simpson. That particular breakout led to the idea and introduction of Coke Music TV, which features artists who deliver live music acts in a Coke-curated environment.

Then there is the glitz and glamor under the bright lights, like Coca-Cola sponsoring the March Madness Music Festival during the Final Four in Phoenix this past weekend and putting on acts like Aerosmith, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Blink 182, The Chainsmokers, Grouplove and Capital Cities for fans to enjoy.

News flash: branded content works better than a hard sell, and even more so if it’s tied together with an experience, and celebrities. The proof is in the pudding when it comes to it resonating better than both traditional and modern channels to promote the brand and products.

According to a September study from Forbes, branded content leads to 59 percent better recall than other digital advertisements, and consumers are 14 percent more likely to look for additional content from a company after a single impression of branded content.

Marketers from a variety of brands like StarbucksCap’n CrunchNutella and Lexus are increasingly using branded content in favor of traditional ads—which typically have a limited shelf life—to improve recall, brand perception, intent and consideration.

Nick Felder, Coca-Cola’s global and corporate group director for film and music production, joined [a]listdaily, to open a can of intel on their approach in branded entertainment space. 

Nick Felder, Coca-Cola’s global and corporate group director for film and music production
Nick Felder, Coca-Cola’s global and corporate group director for film and music production

You’ve been at Coca-Cola for over 10 years. How has the company’s film and music strategy evolved to what it has become today, and how do you see it further growing to foster creativity in the brand’s marketing?

It’s primarily focused on two things: innovation and re-use. Innovating with new production techniques, new technologies, new approaches, using data to inform creative on the fly, and more. This will never change. And that’s the great thing about working at Coca-Cola. The other is about re-use, and making more things that can be used in more ways and more places than ever before. The biggest change in the last decade that I’ve been here is there is much more reality to these things these days. We have dozens of examples of really awesome innovation in recent years, and re-use is really becoming an embedded practice in our production approach globally.

Your career path before Coca-Cola consisted of working with clients on the agency side. How has that helped you apply creative learnings throughout your time at Coca-Cola to reach consumers?

Seeing issues from opposite sides helps a lot. Like anything in life, the more perspectives you can bring to an issue, the better informed your opinion will be. Having nurtured very immature ideas into full-grown creative expressions is very humbling. Understanding why certain ideas have endless potential, while others are simple one-offs, is not easy. But it’s at the core of what we do. Having that diversity of agency background was essential.


What was your main takeaway from experimenting with packaging and turning Coca-Cola boxes into a VR headset last year? What insights can you share? 

To be perfectly honest, that was a conversation over beers with a colleague. We were astounded at the simplicity of the Cardboard viewer. This incredibly basic thing can provide such a disproportionately premium experience. We began talking about how to make one out of recycled packaging materials—more re-use!—and we kept riffing as we drank. In the morning, I made a few calls, and off we went. But the insight was around providing access to the medium, not creating content.

Which music platforms present the biggest opportunity to reach new Coca-Cola consumers? How is Coca-Cola connecting musicians and artists in the industry and producing content that consumers will have an affinity for?

Spotify is still a big partner of ours. But perhaps the biggest musical property in the world for us right now is Coke Studio, a live musical performance TV series. It’s not well known in the States, but is in its eleventh season in Pakistan, ninth in India, third in East Africa and second in South Africa. It’s a studio-based show of live performances that brings together young contemporary artists and older master musicians to perform modern interpretations of classical songs from those regions. Keep in mind that some of those cultures have a musical heritage that goes back thousands of years. So it’s an opportunity to celebrate what is inherently and culturally their own—but with modern pop stylings. If you are not familiar, spend a little search time on YouTube and check them out. They are really fascinating.

What social platforms are you currently looking at to further build out Coca-Cola’s narrative in music and film?

I want to stay away from the term “narrative” because for many of the social platforms, our presence could be experiential, or informational, or simply maintaining a presence. I love narrative forms too, of course, but that can sound very TV-centric—like we’re just looking at these platforms to run extensions of our broadcast work. I think that can be very shortsighted, and doesn’t really use social media in a way that leverages their unique strengths—narrative or otherwise. Face scanning with graphic overlays? Awesome! But that’s not storytelling.

How do you factor and value the emergence of livestreaming? How does experimenting in such spaces help establish brand relevancy?

Livestreaming is cool, but it needs to accompany a degree of newsworthiness, right? Or at least risk, which is a central element to any live telecast. It’s got to produce news or drama, like sports, or have the potential for an unintended result, like a press conference. I think a lot of livestreaming happening now is just getting familiar with the novelty, rather than truly leveraging the ‘live’ part.

Which martech—like AI, machine learning, etc.—is Coca-Cola increasingly placing more emphasis on? What are the benefits of doing this in-house versus outsourcing to an agency?

The question has many levels, but we’re looking at all of these—and more. But where it all comes together is when data can actually inform the creative idea—either at the ideation stage, or at the point of consumer display. That’s at the heart of programmatic. The implication of that is more modular productions, creating more content that can assemble like little Lego pieces on the fly.

How are you developing through data and making it work for you?

There are individual attempts in individual markets that are achieving varying degrees of success with this. My focus is on bringing some scale to these and tightening our global tools that can aggregate data for our larger, multi-market platforms, and then re-providing that output back to markets in ways they can use. So the short answer to your question is that I’m up to my neck in operational harmonization right now!

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Pay To Play: The Age Of Game Subscription Services

Physical video game sales continue to drop as gamers opt for the convenience of digital downloads—especially in the US, where the segment rose 43 percent in January. As with music, movies and television, consumers enjoy the instant gratification of cloud-based interactive entertainment, not to mention the significantly lower cost of a monthly fee compared to purchasing every game available.

Clash Of The Console Titans

PlayStation Now offers nearly 500 games that can be played instantly on a PS4 or PC. Since PlayStation Now uses cloud, users can start a game on one device and continue on another. The service’s inventory consists mostly of PS3 titles, but it’s switching gears to PS4 and PC only. Sony will discontinue support for older devices beginning in August.

Sony’s Game & Network Services division, which includes the PlayStation brand, reported a 5.2 percent increase in sales to $5.33 billion for the three months ending December 31, 2016. PlayStation Now subscribers on devices no longer supported may opt to discontinue their subscriptions or finally invest in a PS4—a console that is selling better than ever. As of January 1, the PS4 is sitting pretty at 53.4 million units sold worldwide—a pace higher than even the PS2, the best-selling game console of all time.

In the wake of sad PS3 and Vita owners comes a timely announcement from Microsoft—an upcoming subscription service called Xbox Game Pass. Unlike PlayStation Now, Xbox Game Pass allows subscribers to download titles directly to their system and play anytime as if they were purchased.

These games will be available to play so long as the subscription is in good standing—otherwise, the player has an option to purchase them at a discount. Microsoft’s new service will launch with approximately 100 games this spring, including Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2, NBA 2K16 and SoulCalibur II.

Image portraying endless game options available on Xbox Game Pass

Lookin’ Pretty On PC

Purchasing or building a gaming PC can be expensive and time-consuming, but Nvidia offers the solution. GeForce Now is a Netflix-style cloud gaming service that streams video games to systems with the highest-possible quality graphics. In essence, gamers are able to “rent” mid-range or high-end video card capabilities for a limited time.

GeForce Now is as an exclusive service to the Nvidia Shield TV media streaming and gaming set-top box, but another version is making its way to PCs and Macs. The key difference is that the PC/Mac version allows its users to install games purchased from digital storefronts such as Steam, Origin, Uplay, and others on a virtual desktop with 1 terabyte of storage. Users can also choose which video card they would like to purchase time for—a mid-range GeForce GTX 1060 or the high-end GeForce GTX 1080.

EA Access offers entry to a number of EA-published games for around $5 a month for either PC or Xbox One, along with early access to new games and a discount on purchases.

LiquidSky doesn’t currently have its own proprietary storefront, but the platform gives access to a virtual Windows desktop in the cloud and an ultra-high-speed direct connection to the internet. Users can install any game they own from any online storefront they prefer such as Steam, Origin, GoG, HumbleBundle, and add new titles as they are purchased.

LiquidSky users are able to utilize the service for free by interacting with ads from partners like True[x]. Doing so earns “SkyCredits,” which can be redeemed for time playing with higher graphics and memory speeds.

Virtual Access

Just launched, HTC’s Viveport subscription offers a selection of five VR games or experiences “from an ever-growing library of curated content.” Unlimited access will be available, with users able to swap titles in and out each month. For $6.99 per month, Vive headset owners can sample a plethora of content, adding additional value to their investment.

“The marketplace for Vive apps has grown at a tremendous pace with more than 1,600 titles now available across different app stores and over 30 new apps launching daily,” Rikard Steiber, president of Viveport at HTC Vive, said in a statement. “The rapid growth of the app market is a win for VR overall yet it can present discoverability challenges that affect both customers and content creators. Introducing a subscription model to VR is a natural evolution of where this market is going, and as film, music and TV have proven it’s becoming the preferred way customers want to explore and experience entertainment content.”


Is Mobile Subscription Next?

Mobile gaming is the largest sector in interactive entertainment, and consumers spent a whopping $41 billion on mobile games last year. Console, PC and VR games get their own subscription services, so will mobile be next?

Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData, sure thinks so.

“The success of the subscription model in music and video streaming tells us that consumers are willing to commit to a monthly payment in exchange for access to a curated buffet of content,” he told [a]listdaily. “As the market for mobile gaming matures, game publishers will seek out ways to lock in their audiences, rather than have them play for a short period and move on. A subscription-based strategy will be a key component in that context.”

Scuf Gaming Founder Explains How ESports Helped Establish The Brand

Scuf Gaming has built its business around eSports. Since launching in early 2011, the company has established the Scuf brand as the go-to controller for console eSports games like Call of Duty and Halo. Approximately 90 percent of console pro gamers use Scuf controllers.

Duncan Ironmonger, CEO, chairman and co-founder at Scuf Gaming, told [a]listdaily that from inception, he always wanted the custom-built controllers to be the face of the Scuf brand. As a result, there are very few articles with him or other executives from the company talking about the products and what they do in their Atlanta, Georgia headquarters.

“I wanted people to talk about the brand,” Ironmonger said. “We like to be thought of as a community brand in that people associate with it by definition of what we invent and integrate into these controllers, and how that helps them improve their game.”

Scuf has just launched two new controllers today, the SCUF IMPACT and the SCUF Infinity 4PS PRO. Ironmonger compared the leap from the older Infinity 4PS to Infinity 4PS PRO to the type of innovations Apple applies when it moves from the iPhone 7 to the iPhone 7s. The Infinity 4PS PRO includes two removable paddles, which are recessed into the back of the controller body, improved switch technology and circuit boards for better click through rates on the paddles.

“The SCUF IMPACT has been in development for 15 months and it’s the first controller we designed with a different size and shape and more aggressive angles,” Ironmonger said. “We can fit four paddles in the back now and there’s a USB cable retention space that pros use when they’re playing games wired.”

Scuf Gaming has built its business on building controllers by hand based on how customers choose to customize them online. Ironmonger said the company has always been cognizant that one controller size does not fit all hands.

The company has focused its marketing efforts on working with pro gamers and influencers. A couple of hundred of these gamers were sent the new controllers early so they could do video unboxings and reviews to connect with their fans. Many of these “affiliates” aren’t paid partnerships.

“They genuinely love the products and they want to use them,” Ironmonger said.

That love has created a trickle-down effect on awareness, according to Ironmonger. Scuf Gaming has partnered with leagues like MLG with the Call of Duty World League, UMG Gaming and Gfinity.

“It’s through these types of pro gaming events that people hear about the brand,” Ironmonger said. “The functional features of our controllers are most advantageous to people who can benefit from the increased dexterity of the hands with the paddles. The pros are going to get the biggest advantage, and then the people who watch them.”

Scuf Gaming did a recent audit of its brand with a consultancy group and found it appeals to pro gamers, high-end gamers, affluent casual gamers, obsessive gamers and “loud and proud gamers”—people who don’t have a lot of money, but have a loud voice on social.

“The brand is designed to appeal to all of these groups because in addition to the pros wanting an edge in competition, there’s the aspirational side of everyday gamers wanting to play better than they currently are,” Ironmonger said. “We see Scuf as a critical tool for any level of competitive gaming, whether you’re competing in a professional or amateur league, or just playing at home.”

More recently, the evolution of competitive gaming with EA Sports’ Madden and FIFA and 2K’s NBA 2K has opened up additional opportunities for the brand.

“We’re seeing a lot more uptake in games like FIFA, which is really taking off on competitive level,” Ironmonger said. “EA has really gotten behind that now. There are more console titles getting competitive with actual prize money from leagues and developers. We’ve seen increased interest across all genres of games, but there’s a natural connection between eSports and sports games.”

Scuf Gaming has been granted 29 patents to date and has another 62 pending. Ironmonger said the company is continually looking at new and innovative ways to improve input devices.

Microsoft licensed Scuf Gaming technology to create its Xbox One Elite controller last year, although not many gamers realize this. But those controllers did expose more gamers to Scuf’s patented paddles and hair triggers, which is key for the brand.

“My vision was always that paddles would become a standard feature for controllers the same way the smartphone is the standard device when you speak with friends and colleagues,” Ironmonger said.

In February, Scuf Gaming received a strategic investment from H.I.G. Growth Partners, the dedicated growth capital investment affiliate of H.I.G. Capital. Ironmonger believes this investment will help the company scale things to next level while growing into new areas within its “input device” wheelhouse.

“We’ve been around six years and stayed true to our original mission to create better products for gamers,” Ironmonger said. “The controller input device can take many forms.”

Moving forward, he sees virtual reality and mobile controllers as new opportunities for the company.

Musical Marketing: How Brands Use Private Concerts

Sponsoring concerts is a popular and effective way to get a brand’s logo in front of thousands of fans, but make that concert private and consumers feel extra special. Private concerts offer exclusivity, perks for existing customers or brand awareness for future ones.

Mastercard, American Airlines And Hilton Hotels—OneRepublic

In November, Grammy-nominated band, OneRepublic played two concerts exclusively for American Airlines AAdvantage Mastercard cardmembers. The band made its first stop at the Fillmore Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania having just released its fourth studio album, Oh My My. The following day, cardmembers in Dallas were treated to an exclusive concert at the House of Blues.

“Working with Mastercard and American Airlines to bring intimate, one-of-a-kind performances to our fans is really exciting for us,” said Ryan Tedder, lead singer of OneRepublic in a statement.

These concerts rewarded existing customers for their loyalty by putting them first on the band’s tour.

OneRepublic is also working closely with Hilton Hotels, as part of their Music Happens Here program. Music Happens Here is an integrated music program that provides Hilton Honors members with exclusive concert experiences, as well as music and artist connections. The program builds on Hilton’s exclusive partnerships with Live Nation and Spotify.


Toyota—#25thHour Lollapalooza

Toyota rocked the 2016 Lollapalooza music festival with a first-of-its-kind Snapchat geofilter that doubled as a limited-time “golden ticket,” granting access to a pop-up event. Toyota’s “25th Hour” surprise concert featured performances by Grammy-nominated recording artist, Leon Bridges and Outkast rapper, Big Boi.

“What better way to celebrate Lollapalooza’s 25th year than by adding an extra hour of music with an amazing talent like Leon Bridges,” said Florence Drakton, social media marketing manager for Toyota. “We used Snapchat filters in a unique way to invite guests to our pop-up concert—ones who share Toyota’s same passion for music.”

By surprising festival attendees with a private concert, Toyota reinforced brand awareness and rewarded those who spread the word through Snapchat.


Satellite radio provider, SiriusXM offers its subscribers the chance to win tickets to private concerts from such artists as Jon Bon Jovi, Korn and Tim McGraw. These concerts are livestreamed across the appropriate station, offering exclusive first-looks at albums before they’re released.

“It’s an important night for us,” said Korn guitarist James ‘Munky’ Shaffer. “We’ll be celebrating our album release, while bringing together our hometown fans and the listeners of SiriusXM Octane, who have been so incredibly supportive of Korn for so long.”


A recent study by EventTrack revealed that 98 percent of consumers capture content at live events and 100 percent of those who capture content share it across their social media networks. While 83 percent of consumers share content from events up to 15 times—nearly half (47 percent) would prefer to share content they captured versus content fed to them by a brand.

What Brands Are Doing To Attract Female ESports Players

ESports is expected to bring up to $1.1 billion of revenue in 2019, according to Newzoo, but among all those talented guys competing, where are all the ladies? While female gamers do compete on a professional level, there are far less doing so than their male counterparts. Attracting more ladies to the profession is great in theory, but easier said than done due to existing demographics and unique challenges faced by the players, themselves.

Majority Rules

The eSports industry is thriving with young consumers, but the fact of the matter is, most of those consumers happen to be male. While that’s certainly not a bad audience to attract, broadening the eSports fan base to include more females won’t be an overnight success.

“Right now the larger part of the eSports ecosystem has a predominantly male focus,” SuperData CEO, Joost van Druenen told [a]listdaily. “For example, viewership among channels like ESL, MLG and others that focus on eSports is 80-plus percent male, compared to the more mainstream platforms like Facebook and YouTube. It is most likely that the latter will emphasize more inclusive content. One thing that teams can do to broaden their appeal is to cultivate teams that are not exclusively male.”

That’s the idea behind “Bonnie and Clyde” tournaments, an idea dreamed up by Bandai Namco brand manager, Mark Religioso. The tournaments will consist of one man and one woman to shake things up. Religioso also began laying the groundwork for a mentoring program to foster interest in eSports among women.

“These are baby steps so that we can get more women on the team,” Religioso told The New York Times. “We need to make the scene a welcoming place.”

Intel-sponsored CS:GO team, LGB
Intel-sponsored CS:GO team, LGB

Encouragement Goes A Long Way

In addition to all-female competitions, brands are working together to help women feel welcome in the growing eSports community. Intel and ESL partnered to form AnyKey, an advocacy organization that seeks to create support networks and provides opportunities for women in eSports.

“If we want to see women competing at the top-tier, we have to build a groundswell,” said Morgan Romine, PhD, director of initiatives at AnyKey during a 2016 GDC panel. “That’s happening a lot at the college level, and we need to encourage the women playing with their friends to follow their competitive ambitions. You have to see it to be it.”

Twitch hosts a dedicated channel called Misscliks, a support community for women in gaming. The channel was founded by four women—Anna Prosser Robinson, programming manager at Twitch, Geneviève Forget, the international product manager on Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege; Counter-Strike world champion Stephanie Harvey, and Stephanie “MissAvacyn” Powell, community manager for Roll20, an online tabletop RPG service.

While it’s easy (and understandable) to complain in the face of sexism or harassment experienced by many female gamers online, Misscliks co-founder, Anna Prosser says that staying positive does far more good.

“We say very often ‘build up, never tear down.’ So as a philosophy, we try really hard to speak positively as opposed to negatively, even about things that are big, negative issues,” Prosser told Vice. “If you look really hard at a bad situation, you can find one person who’s doing something really good. Focusing on [that one person] and the good they’re doing is our strategy.”


The Interest Is There

Twenty-two percent of women say they’re involved in eSports compared to 18 percent of men, according to a report by PwC. “While the difference is relatively small, it indicates an early trend that women may be just as, if not more, engaged with eSports than males,” PwC noted in the report. “For viewing versus playing, men are playing slightly more than women, and men appear to watch from a competitive lens, while women appear to watch for enjoyment and for the social aspect of the viewing experience.”

“As the female eSports audience continues to grow, so too will the number of female players,” Deborah Bothun, entertainment, media and communications leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers told [a]listdaily. “Overall treatment of females in the gaming community has become a noteworthy topic that is being discussed, and we have heard discussion of all-female tournaments, for example.”

How Data Is Changing Marketing

Internet privacy has been a hot topic lately since the repeal of internet privacy rules passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The bill would have imposed internet service providers strict guidelines on how gathered data—such as browser histories—are treated. Major telecommunications companies, while defending the repeal, are assuring customers that they have never, nor will they ever sell sensitive information without consent. These companies claim that they already abide by strict guidelines set forth by the FTC, which are enforceable by state Attorneys General.

Whether or not you believe these claims or agree with the repeal, the fact remains that marketers rely on accurate data to make sure advertisements are shown to the right people. (You wouldn’t want your ad for reverse mortgages to be targeted to teenagers after all.) Since data collecting sites such as Google and Facebook already use a variety of customer information to customize experiences and target ads, service providers want to remain competitive, as well. Facebook’s Audience Network, for example, captured an impressive 34 percent of all display ad spending last year and is expected to reach 39 percent in 2017.

Targeted ads are based on data such as age, gender, location and browsing history (which is why you see the same ads pop up across multiple websites). With ad blocking on the rise, relevant marketing has never been more crucial. Mobile ad targeting is getting more accurate, according to Nielson’s Digital Ads Benchmarks and Findings report, with 60 percent of mobile ad impressions viewed by people of the age and gender intended by advertisers. This number is up from 49 percent in the same period of 2015. This is good news, considering most (75 percent) of programmatic display ads will be on mobile this year, according to forecasts by eMarketer.

By the end of this year, US digital ad spending will reach $72.09 billion, eMarketer further predicts, representing 36.8 percent of US total media ad spending. Just as internet users demand transparency from social networks and service providers, marketers have equally high standards for those selling programmatic ads.

“Advertisers are demanding a new kind of relationship that provides significantly improved control and transparency,” World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)  said in a statement, “with nearly 90 percent reviewing and resetting contracts and business models to deliver on these objectives.”

Inside This Winter’s Best Branded Virtual Reality Experiences

Branded virtual reality experiences can inspire and entertain in a way traditional ads cannot. As we welcome the coming of spring, let’s take a look back at some of the best branded VR activations from this past winter. Whether it’s stepping into the world of film and TV or celebrating peace, these activations represent VR marketing at its best.

Fox—24 Legacy: The Raid

In this six-minute VR prequel set nine months before the new series, viewers are transported to Yemen in the midst of an action-packed raid led by lieutenant Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins) against the compound of terrorist leader Ibrahim Bin-Khalid. The VR adventure was developed by Here By Dragons through a collaboration with Fox, 24: Legacy‘s executive producer Howard Gordon and Samsung.

“This is an exciting moment for us all in VR—not merely because of the fidelity and craft that went into this project—but bringing together some of the most prolific talents in TV and film into a new medium,” Patrick Milling Smith, Here Be Dragons co-founder and president, told [a]listdaily.

Sony Pictures—Resident Evil The Final Chapter: The Killing Floor

Based on Capcom’s bestselling game franchise, the new film hit theaters January 27 in tandem with Capcom’s Resident Evil 7 across gaming platforms on January 24. Sony Pictures enlisted the help of in-house production company Mr. X to create a 360-degree experience on the bloody “Killing Floor” of The Hive, a location from the film. The story plays out like a FPS video game, in which the viewer, free to look wherever they like, comes face-to-face with the undead.

“We had most of the assets already created for the film, so this project became an opportunity for us to dream up our own story that used them in a way that nobody had ever seen before,” Aaron Weintraub, senior visual effects supervisor and director of the VR experience, told [a]listdaily. “Being entirely virtual gave us the ability to really plan it out and do whatever we wanted, as well as tweak any aspect at any point without being locked into something that we photographed. Furthermore, we could focus on the animation and overall look without devoting too much time to the less creative aspects of live-action VR production like stitching plates and painting out artifacts.”

Digital Domain: #PeaceIsLoud Nobel Peace Prize Concert

After the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the world had plenty to celebrate. The ensuing concert, created by Digital Domain and hosted by late night talk show host Conan O’Brien, featured performances by Sting, Highasakite, Halsey, Icona Pop and others. It was also livestreamed in VR, which marks the first event in a multi-year partnership between Digital Domain, the Nobel Peace Prize Concert producers Gyro AS and Warner Bros. ITVP Norge AS and the Telenor Group.

Digital Domain COO Amit Chopra told [a]listdaily: “The Nobel Peace Prize Concert is a prestigious event with a meaningful goal, and we’re proud to use our advanced technology to help share its message of peace with a passionate and increasingly connected global audience.”

Clorox: Purely Peru

Moved by the lack of clean water in rural Peru, Clorox teamed up with HuffPost’s RYOT and AOL to explain waterborne illnesses and how Clorox’s Safe Water Project provides materials to kill bacteria and viruses. RYOT worked with parent company Verizon Wireless to integrate a click-to-donate button for viewers who want to make a donation to the Safe Water Project after watching the film.

GE: The Possible

The Possible—a five-part series about science—was created, scripted and produced by Within and assisted by Here Be Dragons. The first episode features a visit of the Boston Dynamics lab, a robotics company best known for its robotic dogs. The series is being distributed through the Within app, which is available for mobile phones, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Gear VR and PSVR. Episodes can also be watched as 360-degree videos on Within’s website.

Hello robot

By 2020, over a billion people worldwide will regularly access AR and VR content, according to predictions by research firm IDC.

In an attempt to reach this growing demographic, IDC predicts that 30 percent of consumer-facing companies in the Forbes Global 2000 will experiment with AR and VR as part of their marketing efforts in 2017.

Gfinity Pushes Further Into Global ESports With Elite Series

Gfinity, an eSports event platform, is entering the second phase of its eSports initiative. The UK-based company launches the inaugural Gfinity Elite Series this June, and it attracted a big sponsor in Omen by HP, which will serve as the official hardware partner of the Gfinity Challenger Series and Gfinity Elite Series.

The tournament will focus on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Rocket League and Street Fighter V. The first eSports teams to commit to the tournament are Excel ESports, Infused, Reason Gaming and Prophecy. Martin Wyatt, head of partner relationships at Gfinity, talks to [a]listdaily about the company’s expanded push into global eSports in this exclusive interview.

How has Gfinity grown as an eSports event company since launching?

Since launch, we have grown soundly into one of the world’s leading eSports promotion and content companies. We have spent a great deal of that time investing heavily in building our brand, our operational and technological expertise, and solidifying our position as a dynamic and trusted partner for publishers, top outlet for players, and broadcaster for fans. We’re now in a prime position to move forward with the next phase of the business.

How have you seen the European eSports ecosystem evolve in that time?

The landscape shifts, changes and develops every week, which can be tough but it’s largely for the better. Most of the change for me has been the increase in the professionalization of the space, the fact that the barriers to more valuable commercial partnerships have lowered (as non-endemic brands become more educated) and that in an overall sense the standards of tournaments, broadcasts and experiences have improved dramatically—an area in which largely we have led the way.

Since the acquisition of MLG by Activision, does Gfnity still work with MLG?

Absolutely. We have always had and continue to have a strong and very open relationship with the guys at MLG. The acquisition of MLG by Activision made total sense and I’m sure that we were among the first to congratulate them.

What’s the audience capacity of your eSports arena and how has that been designed to host these new leagues?

We are moving into the Arena’s third year now, and the space has changed shape around four times since we opened the doors. We have condensed the audience area in the main arena and studio space to approximately 150, which still gives us the opportunity to generate a great atmosphere from a live crowd. The changes being made are to help us lift production values once again. The Elite Series is content rich and features three amazing games, all with their own identity, and the venue will be improved to ensure we can showcase each of them incredibly.

How will you be livestreaming the Gfinity Elite Series to the world?

The content plan for the Elite Series is wonderfully diverse and there is a distribution strategy to match—all to be revealed soon.

What separates this new league of ESL, MLG, FaceIt, ELeague and others out there?

What sets the Elite Series apart from any of the others is that it truly, for the first time, creates a clear progression path for players to move up and through the ecosystem as their talent and their desire so dictate. The Challenger Series is the best possible platform, open to players from all over the world, to showcase their talent, climb the rankings and potentially get drafted into a pro team.

The use of the games in the league are fully sanctioned by the publishers, who will assist with the promotion, and are keen to help us discover the next best players in the world for their titles. Personally, what excites me the most are the stories that we will discover throughout this journey. We will be shining a light on and bringing to the forefront some of the undiscovered faces of the eSports world, some of which will go on to be superstars.

Aside from the UK, what other countries are invited to compete in this Gfinity Challenger Series and will it take place in London?

Even though the initial seasons are focused on and are taking place in the UK, the players can be from anywhere in the world. Who the teams decide to select into their rosters are completely up to them and they can be from anywhere. The Gfinity Elite series is truly global.

What’s the rollout plan for the US to become involved in Gfinity eSports World Series?

We have made no secret about a desire to roll out internationally, and the details of that plan will be released very soon—watch this space!

What role do you see Asia playing in the World Series?

A very active one. If the model is right for a particular country, and the timing plus the commercials work out, the Gfinity Elite series could call any country in the world home.

Will there be additional arenas for events or will everyone fly to the UK for competition?

For the initial seasons, all the live-action will take place at the Gfinity Arena in London. We have an uncompromising approach, and we are very demanding when it comes to the quality of our output. So, being fixed in one place for the meantime allows us to control that.

How are you working with big brands such as HP?

Omen by HP as a brand has been a fantastic partner for us. We began working with them in September last year and they agreed to come on as the Elite Series’ official hardware partner.

How receptive has HP been in finding new ways to connect their brand with your eSports audience?

Very. They are superb listeners and take a huge amount of feedback from the community and the industry when building campaigns and activations. They are incredibly creative, unwavering in their support of the Elite Series, and genuinely want to play their part in growing the eSports industry.

What does the MediaCom deal open up for Gfinity?

The Mediacom partnership is important for us as it helps us to identify and develop innovative partnership opportunities for potential sponsors with the industry. They will also assist us in creating real high-value propositions for potential partners that will start to show significant return on investment that go a million miles past slapping a logo on a stream or two.

What do you feel the Gfinity brand means to gamers and how does it differentiate itself from the competition?

In everything we do, the most important things to us are the games and the players. We work incredibly hard to ensure that both of these areas are protected and treated with the maximum respect. The fact that we have that approach has driven a track record for creative, high-quality work. This commitment, I like to think, garners us a lot of good grace inside the publisher, player and audience communities. That, plus we are transparent and a lot of fun to work with. I’m not sure that all of our competitors can say the same.

How Virtual Reality Can Help Kids Reduce Stress At Doctor Visits

Virtual reality is working its way into the mainstream in surprising ways, but one day kids may want to visit an unlikely place for a unique game experience: the doctor’s office. Nationwide Children’s Hospital is conducting a study to help kids with hemophilia overcome the pain and anxiety that can come with receiving regular treatments such as injections. The study involves a VR game called Voxel Bay, which was developed by the hospital and is played on mobile devices.

Created using the Unity Engine, Voxel Bay takes inspirations from Minecraft and Nintendo’s collection of games to help sooth children as they are being treated. The kids interact with the experience by moving their head around and blowing into the microphone to complete different challenges. Voxel Bay was a finalist at the SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards in the category of health, med and biotech and is the brainchild of Jeremy Patterson, the lead of user experience technology research and development at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Research Institute. He worked with John Luna, a graduate intern at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and MFA candidate at Ohio State University, who was instrumental in designing the experience.

While discussing the inspirations for Voxel Bay, Patterson told [a]listdaily that Nintendo games, particularly ones on the Wii console, helped shape the experience. “Nintendo games are great because they’re not non-gender specific,” he said, “but they’re good for any age group.”

Luna added, “kids are the harshest critics. If it’s not fun, you’ll know immediately.

Patterson and Luna talk about how the project came together and how VR could one day become a routine part of patient care.

How did the idea for the Voxel Bay VR experience come together?

[Patterson]: There was one morning that I came into work and got called over to an impromptu meeting with someone who had just started with the organization. It turns out that the person I was meeting with was Dr. Amy Dunn; she’s the head of hematology here Nationwide Children’s. She had a lot of questions about fairly novel things that we could try to build to help the patient population face their dilemmas.

Kids with hemophilia have a unique set of problems, and one of them is needle phobia. They might develop needle phobia if they have a bad experience with their infusions. If they develop that, it hurts their long-term care because they can’t refuse treatment. They end up having to get a port put in, and then it snowballs and becomes more problematic.

So, we started brainstorming about things that we could do, and I had known about how effective VR was for pain relief and management. It seemed to me that VR was effective at putting people into a different context, almost like the way a person can meditate—they’re not necessarily aware of their surroundings or pain. They’re also not going to be as anxious or nervous. From that, we started down the path of creating something that we could use in clinics. The research had been around for years, but the big win for us was getting it into clinics to start helping patients now.

That’s what we’ve been working on for the past couple of years. It has been in clinic and we’ve been seeing it help people. It’s very effective.

How does VR compare to using traditional mobile games to help distract patients during procedures?

[Patterson]: One of the things that we found early on was that there are clinics where people use games on iPads to distract patients. Those work very well, but the dilemma that we faced was that this was for kids who are receiving infusions. They need to be seated, stationary and still. They can’t play a game on an iPad or a traditional game using a controller because their hands can’t move. That’s when we had to find a different way for them to not only be engaged in a virtual environment but interact with the games too. That’s where John stepped in, and he had a lot of good ways to deal with that problem.

[Luna]: We did a lot of game space controls because they just made sense. You have the gyroscope driving the camera, so why not use it to further immerse the player? We also looked into using the microphone as an input device. There are some games where the kid has to blow crabs across a little expanse, Angry Birds-style. The microphone is great because we can encourage kids to breathe in a steady rhythm, calms them down and provides them with a physical activity that connects them to these virtual spaces without relying on haptic feedback. It furthers the illusion of the virtual immersion.

What do the kids experience in the VR space?

[Luna]: It’s a pseudo pirate adventure. They’re sailing the seven seas, traveling from one island to another, where they encounter little creatures that give them quests—mini-games—for them to play. They could be running from pirates, recovering stolen treasure, hunting forest spirits or floating up to trees to deliver packages. One of my favorite ones is a game where they’re trying to help a momma penguin get to her babies, which are being barked at by a big seal.

[Patterson]: We’ve been avid gamers for years. So, the main experience of sailing around the islands is an homage to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. We try to bake in the things that we enjoy as much as possible.

How did the kids and parents involved with the study react to adding VR to their treatment?

voxel-bay-patient-sesssion-juan-1600[Patterson]: We just concluded all the patients that were in the study, so no data has been published yet, and we can’t say anything for certain. But from seeing people’s reactions—there are some kids who want to see the procedure done and don’t want anything to get in their way. For those kids, we don’t force anything different on them. But there have been a lot of kids who, when trying to infuse them and give them shots, were very difficult. We only found this out after seeing them without the VR headset, because they were fine when they were with us. In one case, the parent was a medic, and she had problems administering care to her son. But with this headset and VR experience, it’s totally different. He smiles and laughs.

The other thing that we found, which we weren’t expecting, was how much relief it offered the parents. The parents like it because they’re not seeing their kid in distress, and they can also see what their kid is doing, which is a good distraction for them.

[Luna]: With the setup we have right now, the parents can be part of the experience. They can watch on a separate unit to see what the kid is doing and talk to them. So, it’s not the typical VR experience, where the people in the room are basically cut off from the player. Parents can still be part of the experience without having to put on a set of goggles.

I’ve only been here for a couple of years, but one of the things that I’ve learned about health care is that it’s not about finding a one-size-fits-all solution. You find what helps a percentage of the patient population, and if you can make their experience better, then you’ve done your job. It may not work for everybody, just like VR might not necessarily be for everybody, but if it works for some people then it’s a success.

How closely do you think VR and video games will be integrated with patient care in the future?

[Patterson]: I think it’s going to be very pervasive over the next few years. We’re already starting on some new initiatives that have spun off from our Voxel Bay work. I’m not going to speak to openly about them, but suffice it to say that after people started catching wind of the effect Voxel Bay was having, there were a lot of people from different departments who came to us to say, “hey let’s start rolling it out here. Let’s figure out a way for us to use it in our clinic.”

Each Clinic is like a unique snowflake. They do things differently, and there are different considerations. Now it’s a process of how we can integrate into all these different cases.

What other forms of health care could benefit from using VR?

[Patterson]: Almost all of them. My opinion is that whenever somebody steps into the hospital, it could be helpful to them, but one of the natural ones is dentistry. It’s a natural fit, and it’s just an example of one area that could be a good next step.


Would you consider releasing Voxel Bay on the open market for kids to play at home?

[Luna]: Maybe as a different version, because you want the experience to be unique. If you play Mario all the time at home, going to the doctor’s office to play it won’t have the same effect.

[Patterson]: We want to get it out there, but we’re still figuring out how we’d like to handle that in the future. Maybe it’ll be locational so that you’ll get a different set of experiences at home, but coming to the doctor’s office could unlock content you can’t get at home.

Do you that with VR, kids will eventually look forward to going to the doctor’s office?

[Patterson]: I totally see a day when this will be as ubiquitous in doctors’ offices as magazines. The worst case scenario is when a kid is crying and doesn’t want to be in the doctor’s office. But seeing them come in smiling, laughing and having fun is a completely different ballgame. We’ve seen that happen. We had one kid ask his mom to give us $5,000 for the headset, which we clearly didn’t do, but it’s about moving the ball forward. If we can make something slightly better, why shouldn’t we do that? It might not make it fun all the time, but making that one moment better for somebody is worth it.

How This Startup Is Adding Music To The Messaging And Bot Landscape

Emoticast, which is behind the TuneMoji apps and bots that puts music GIFs with sound into messaging, is expanding the ways mobile users can send entertainment content across the world’s biggest messaging platforms, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Kik.

The company enables mobile users to send snackable music GIFs with sound from today’s top artists and has produced original content working directly with Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and other artists. Emoticast has global licenses with major music industry labels Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, and with major publishing groups Sony ATV, Warner Chappell Music, Universal Publishing Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and PRS/Impel. The company is also widening its focus on entertainment messaging content beyond music GIFs to film and television.

Emoticast founder and CEO James Fabricant told [a]listdaily that communication is the biggest market on the planet.

“As the head of video and entertainment for MySpace International, I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat for the shift from email to social networking, so I was very cognizant of the two major shifts happening in communication,” Fabricant explained. “The first was a shift from social networking to social messaging—last year the top four social messaging apps overtook the top four social networks. The second was a move away from text to more visual forms of communication—emojis, stickers, GIFs and now GIFs with sound (and music). Today, more than 50 billion messages are sent daily on social messaging platforms.”

Those numbers have attracted some big names from Silicon Valley and the music industry. Emoticast has just closed a $5 million super angel round led by Napster co-founder Sean Parker, producer and Black Eyed Peas co-founder, DJ and producer David Guetta; former Maker Studios CEO Ynon Kreiz; Jason Epstein, board member for Rhapsody International, parent company of Rhapsody and Napster; Nicole Junkermann through Montilla International Corporation; and Alan Cannistraro, the Godfather of apps.

Fabricant said the company will use the investment to continue to grow its partners in music and other entertainment fields, to increase original content collaborations with artists, and to expand its messaging partner network. He said the idea for TuneMoji sprang from two other popular brands—Coke and Universal Music.

“I heard about a Universal Music campaign with Coke called ‘Say It With A Song,’ which put lyrics on Coke cans that were a message, such as ‘Call Me Maybe’ for which you could scan a QR code and send a clip of the music video,” Fabricant said. “The campaign exploded, demonstrating that kids want to use music to express themselves and communicate with their friends. It occurred to me—what if you could transform music from entertainment into communication? And that’s essentially what we do. TuneMojis are entertaining, yes, but their primary use is to communicate a message. At the same time, in Japan, Line was starting to sell packs of stickers (static illustrations) for $3, so it was clear there was a path to monetization. By now, they’re making $300 million a year selling stickers. It was a no-brainer!”

Fabricant said TuneMoji makes it easy for iOS and Android consumers to share snackable music, film and TV content to the world’s biggest social messaging platforms, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Kik, as well as via TuneMoji bots on Kik, Viber and Telegram.

“We’re the first company to introduce specially formatted music and entertainment GIFs (with sound) to the market,” Fabricant said. “There’s now no need to scrape music and video sites, share links or pirate content.”

Before TuneMoji, consumers would have to go to YouTube or some other video platforms to rip and edit the snippet they wanted, save it to their camera roll and then use social messaging.

“TuneMoji is that platform,” Fabricant said. “Also, now with the death of Vine, a lot of the creative class that lived on there has started created content for TuneMoji, which is awesome.”

Despite the abundance of digital content out there, Fabricant said platforms are struggling to include licensed music and entertainment content in their mobile messaging services.

“At first glance, it might be tempting to make a comparison to some of the platforms that distribute GIFs and animated stickers, but we’re in a different category,” Fabricant said. “What Emoticast is doing goes far beyond GIFs or emojis. We’re taking it to the next level, with the type of snackable entertainment content that we’re bringing to users, and positioning the company to become the micro-YouTube for messaging based on premium licensed content.”

Today, all of Emoticast’s products are free to its users, and the company monetizes via brand partnerships.

“We found that corporations are just now realizing that social messaging platforms are where their customers live,” Fabricant said. “They’re eager to have their brand associated with cool music GIFs in this space, which is otherwise very difficult to penetrate.”

The company is marketing TuneMoji through the talent that’s investing in it and the artists being featured. Fabricant said this month Snoop Dogg will embark on a creative collaboration with TuneMoji through Kik.

“We’re working on an original creative collaboration with Snoop and WB Records that is a world’s first,” Fabricant said. “It’s an exclusive collaboration with Kik in April featuring Snoop Dogg, where the artist will take over TuneMoji’s bot and empower users to express themselves by sharing custom Snoop music GIFs. It will be one of our first partnerships.”

Ultimately, Fabricant believes it’s the artists, actors and talent from the music, film and television industries that will help propel the TuneMoji brand with millennials.

“We appeal to very passionate audiences who are plugged into what’s current in music and entertainment,” Fabricant said. “Emoticast brings the universe of popular culture into the chat stream through snackable music, film and TV content across the world’s biggest messaging platforms, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik, Viber and Telegram.”

Fabricant said Emoticast has hundreds of thousands of users and millions of TuneMojis sent. The plan is to grow this audience by expanding its distribution through partnerships with messaging platforms, dating apps and beyond.

“We’re growing through the combined effect of adding more users and increasing their engagement and retention,” Fabricant said. “The most effective ways we found to add users are viral (our music GIFs are branded, inviting the recipient to download the product to reply) and via brand partnerships which can boost our customer base in specific geographies where they operate.”

Emoticast is also attracting new audiences as it expands its content offering with each new set of rights it acquires from entertainment companies, and as it integrates more closely with social messaging platforms to become native to the messaging experience.