Helsinki

To a dark, cold Helsinki and Slush, still a show like no other and always valuable.

Slightly less VIP / political presence on stage this year but a high quality attendance across European tech – with AI and healthcare standing out as hot sectors.

In keeping with previous Slush’s the show tends to display more “humanity” than other tech driven events – evident in two themes:

Trust
Margrethe Verstager, the European Commissioner for Competition, delivered a strong keynote picking up the erosion of trust between users and the major tech companies – as their data trails have been mined for profit, the privacy of the individual has been quietly but substantial eroded and the platforms have potentially skewed our communications flows to our social detriment. And interlinked, have the companies also used their dominance to drive positions on competition and taxation which are unprecedented – her refusal to excuse as a new digital paradigm, relating back to desired generic corporate standard practice, was interesting.

She made a case for new businesses trading on a “trust value” and to some extent this was reflected across the show, with the start-ups at pains to show transparency on data policy.

Diversity
Atomico published its annual State of European Tech report and this year highlighted the lack of diversity in the industry – predictably it focused on male / female disparity by highlighting numbers of “female founders” and VC distribution. This feels like a rather top down view of industry change but it’s a start. More positively their side publication of a Diversity & Inclusion in Tech toolkit took a broader view of diversity and inclusion and signaled active engagement.

And at an evening event with the British Ambassador I spoke with the CEO of Supercell. I’d met him previously 7 years ago when he handed me a T shirt and talked about his mobile game. He still wears the same company branded T shirt, but Supercell is now valued at over €10Bn and had €2Bn revenues in 2016…

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Channel 4 Creative Hub – Bristol

After a process which started in Spring 2017, amazing news last week from C4. Having authored the submissions from Bristol, working with IBB and the industry steering group led by Mayor Marvin Rees, this was the decision we’d hoped for from the very beginning (we were realistic that we probably weren’t “northern” enough to be the HQ…).

To quote the C4 press release: “In Bristol there is the opportunity to build on a thriving television production sector in the City, which has world-renowned factual producers and also has strengths in areas such as animation and digital production.

Bristol put forward exciting proposals to establish new social mobility initiatives to work with diverse communities across the city and bring through new talent into the industry.”

For Bristol the positive implications for the creative industries ecosystem in the city, opportunities for new diverse talent and catalyst for secondary inward investment will have a transformative impact.

Now the hard work to deliver the Bristol C4 Creative Hub, a nice problem to have…

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Sao Paulo / Santiago / Buenos Aires (London)

This blog could be subtitled: the failure of politics (with an exception)

A fact-finding / relationship building visit across LatAm was in some ways an object lesson in a seemingly global failure or polarization of politics.

The rise of Bolsonaro in Brazil was greeted by those who I met as terrifying, where the rejection of a previous corrupt administration has somehow opened the door to an ideology which is disturbingly far to the right. Maybe its because I tend to meet liberal creatives, but the scale of his support and seemingly likely success in the run off appears extraordinary given the extreme positions and toxic pronouncements of his campaign – or so you’d hope.

In Argentina, a comment on their cultural “pessimism” was borne out in an argument on which was the worst crisis in their living memory – and despite the rapid devaluation of the peso it wasn’t this one… Businesses in Buenos Aires ascribed an agility and flexibility to this factor, always expecting that things could go wrong.

And our own failure of politics still resonates in South America. Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires are particularly European cities, with strong cultural links to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany. Brexit is raised consistently and whilst they understand the strengths of UK creativity and marketplace that I was presenting, the tone of the negotiations and existing alternative EU links immediately raise a barrier. This negative perception, regardless of final granular detail, is already embedded – the view of chaotic positioning, compromised leadership and empty posturing has already delivered an international message of an isolated and conflicted country.

But a bright spot (and matching my Raindance experience). Despite its own challenging political history, well targeted Government policy in Chile aimed at developing an entrepreneurial tech economy is succeeding in accelerating business growth, and attracting new businesses to the country to help build out a new ecosystem.

The picture above is the noize chair by a designer I’d worked with previously, Guto Requena – a classic chair design altered in response to the sound of a Sao Paulo neighborhood and 3D printed. Guto saw his most recent public artwork systematically vandalized by Bolsonaro supporters due to its explicit inclusion of a gay perspective. Whilst horrified, his response was “I will fight them with love”.

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Sao Paulo

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Raindance – Chile

I had the great pleasure of chairing a morning of sessions at the fantastic Raindance Film Festival celebrating Chile as this years’ guest country and the emergence of a new wave of Chilean cinema – capped by the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for A Fantastic Woman. Some fascinating insights emerged over the course of the sessions.

2005 was identified as year zero in this process, and in fact a specific train journey to a film festival where the current cohort of writers, directors and producers bonded together. Fast forward a decade or so and this group acts as a collaborative and supportive group driving international success and awards (Oscars, Berlinale, Golden Globes, Emmys). To me it felt like an object lesson in the fact that sometimes a small environment can deliver the enabling access, availability and shared sense of opportunity (a certain freedom and motivation) which gets lost in the major economic capitals..

Constanza Arena from Cinema Chile also opened up a very interesting line of thought in response to an audience question. As time has passed since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship there has been a trend away from documentary themes (to some extent evaluating or bearing witness) to more character driven plots – although still in her words with a “focus on uncomfortable subjects”. She identified this trend across other countries, as a major “scar” in their history was re-interpreted over time.

Next an entertaining conversation with Merced Productura regarding their VR film Hotel Zentai (above) – revolving around a lycra clad fetish club. Their response to questions on ethics and presence in VR were essentially that there weren’t any rules yet, they weren’t afraid that something was “too weird”. The fact that they were on skype in Santiago and had clearly just got out of bed added to the surreal undertow…

And finally the fabulous Gonzalo Maza, writer of Gloria and A Fantastic Woman, took us through the development of A Fantastic Woman – including the revelation that Daniela Vega was a consultant on transgender issues long before she was actually cast as the lead actress. He walked the audience through a key scene, ending on a shot of an empty locker with the assertion that “it’s a metaphor, so I don’t have to explain it”.

Next week to Chile proper, as part of a LatAm trip taking in Sao Paulo, Santiago and Buenos Aires.

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New term

An interesting recent article by Janan Ganesh in the FT on the impact of tourism “ossifying” medium sized cities resonated with a trip to Portugal over the summer. His contention that tourism hampers change because the visitor wants the “old town” to stay the same not grow a new tech sector, was reflected in Porto and Lisbon where there is local opposition to the airbnb-ification of property in the city centre as displacing real activity.

However if you’ve read any of my other blogs on Lisbon you’ll know that the regeneration of the city economy has been remarkable, and revisiting a busy and sparkling Porto the Uber driver claim that they were being priced out of the city was undermined by my experience in 2012 when the city centre was empty, desolate and rundown.

Visits in 2012 were en route to Guimaraes to produce part of the European Capital of Culture programme (Open City). Travelling back there I was delighted, and slightly surprised, to find a symbol of culture as a force for economic growth, with the city tangibly more prosperous and vibrant.

New term, new travel plans (Vasco de Gama above…):

  • Lisbon again shortly
  • Sao Paulo / Santiago / Buenos Aires in October
  • Berlin and maybe one more in November
  • New Delhi and Mumbai in December

Closer to home the pitch process continues for Bristol to become one of Channel 4’s Creative Hubs – decision in the next few weeks…

I’m taking a very quick crash course in Chilean cinema ahead of chairing a panel at Raindance Film Festival.

And finally, picking up previous blogs on the impact of Reliance Jio on the Indian mobile data market I’ll be chairing a panel with them to explore the Indian opportunity in London on Sept 17th

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Overdue – Hyderabad / Bangalore / Mumbai / Berlin / Helsinki / Bristol

A slightly over-intense period, with the result that this site fell off the to-do list…

The highlights:

India for Innovate UK, focusing on the potential for productive UK / Indian collaboration on the development of the immersive technology sector. I’m authoring a report and making strategy recommendations (to be published later) but there is a tangible sense of an opportunity, although the shape of the emerging industry is very different. And as noted before here the consumer technology landscape is changing at speed – Jio switched on 100M 4G mobile customers in 170 days last year, with a forecast of 500M 4G smart phones by 2020 – and 4G data is currently free…

Berlin and Helsinki for DIT, presenting at events again focused on immersive tech. As is common across all countries there is a slight frustration that the market is not moving as fast to commercial revenue as they’d like – but a byproduct is a sense of active collaborative, an open community seeking to share knowledge in order to move everyone forward. The recently launched Helsinki Games Factory, in an old hospital building (white tiles and industrial lifts), has these values built into its ethos in establishing a new focal point for the Finnish Games market (already a global phenomenon).

And back in Bristol two successes on bids:

The city was shortlisted for the location of the new Channel 4 National HQ. Over the past year I’ve been working on Bristol’s representation into this process and authored the various submissions. C4’s considerations now move into a second phase with the final decision in the Autumn.

And a consortium of Bristol and Bath Universities, plus Surrey, came together to propose a programme for £5M funding as the national Industry Centre for Excellence in Immersive Narrative (I co-authored this one). Interview done, now we wait.

The gif above is at the Bangalore vs Mumbai IPL game. Cricket is a religion in India – India represents 85% of the global cricket economy – and the game and its stars are often the drivers of innovation and engagement. Meetings at Star TV around their work with 360 broadcast exemplified access on new platforms as a catalyst for new audiences.

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Paris / Bristol

An event in Paris at the spectacular British Embassy exploring the relationship between “tech nations”. Combining inputs from companies and intermediaries from across the UK and France, it was an object lesson in the fact that collaboration is driven by ideas and complementary strengths or vision rather than geography.

And echoing the post below re: SxSW, the installation of some fabulous modern art (such as the Cornelia Parker above) in a classical building reinforced a particular kind of British creative unorthodoxy.

Then to OIConf in Bristol, a conference exploring the role of influencer marketing in digital advertising. A conversation at the partner dinner the night before covered the usual ground of relevance and authenticity, but there was also an interesting acknowledgement that we are approaching an inflection point in the maturing of social media as a series of negative news stories make people (finally) wake up to the data driven underpinning. The tyranny of unlimited choice in a digital environment is also a line of thought worth following…

But for authenticity nothing beat Miles Chambers, who catered the Jamaican food for the night and then performed his “Bristol, Bristol” poem, written during his stint as poet in residence for Bristol City Council. It left people open mouthed….

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Austin: SxSW

Overall the expected slightly frenzied mix of showcase, panels and parties.

Reflecting against my last visit four years ago, reality has rather overtaken the naïve enthusiasm of the early years of SxSW Interactive. There were no start-ups in branded T shirts thinking they were going to break at SxSW as Twitter and Foursquare had done in the past. And there were a lot of underwhelming corporate innovation showcases which had a sense of marketing budget over substance.

Across the show there were plenty of British accents and Sadiq Khan really made an impression with his very clear and well delivered messages. Country presences which stood out tended to be via installations outside the conference hall, and also tended to be a result of playing up idiosyncratic differences. Activity by Germany, Japan (with Panasonic) and UK at the British Music Embassy all said more about creativity in the country than a catch all platform of interchangeable tech jargon (blockchain, AI, machine learning etc etc).

Unfortunately I left Austin just prior to the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth, a VR installation in partnership between the Philharmonia, Mixed Immersion and Igloo Vision. The idea was conceived whilst sitting together in traffic on a freeway in Silicon Valley in December – see my blog 4 posts down….

I was interviewed by Igloo Vision on the project, given my part responsibility for the fact that they were on the bus together in the first place: http://www.igloovision.com/blog/Interview-with-mark-leaver

(And concurrently to SxSW the Playable City Austin project had Shadowing installed in 6 locations across East Austin and South Congress – see Fox’s coverage: http://www.fox7austin.com/good-day/shadowing-in-austin)

One of the joys of SxSW is seeing some live music – the picture above is Francobollo at the British Music Embassy, wild and noisy in a good way.

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Munich

Another fascinating exploration of attitudes and activity around VR. The consensus across countries as diverse as India and Germany on the market position and necessity for experimentation is striking, and there is a consistent open and collaborative ethos everywhere in seeking a mutually beneficial commercial future.

In comparing production exemplars between UK and Germany across games, film IP (coming soon, Das Boot) and enterprise, the key difference which emerged was actually the strategically focused nature of UK Government support for innovation in this emerging sector – as channeled via Innovate UK and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Our event hosts, Remote Control Productions, have developed a very interesting business model: supporting very small games companies to develop IP and grow in a role part accelerator, part investor, part community manager, part service supplier. Clearly it’s working well as after 11 years they have 100 people in their “family” in Munich and have expanded to Helsinki.

I made it out to Munich ahead of the major UK snow to a much colder, snowy city where life carried on as normal – including surfing on a city river….

Flight cancellations meant an unplanned extra day in Germany and the experience of some of the worst corporate communication I’ve ever encountered – I’m forgiving of cancellations due to snow, but BMI’s inability to text / email even the most basic of updates was pathetic.

As I was stuck went to see some amazing Cy Twombly’s at the Brandhorst.

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