Helsinki

Slush again. Disappointingly not as cold as usual in Helsinki, felt wrong somehow.

The show retains its idiosyncrasies – indoor waterfall area anyone? – and it is always interesting to see what the tech trends are across the show. Looking back to last year’s blog a couple of key themes seem to have consolidated – lot’s of personal healthcare and very specific AI applications which seek to add an optimisation layer to existing practices, in data processing or logistics for example.

Less immersive technology visible at Slush itself but in focused side events hosted by DIT and the Helsinki XR Centre an echo of an observation from the Los Angeles trip (below). VR/AR products presented were dominated by enterprise training and brand/marketing activations, rather than creative content.

The other notable was the next wave of VR conferencing – but as someone who travels constantly and will always seek to meet virtually where possible, I just can’t see how these avatar driven iterations improve on available (fast improving) video tools. Maybe just me….

And finally a disappointing change to note. In the US Brexit was rarely mentioned, it was a commercial risk factor worth noting but with the market strength and devalued £ mitigating. In Europe however people have now stopped engaging in trying to understand the detail, just stepped back to regard our politics as “absurd entertainment” (unfortunately a direct quote).

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Los Angeles

Across a sparkling visit to Los Angeles I met with the innovation leads of three major studios and a number of interesting digital production services businesses.

What was striking was the significant strategic focus on the use of real time rendering techniques as a major production step change in the next 1 to 3 years. The ability to use games engine tools to generate CGI assets and effects in the words of one studio “moves the focus of decision making back to the heart of the production process rather than concentrated at the end in post”.

The creation of highly flexible production worlds at high quality generates massive efficiencies, with extended additional opportunities to reuse these assets in multiple secondary environments, for example next generation mixed reality uses or games.

Whilst I’ve discussed these techniques with others, the level of attention and investment was really notable.

Also of note was that not one conversation across the week was about VR as home entertainment. Where immersive tech did come up it was primarily a location based format – there has been a clear shift of energies.

In that vein I was delighted to experience the Bride of Frankenstein Holoride at Universal Pictures. I was part of brokering the collaboration between Universal, Holoride and Rewind – and the combination of a VR experience locked to the movement of a real vehicle driving around the site was both interesting and effective. Clearly this innovation was a first step in a future vision of entertainment in autonomous vehicles with “elastic” content delivered over 5G connectivity.

Jet lag means always seeing the sun rise – there are worse things….

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Frankfurt

To Frankfurt for Me Convention, “a ‘future lab’ for exploring major issues and promising ideas for society, business, science and our planet.”

Within the convention SxSW produces a “start up cities” strand with a focus on places where there is something interesting happening, they share my belief that innovation clusters away from the capital city often have the most dynamism.

Bristol was approached to be the UK representative (other cities included Atlanta, Bangkok, Brussels, Fukuoka, Tampere, St Petersburg, Rotterdam) and in keeping with the theming of the main event I focused on values, culture and collaborative innovation, rather than solely on accelerators or investment.

The wider programme roamed widely from architecture to process design, healthcare to environmentalism. In that last aspect in particular there was an interesting tension played out between those advocating radical disruptive change immediately, and those taking a more pragmatic and persuasive incremental approach.

The convention being part of Frankfurt Motor Show only highlighted this tension. As protestors sought to disrupt, the car companies tried to highlight that all of the new models shown were electric. An industry at a clear and challenging inflection point.

(Interestingly there was almost zero presence of autonomous vehicle technologies, the thousands of men (all men) attending unlikely to be the audience… Plus it always feels to me like a Silicon Valley solution looking for a problem solved elsewhere by public transport systems, let’s hope the associated innovation has secondary uses).

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Framing Immersion / Italy

As detailed below the Framing Immersion report I recently authored – a collection of personal testimonies exploring the challenges and opportunities in creating immersive experiences in an emerging market – is now published.

Download here: SWCTN Framing Immersion report

And planning forward travel before disappearing into an Italian summer break, Sept to Dec will see Frankfurt, Los Angeles / Las Vegas, maybe Porto, definitely Helsinki.

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Framing Immersion / Madrid

Over the past couple of months I have been putting together a report capturing the current developments in immersive tech based on the insight of the producers who are the architects of this new form.

Framing Immersion is a collection of personal testimonies on the evolution of an emerging market – an exploration of the challenges and opportunities in creating immersive experiences in a landscape where all parts of the value chain are still evolving at speed, whether production, distribution, audience engagement, business models or even the fundamental grammar of the form.

I’ve grouped the stories under three headings which represent emergent forms of value, the underlying animating context for this exploration of immersive technologies:

Visual – the capacity for immersive technologies to reveal things you could not see previously, and the implications of that function
Commercial – the viability of generating an underpinning business model, and the challenges of balancing growth, scale and innovation
Impact – the opportunity for immersion to achieve affective impact, how relationships with audiences are being changed by new modes of interaction

The report will be published to coincide with the SW Creative Technology Network Showcase, 12th July in Bristol.

Last week I travelled to Madrid to present at the XR Festival, created by Telefonica and British Council, and talk to some of the key Spanish companies in immersive tech.

What was striking were the similarities in conversations in Madrid when compared to the UK research. There is a consistent struggle with current commercial realities and tech limitations, but also matched with a clear vision of positive future potential and an openness to share and collaborate in order to move the development of the whole market forward faster for everyone.

(Haven’t added too many views from my hotel room like the above recently, but just passed 150…)

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Bristol / Cardiff / Porto

Channel 4 has now announced the location for its Bristol Creative Hub in the centre of the city (https://www.channel4.com/press/news/channel-4-chooses-bristols-finzels-reach-home-its-new-creative-hub). It will be interesting to see how this accelerates an already shifting geographic focal point for the media industries in Bristol.

The announcement coincided with the Creative Cities Conference in Cardiff, an event focused on the growth of the television industry outside of London. What was interesting is how the dialogue has changed in recent years, from a dynamic of moving production to the “Nations & Regions” to fulfil quotas, to a much more positive position of the realisation that a diversity of voices and views creates much better television; reflecting an authenticity of people and place on screen drives audience engagement and uncovers previously ignored talent.

Alex Mahon, Channel 4’s CEO, reflected this eloquently in her speech at the event, presenting the C4 restructure as not an obligation or economic engineering, but as a strategic necessity for a forward thinking media business.

And a meeting in Porto echoed this dynamic from a Portuguese perspective, with Porto as the location with integrity and potential challenging Lisbon’s dominant narrative.

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Stockholm

Cold in Stockholm, so retreating to the Pickled Herring pub within the British Embassy as the venue for a presentation on UK creativity / technology seemed like a good option.

Whilst not a big city there is a clear sense that a full ecosystem from start up to major corporate is well established in Stockholm, attracting VC funding and creating a tangible energy and growth.

I met a range of companies, from content production services to B2C marketplaces to immersive tech, with a strong thread of online / social marketing. All very serious businesses with clear forward strategies and investment secured.

By definition their growth requires international expansion at an early stage to find a scale market, so the businesses feel very highly networked and expansive – with London previously the first location of choice due to its multinational global hub profile (c.f. Spotify).

And here the opportunity cost of Brexit becomes clear (as opposed to the actual jobs and legal foundations which are actively being moved out of UK). No matter how I articulate the underlying economic fundamentals, confidence in the UK political infrastructure has evaporated, and decisions to use the UK as a global base are now not being taken.

And whilst these stories may have been told to me in a pub, they were articulated by credible people with high growth potential – now looking elsewhere…

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Paris

To the British Embassy in Paris, for a collaboration between Department for International Trade and French TV industry event Série Series (http://www.serieseries.fr/en/prog_hors-murs.php).

The day event highlighted British excellence in television production – with a focus on drama series – and attracted an audience of 150+ French producers, distributors, broadcasters and other industry representatives.

I chaired a panel taking the agenda on a slightly forward looking tangent focusing on storytelling within immersive environments, and the significant R&D support invested in innovation under the Creative Sector deal.

Limina Immersive installed their VR Theatre in the truly spectacular Salon Pauline showing Immersive City Bristol, a curated programme of work by Bristol creatives.

The headline speaker was Jed Mercurio, writer of Bodyguard and Line of Duty. In discussing Bodyguard he made a fascinating distinction between plausibility, possibility and probability and how he balances the three when planning plot elements.

Everyone was too polite to dwell on Brexit, but where discussed it was in the now usual perplexed and slightly mournful tone. Europeans are used to consensus politics and so find the catastrophic failure of our entire political class, stuck in adversity whilst we threaten to crash our own economy, baffling. Possible? Probable? Plausible? Discuss.

A panel on UK / Franco collaboration made a slightly tongue in cheek comparison of British as “passive aggressive”, and French, “aggressive aggressive”. Not entirely true but the lines of bristling riot police at the end of the street where I was staying ahead of another gilets jaunes march resonated….

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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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