C21 FutureMedia 2009 conference

In his opening address Eric Huggers, Director of Future Media & Technology, BBC, set the theme for the day when he described the key trend for 2009 and 2010 as “social media”. With Facebook as the 3rd most visited site on the web, Twitter displaying 3000% user growth and recent deals such as the Electronic Arts purchase of social gaming business Playfish for $400M, social media is seen as the significant new market driver.

The internet has lowered the barriers of entry to the market, therefore the new battle is one for the attention of the consumer, and in this environment discovery through social relationships is the key – what are my friends and peers recommending to me?

At present iPlayer has 5M users per week, but the BBC is actively pushing iPlayer onto new platforms (including the Nintendo Wii and PS3) and incorporating new social features. In 2010 iPlayer will display an ability to connect to “friends” as part of the key navigation, linking to Facebook and other social media sites. For Huggers the advent of mobile computing (i.e. the reach of the iPhone) matched to social media is the “game changer”.

Jon Gisby, Director of Future Media & Technology at Channel 4, picked up this theme. For him the impact of social media had some key imperatives:

  • Opportunity – new platforms, customers and revenue streams
  • Collapsing Value Chain – lower cost and complexity of distribution
  • New competitors – the above brings new players into the space
  • New skills – new models require different skills and thinking

Channel 4 has just done one of the most interesting deals in this space – their tie between 4OD and YouTube. For him there is a “risk in innovation, but a bigger risk in standing alone”.

A preview of the 4OD YouTube channel shows a joint branding and promotion very consistent with Channel 4’s core brand – and in this there is a pointer.

YouTube, the biggest player in the online content marketplace, (300M users monthly worldwide / 20 hours of new content uploaded every minute according to Patrick Walker, Director of EMEA Partnerships, YouTube) clearly has a strategic drive to move away from the “cats on skateboards” image through the implementation of strong DRM systems and diagnostics to attract major content partners (as well as highlighting revenue drivers, for example the Month Python effect). Walker consistently references experimentation as YouTube “trying things out” but the prize is clear – “38% of media is viewed online, but only 9% of advertising budgets are currently spent online”.

branded content

The idea of multiplatform (or 360 or cross-media, take your pick) has been floating for a few years, with some examples of success (i.e. Kate Modern) but no real breakthrough. Within the conference there were some very interesting examples of new content which capitalise on the engagement of online platforms, and use the power of social media to drive traffic. In many cases these productions are co-funded by major brands, a scenario which should become easier in the UK as legislation is relaxed.

Final Punishment – produced by Beactive (best known for Sofia’s Diary on Bebo) Final Punishment, a horror set in a maximum security prison, is “broadcasting” in Brazil. Starting with fake news stories on news sites, content was then released via mobile and through ARG-type elements, including live events. The finale is a 4 part “mockumentary” on TV which reveals the solution. Budget c. $350k.

Married on MySpace – produced by Endemol this format sees a MySpace community choose from a number of couples planning to get married and then make absolutely all of the decisions regarding their wedding plans. Key brand sponsors were JC Penney and Disney (tied to the release of a film called The Proposal) and others feature heavily in the choices presented, i.e. clothes, honeymoon destinations etc. The programme attracted 15M video views over 13 weeks.

1 vs 100 – again produced by Endemol, a release of the game show on Xbox Live, using new features which allow mass interactivity within a scheduled appointment – recreating the shared, scheduled experience but on an entirely new platform. 1 vs 100 is an avatar based, massive multiplayer quiz game – with 114,000 simultaneous players during the first series. Sponsors are Sprint, Windows 7 and Honda.


Amidst this furious agreement about the new potential in this space there was a clear warning raised by Eric Huggers (BBC), for him there were two key challenges which could fundamentally undermine UK progress:

  • There is an upcoming crunch point where the UK has to rapidly improve its digital infrastructure, the Government ambition of 2MB in their Digital Britain policy is way too low. He cited a conversation in South Korea where they were embarrassed about their 100MB as standard infrastructure and were planning an upgrade to 1GB…..
  • Also there is clear gap in talent and skills, especially in software engineering and technical design, the UK needs to “step up” this education strand in order to remain competitive.

phrase of the day

“accelerated obsolescence” – attributed to Justin Judd from iRights, example given was Second Life quickly followed by “Bebo next?”

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