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Jun 072006
 

Yesterday I chaired the Mobile Content World Australasia 2006 Conference in Sydney and moderated a couple of panels. I gave an opening (provocative as far as an industry conference goes) address and a few people have asked for copies. So as powerpoints were banned (by the switched-on Terrappin organisers), and as my notes eventually turned into a script (I prefer not to read scripts – no room for personalised delivery!) – well I had it to hand. So here it is. Short, succinct and afterwards I list the people on the panels during the day – and when I get time I will give some opinion, add on what I thought of the event, the discussions and a few of the toys I saw such as a 3D phone and some great social network services, very cool.

Where are we? Where is mobile content on its evolutionary path? Is it well adjusted late teens or is it still a screaming adolescent? What are the real signs of maturity in the industry?

I am Gary Hayes, Director of the Laboratory of Advanced Media Production in Sydney, part of a government initiative run through the Australian Film TV and Radio School. We work with major ‘heritage’ media producers to prototype next generation cross-media services. We will have prototyped over thirty eight services by October many of which utilise mobile devices. I am originally from a digital broadcast and broadband TV background and when I was senior development producer at BBC New Media for 8 years I started out by putting the first audio, video and vr services onto broadband PC too. This makes me sound old but this was only ten years ago remember. I also worked in the US for a couple of years developing broadband TV services. The only thing mobile was useful to the broadcaster, when we were beginning Interactive TV services six years ago, was to vote, SMS chat or send in text messages – at premium rate of course. Have things changed that much?

The mobile industry today reminds me to a great extent of the early digital TV and broadband PC days back in 1996/7. We weren’t sure if putting video (or TV as we used to call it) onto the web was really going to work. We were not sure if communities and social networks would grow with any permanence on the web, which in those days were mostly shopping malls and advertising billboards (web 1.0) – and we weren’t sure that people would really use the web to be creative – many thought the web was about email (simple communication) and information. Ring any bells?

On mobile phones, of which the current incarnation has evolved out of the early web so the comparison is slightly flawed, we certainly have lots of walled gardens, chat communities and ubiquitous shopping malls. We have first generation services streaming live video (or TV as we used to call it) and video downloads – and in trials people are using DVB-H for up to 20 minutes a day. We also have games that are catching up to the quality of PS1 consoles of the mid-90s and communities in a sort of trial phase. Then there are the tablets, the iPods, PDAs all part of a convergence as everything becomes connected and we can store all the content you would ever need, at any one moment in time at least.

But mobile devices, particularly connected, location senstive ones have so much more potential, even now. What is holding them back from becoming the epicentre of consumers media universe? Price? Storage? The Experience? Interoperability? Quality of Service? The Business Model itself? ROI or Greed?

In the last five years things have changed considerably on the web – and now web 2.0, as it is called, is flourishing, and millions are actively participating and creating content. Blogs, vlogs, podcasts, shared spaces and mass multiplayer online role playing games are everywhere. People who play online games are not watching TV anymore, in fact they are not doing much else besides these social network based, online games. So why did this happen, what can we learn?

Part of why this happened is that firstly TV, a medium that used to be the media hub, has not evolved quickly enough for the active consumer – who need to share, communicate and participate ‘in’ the medium itself. Sure TV (the form – bite sized chunks of entertaining video) is gradually breaking free of its chains in the corner of the room, slowly becoming connected on the web, but we all know it will have to quickly morph and change its stripes to survive the next decade. Those early broadcast interactive services I had a part in creating or the early TV walled gardens such as Sky’s Open… (RIP) were in retrospect, stepping stones towards the great triple play of IPTV – also known as broadband content delivered to the large screen we used to call ‘a TV’. So why did this happen, what can the mobile industry learn?

People move to where media (their own and that which they pay for) is easily shared, published and moved between all their devices and friends and family. They buy content for themselves and not one device. They go to where their voice is heard and where they can be active participants. Any platform that locks the active ‘panther-like’ consumer in a cage, in the medium term, is doomed to failure. Early web portals like AOL and digital TV walled gardens know this. The mobile industry needs to take stock and grow up. Break down the walls, create interoperable marketplaces that will create traffic, activity and flourish. It also needs to treat the consumer as an individual and it has such potential to be the test bed for real personalisation – in fact that is it’s USP, its saviour and the true thing that can set it apart in the platform jungle. Getting the right ‘rich media’ content on top of each individuals portal in real time, on the move is key and ARPU will increase exponentially.

Speaking of personalisation, or rather customisation, I forgot to tell you I am a flasher. Not in the pants domain no. Dismayed by the amount of relevant rich content on various 3G portals I tried, I decided to flash my Moto v3x phone a few months ago. Yes I joined the dark side of the force, the modder community and now, move ‘my paid’ for content freely between PCs, iPod, PDA and phones. I suspect there are many more that would like to do so too. Beware of that crowd, unless you deliver quickly they will be looking elsewhere and WiFi, WiMax and Bluetooth connected (non mobile phone) mobile devices are getting itchy feet in the queue behind you.
Imagine now Ennio Morricones theme tune as we quickly look at the Good, The Bad and the Ugly of the mobile industry, the themes that we will be exploring in today’s conference.

The Good – three of them:
1 – mobile phones are still the most effective way to connect, mobile people. So we have two sessions dedicated to how mobile communities can increase traffic and ARPU. In publishing consumer content there has been some innovative phone user generated TV shows such as Syamekke in Japan, Cult TV in France and even a dedicated TV channel Tu Media in Korea showing nothing but viewer content. Using the phone as a tool to vlog and publish onto TV will both educate and inspire the audience and inspire.
2 – Another good seachange is at MyNumo.com for example. They are creating tools to allow consumers to sell content (ringtones, wallpaper and create webpages) to each other – micro viewer economics that really drove traffic for eBay, MySpace and a few virtual shared spaces on the web like Second Life.
3 – Also in the good camp is the phenomenal success of the mobile phone billing system. Some have called it ‘implied commerciality’ – people accept they have to pay for everything – but that also means people are far less eager to try new things which is also…

…The Bad – to me bad is still the simple lack of interoperability and the walled garden. Interoperability between mobile devices, between operators, and across the off-portal piece – but really, between consumers. Sure things are improving but without simple ways to share and move media consumers will find alternate routes as digital content wants to spread. No one operator can fulfil the need of any consumer so providing easier routes to get to off-portal content is critical and providing a higher quality experience on that journey is even more so. We have sessions looking at fulfilling the promise of 3G and on and off portal internet

The Ugly – We can do so much more to get the right content to right consumers. Personalisation, targeting and easier search are critical. Finding content is sometimes ugly at the moment, no in fact it is very ugly. Deep menus, busy interfaces and superficial content once you get there– we have panels today focusing on the consumer experience and how to create stickiness through usuability that will hopefully help us out of this maze.

OK enough from me time for some statistics now and a look at What Consumers Actually Want from the Australian mobile perspective, from Claudio Sagripanti of AIMIA and Venture One.

Welcome and Opening Remarks from the Chair
Mobile Content State of Play – the good, the bad and the ugly
Gary Hayes, Director, Laboratory for Advanced Media Production

Mobile content industry landscape
What consumers want – results from the Australian mobile phone lifestyle index
Claudia Sagripanti, Chairperson, AIMIA MCIDG and Venture One

ENTERTAINMENT UNTETHERED
International Keynote
Engaging customers through mobile entertainment
Ira Rubeinstein, Executive Vice President,
Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment

TV to Go – Effective programming for the mobile
Jim Shomos, Creator and Executive Producer,
Forget The Rules

Panel Discussion. Carrier Panel session – Fulfilling the promise of 3G
Gary Hayes, Moderator
Michael Padden, Head of Mobile Content, Telstra
Mark Mulder, General Manager of Content and portals, Optus
Adrian Crouch, IPX Country Manager, Ericsson
Richard Sherwood, General Manager of Mass Markets, Vodafone Australia
Scott Taylor, General Manager of Content and Services, 3 Australia

CREATING MOBILE COMMUNITIES
Communities – find the way into the truly viral market
Jennifer Wilson, Head of Mobile, HWW

Panel Discussion – Exploring the benefits of mobile communities
Jennifer Wilson, Moderator
Olivia Hilton, Chief Executive Officer, Jumbuck
James Cleary, Founder and Managing Director, Amethon
Paul Gruebar, Product Marketing Manager Premier and Youth, 3 Australia
Gregan McMahon, Regional Director Australia and NZ, Yahoo! Mobile

USER EXPERIENCE – DELIVERING ON THE PROMISE
Creating a compelling – customer focused experience
Gary Hayes, Moderator
Annie Mackin, Head of Mobile Content, 3 Australia
Cyrus Allen, General Manager, Telstra Product Management, Telstra Corporation
Steve Watson, General Manager Group Portals and Entertainment, Legion Interactive
Oliver Weidlich, Managing Director, Ideal Interfaces
Trevor Goldberg, VP Global Partners, Bango
Arun Gupta, CEO, Mauj Telecom

Mobile Media: Mobile as a new opportunity
Sporte/Edistar
Peter Egberts, Business Development Director, South Pacific Region, Netsize

Speed Networking

Creating mobile content differentiation and brand experience through a consistent user interface
Dr. Yan Zhuang, Director Business Development, QUALCOMM Internet Services

Roundtable discussions
Roundtable one: Mobile Communities
Facilitated by Jennifer Wilson, Head of Mobile, HWW

Roundtable two: User Experience
Facilitated by Oliver Weidlich, Usability Specialist, Ideal Interfaces

Roundtable three: Mobile Media
Facilitated by Peter Egberts, Business Development Director, South Pacific Region, Netsize

Closing remarks from the Chair

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Dec 142005
 

Realtime (and OnScreen) a journal looking at performance, dance, music, digital and the visual arts have published an interview my cohort from LAMP Peter Giles and I did a few weeks ago. Always interested in which bits Karen Pearlman decided to pull out of the ‘chat’. Anyway you can go to the article here or read the whole thing below.

Karen Pearlman on the LAMP initiative

What do Albert Einstein, Alan Greenspan, Robert Frost and Woody Allen have in common? They, and dozens of others, are all quoted in a floating banner across the top of the LAMP website, each in their own ways encouraging risk taking and adventurous innovation. LAMP (Laboratory for Advanced Media Production) is a new initiative to “provide a guiding light for the Australian Media Industry.” The floating quotes on their site focus on 2 key LAMP themes: bravery in the face of the unknown, and the galloping global engagement with new media.

Peter Giles, LAMP visionary and Head of Digital Media at the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS), which is host and home to LAMP, describes LAMP’s objective: “to stimulate production of compelling cross-media content in Australia.”

“Cross-media”, according to Giles, means “mobile, broadband, digital TV, digital set top boxes, games consoles etc, and these are increasingly linked by broadband. But emerging media are more important than the platforms. The most interesting examples are hybrid forms, which exist between the platforms. While many producers and broadcasters at the moment are looking at re-purposing linear content, the full potential of emerging media is in interactive services which are clearly different from what has come before them.”

A new narrative

Gary Hayes, founding director of LAMP, describes content that engages with this potential when he talks about the kinds of projects LAMP is keen to support. “We always look for narratives that carry people over platforms, that keep audiences engaged in a world where people are using multiple platforms.” So far, in Hayes’ experience of the first LAMP projects and his longer term experience working in a similar initiative in the UK, the “strongest version of this has a presenter within the project saying ‘go there now because you will get this reward for crossing to another platform to continue the journey.’ These projects keep the narrative engaging throughout and then drop in another call to action on another platform.”

Calling this kind of journey a “narrative” represents a major paradigm shift for filmmakers and film watchers. It gives the word ‘story’, the bastion of the narrative film industry, a new slant. But Hayes says, ‘story’ “does not necessarily mean drama but a good user journey through content.”

Erasing borders

As the definition shifts, the geographical boundaries that define story consumption also loosen. This prospect terrifies some and thrills others. The slippage takes away control by distributors, for example, while for a creative artist it takes the stigma out of geography. No more is there art house versus mainstream for the cinema, nor television versus cinema for that matter. A project that spreads across platforms doesn’t have the imprimatur of one or the other, it is inherently both experimental and commercial at this crucial moment in development of the media.

One of Hayes’ areas of expertise and personal fascination within the shifting definitions of ‘story’ and ‘audience’ is what he calls “personalisation.” “Personalisation is taking part in a play-along quiz with 2 million other people watching TV. The end result is personal to you. Personalisation goes all the way to who you are and what you do with a service that alters and resonates with it. Everything—narrative, interface, the meter, the visuals, the music—may all change. In a completely personal world, you get things that are relevant to you; it is insider service, it morphs.”

Demonstration quality

“Unfortunately,” Hayes says, “we are now seeing media being put out in the same version in every platform. This is a problem because it may kill audiences off; they may say cross-platform doesn’t work—‘why watch mobile video because it’s the same as broadband and I prefer TV.’” The way that LAMP is addressing this problem, according to Hayes, is to “let people see what the future will be. LAMP is about building things and putting them in front of people so they can see and experience the possibilities.”

The LAMP process

The process of building things takes place in LAMP residentials, week-long immersive periods of workshopping content. Giles reports that, “The residential labs are a pretty intensive experience for both participants and mentors.” In the first residential, held in October, Christy Dena, ‘transmedia storyteller’ was the guardian mentor for Insect Men a game/film (gilm they called it) targeting broadband PC, Mobile and Locative media platforms. Hit It TV, “a cross platform participatory musical drama for teenagers” worked closely with interactive designer Catherine Gleeson as a mentor, and Georgina Molloy, a docu-drama hybrid bound for TV and broadband PC, had the guidance of Sohail Dahdal, filmmaker and new media artist. Five other luminary cross-media thinkers and creatives worked closely with the other projects in a process in which “teams pitch and re-pitch their ideas with feedback from mentors and their peers, then create a prototype under the guidance of mentors and with the help of a team of developers. Teams work towards a final project pitch and presentation on the final day of the lab—and we put a VIP audience together to provide feedback.”

The next LAMP residential, coming up in December, will develop 8 new projects specifically for and with the ABC. “A very strong consideration in choosing projects for LAMP is that they have a designated stakeholder”, says Hayes. “Once workshopped at LAMP, they have to go back to their ‘home’ and pitch to their organization which could pick it up and develop it. Then LAMP has done its work, mentored and pushed it into a direction that will be good.” “The ideal outcomes”, according Giles, for the residentials and for LAMP, are “to incubate compelling projects with global prospects and nurture them to fruition. It’s also about developing talent and switching creative people on to the opportunities in this new area.”

In putting together the teams for LAMP residentials, Giles says, “We are generally targeting film and television creative teams rather than technical people.” This is where the LAMP theme of courage in the face of the unknown comes in. The kinds of fears that film industry people have are of technology or of being left behind or, even worse, Hayes says, “a deep paranoia that ‘I think I’m already left behind so I’ll keep doing what I’m dong because I’ll never catch up.’”

A LAMP residential manages these fears by providing “a strong team of mentors who can guide the technical direction of projects” and with the reassurance that LAMP is, as Hayes says, “a place for people to play and make mistakes without major consequences. Mistakes can kill markets off. So it is a sandbox in which to look at a hybrid model. If mistakes are made it’s just a week’s work, and they are a help to identification of other mistakes.”

Giles and Hayes are both upbeat about the progress LAMP has made so far in allaying fears and inspiring adventurous play. As Giles says, “It’s a process of education and I think we’ve made a good start. Developments in the global landscape provide widespread incentive for media producers to find out more. No one knows all the answers but if we can create a forum for discussion and incubation of ideas we are moving in the right direction.” Hayes adds, “Providing a guiding light to anything requires you to keep putting fuel in to keep the light burning brightly, making sure we have a local pool of expertise, people who can carry the flame if one of us falters. We want to avoid putting in overseas expertise all the time, so we need a group of people who can gradually make the light spread across the industry, already lots of media companies are feeling the warmth.”

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005