Immersive content was a significant theme at this year's MIPTV event in Cannes, France, where industry experts examined how content innovation in key formats is keeping pace with the rapid rate of technological progress.
The event, held on 3-6 April, showcased the cutting-edge innovations in virtual reality. Yet content producers and media owners are as keen to explore the creative and commercial opportunities in scripted, serialized, and branded VR content, as well as in the transactional VR content marketplace. VR content production is highly labour-intensive – creativity in the storytelling and production values is as vital as creativity in the technology.
It is hard to specify the full value of the immersive VR experience to the industry, given it is not possible for VR to exploit complementary second-screen opportunities. Augmented reality content is a more practical solution, where computer-generated content is superimposed on the surroundings the consumer already sees, allowing synchronised second-screen access. Nevertheless, the power of VR lies in capturing the consumer’s complete focus, suggesting an effective experience similar to cinema.
Significant developments in kids content
There was also a heavy focus on kids TV, where content will only grow more immersive and user-focused. The near-universal adoption of mobile technology and the growth in short-form means kids content is more engaging than ever. Moreover, as content and play merge due to technological advancement, the share of time kids spend watching content has rapidly shifted from linear TV to other platforms. Therefore new online content genres have emerged, including ostensibly mundane, but popular forms such as unboxing, watch-them-play, esports, jump scares, speed gaming, and speed drawing.Imaginative play has always been important to children. These new online content genres can be a catalyst for it, resulting in more interactive types of play where content and play converge. They range from tech-amplified play (VR/AR-based toys) to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and robotic play, where there are educational products that teach basic coding skills, for example.
Michael Shore, Mattel Inc.'s VP and Head of Purposeful Play and Innovation Insights, said content creative play – where the child is content producer – is a prime example of relevant, innovative user-generated content:
"In the world of play, children have always drawn pictures and their parents would proudly display them on the refrigerator. The new refrigerator is the social media account where the user-generated content is uploaded." In a multiplatform world this "content" is now a broader term, capturing anything from home movies and video gameplay recordings to stop-motion video and photographs.
Shore also predicted that kids TV viewing will become more fragmented, making reaching consumers harder than ever. Distribution strategy in increasingly becoming a key part of the conversation between content producers and companies like Mattel. Making sense of the potential opportunities beyond linear TV, said Shore, is a new challenge: "Our partnerships we've had in the past are still very important today, but how do we explore more of these new distribution avenues? I believe the big TV networks will continue to have high reach, but the channels will continue to fragment." He added, "The power of online platforms lies in scheduled content that sustains a child's interest over a short period of time. Online binge watching is an area we are actively studying."
Other selected trends at MIPTV 2017
Digital platform partnerships central to high-quality millennial content
Content producers and multi-channel network delegates discussed how millennials are transforming digital content creation and consumption. As a result, digital platforms, like Verizon's digital platform go90, are leveraging audience data to provide content tailored to when and how millennials want to consume it. They are also forming strong partnerships with content producers, using audience data to make editorial decisions on programme talent and casting.
Industry delegates also stressed the importance of rejecting the short-attention span millennial. They binge hours of content on mobile devices, from short-form YouTube videos to full-length serial dramas. Hence, according to go90's Chief Content Officer Ivana Kirkbride, there is a gap in the market for platforms to exploit – a halfway house of “premium mid-form” content between eight and 30 minutes in length.
Can media agencies be a force in production?
As the traditional media buying model evolves, media agencies must innovate to remain relevant. Advertisers are increasingly shunning the agency middle man, buying inventory direct from the media owner. Management consultancy firms are also providing alternative media-buying services, leveraging their existing connections with C-level company executives.
Agencies have a history of financing content production, integrating their brands into programmes, and even funding content in exchange for commercial airtime. There is now potential for agencies to go one step further, taking the role of executive producer. The stakeholders – broadcasters, producers and media agencies – are willing to discuss the idea, but it would be extremely difficult for them to compromise their trusted methods of working. However, representatives from all three parties agreed that a "Holy Grail" collaboration would potentially work on a format with international appeal.
The globalization of VOD drama content
The event hailed the potential for localized series to attract viewers from different countries, bringing greater opportunities for smaller thematic VOD services as well as the major VOD players. Technology has liberated premium scripted content, offering a variety of platforms for the audience to consume it, and allowing it to be produced both globally and locally.