Push the boundaries of interactive entertainment

Although there are plenty of opportunities here for creative agencies with the ambition to move into long-form branded programming, the primary target for the Creative Tech Format Fund at this stage is independent production companies.
“We always engineer the conversation back to: ‘What’s the idea?’ Once you get around the fact that you can capture an asset in New York and have that available to you live in London, you have to ask: ‘Why?’ It may be better to capture that person in a live performance, for a bigger buzz.”
It’s an educational journey. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it
“More and more brands want to play in programming, and many agencies would love to see their ideas in long-form on a TV screen,” Ashcroft continues. “Branded entertainment shouldn’t be different from any other show. It’s got to appeal and connect. These aren’t adverts: they’re brand experiences.”
The potential for the future of live entertainment is huge: by combining motion capture with networked SmartStages people thousands of miles apart could theoretically share the same virtual stage in real time.
The most important message here is that no one has all the answers. “We want to open our doors to the extraordinary creative brains who come up with these format ideas, and see what they can do,” says Goodwin. “We want to act as part facilitator, part co-producer.”
For creative agencies and their clients, one particularly exciting opportunity is to ride the wave of this evolution in interactive entertainment to create a whole new breed of brand experience, and The Story Lab is increasingly working with agency partners in its parent network Dentsu on branded entertainment commissions.

Readers of a certain age may remember Knightmare, the medieval-style interactive adventure show that captured kids’ imaginations in the late 80s and early 90s. Three decades on, rapid advances in 5G technology have the potential to unlock a thrilling new world of shared entertainment moments.

“It’s the new entertainment economy,” says Ashcroft. “This will be the year of advertiser-funded programming: long-form entertainment programming from brands.” One notable example in recent years was Suzuki’s All-Star Driving School, one of Channel 4’s biggest original shows in 2017. The Story Lab recently collaborated with Rumpus Media on Ronseal-sponsored show The Great Garden Revolution.
Pivotal to that process is Verizon Media’s partner agency The Story Lab which, as part of Dentsu, acts as a global investor, producer and distributor of premium entertainment. “This is an invitation to indies: come and play, see what this kit can do,” says Robbie Ashcroft, managing partner of entertainment development at The Story Lab UK. “This technology will have a massive effect on the next big global hit in TV.”
For more details on the fund and Verizon Media’s creative tech toolkit, contact the team at ctff@verizonmedia.com
“Is this for today? No. But to get there, we must understand how the tech works now,” Goodwin concludes. “It’s an educational journey. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”
“Imagine Knightmare, but taken to Ready Player One levels,” smiles Geoff Goodwin, senior director, RYOT Studios at Verizon Media. “The big challenge here is to make entertainment as immersive for the people on their couches as it is for those actually playing the game.”
This includes functionality such as volumetric capture, motion capture, photogrammetry and SmartStage technology. “All of which will only improve with the uptake of 5G,” Goodwin points out. “Combine them and move into a world of virtual production, and that’s where it gets exciting.”
“We want indies who are making this stuff day in, day out, and want to take things to the next level,” explains Ashcroft. But while bold experimentation is encouraged, it’s no free-for-all: there must be some level of interest from a commissioner to get through the door.

Goodwin points to interactive experiments such as Black Mirror’s 2018 Bandersnatch special as steps in the right direction but insists there’s so much more untapped potential. Another more recent example, Swamp Motel, demonstrated how an immersive ‘escape room’ experience could engage players remotely during lockdown.

The onus is on production companies and their commissioners to take things to the next level. To kickstart the next wave of innovation, Verizon Media’s new Creative Tech Format Fund throws open the doors of its cutting-edge 5G-powered studio: a digital playground for visionary content creators.
Through the Creative Tech Format Fund, Verizon Media is putting the full power of its dedicated facility – complete with a specialist in-house team of technicians, engineers, editors and creative technologists – at the fingertips of content producers that may never have access to such next-gen tech and expertise.
But high-end kit is nothing without a game-changing idea that can harness it to full effect, and they are keen to establish new partnerships to make that happen. “We are finding new opportunities to act as a partner-cum-catalyst,” explains Goodwin. “We want an army of indies working with us, supercharging their ideas into the future.”
Branded entertainment shouldn’t be different from any other show. It’s got to appeal and connect. These aren’t adverts: they’re brand experiences
“We’re looking for creative minds who can use our technology and environment to super-charge their ideas in a really unique way,” explains Goodwin. “It’s on offer for people to try out, build muscle memory, and understand how it all works.”
Ashcroft for one is particularly excited about the potential of volumetric capture for integrating avatars or digital doubles into shows. But Goodwin urges potential collaborators not to be seduced by the tech: the story must be king. “These are all great tools, but they’re not leading the opportunity,” he says.

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