Transforming Hollywood 6 Announcement

Transforming Hollywood 6: Alternative Realities, World Building and Immersive Entertainment

Friday, May 8, 2015
James Bridges Theater
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

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New digital technologies come and go, but the public’s desire to engage with immersive storytelling worlds is here to stay. In 2014, Facebook and Google each entered the alternative realities game with a vengeance. Facebook spent $2 billion to acquire the latest virtual reality (VR) hardware company, Oculus Rift, invented by Palmer Luckey. Google countered by investing in augmented reality (AR) start-up Magic Leap, a firm that hyped its wares with a twenty-three second video clip of a lifelike elephant held aloft in a human hand. Soon after, Microsoft jumped on board with its own AR offering, HoloLens. Samsung used VR to stimulate sales of its latest Samsung Galaxy Note 4 by making its Gear VR Innovator Edition incompatible with all other smart phones and devices. Not to be outdone, Sony announced Project Morpheus, a VR system to enhance game play on its Playstation 4.

Each of these internet technology (IT) giants claims to have high-minded goals for their new platforms—as a means to enhance human capabilities in the worlds of education, science, medicine, and the fine arts. Most likely, each of these Silicon Valley industries is looking to Hollywood and Madison Avenue partners as part of a long-term monetization scheme. After all, both the content industries and the consumer brand industries are eager to whet millennial audiences’ appetites for the latest form of tech-fueled fun. At present, there’s a glut of VR and AR gadgets and not enough content. Therefore, cutting edge artists are stepping into the void, offering to experiment with these new immersive world-building tools, even if it means they must create an occasional Budweiser Margarita girl that morphs into a 4D hologram in order to pay the bill.

While dial-up modems created a generation that was addicted to email and search in the early days of the internet, once broadband internet infiltrated our homes, a generation of digital natives became addicted to making, streaming, and sharing content in the Web 2.0 era. What else does the future hold? Futurists, who spoke at the Mobile Media Summit in Barcelona in 2014, wondered out loud whether the “gigabit internet” will create a generation hooked on augmented reality, holograms, virtual reality headsets, and other “wearables” by 2025. Indeed, as pundits observed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, brand marketers are placing bets not only on VR and AR, but also on our fascination with the “internet of things” – smart devices (including sensory-driven thermostats, data-driven sleep monitors, and self-driving cars) that communicate with us by means of our mobile phone. But what if “the internet of things” isn’t just another way to seed consumer desire for superfluous gadgets and services?

Some see these new technologies and new experiential worlds moving us closer to that highly anticipated, if dreaded, moment when artificial intelligence outpaces human intelligence. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if iPhone’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, like Spike Jone’s Samantha in Her, outgrow their humans? In 1992, Neal Stephenson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Snow Crash imagined a future-world in which all of us are part of a virtual shared space. Those who chose to stay connected to this Metaverse via portable goggles and other equipment were called “gargoyles” for their outlandish appearance. It looks as if Stephenson’s vision is more prescient than we originally thought. Gargoyles, get ready to step out of the CAVE, strap on your Oculus Rift, HoloLens, Samsung gear, or Morpheus goggles, for the future is now.

The tendency to discuss immersive entertainment in a breathlessly futuristic language, through metaphors of science fiction, masks the larger history of these techniques and practices across the 20th and even 19th century. Thus, a key strand of this year’s event involves bringing together the perspectives of technologists with those of historians who work on earlier moments of media change, a vantage point which can help us to qualify sweeping claims about the impacts of these still emerging (and often precarious) technologies by looking at how earlier generations sought to expand sensory perceptions, to map and explore complex worlds, to immerse themselves into multimedia presentations, or to create intense collective experiences that remove us from the constraints of the everyday. We are not the first generation of entertainers who wanted to create a sense of awe in spectators, of journalists who wanted to convey a more vivid sense of the world, of museums who wanted to bring their visitors into a more immediate relationship to remote corners of human knowledge, or artists who have sought to teach us new ways to see, touch, smell, taste, or hear the world around us.


Reinventing TV For the Digital Age: Multichannel Networks

O2L (Our Second Life), a group of young, male YouTubers each with over a million subscribers to their individual channels sold out of $75 VIP tickets to their 17 city  tour sold out in ten minutes. 

In the past decade, a certain type of grassroots creativity has emerged on YouTube and other video platforms. Time magazine once celebrated YouTube for having provided so many amateur creators with the tools to “broadcast themselves.”

YouTube’s creator-partner system and their infusion of $200M in their original channel initiative contributed to the increased commercialization of this democratic space, for better or for worse.

Recognizing an opportunity to advance a new culture industry, a group of web-based, tech-savvy, para-industrial start-ups have emerged with distinctive approaches to monetizing YouTube’s 100 million hours of video uploaded every minute to its billion unique monthly users. They are the multi-channel networks (MCNs), also known as YouTube networks, online video studios, and simply networks. Among the big three are Fullscreen, Machinima, and Maker Studios. “YouTube is all about audience development. It’s about how many subscribers can you get on your channel so you can monetize it. These creators are little television affiliates,” says Larry Shapiro, head of talent at Fullscreen.

Multichannel networks have aggregated thousands of YouTube creators in order to amass tens of thousands of online users. Most MCNs pursued this new business model shortly after YouTube started investing $100 million to augment the production budgets of a hundred or so YouTube talent partners.

“On YouTube, you have super-targeted channels that would never exist in a television model, and that they have super-high engagement,” says Machinima chairman, CEO and founder, Allen Debevoise. “MCNs aggregate these particular channels across different categories. From a monetization perspective, you have a large com score number, you have a large nielsen number, but you have high engagement, which is very unique.”

To serve this growing group of YouTubers with significant user counts, the MCNs inserted themselves as business allies, taking a percentage of the advertising dollars offered by YouTube and up to 50% of the IP, in exchange for providing amateur creators with these added services.

Some find these relationships troubling. Thousands of YouTube creators have signed contracts with most earning little or no profits for their considerable efforts; in contrast, the small handful of creators, who have been able to secure a living despite YouTube’s restrictive terms, are resentful of the MCNs for profiting from their creative labor.

YouTube/Google are eager to work with MCNs because they help amass a large online audience and their consumer information is shared with advertisers as “big data.” As it turns out, there is a big demand for big data in Hollywood.

The more traditional Hollywood companies don’t always immediately understand the benefit of the YouTube audience, but when it gets broken down for them, it clicks. Shapiro recalls a conversation with a TV exec that illustrates this point: “In television they talk about L3s and L7s, so when I was talking to a network exec about devinsupertramp and he said, ‘I just don’t understand these views, I get it but I don’t see how it’s important for television.’ I say, ‘I’ll tell you what. On an L7, devinsupertramp will reach a million people between the ages of 17 and 25 every week.’ And it clicks for him—‘that’s like a 1 share. Can I meet him?’

devinsupertramp’s channel has more than 400 million views.

Several Hollywood media companies have recently recognized their inability to access YouTube’s growing audience of online users, and MCNs are their perfect way in. Notably, Disney recently acquired Maker Studios for $500 million, while Warner Bros. continues to kick the tires at Machinima.

For Shapiro, this isn’t surprising, and it signals the strength and wisdom of this new generation of creators, and, regardless of the controversy surrounding them, the MCNs as well. “That’s the importance of a devinsupertramp or a lohanthony or an O2L, or some of the mine craft creators on Machinima,” says Shapiro. “They’re tapping into our emotional connection to entertainment now, and they’re going to shape it down the road.”

View the rest of Transforming Hollywood 5 panel “Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future” below, or by heading to our Vimeo page.

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5 Big Ideas From TH5 Panel 1: Creators Reinventing TV for the Digital Age

If you don’t have time to re-watch TH5 Panel 1, “Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future,” catch our run-down of 5 big ideas from that conversation.

1. “To a certain degree, YouTube is program television. Their fans know exactly when, what time, the creators are uploading content.” LARRY SHAPIRO, HEAD OF TALENT, FULLSCREEN


2. “Geek and Sundry has always seen the digital space as separate from television because we are able to tell stories that are not being told on television. What’s happened in the last couple years is they’re really not that separate and they’re starting to converge.” SHERI BRYANT, PRODUCER & CO-FOUNDER, GEEK & SUNDRY


3. “Because short-form content works so well on YouTube, you can start to think about short-form content incubating other types of content where the focus isn’t how do we monetize this on YouTube, but are we using this to create a brand, or reinvigorate a brand, which then a traditional media company can take out.” ALLEN DEBEVOISE, CHAIRMAN & CO-FOUNDER, MACHINIMA


4. “I was in a meeting at WME with a 16 year old and a 19 year old who make Vines. I won’t go into the deal points, but when I went home I made sure my 12 year old downloaded Vine and starting Vining. When you add up all of the content one of these Viners has made in his entire life, it totals 22 minutes. These kids are so powerful. They’re commanding an extreme amount of money. Madison Avenue is just throwing money at them.” LARRY SHAPIRO, HEAD OF TALENT, FULLSCREEN

5. “The economics are the barrier moving forward. The technology is there. The creativity is there. But if I were in the television industry…the question of how we are paying for it is really starting to raise its head here.” AMANDA LOTZ, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

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UCLA Producers Program Faculty Member Transforms Television With New Series

Tonight, a new comedy premieres on CW that demonstrates the changing nature of the business of television. Leading the charge is Maggie Murphy, head of the US division of the Canadian production company Shaftesbury, and one of the UCLA Producers Program’s own faculty members. Backpackers follows two twenty-something best friends, Ryan and Brandon, as they race across Europe in search of Ryan’s fiancé, while trying to figure out who they are and what they want to become of their lives.

The idea for Backpackers came from Jay Bennet, Vice President Digital/Creative Director of Smokebomb Entertainment, the digital arm of Shaftesbury. Murphy came on board to help develop the idea internally and planned a new strategy to pitch the show. “Visual sales tools are becoming more and more important in the industry,” says Murphy. “Before they move forward, buyers really want to know what the show will look and feel like.” So for Backpackers, she and her team hired a writer, a small cast and a skeleton crew. They all hopped in a van and drove around Europe for a few days and shot about ten minutes that effectively conveyed what the show was about, as well as the humor of the show.

”We didn’t even pitch it, which is unusual,” recalls Maggie. Instead, they shopped their presentation around to a few networks and immediately received interest from CW. Maggie and her team sold it to CW for their digital-only network, CW Seed, and they got funding from the CW to go into production. Additional financing came from pre-selling the concept to the Canadian network CTV, as well as Canadian tax incentives. Backpackers lived online among several other digital-only comedy series from CW and, to date, is the first and only digital series to be picked up by the network for broadcast.

It’s not surprising that Shaftesbury is bringing a new strategy to TV in the US—the Canadian company is used to a very different modus operandi. “In Canada, they go straight to series, they don’t shoot a pilot. And the same in the international world,” says Murphy. This trend has of course made its way to the states with places like HBO and Netflix giving straight-to-series orders, but even broadcast nets like Fox are giving this model a shot as well. Murphy has seen more and more traditional networks foregoing the traditional pilot order. “I have a series that just had five more scripts ordered, but no pick-up,” says Murphy. She believes it makes good economic sense: “Instead of shooting that pilot that is seven to ten million dollars, and then seeing it’s not good, why not pay half a million for scripts and see what you’ve got.”

Murphy and Shaftesbury are so eager to see up-and-coming creators adopt innovative practices such as these that they recently announced a multi-year gift to benefit the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Producers Program, a highly selective, two-year MFA degree. The gift will allow Shaftesbury production executives to help producing students create and develop television and digital projects, and then provide the necessary resources to complete them. The partnership will also create opportunities for Producers Program students to network with Shaftesbury’s network of top-tier industry experts.

Denise Mann, head of the Producers Program and co-head of Transforming Hollywood, is “thrilled [by the] generous donation.” “With the help of Ms. Murphy and our other key television creators, executives, producers and cutting-edge media scholars teaching in the UCLA TFT Producers Program, the department has been able to be responsive to the renaissance taking place in the television industry,” says Mann.

Murphy intends for the gift to help students create important products that are essential to selling TV series today. “People have less money and they want to have as much insurance as possible,” Murphy explains. “It’s important to be able to go to potential buyers with a clear idea of what the series is and where it goes, and we’ll be able to get these students in a position where they’re ready to be a part of the transformations taking place in Hollywood today.”

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