Variety hosted its first annual Innovate Summit Wednesday, providing attendees insight into the future of artificial intelligence, analytics, and virtual reality in entertainment and related fields through a series of discussions and panels. Here are the top 10 takeaways from the summit.
1. VR can be used to turn empathy into action. Baobab Studios CEO and Co-founder Maureen Fan said that in Baobab’s “Mac and Cheez” VR game, players can help out other characters on their mission, and depending on their behavior, those relationships with other characters change. “We can get you to care more about the characters in VR than on a traditional TV screen,” Fan said. “But what can we do with that caring? By letting you actually interact with the other characters, it lets you turn empathy into action.”
2. Sexual harassment must not be tolerated. When it comes to office culture, a company cannot be strong if it does not take action to prevent sexual harassment — and enforce consequences when issues do arise. Leslie Moonves, Chairman and CEO at CBS Corporation, said that the recent firestorm of sexual harassment allegations in media has affected his company’s policies and practices in hopes of making the workplace feel safer.
3. Drive home your company’s values. “At this point, neutrality is problematic,” said Molly Swenson, RYOT Co-Founder and Head of Brand. “But make sure that when you take a stance, you enter the conversation in an authentic way. Although December will be Swenson’s last month at RYOT, the entrepreneur said that the “activist news organization” strives will continue to successfully deliver “less depressing” and “more empowering” news.
4. There are huge benefits of focusing on niche markets. Lionsgate Over-the-Top (OTT) Ventures EVP and GM Julie Uhrman emphasized the advantages of honing in on niche markets. Even if the groups are smaller, the consumers that they include are passionate and, thus, more loyal. “Be authentic to that group to drive action,” Uhrman said.
5. Accept that we live in an era of multitasking. Abbey Thomas, CMO at Tremor Video DSP, referred to our current times as “the age of the modern living room,” noting that reaching consumers through one screen is not sufficient. Audiences often use multiple screens at a time– even when the TV is on, there are simultaneously inundated with information on their phones, tablets, and other devices.
6. Marketing is in great need of diversity. PepsiCo senior consultant Brad Jakeman urged an increase diversity in marketing, advertising, and technology fields. According to Jakeman, 85% of purchases across all industries are made by women, while a majority of the marketing algorithms and content are aimed at straight, white males. “Innovation does not come from homogenous groups of people. Innovation comes when you bring diverse sets of people together who have had different life experiences, who have different backgrounds and have a different lens on the world. You get better results as a consequence of that.”
7. Blind reliance upon raw data leads to incorrect assumptions of human behavior. Jakeman stressed the need to use caution when looking at raw data because blind reliance on data leads to the assumption that consumers behave logically. In reality, human behavior is often irrational. A reliance on data results in advertisements or recommended media that are neither wanted nor useful to the consumer. “Someone knows enough about me to be creepy, but not enough to be useful,” Jakeman said.
8. Decisions about television content are often more driven by emotion than the data. Anthony Accardo, director of R&D for Disney/ABC Television Group, said that decisions made about television content tend to be more driven by the loudest voices in the room rather than what the data about a show objectively indicates. “After the research comes in, the way the conversation evolves from there largely revolves around the words ‘I feel.’ ‘I feel like there’s too much story or this character isn’t on screen enough.’ It takes away from what’s objectively happening with creative and usually what win those conversations are the politics and the relationships, not what the data actually says.” Accardo added that metadata about television ratings can help remove the feelings from decision-making and lead to objective conversations.
9. Streaming companies need to continue to push new content in order to maintain viewership over linear television services. While streaming video on demand (SVOD) services like Netflix draw large numbers of viewers during the initial release of shows, they struggle to retain those levels of viewership over time. Parrot Analytics CEO Wared Seger said that while linear shows like “The Walking Dead” that only release one episode a week might draw smaller premiere audiences than “Stranger Things,” which has all episodes released on the same date, SVOD services tend to lose their viewers after the initial hype while viewership for linear network programs continues to grow over time.
10. Virtual and augmented reality are not only here to stay, but are poised to increase advertising revenue. PwC partner Stefanie Kane said that research predicts that over the next five years, virtual reality will add $4.6 billion dollars in revenue across its applications. Jesse Redniss, chief innovation officer of TNT and TBS, said that while television, porn, and gaming are the first adopters of VR and AR devices, the utility of having VR and AR capabilities in mobile devices will spur “corporate America” to explore the technology within the next 12-18 months. Additionally, Universal Music Group’s SVP of digital marketing Monica Hyacinth urged the entertainment industry to find another way to measure VR experiences in depth rather than by views, given the more immersive nature of the content.
(Pictured: Neil Parris and Monica Hyacinth)