Content creation: The generation game
Content is a vital element in many projects, with new techniques and formats emerging all the time, how can the AV industry stay ahead of the game? Paul Milligan reports.
‘Content is king’ must be up there with using an image from Minority Report as the most overused AV cliché of all time, but as we all know, clichés are only clichés because they are true. Content is vastly important, it always has been but with some many more avenues to consume media than ever before you can easily argue it’s become important than ever. The relationship between content and the AV industry is not a straightforward one, sometimes we’re employed to create it, other times we are there to coordinate with a design agency or production company and to make sure all the delivery systems around it work perfectly. Content in an AV context often equates to digital signage, but it’s important to remember the vital role content plays in sectors such as live events, corporate presentations, product launches, museums and visitor attractions.
Content creation can certainly be profitable and is something big AV companies should be looking at, if they aren’t already. One-stop-shops are always attractive to clients, if you can provide content and its delivery it will put you in a very advantageous position to those who can’t. One aspect of content creation which has always been problematic is the invoicing, how do you price it up and is there still a gap between the valuation of content from client to creator? “Yes, it’s seismic,” says Nick Dew, managing director of content producers Really Creative Media. “Most clients have very little appreciation of why some things are so much more expensive that others when they’re giving us a creative brief. Everyone assumes that it all costs the same. Some things can take a couple of hours, or other assets such as modelling 3D can take days.” Joel Krieger, executive creative director at experiential design studio Second Story agrees there is a significant gap, “It's huge, and it takes a lot of a lot of conversations and a lot of work to really get to a plan that's going to be bespoke and custom to each individual client’s needs. When you're buying a projector or an LED wall, the price is the price and it’s pretty much a concrete offering, thinking about the content is a totally different way of thinking about price and value.” The key to getting content pricing right is in the planning says Krieger. “We price things based on the concept, no one's really comfortable with an open-ended T&M (time and materials) scenario. To get to a fixed fee you have to get to an understanding of what the scope of what the future holds, We have to do a good bit of legwork up front to even get to a concrete understanding of what is this thing that we're going to make for you, so we can then price it.”
Producing content in 2019 is vastly different to 10 or 20 years ago, how do you make content stand out in a world of screens? “Everybody is screaming for your attention,” says Michel Buchner, creative technologist from creative technology provider, Nexxt Technology. “Your telephone with notifications, when you are on the road screens are blinking at you, there is information to be read everywhere, and good content can help with that, but there is no real formula for it. What we need to do is to look at the place, the traffic, the people visiting, and then make a plan.” So just how do you make that connection to grab eyeballs? “That's the fun part,” says Krieger, creating something unique and interesting isn’t as you think adds Krieger because the bar is pretty low. “I don't think it's that hard to stand out because most folks are defaulting to what they know, which is ‘let's put some ads on it’. We live in a world where everyone's shouting and competing for your attention. And sometimes the thing that wins you the attention is not a shout, but a whisper.” The trick for developing really good media is like chasing a unicorn says Geoffrey Platt, director from media server and content creation provider RealMotion. “You really don't know how something is going to work until you try it and see how people react to it. A lot of times we grab selective groups of people to try and see how they're affected by it before it ends up going out to the masses.”
A recent AVIXA report found that the technology wish lists for live events revealed a large demand for interactive technology, including audience interaction tools, VR to enable attendees to explore content further, smartphone apps that include the events' presentations, and displays that could share social media feeds. So is there more pressure from clients for content to be interactive? “We are absolutely seeing a lot more trends towards interactive media,” say Platt. “I think it’s really due to the cellphone companies and tech manufacturers who have got us used to pulling out our smartphones and having media directly interactive on our smartphones.” It’s vital to consider your audience however, showing lyrics on a big screen behind a performer on a stage will always get the crowd involved, but not everyone at events wants to engage. “With interactivity you have to be thinking about it in two modes; in an ambient or passive state, because not everyone will choose to participate. For those that do, there's an extra layer of reward that will pay off your investment in terms of measuring engagement,” says Krieger. Not everyone is seeing an uplift however, “People at conferences are not asking for interactive as much as they were a couple of years ago,” says Dew. “Then virtually all the clients wanted to see a Twitter wall or voting app on screen. I think they have less of an impact now as people as always on their mobiles.”
Another trend we are seeing right now is for events to have real-time content, but what challenges does producing real-time content pose, and what are the advantages in doing so? “The challenge with real time contents is really focusing on exactly what the customer wants to get out of it, and how they want people to engage with it,” says Platt. “The other challenge is the technology and what technology is available to use for these different applications. Creating real time content does two things; it saves money on rendering time, which is a huge benefit. It also creates content for interactive use and that is where real time content really comes into play.” Real-time content is definitely the new waves says Krieger, “The advantage is that you're not locked into a paradigm of time. As a client you're not buying 60-second spots, you're buying the whole world that is constantly fresh, there's always different. I think the value you get for how much content you get, when you just when you think runtime is phenomenal. The disadvantages are, at this point, you're somewhat constricted in terms of the different aesthetics or different kinds of creative concepts that you could actually execute in this manner. It's not going to replace wholesale linear based. Pre-packaged content but it will augment it substantially.”
Real-time and generative content is relatively new and offers an exciting glimpse into the future of content. “I think it's a paradigm shift because we're starting to see media being created both texturally with traditional images and motion graphics, but we're also starting to be able to adapt to parse very large amounts of data, from databases to create database driven or data driven content and media,” adds Platt. Is knowledge of content generative tools widespread within the AV industry? It doesn’t seem that way; “Is the normal every day-to-day industry aware of it? I think they know that it's there, but it's more in the artistic corner where people are experimenting with it,” says Bucher.
With all these new formats to create content in and platforms to run it on are there enough people out there with the skills to produce this next generation of content? “There are too few people, but I remember the time when video was a real profession, now my eight-year-old daughter is cutting up pieces of video on our tablet and that's a trend you see everywhere,” says Buchner. “When 3D and game engines get bigger they will be taught as a central part of your education and the amount of people using those technology will grow significantly. At the moment you really have to look for specific talent around the world if you need something really special.” Everyone we spoke to admitted it was hard to find the right people as the skills needed were so diverse, but everyone also said they expected this to change pretty quickly.
Gaming engines was a topic that loomed large in all the interviews we conducted, and you may not think they’d have any relevance to the AV market, but they will says Platt. “Gaming engines themselves are implementing a lot more AV features, Unreal for example is a very popular gaming engine developed by Epic Games (the same company that created Fortnite), has been really heavily investing in getting their gaming engine into the AV world. And they've started to integrate a lot more features even inside that gaming engine that that fall over into the AV industry, including a lot of different codec support for traditional video playback within the gaming engine itself. And they're coming into the AV industry like a freight train.”
Something we saw with HD and VR, which is now happening with AR and 4K is that hardware offerings hit the market and then we have a gap of 1-2 years before a range of content is freely available, which stalls adoption of those technologies. Why does this happen? “It's a ‘chicken or the egg?’ thing,” says Krieger. “Until these things are in critical mass there's not really a reason for anyone to be making anything on them. One way to close the gap between manufacturers and content companies could be partnering up earlier in the cycle. Without the hardware there is nothing to run the content on, so the two parties need to be working closer together.”
As said at the start quite often the content is outsourced by an AV integrator to a design or production agency, so what is the state of that particular relationship right now? “Often we get hired directly by an AV company, who is further upstream than we are in the sales process,” says Krieger. “It’s always best to bring in your content partner early, before the canvas has been designed, because it really is about that partnership between the architect, the integrator, and the content maker, and you'd be amazed at what could happen if everyone's talking at the beginning, you're going to have all the solution you never would have thought of before.”