Virtual And Other Realities At The CMW Digital Media Summit

One of the themes of the afternoon sessions of the Digital Media Summit (held as part of Canadian Music Week) was the impending arrival of a variety of VR (Virtual Reality) experiences.

Secret Location, the Toronto-based agency that won an Emmy for their Sleepy Hollow VR experience, shared some of the struggles they face designing for a medium so new that there are few, if any, established conventions.

Although VR has come in for a bad rap of late, with some suggesting it may be permanently doomed, the Secret Location presenters were quick to point out that with any new medium there are growing pains. Our current cinematic experience didn’t arrive fully formed, and today’s VR experiences are the equivalent of the Lumiere Brothers’ 1896 film of a train pulling into a station (which was just that – a film of a train pulling into a station.)

VR was also the topic of John Textor’s presentation, along with Augmented Reality (AR). Textor is the man responsible for resurrecting Tupac and Michael Jackson for the 2012 Coachella Festival and 2014 Billboard Music Awards respectively.

Textor believes that, as the technology improves and VR representations become more realistic, we may be willing to spend long periods of time outside of traditional reality, but for now, it’s too disorienting and not sociable enough. AR, on the other hand, will soon be ubiquitous, with holographic representations migrating from the realm of dead pop stars to take on more traditional roles like teacher and assistant (think Siri with a body).

The afternoon was rounded out by two very different sessions.

The first was Jeffrey Hayzlett, extremely entertaining if somewhat overwhelming (he shouted non-stop for almost an hour on the topic of ‘Think Big, Act Bigger,’ and I was in the front row). Challenging the current rhetoric of ‘Fail fast’ with the bold declaration ‘Failing’s for losers,’ his presentation focused on five reasons organizations fail, supported with a diverse array of anecdotes from corporate America.

If a white male business executive telling you how to succeed is not your thing, the session on Youtube and Branded Content may be more so. Sara Lynn Cauchon and Jasmeet Singh, both Youtube stars, shared their behind-the-scenes secrets on everything from how much money they make ($5,000-$30,000 per video in partnership payments), how they choose their partners (alignment between partner and personal brands), and how many partnership offers they receive in a day (three or more).

Both Cauchon and Singh stressed the importance of integrating partnered content in a way that creates curiosity around an idea or experience, rather than simply ‘advertising’ a brand.  They enjoy a particularly intimate relationship with their audiences, and are loathe to do anything that jeopardizes the authenticity of that relationship.

All the sessions were exciting in different ways.  Both the young upstarts (Secret Location, Youtubers) and the older veterans (John Textor, Jeffrey Hayzlett) generously shared their knowledge and experience, and I left more curious than ever about our digital future.  



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