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In Focus: PwC on distribution, video strategy and animation as a communication tool

For this months In Focus edition, we sat down with Alexander Zuver, Director, Creative Video at PwC to discuss how he has seen the role of video evolve over his nearly 20 years at the firm.

As one of the leading professional services firms in the world, how does video interplay with the day-to-day business objectives of PwC and its clients? And why is video such a robust medium through which to convey these key objectives?

Video has the capacity to be a tremendously important medium in any organization, but at PwC, video is an essential way to tell stories and communicate complex ideas in a simple, clear, and repeatable way. In the past, video was used as a supplement to print material. Today, it’s the reverse. We’re digital first and, more than ever, video first.

With the adoption of digital media and video in particular, the challenge has been in determining how stakeholders—both inside and outside the firm—prefer to receive the information we’re trying to convey, and there’s no one way. That means we’ve done as much work producing video as we have optimizing that video’s distribution. In some cases, that means using e-mail. In others, it means leveraging tools that are sort of corporatized versions of Facebook and Twitter. In others still, it’s distributing through YouTube, or leveraging live broadcasts, which have taken an enormous leap forward in recent years. We know that what we do is most powerful when we’re reaching the largest number of eyes.

What distribution networks do you see most success with?

In our personal lives, this is the age of social media, and as much is true within our firm structure where social media has already proven to be an immensely powerful tool. A big part of the calculus within our PwC video team, then, is determining how we can make the most of existing social platforms, while building our own internal platforms that service business or information-sharing needs that are unique to our ecosystem. It’s a real marriage of technical and strategic innovation, and each has to march hand-in-hand if we’re to achieve the holy grail: engagement.  

Animation has often played an important role in the work produced by PwC. Why do you think animation is so compelling across the industries you work with?

Every time we create a video, we’re battling against two distinct but related headwinds: making something that’s intrinsically useful to our staff and clients—our viewers—and, second, making sure those viewers actually watch it. Animation helps us address each issue.

We tend to deal in technical information that can be very dense if not packaged properly, and animation—which allows us to utilize everything from infographics to motion capture technology—provides viewers with a digestible foothold. Of course, that foothold doesn’t mean much unless they’re tuning in, and staying tuned in. In that regard, animation has equipped us with the ability to capture viewers’ attention quickly—within the first few seconds—of a video, and then retain them with stimulating visuals and messaging that doesn’t require sound to glean essential information.

Oh, and when it comes to maximizing engagement, we’ve found that shorter is almost always better.

You’ve been with the firm for a number of years and held various positions within the multimedia and video teams at the company. How has the role, importance and ubiquity of video evolved in that time?

When I first started with the firm, videos were things you rented at Blockbuster. I mean, using that medium to communicate ideas and information within the workplace was just not on the table. As such, my early years with PwC were spent building out our capabilities in print: presentations and proposals. I remember when Flash started taking off, the real connection between technology and creativity dawned on me. My career took a big leap forward with Flash. Then, it went away, and multimedia really gave way to the video business, but it wasn’t overnight.

Over the years, and with the support and trust of thought leaders from all over PwC, we’ve gone from printing flyers to a 360-multimedia approach. I mean, we’re streaming in 4K and experimenting with Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). That evolution never would’ve been possible without a prolonged investment into our video team not just as a resource, but as an intrinsic part of the firm’s success in this information revolution.

You’ve referred to yourself and your team as “intrapreneurs.” What does that mean?

I heard the term “intrapreneur” on the radio, and I thought it was great. In our case, it means we’re an in-house business unit that has the capacity to be, and is encouraged to be, creative and forward-thinking in a way that’s usually most associated with folks who run their own shops or, at the very least, aren’t part of a large organization like PwC. The fact that we’re allowed to function as intrapreneurs is why I’ve been with the same company since 1997. The people I’ve worked with and for at the firm have always looked to bring the most creative ideas forward, and have supported me and my team to be at the cutting edge.

Today, we’re a highly responsive and adaptable in-house agency, complete with a studio team, field producers, animators, and editors. We are the brand experts, we know our clients, and we know the landscape of the firm. Marketers and thought-leaders come to us first, instead of going to an outside agency. We’re the point of origin for all things creative at PwC.

Thanks to the firm’s forward-thinking, we’re allowed to be intrapreneurs, and I like to think that level of freedom and openness has resulted in a pioneering approach that will continue to evolve, because it’s allowed to.

What are you most excited for in 2018 in terms of video in your field?

I’m most excited about honing our video craft, and our approach to video. First, in terms of engagement, I’m excited to continue exploring new distribution technologies and determining how those speak to different viewers in different ways, while growing engagement among all viewers. We’ve found that a multi-platform approach is paramount to achieving content stickiness, and we must keep honing ours.

Second, I’m excited to continue working with our invaluable agency partners outside of PwC who allow us to scale at a rate that’s so important in this rapidly changing landscape.

Last, I think VR, AR, 3D, drones, and an enhanced concentration on livestreaming will provide us with game-changing tools for reaching our audience. Our challenge in that realm is determining how to make the best use of those tools, about being strategic in how we deploy them. For instance, a traditional interview isn’t something we need to watch in virtual reality, while the impact of a docu-segment on a day in the life of a PwC employee might be elevated into a different orbit because of that very same technology.  

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In Focus: BBC.com on Developing Global Multimedia Content

For our latest story in our In Focus series, we spoke with Dan John, a Multimedia Producer for the BBC.com Features sites at on how his team creates unique, cross-platform video content, his career evolution from Public Relations to Editorial, and how to scale video for global audiences.

Tell us about how you and your team sit within the larger BBC organization and interplay with the various departments?

I work as a multimedia producer for the BBC.com Features sites, which include BBC Culture, BBC Future, BBC Capital, and BBC Travel—we produce content specifically for an international audience.

 I currently sit within a small in-house multimedia unit that has a few members based in London and a few in New York. Since joining the BBC, I have predominantly worked with the BBC Cultural editorial team as their lead on video content. Having members of the multimedia unit working closely within the editorial teams of the features sites has enabled us to not only become more reactive, but has also helped in developing both a stronger video strategy across BBC.com, and understanding the tone of videos that appeal most to the different audiences we attract.

 We also work closely with the BBC World News channel, where we have produced content from review segments from the Cannes Film Festival to a series on photography, that both ran online and were broadcast on the TV channel. More and more, we are developing a two-way relationship between the website and TV channel to try and make the most of the content being produced so that it works effectively across markedly different platforms.

 

With a focus on building and catering to a global audience, how do you configure your team on the ground in London and around the world, to ensure a broad spectrum of relevant content, but also production support?

 For the BBC.com features teams, catering for a global audience is one of our most important editorial focuses and challenges.

 As a part of the in-house team in London, this can be a challenge. I produce, shoot, and edit video content regularly, and although I have had opportunities to travel, a lot of what I produce is shot in the UK. In these instances it’s key to ensure that the story itself is relatable to global audiences, or can be built with other global elements to broaden the story from a purely UK focus. If the video does have a UK focus, it is often looking at  a story that’s new and intriguing for an international audience.

 Another way we are telling compelling global stories is by growing an international network of video journalists. It’s often the case that the most insightful video stories can be captured by video journalists who fully understand the culture and communities they are filming within. his network’s growth combined with the connections and reputation the BBC has as an organization is liberating— and means that we can tell any story without feeling limited by geography.      

 

Unlike a number of your colleagues who have had careers in journalism, you began your career working in PR, working directly with brands (and the London Zoo!). How does that experience interplay with your work at the BBC?

 Over the years, as my career moved towards editorial and journalism, I’ve found that my background in PR, and having previously worked closely with marketing teams, has become more useful.

 As the digital advertising world has evolved in recent years, commercially funded publishers are having to redefine how they generate that funding. In a world where ad-funded content is becoming increasingly important, having an understanding of working with brands is more and more essential. At BBC.com, the editorial teams work closely with the sales teams to create editorial ideas and series concepts that will attract sponsorship from brands. For us the story is always most important, and the BBC has high editorial standards that will never change. However, understanding the type of stories, topics, look, and feel of video content that will appeal to various brands, and breaking down the barriers that often form between editorial and sales teams is important. Starting my career from a commercial background has helped me adapt quickly.  

 

How has the use of video been approached historically across BBC.com, and is that continuing to evolve in 2018?

 Video is becoming an important focus across BBC.com, and its evolution will be very exciting in 2018.

 Whereas online video in the past was seen as just one part of what we offered our audiences, this year there is a real drive to make BBC.com a go-to destination for ground-breaking, innovative video.

 As mentioned, thinking across platforms is more important than ever. eb-first content needs to be mobile friendly and work across our multiple social media platforms, whilst having the potential to be broadcast on television. We’re also developing ways to re-work television content so it works for the way in which web and social audiences consume video content online.

 BBC.com is scaling up its video output this year— especially amongst the features teams,moving away from stand-alone, one-off video pieces and towards series formats that will create consistent, recognizable content to engage audiences.

 We’re excited for big changes, which will be announced later this year, to shape how audiences encounter and experience our video content on the BBC.com site. It’s an interesting time to be involved in video at the BBC right now, so watch this space!

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In Focus: Fast Company + Inc. on the rise of Social Video

For the latest edition of our In Focus series, we sat down with Chris Allen – the Director of Social Video at Fast Company + Inc to talk about the rise of video for social platforms, his career evolution from large format reality television to social and how to stand out in a crowded market.

Over the past year, you have greatly scaled the video output for Fast Company. As a publisher making big inroads into video, what is the largest lesson you’ve gleaned over the last 12 months?

Over time, we’ve expanded the type of stories we want to tell and how to best tell them, while incorporating Fast Company’s brand voice and its focus, which is “the future of progressive business and innovation.” An important thing we’ve learned is that we don’t have to be singular in the way we tell stories. Part of the excitement of creating digital content is the opportunity for experimentation. We have the chance to truly be creative, as well as try different styles and approaches; some of them have really worked while others have not.

With each success and failure you learn something new, whether that’s about your audience, the ever-changing digital landscape, or the brand itself. Sometimes something you put your heart and soul into doesn’t do as well as you’d hoped while another unassuming piece takes off, and people connect with it. You have to be cognizant of what’s working for the brand while also not being afraid of experimentation— some of the most successful ideas come out of it. I believe great storytelling and a strong editorial voice will always make a brand stand out and truly connect with an audience.

Your career has taken you from large reality TV formats, such as “The X Factor” in the UK, to now overseeing social video strategy in the US. Tell us about this transition, and what crossover you have you seen in terms of the skills that are needed.

I was working in reality TV for about 10 years before making the decision to fully transition into digital, and the shift was actually not as smooth as I thought it would be. Although TV is adapting to the new ways it’s being consumed, it’s a rigid medium in that many of the shows I worked on are heavily formatted and left little room for creativity.

Moving into digital video content was almost overwhelming because the industry is so oversaturated, and there’s an abundance of great content that can be intimidating. Asking the question, “how are we going to stand out?” is daunting if you think about it too much. However, trying to answer that question allows us to be truly creative and original in the way we think about video content. We’re not tied to strict formats, and the industry is constantly adapting and changing, which means we have to do the same. You’re never doing the same thing for too long, which is both challenging and exciting.

I feel like I have the opportunity to truly think beyond what we’re doing right now, to think about how digital video is evolving and how we can evolve with it.

You’re overseeing Fast Company and Inc’s social video strategy—what is the current strategy for both brands across platforms, and how does it interplay with your editorial team’s focus?

Overseeing the social video strategy for both brands has been another exciting challenge. Not only do I have to think about two brands and their unique voices, I also have to think about how we can reach new audiences that may not be aware of these brands. They both look at the world through different lenses: Inc embodies entrepreneurial grit, while Fast Company embodies world-changing ideas. There are so many incredibly diverse and interesting stories out there that are waiting to be told, and fit within either brand. My job is to think about how we tell those stories differently, and how we create content that makes a real impact on people.

We want to be informative and entertaining, but we also want people to feel like they’re part of an active community of thought-leaders and game-changers—the best way to build community is through social platforms. As media brands that started in print before moving into digital, we haven’t focused as much on creating content for social platforms as we are now. The industry is constantly changing; we need to diversify in order to continue growing and to foster the community we’re building. We are focusing more on YouTube starting in March or April. That’s been a huge shift in our creative direction and process. The video team works across both brands and is relatively small for the amount of content we create. However, we have some incredibly talented and passionate people.

It’s been great to really take a moment to think about what we should be doing and what direction we should be heading in. That’s given everyone the chance to be creative and be excited about our future content. We’re fully integrated with the editorial team—a number of writers and editors are often featured in videos, which helps strengthen the voices of both brands for video. Ultimately, we want Fast Company and Inc’s video content to translate the brands, rather than just transcribe them.

What piece are you most proud to have worked on?

It’s difficult to choose just one as our content is so diverse. We create experiential videos like the one we did on the company Tentrr, an office-based comedy series that once featured “Sesame Street” muppets, product testing videos, and more. We recently produced a series called “A Better Me,” which focuses on self improvement—and is closest in style to my television background.

My favorite piece might be our video about Ichiran Ramen in Brooklyn. I loved the company’s story, as well as the idea of making public solitary dining more socially acceptable and less anxiety inducing. I enjoy taking an idea that doesn’t seem like it fits within Fast Company or Inc’s wheelhouse, and identifying an angle that no one else has hit that is uniquely us.

The thing I love most about creating digital content is how shareable it is. When working in TV, people may have posted something on social media or discussed an episode the next day, but it’s reactive. With the content we’re creating, someone may watch a video, and share it instantly with a friend or family member. They can take a few minutes to watch it and have a real connection with one another in that moment. People love to discover something new or interesting, and to share it with somebody else; that’s why I’m excited about this next chapter for both brands.  

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In Focus: Litton Entertainment on 30 Years of Global and Digital Programming

Litton Entertainment has been in business since the late 80s, producing hours of award-winning programming that is watched across the globe. We sat down with this Telly Award-winning company, to get a snap shot of how their business has changed in that time and what core values have remained unchanged since 1989.

Founded in 1989, Litton has been in business for nearly 30 years. How have you seen the industry change in that time?

There has been so much change, from three or four networks to thousands of platforms. Digital is a game changer in terms of people being free to chart their own course, and watch what they want and when. However, great shows still reign!

Litton develops over 800 hours of award-winning programming for its ten television networks and hundreds of television station partners. What sort of content is being produced and for what platforms? How did this change with the rise of digital?

As of January, we have increased the number of networks to eleven with the recent addition of our new block on Telemundo, titled “Mi Telemundo”. Litton also syndicates a variety of educational, entertainment, and news programming in partnership with the major station groups and newsrooms. We distribute our programs on a myriad of digital platforms—our goal is to provide high quality content around the globe 24/7.

Working with major networks, both domestically and internationally, have you seen certain programming performing differently in varied markets?

Our programming is designed to be inclusive for a co-viewing audience. Litton’s series are the great equalizer as everyone seeks knowledge and perspective. The stories we tell are experiences that are relatable to everyone; all continents, all seasons, all of the time.

Litton Entertainment has been at the forefront of television innovation, (you were the first producer in the United States to roll out audio description in all of your network programs). What innovations do you see as impacting the industry in 2018?

Our mission has always been to lead in making quality programming accessible to all audiences. We just launched Telemundo’s “Mi Telemundo,” three hours every week of E/I programs, and our shows are fully translated in LAS—the first effort of this magnitude. In 2018, we will continue to take the lead in expanding the reach of our shows!

At the Telly Awards, we have always celebrated animation and its innovative use across our industry. Animation has grown exponentially over the last two years, so to further spotlight this dynamic work, we’ve curated our Top 8 Animation Picks from the inspiring Stash Magazine collection, an online library where industry leaders showcase the best of their work. Spend some time with our reel above:

Our partners at Stash are offering the Telly community exclusive rates to access it’s entire collection until Sunday, February 28th. Click here to access an exclusive discount on either the Personal or Corporate subscriptions, and other major perks. 

Feeling inspired by the work? 

Submit your best work to our animation categories, including the brand new 2D & 3D Animation, Character Design, and Title Design categories before our Final Deadline on March 2, 2018! 

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In Focus: CNN’s Great Big Story on Producing and Scaling “Micro-Docs”

Courtney Chapman Coupe

Vice President of Content, Great Big Story

We sat down with Courtney Chapman Coupe, VP of Content at Great Big Story to talk “micro-docs”, scaling producing and the international appeal of Pac-Man. Over the last 13 years, Courtney has run the gamut across the media landscape. She’s seen the underbelly of broadcast television, donning a navy blue suit as an NBC page and setting her alarm for 2:37am (to be exact) at Good Morning America, before launching digital video initiatives at ABC News and Bloomberg. Her work covering the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009 for ABC News earned her a News and Documentary Emmy Award – and she’s received two Emmy nominees for Outstanding Live Coverage of a Current News Story (Vote 2010) and New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming: Current News Coverage (ABCNews.com – Target bin Laden: The Death and Life of Public Enemy #1, 2011).

What is the origin story of GBS, and what gaps were present when you stepped into the market?

When Great Big Story launched in October 2015, we had this clear vision for what we wanted to produce and it surrounded short form, high quality non-fiction video that wasn’t tied to the news cycle. The digital video market was already crowded with copycat productions and everything felt so similar in terms of subject matter and style, so we needed a differentiating factor. For us that was quality. We knew there were incredible people doing extraordinary things, in a world that seemingly feels dark and scary everywhere you look. The “micro doc” format was perfect for us to develop a voice that resonated with people in a positive way and made us realize, “hey, the world is smaller than we really thought.”

Since then, we’ve made more than 1,600 stories and traveled to +85 countries worldwide.

Your viewership is both millennial and international. Have you seen that specific types and/or tones of stories perform best in specific markets?

It’s very interesting to see how overtones from our work can transcend borders. Humanity is full of compelling people and we see the positive, uplifting responses to their stories on every platform on which we publish. People can relate to character-driven stories in which the hero overcomes a trying challenge, whether it’s personal, societal or otherwise.

We produced a piece about the Pac-Man Champion, a gamer who made headlines in 1999, and it took off in the Nordics—of all places. What’s interesting about that video is that you don’t have to be a fan of Pac-Man to enjoy the story. We were able to uncover a quirky character that defied the standards of gaming culture and accomplished something no one in any arcade was able to accomplish before him.

You can be an urban-based millennial, who grew up around 90’s arcades, and is riddled with college debt and enjoy this piece, or you can be a 55-year old single parent from Sweden and find just as much enjoyment. Great storytelling has no limits on who it can impact, and that’s what we love so much about the videos we make.

 On a daily basis, Great Big Story posts an abundance of work that is consistently diverse and engaging.  Can you walk us through the production process that allows such a scalable output?

I like to think of our editorial staff as Swiss Army Knives. Really, there isn’t much they can’t do, and every week they have a handful of stories moving through different phases of production to keep the wheels churning (and the lights on). Initially, we wanted to be a machine that churned out upwards of 10 stories daily, but we realized the emphasis should be on quality, not quantity; that’s what led us to publish 2-3 pieces Monday through Friday. It’s the perfect amount because we’re not pushed against a quota and can dedicate the time we need to make every piece the best we can possibly create.

One of the biggest lessons we preach across the office is curiosity. Each video starts with an idea our producers can’t let go of. They want to “rabbit hole” down the web to find out as much as they possibly can about that topic. They then realize there’s a “surprise” element waiting to be unveiled, and that helps them craft stories in ways our audience will find intriguing and exciting. It’s impressive how well our producers execute on their visions and the wonder they uncover at the end of the day.   

We only have about 20 full-time producers on staff, so when you look at the collective output and variety of stories they’re able to find, it’s amazing. Some may think we’re a massive production house, but in reality, we’re a scrappy group that, in many ways, mirrors the audience that comprises our following (not just in age range, but in beliefs, perspectives ideals, etc.)

What can we expect from Great Big Story in 2018?

As a startup, we’re pretty lucky to be in the position we’re in, and 2018 is shaping up to be yet another strong year of growth and development. We want to continue pushing the boundaries our storytellers explore—both in terms of subject matter and stylistic treatment. It’s our goal to make every piece of content as visually engaging as possible. Some micro docs will turn into series, others will become long form content, but what we’re most excited about is strengthening the connections we have with fans. Offering a touch-and-feel experience outside the digital realm will go a long way for this company. We’re excited to see how events can transform our stories into real life settings, as a part of being accessible to followers and offering them more than just a moving picture on screen.

For this month’s In Focus interview, we are so excited to profile a company that has pioneered animated storytelling since 1987: Passion Pictures. Founded while producing Steven Spielberg’s, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Passion has created the animated identity of some of the most notable brands, including the animated band the Gorillaz.

As the holidays approach, we sat down with Passion to discuss its legacy, how the animation field has evolved, and their renowned animated Christmas commercials crafted for major brands in the UK and beyond. Above you can watch their latest holiday animation for brand Very.


Passion Pictures has been at the forefront of animation since the 1980s. How has the industry changed over the years and how has that affected the work you create?

Passion began in 1987, with our founder Andrew Ruhemann producing the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit for Steven Spielberg. This set the standard for Passion’s values going forward for the next 30 years…to connect and inspire through the moving image.

At the heart of that has always been storytelling. Over the years, we have seen the kinds of films and adverts that brands are looking for change, but what we do has always stayed in demand.

Nowadays, the industry is a very different place. When we got started, agencies did what agencies did. They were the bridge between clients and production companies. That’s not always the case any more; we can’t function within those constraints because the market has changed and the lines are blurring.

A number of your award winning pieces are animated commercials – why do you feel that this medium works so well to convey a brand’s message?

Animation occupies a special place in people’s hearts that goes back to childhood. It’s easy to project yourself into an animated character, easier than it might be to relate to a live action film.

Character and storytelling have always been the foundation of what we do. With animation you get to fully explore a character’s development, through their physicality all the way to tiny ticks and nuances, until they’re the absolute right vessel for the story. Several of our films have emotional or moving storylines; it’s the characters that bring them together and give audiences someone to relate to.

Passion is also well known for its work with the Gorillaz whose animated music videos are synonymous with their brand. How did this collaboration come about?

We were working on a commercial with Jamie Hewlett for Virgin Cola, and he mentioned that he and his “flatmate” were interested in starting an animated band. He then mentioned that his “flatmate” was Damon Albarn, so we said, “Where do we sign?!”

We started working very traditionally on the videos: drawing in pencil, photographing the paper and scanning it in. With each iteration of the band—new videos and new albums—things have progressed, so much so that their latest video was a VR experience for Google Daydream, which went on to be the biggest VR Launch YouTube has ever had!

Passion is not only known for its Animation Studios, but is also highly regarded in the film/documentary world through Passion Pictures and Passion Planet. In this age of content ubiquity, how important is it for production companies to diversify across mediums?

As a business, it’s always important to grow, but we have never diversified for the sake of diversification. It has always been about where we can grow and tell our stories in the best way, through the best medium. We have expanded into feature documentaries, television series, live action, gaming and VR, but it has always been about finding the right home for the right story, with the right people.

What do you see for the future of the Animation industry?

As the industry grows and changes, it’s easy to become scared by the blurring boundaries. However, we’ll continue doing what we do because there will always be a real demand for great stories and characters, whether that be a 30 second commercial or a 90 minute feature. One of the biggest changes is actually that we don’t think in those terms anymore; projects are now all about the story and finding the right way to tell it.

We’ve stayed independent for 30 years and we’re well prepared for the next 30.