In Focus

In Focus: Branding Shorts on the power of short form video for brands

Our season may be over, but our In Focus Series continuesThis month, we sat down with Micki and Tony, co-founders of production company, Branding Shorts. Read below to hear how they begun their own company after years of working on Madison Avenue, their guiding company principles and what’s in store for later this year.

Branding Shorts was founded on the idea that short branded films are a powerful marketing tool. What had you seen in your previous careers that led you to have such a strong belief in short form video?

We are a married couple and advertising/marketing veterans, who in our previous careers, saw a need in the market for short, branded videos that could help businesses grow.

MICKI: As a movie lover, I really believe video is one of the most powerful mediums to engage, to move, to deliver a message, to create impact, and to seed change. In my past life as a Madison Avenue SVP Creative Director, developing global campaigns for Coca Cola, P&G and many others, creating 30 second “movies,” illustrated how a good story with a strong emotional hook could have a positive effect on a brand, its employees, and audience. For example, one of my ad accounts was P&G’s Scope Mouthwash–at the time it was a dry brand that focused on the negative (bad breath), but when our team repositioned the creative, we changed the emphasis to the positive with a unique selling proposition in the form of mini romantic comedies that culminated in a kiss. It was a successful campaign that had a positive impact on the brand’s bottom line.   

In my many years as a Madison Avenue creative, working on the biggest brands in the world, was good training to create solid creative, beginning with a human insight or truism about a target audience and finding a message that connected with them. With only thirty seconds, every scene has a purpose. There’s no room for fluff.

TONY: I’ve worked for some of the largest companies in the world including American Express in marketing and business development roles. In my roles, I always ended up creating an opportunity to write and produce videos to help accomplish business objectives. And the reactions or results for the videos were always beyond expectations. Seeing these results led me to believe in the power of short form videos to help connect, engage, persuade, and drive the behavior of audiences for any business or organization.

Today, Branding Shorts produces videos for companies across the country; from local businesses to national brands and organizations like American Express, Rockefeller, the American Cancer Society, Pilgrim’s, Celgene, Lawry’s the Prime Rib and many more. We are honored to be recipients of 24 industry awards, including 12 Telly Awards. We are equally honored to be selected as Judges for the Telly Awards.

You are some key principles that guide your business? Could you share a couple of them and how you came about creating these?

When we first started Branding Shorts in 2008, we were applying what we knew from our big brand Advertising/Marketing experience to our videos. But as we grew, creating videos for local and national brands with teams across the country, we needed to outline some guiding principles to keep us and our teams unified in approach. Here are a few:

1) Begin with the end in mind. We start out by listening. Asking questions. What does the client want the end result to be? What do they want the video to accomplish? What action do they want the audience to take? Taking sufficient time up front to figure out the end result will prevent issues down the road. One advantage of being a smaller agency is our ability to adapt quickly and move nimbly, especially if a client makes a shift in the middle of a project. When you’re a much larger agency that’s sometimes difficult.

2) Authenticity. Even though videos are often used to promote a cause or business we never want the audience feel they are being sold to. We want to engage them and create an emotional connection. We want the folks speaking in our videos to be genuine. Speak from their heart.  We work a lot with real people and developed a few techniques that help them to open up and shine, including some Tony learned from training at Chicago’s Second City Theater.

3) Message-driven creative. Since we take videos from creative to production, we are strategic in our approach and pride ourselves in developing bullet-proof creative. Which means we start with a strategy, work with our clients to find the single most important key message and develop a script or outline that carries that message, making sure every scene is to push that message forward.

4) Cost-effective execution. Regardless of the size of a company or budget, we offer creative solutions to create a compelling video. Before we begin production, we plan up front what the client might want to use the footage for down the road. Planning this enables us to maximize the shoot day, accommodating for future videos. We also have a patented product called Branding Shorts Express, which allows anyone, anywhere to upload content through our website portal, pick a soundtrack, and get a professional video created from their content by an experienced editor.  

Whether it’s a small or large client, we find a way to creatively tell a story within a client’s budget.

For example, a small men’s underwear company (Melangefit) came to us with an assignment to create a social media series of videos around their men’s underwear line. But they had a very small budget. So, we got creative and developed a big idea for their various needs (sports, business, leisure) and a campaign hook: “He’s got a pair.” Using stock footage, music and product photos, we created a fun, memorable campaign. In fact, we extended the idea for a holiday promo using Santa “has a pair” which won a 2019 Telly Award.   

When kicking off a new project with a client, how do you help them to marry/translate their brand needs with a compelling video story?

Before diving into a project, we set up time with our client to go over what we call our “Creative Development Questions” which helps us align on the video’s purpose, target audience insights, desired response, and brand message. From there, we create a script which weaves the message into a compelling story especially crafted for a specified target audience. Even though we develop a pretty tight script, we do leave room for spontaneity and “magic nuggets.” We build this blueprint to make sure we’re all on the same “page” before production. In my ad agency days, we used to say we don’t want to go to the “how come” meeting. It’s about starting with bullet proof creative that’s on message and begins with the end in mind.

Here at The Telly Awards, we have seen a consistent and substantial increase in the quality and quantity of branded content entries. What are your thoughts as to why more and more brands are turning to this medium to share their brand stories?

We think there are a few reasons. First it’s more economical than ever before to create polished, professional video. In the past, it would take a full crew and post production houses to make a professional video. A very costly endeavor. Today, with digital cameras, gear, and affordable editing software, just about any business can have their own video without breaking the bank.

The avenues to showcase videos continue to grow as technology evolves. It’s not the old days where people just watch ads on their TV.  In today’s mobile world they’re also on their phones, laptops, tablets, in addition to taxi screens, ferry boats, at trade shows, and so many more places.

As we often tell our clients, “nobody has an attention span anymore.” So you need to engage them quickly. And what better way then a medium like short videos that can not just be watched but easily shared. In fact, we have seen a stat that over 90% of people who watch a video on their phone share that video with others.

Having said that, we see a lot of work that’s beautifully shot and edited, but without a relevant story or message—the most important element for a video is to drive results. Story with a message. Told in the most visually economically way, where every scene drives the message forward in a compelling way.   

What’s coming up for Branding Shorts this year?

One of the things we’re looking to this year is producing original content. We have a number of intellectual properties we plan to start developing in the coming year, and are currently seeking partnerships to kick off production.

We’ll also continue to leverage our strategically based crews in cities across the country like Chicago, NYC, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, etc. to provide our clients with a national footprint and ability to create powerful videos economically.

And we’ll continue use the power of video to help causes local and national to raise awareness and funds. Whether it’s Pet Rescue organizations, the American Cancer Society, or local issues, we’ll use our resources to help make a difference.

So it will be a very busy and fruitful year ahead.

In Focus

In Focus: Autodesk on their storytelling platform, Redshift

Autodesk makes software for people who make things. If you’ve ever driven a high-performance car, admired a towering skyscraper, used a smartphone, or watched a great film, chances are you’ve experienced what millions of Autodesk customers are doing with our software. We sat down with Shveta Berry and Andy Westhoff to find out more Autodesk’s video strategy, their storytelling platform Redshift and how to maintain editorial integrity alongside business objectives. 

Shveta grew up on a steady diet of books and Bollywood film which ultimately led her to a career in producing television shows and content for networks like TLC, National Geographic, HGTV, and the Cartoon Network. She feels lucky to have escaped the impact of Nielsen ratings to create video at Autodesk.

After spending his childhood creating art and studying filmmaking, Andy pursued a BFA in film from The Academy of Art University in San Francisco. His passion is telling highly cinematic, human driven stories, with an emotional punch.

Shveta and Andy currently create videos that promote Autodesk brand awareness and affinity through their award-winning digital publication Redshift and the Autodesk social channels.

What is the day-to-day mission of your team at Autodesk and how does your editorial platform Redshift fit into this?

Andy and I are part of the Brand and Impact team at Autodesk. A big focus of our team is to increase awareness and affinity for the Autodesk brand. Redshift is our premier owned-media channel and storytelling destination for the future of making, engaging professionals in the industries relevant to Autodesk: construction, manufacturing, architecture, infrastructure, engineering, and design. We find that over half the audience that visits Redshift is completely new to the Autodesk universe, so we see the publication as a vehicle to reach our future customers.

Many of us in the video community know of Autodesk for your work in M&E, notably Maya. Tell us a little more about your reach outside of the media and entertainment industries?

 Autodesk’s tag line is “Make Anything.” We have over 100 different software offerings that serve the manufacturing, architecture, construction, engineering, design, and media and entertainment industries. Our flagship product, AutoCAD, is an industry standard for architecture. Looking toward the future, the company is focused on expanding in the construction and manufacturing industries. Our broad mission as a company is to help our customers design and make a better future that is more sustainable.

As a relatively new team, how did you ideate the creation of formats from the ground up for the series and pieces you produce?

A few of our series, such as “Inside My Design Mind” and “The Real Life,” have been long running as written pieces, and it has been fun for us to translate those to video. Many of our other pieces are more so one-offs simply because the stories we tell are so unique. When we are first presented an idea, we generally are always looking for the human element as well as the 50,000-foot view. Generally, our approach is that a story has to appeal and matter to anyone that watches it—not just the professionals in the industry that is featured.

Marketing Autodesk as a whole is an implicit piece of your video strategy. How do you balance editorial integrity and the business objectives within the work you create?

The most important thing to remember is that a compelling story always wins. We work with our industry partners early in pre-production to understand their goals and craft a thoughtful question list. But from there, we let the story speak for itself. We never put words in the mouths of the customers we feature. Sometimes the story shifts slightly during production, and we give it the space to do that. We want to tell the story that is there, not fabricate one to promote company objectives. That gives our work authenticity, which is paramount.

In Focus

In Focus: The-Artery on building a multidisciplinary creative studio

We sat down with Telly-winning Vico Sharabani, Founder and CCO of Telly-winning creative production and design studio, The-Artery.  In his 25 years servicing the advertising and entertainment industries, Vico has worked with companies including Nike, Samsung and AT&T, created effects for projects including The Grand Budapest Hotel, Oceans 8 and Beasts of No Nation and been involved with music videos from Beyoncé to Coldplay. 

Excited to count him and the team among Telly Award Winners!

What is the origin story for The-Artery?

Early on in my career, I was asked a question that came to define the philosophy behind my professional life. The question was whether I was an artist or a technician, as if the two were mutually exclusive. To me, the two are intrinsically connected, and neither is powerful enough if it lacks the other. As my career developed, I always operated from a place of combining artistry and technical innovation within an intentional and informed business structure.

When I started The-Artery, the fundamental mission was to build a home for multidisciplinary artists like myself; we literally built the company around the word “ART” (see our logo). Not only did The-Artery provide a supportive space for people who shared my interdisciplinary approach, it created a work environment that thrived off of  the collaboration and innovation that are nurtured by bringing together individuals interested in everything from production to branding and technology, and from mobile to experiential—people driven not only by their skill sets, but by curiosity and creativity.

What are the major changes you have seen in the industry over the past two years and how has The-Artery adapted to them?

What has been fascinating and encouraging to watch is the trend towards the model we have implemented at The-Artery from its founding. The industry seems to be catching on to the fact that a multidisciplinary approach is both a fun way to engage with this kind of work, and an extremely effective, adaptive, and successful model. This realization is occurring at all levels of the industry, from newcomers to veterans—think, Sir Martin Sorell’s acquisition of MediaMonks. The industry is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits in implementing a multidisciplinary approach. So, in that sense, we are in the privileged position of watching the industry adapt towards us rather than the other way around.

When you are hiring new talent to join your team, what attributes are you looking for?

The core thing we look for in a team member is the skill set and mind set to successfully cross-pollinate across disciplines. Instead of seeking experts that are limited to singular fields. The success of The-Artery lies in a team of multidisciplinary visionaries and innovators who are interested in crafting at a very high level. For example, our EP/MD Deborah Sullivan, brings an enormously successful, long, and varied career to the table, with the experience and understanding of how things work at every stage of their development, Similarly, our creative technologist Gal Eldar, comes from a background in Ancient Greek and philosophy, mixed in with computer science and a strong intuitive sense for the industry. At The-Artery, our goal is to synthesize these incredibly opposing but mutually-beneficial backgrounds such that each client and project gets a 360 degree scope of expertise, creativity, and perspective.

Your areas of expertise as a company keep growing, most recently with the addition of web design. In light of your award winning site, what areas do you envisage expanding into over the next years?

The way that we envision our continued expansion and growth is two-fold. We are confident in the first set of tools and capabilities that we have developed. However, in the coming years, we plan to expand firstly in the activity within each of the verticals that we have already developed (production, branding, design, visual effects) through more volume and innovation, and secondly, to explore technology, data and media as additional capabilities through different partnerships and investments. We are also looking into geographical expansion, and are currently in conversation with a large organization regarding investment towards these ends.

In Focus

In Focus: Ranger & Fox on Motion Graphics

We sat down with Telly Award Winner, Brett Morris, Creative Director and founding partner of the motion design studio – Ranger & Fox. Self-taught in motion design after formal studies in film, Brett honed his craft of motion design while working across film, broadcast and commercial work in his home of Sydney for various production houses and broadcasters. Now based in Los Angeles, Brett partnered with Steve Panicara to create their dream studio, specializing in discovery, strategy and visual communication. 

What is the origin story of Ranger & Fox?

Steve Panicara and I started the business at the beginning of 2017, however the origin of our relationship goes back a few more years than that. I’m originally from Sydney, Australia and in 2011 design studio Capacity tapped me to join their team in Los Angeles, which was where Steve and I first met. Over the next five years at Capacity we pushed each other creatively and technically while directing and leading the team at the studio. We had aspirations to build something of our own and starting a business together was a natural step in the creative partnership we had forged.

What technical advancements over the past decade have impacted the motion design industry?

As we are a 3D studio and our pipeline has dramatically changed with the introduction of GPU accelerated graphics cards and third-party GPU renderers. Initially, we adopted Octane which was essentially the first production GPU ray tracing renderer, it allowed us to increase our production value by having near real-time feedback in look development and dramatically reduced the time spent rendering shots through the pipeline. Over the years since the introduction of GPU rendering new competitors have entered the space, each one with their own outlook and perspective on how they approach rendering and we’ve ended up using RedShift as our go-to renderer for the integration and memory management we benefit from.

You won a Telly Award for your playful Emoji Manifesto piece. How did this project come about?

We’ve entered into a very competitive market and since we’re a young studio, we don’t have a huge body a work to show under the Ranger & Fox banner. Both Steve and I have extensive experience across a pretty wide range of projects and clients yet our biggest challenge in starting the company has been to be able to show the world what we’re capable of. Our solution is simply creating the type of work we want to be doing. The emoji project embodies a lot of the qualities we want to be known for, a concept that leans on a great design, with considered typography and technically challenging 3D that all boils down into something visually interesting that makes you smile. We’ve always got a handful of ideas on the boilerplate and as soon as we have a gap in our schedule, we focus all of our energy into an internal project like the Emoji Manifesto. Since the project released we’ve followed that up with an ode to Los Angeles’ traffic issues called ‘Carmageddon’, which we hope to enter into the Telly’s next year.

What’s coming up for you over and Ranger & Fox in 2018-2019?

2018 has already been a really great year for us. Along with snagging a handful of Telly’s, we’ve also added some really great clients onto our roster including the UFC, HP, and Paramount Pictures. We’re currently deep into a large project with a director we absolutely adore and hope to have the piece live in the wild in the fall. As we look beyond, we’d like to continue building our client roster, present more services and capabilities through new work and keep growing the studio with new personnel and an expanded pipeline.

In Focus

In Focus: Yankees Productions on Sports Video & Fan Engagement

Our latest In Focus interview features a sports team that is captivating fans’ hearts (and eyes) both online and off: the New York Yankees. We spoke with the team about using video to engage fans throughout every step of the game, and crafting quick, relatable content.  

What is your overall video strategy and how does it serve your needs across fan engagement, marketing, and game capture? How do distribution platforms interplay with this?

Our overall strategy is to give fans an in-depth look at and knowledge of the New York Yankees, both on and off the field. One of our goals is to display the players’ personalities and humanize their larger than life personas, in order to foster a strong bond between the team and fan base.

For the in-stadium experience, we aim to provide an intimate interaction. Video board content helps set the tone of the fans’ game day experience from the time they enter the building hours before first pitch, until the final out is made. Players’ intensity is displayed through dramatic and energetic hype videos, and their humanity is portrayed through light-hearted inning break features.

We hope that the game day show experience motivates fans to seek out more unique content via our social and web channels. Our social and web footprint is the largest among MLB teams, and provides an in-depth experience with long-form content such as player documentaries, as well as short-form content like game and event recaps. Our varied content provides something for every demographic among our fan base—from the New York Yankees history, statistical breakdowns, on and off-field events, player and alumni interviews, to humorous player promos.

Previously, the relationship between teams/players and fans was controlled by third party media—now players create original content on and off season. How has this shift altered the fan/player relationship, and your internal production teams?

We have embraced this new shift in the fan/player relationship, and have created varied content to celebrate this new channel of conversation in our in-game entertainment as well as our web and social voices.

Technologies that impact sports video (data visualization, AR, VR graphics, etc) has advanced significantly in the past years. How have you adapted and incorporated these into your work?

The advancements in technology in the sports world are very exciting. With our content, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible. Some of our content has been created to capitalize on the availability of new player statistics; we are excited to explore new ways to create and present content that capitalizes on these advancements.

Now that the season is underway, how does your video production output, scale, and focus change?

We are delivering more timely content every week, and our focus has shifted to on-field performance and in-Stadium activities as we strive to be as up-to-date as possible with our deliverables. Because baseball is played almost daily, we are constantly working to create current and relevant content for our viewers.

What excites you most about sports video in 2018?

We are excited that our 2018 Yankees team is a very diverse, energetic, and talented group. They are excited to work with us to create content for our passionate fan base. They embrace their relationship with the fans and we look forward to continuously finding interesting ways to capture and present this dialogue.

 

In Focus

In Focus: Michael D. Ratner – Founder of OBB Pictures on Producing Content for All Platforms

Last month, we were thrilled to sit down with President/CEO of OBB Pictures, Michael D. Ratner. Founded in 2014, OBB Pictures is a leading millennial-driven and digital focused content production company whose current slate includes developing and producing original scripted and unscripted content across all media platforms, including Netflix, MTV, ESPN, EPIX, VICE and many others. Most recently, Ratner served as creator, showrunner and executive producer for seasons 2 and 3 of The 5th Quarter a scripted comedy series he created for Verizon’s go90, as well as creator, executive producer and director of OBB’s most recent show, Cold as Balls starring Kevin Hart.

Our conversation covered Michael’s rise from NYU Tisch graduate to company founder, his approach to creating content for all platforms, and his thoughts on the long-running debate on the differences in the East and West Coast industry!

Tell us a little about your journey from graduating NYU Tisch to your move to LA? 

Following my second year at NYU Tisch Grad Film, I interned at Relativity and spent the time between terms making content specifically for their sports division.  They needed a one man band to create limited size and scope content, and I fit the bill. By the end of summer, I had a job offer on the table and had to make a decision: go back to school or stay out in LA to start my career. I opted to head back to New York and finish the MFA program, but luckily after graduating, I set up a first look with the studio.

What differences have you seen in the how the industry operates on the East vs West coast?

I love New York and often miss it—I spent the first 24 years of my life on the East coast.  That said, if you want to break into this business, I do think you have to come out west, at least to start. I always joke that what you can accomplish in a day in LA, takes a week back home.  That may seem counterintuitive because New York is known for its hustle—and I certainly find LA to be more laid back, but I attribute this more so to the ability to really have face-to-face meetings in LA. Many of our world’s decision makers are based in LA, and a phone call just isn’t the same as a sit down. Plus, a little New York hustle in LA isn’t such a bad thing either.  

Interestingly, nearly our entire company is originally from the North East, which is where many of us met and first started working together, but I think we’ve all found ourselves in LA because we felt there were more opportunities to collaborate with exciting partners and to tackle bigger projects.

OBB was founded on creating successful sport related content. Today, you not only produce content on wide ranging subject matters, but also are platform agnostic across the film, TV, and digital projects you make. Why the expanded focus?

I enjoyed my time focusing on sports content, but always knew that was just the opportunity that got me in the “Hollywood door.” I always wanted to diversify the portfolio and make content across all genres—that could be platform and duration agnostic. I just wanted to make cool, premium stuff.  After my first look at Relativity, my brother Scott and I took our time to position ourselves to be able to make the types of content we’d want to watch, and opened up shop independently as OBB Pictures. For the first time, we had no ties to any company or first look, and we opened the first OBB office in Beverly Hills with just a handful of employees.  

Two years later, we’re more than double in size and just moved into our new, expanded offices in West Hollywood (former home of Scooter Braun Projects), where we have room to shoot in-house, handle all post-production, and can oversee an expanded slate ranging from unscripted to scripted, sports, comedy, music, drama, and horror.

With a proven track record of producing wide-ranging work from episodic to film, and social video to television, how does OBB stand out from the crowd?

When founding OBB, we saw an opportunity to make premium, millennial-driven content for this burgeoning OTT space that was continuing to grow (lucky timing given our particular skill set and sensibilities.) In our minds, all questions about format, genre, length, structure, or platform should be determined by one, simple mandate: “would we want to watch it?” That’s the connective tissue across our work, from the interview series like Cold As Balls with Kevin Hart, our half-hour scripted comedy The Smart Money, or our hour long horror series with Crypt TV, Mercy, and more.

We are lucky to be a part of the demographic we create for, so we can assess within OBB’s walls if something will work or not. The dream at a production company is to have a team of executives, tastemakers, and entrepreneurs; that’s what we strive for at OBB.

What are you most looking forward to in 2018?

We are closing deals on four serial projects that have been 2 years in the making, so it’s a crazy time right now!  I’m excited for our traditional projects to roll out—three are half hours and one is an hour-long on exciting networks and platforms. It will be fun to shift a bit from selling to creating again. Recently, we were in Canoga Park shooting Season 2 of Cold As Balls with Kevin Hart, which has really amazing moments. I’m excited for everyone to see this when it drops!

 

Feature

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!

Feature

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.  

Feature

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!

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.

In Focus

In Focus: WITHIN on VR/AR Entertainment and Technology

How would you describe the main mission and work of WITHIN?

WITHIN is a virtual reality and augmented reality entertainment and technology company aiming to bring people together with immersive experiences. We currently host a careful curation of VR works from a variety of artists and content creators, in addition to our own original content, currently available via the WITHIN app on iOS, Android, and all VR headsets.

WITHIN’s mission is to push virtual and augmented reality further, continuing to innovate storytelling techniques with a focus on social, multi-user experiences. Born from two creative minds—Chris Milk, an award-winning filmmaker, and Aaron Koblin, a data artist and former head of Google’s Data Arts Team—the team at WITHIN embraces a creator-first ideology. We provide creatives a playground to explore their ideas and support them by creating the technology necessary to make their ideas possible and bring them to a mass audience.

What are the key attributes you feel are needed when creating a truly memorable VR experience or story?

Virtual reality interacts with our senses in the same way that the real world does. There is, however, a unique opportunity to break the rules of reality within the VR headset. There’s a fine line—we must keep the rules similar enough that our brain accepts the experience as real, but bend them just enough so that we can create a fantastical experience only possible in VR. We want to give viewers access to stories, people, places, and experiences that could previously only exist in our imaginations. In order to create memorable experiences, we must craft the virtual world to reflect the most profound and special moments of our lives–while other mediums allow us to bear witness to another’s story, in VR we have the opportunity to let users live those stories firsthand.

We can’t solely rely on what legacy mediums like filmmaking have defined as storytelling, but we can be influenced by them and learn from them. Many devices that we use in filmmaking don’t work or don’t have the same effect in VR. Cutting can break your immersion, for example. On the other hand, having someone stare into the camera can create a personal connection between you and that character, whereas in filmmaking it breaks the fourth wall and takes you out of the story that’s being told. If there is one thing to keep in mind when creating a memorable VR experience, it’s to try to create something that exceeds the boundaries of the world we live in today, and gives people access to something that inspires awe.

When collaborating with partners on a piece, what are the main challenges and opportunities that arise?

The golden opportunity in this period of the industry’s growth is the need for an influx of creative energy from all disciplines to help crack what makes VR special. There is always a learning curve, as there is with any new medium or format, but we try not to let that get in the way of creative ideas. If something hasn’t been done yet, we’re currently in the stage where we learn how to build it ourselves, rather than dismiss it as impossible. It’s a rare moment in time where any idea, no matter how far-fetched, can lead the way to developing the future of the medium.

Your recent piece, HALLELUJAH, reimagined Leonard Cohen’s song as a fully immersive experience. Talk us through how it was created.

Our interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is centered around a unique five part a cappella arrangement. For this piece, we partnered with Lytro, creating the first-ever public display of their volumetric light-field technology. Viewers are placed inside a virtual world that feels and looks like our reality, and are able to physically move around within it. While most live-action VR systems keep the viewer fixed in a single point in space, Lytro’s technology breaks that boundary by giving the viewer freedom to move, allowing for a lifelike sense of presence that hasn’t been possible in virtual reality until now. We wanted to put viewers at the center of the a capella arrangement ,  so they can experience Cohen’s iconic song in a new way, both aurally and visually.

What’s next for WITHIN?

There’s a tremendous amount of momentum and interest in the VR/AR industry, and WITHIN is thrilled about all the emerging immersive technologies that are becoming more accessible. It’s our goal to marry the creative and the cutting edge to bring social immersive narratives to a wider audience, and we’re excited to see how AR and VR will be used as a tool for storytelling.