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Issue: December 1, 2008

SWOT: NEW MEDIA

By: Marc Loftus
For many post studios, "new media" means "new business." But facilities are still trying to figure out how they can make money in this emerging genre. The Web, games, mobile content and even special venues have all been identified as potential avenues in which to deliver content. But budgets can still be conservative, which is a challenge in creating content that's often more complex than a typical broadcast spot.

One thing that's for certain is that everyone we spoke with is energized by the opportunities coming down the road. Some say budgets are growing to better fund these aggressive efforts. Agencies are open to creative ideas and collaboration. And the content is becoming more and more entertaining, keeping viewers engaged while they experience a "softer sell."

Pat Hadnagy
Executive Producer/GM
Superlight Studios
www.superlightstudios.com
Los Angeles/Detroit


Superlight Studios is branching out beyond its work for the automotive industry to take on commercial and feature visual effects work. The Web and interactive business represents half of what they do, and their new media clients include Lexus, Cadillac and Kia, among others. Recently, the studio created an entertaining and informative online experience that brought together Audi's car line-up in an Iron Man setting.
STRENGTHS: "This isn't just phones anymore, this is a way of life, so you can actually integrate your marketing content into aspects that people touch on a daily basis. That's what television commercials touch on... there's advertising there. But when you are on the computer and trying to find a hotel in New York, and there's a great spot on the side, you're not choosing it; it's being integrated into your life. This is true for the way things get integrated into Facebook and YouTube. It's a way to get the message out much more ubiquitously than a television spot."
WEAKNESSES: "The clutter drives me nuts. I can't stand pop-up windows, yet some of those are the most successful marketing campaigns. The challenge is really trying to figure out how to get your message across successfully, and this is what the agencies deal with on a daily basis. How does your message become the next huge viral hit? I'm reading a book right now called 'The Tipping Point,' and it looks at how something becomes an epidemic. How do you get to that tipping point? It's so tough to gage how you do that successfully, and people try."
OPPORTUNITIES: "It's global! There's a simple difference between running a national spot and putting something online that people in Zaire can see. And before you know it, you have traction in places you never could have imagined before. I think that's pretty amazing. I have no idea where this is going, but I'm on the Internet constantly, to the point where my wife says, 'Pat, put it down, go play with your kids!'"
THREATS: "One of the biggest challenges is the quality of what people are looking at. You look at stuff on the Web and it's getting better. The screens are getting better, they can handle larger file sizes, but for the most part people accept that what they see on the Web, or on the phone, isn't really going to look how they want it to look. It's a hurdle, because it automatically lessens the impact. I'm not going to buy a car based on a banner ad, because it looks like a banner ad. Maybe the expectations are less, and that's OK."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "We're pretty well set with equipment. We are pulling commercials and feature work, and trying to diversify a little bit more. Automotive is an awesome space. You see what's happening with Chrysler and GM talking, and it's got a lot of my clients freaked out. But even when the economy is down, people still have to sell stuff. So car advertising is still prevalent. OK, maybe it's '0 down,' but they still have to find a way to sell it and get help with that. They repurpose a lot of content.
"We're looking to branch out and do more non-automotive stuff. We do some right now, but we want to do more of it, and get into entertainment, too. We see ourselves as CGI and visual effects for the automotive advertising and entertainment industries, and I feel that all that comes back to benefit our base — interactive clientele."

Chris Robinson
Founder/Director
Robot Films
www.soveryfresh.com
Los Angeles


Robot Films services the music video, spot and short business. Its creative lab also houses directing collective and design/animation group Syndrome, who often collaborate on Robot-directed jobs. Recently, Robot participated in Nike Sportswear's 3x3 campaign, producing three three-minute documentary-style Lucky Webisodes that feature its classic Wind Runner jacket.
STRENGTHS: "[The Nike project] was more about creating something that connected to the culture. For me, I think the advantages are that you're hitting people where they live. This is something that is created for comedy, for a certain lifestyle, and you are getting a picture into the lifestyle of this character. Nike is smart enough to attach itself to this and attach itself as part of the culture. The more you create entertainment for your advertising, it becomes more and more effective. I've had it where you only had three channels on television as a kid, and then cable came and I could watch 30 channels, and what it's grown to now, where you program your life."
WEAKNESSES: "I was just having a discussion with a friend of mine about the quality of work — the artistry,  the comedy — and it's less about the look. Being a director, you always want to represent your work a certain way because lighting sets a mood and a tone, and locations and casting all sets a tone. And when you are working on the Web, there are certain things you have to be willing to sacrifice. A lot of time it's not shooting in 35mm because of the way it's going to be viewed, ultimately. You have to look at where the happy medium comes. We watched a big part of the music industry — in terms of shooting music videos for 10 years — be turned on its head while people tried to hold on to the old way of thinking. We have the opportunity of seeing that and saying here's an innovative new way to not remake the model, but add on to it. This is how you get into people's lives differently. They are programming their own lives."
OPPORTUNITIES: "Advertisers creating their own content is definitely a new frontier, a new world. A lot of times brands feel like:  this is what we do, we sell these products, we have a long history and our whole business is about this product and the integrity and authenticity of our product, and we are not aggregators of content. But what I do believe is that you can connect with people — agencies, Robot Films, people at companies who have built the culture, who are a part of the culture, who understand what you are trying to do and be the people who help create that content — who fund it and push it forward.
"That's what I feel the future holds. A lot of our advertising needs to be more geared toward entertainment, and if it's not entertainment, it's an amalgamation of entertainment or information, or a piece of something people can use in their daily life. I keep seeing the potential for it to grow and grow."
THREATS: "The threat of new ideas and teenagers creating things or guys who are not really trained — it's a perceived threat, not real, because quality work is quality work. It's easy for somebody to shoot a squirrel and 10 million people hit that, but that's an anomaly. When it comes to things you will go back and revisit, those ideas need to be nurtured and need to be thought through. There's a lot of junk on YouTube, and there's funny stuff and stuff that makes no sense whatsoever. People go to it for curiosity sake."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009:  "The more that I sit back and take a look at the playing field, I think all of these brilliant people who are at agencies need to work with each other. I love to be a part of the creative process early. To be able to call an agency and say, 'I think I have something amazing for your client, this could be really great, here's an idea,' whether it's for a TV show or interstitial or whatever. Collaborating in that way is going to bring so much value to the brand, as well as to the agency."

Tammy Kimbler Weber
Producer
Gasket Studios
www.gasket.tv
Minneapolis


Gasket is a design, visual effects and animation company serving the feature film, interactive and spot markets. Its recent Web work includes a series of animated ads for Korbel champagne, graphic novels for Microsoft promoting their anti-piracy technology, and the site for the videogame Fallout 3.
STRENGTHs:"The great thing as far as Web creative goes is there are very few limitations. You are not limited to aspect, length — obviously total size at the end is important. You are not limited in terms of broadcast standards. Also, we've found that with our interactive clients, they want us in the process as early as possible. Those companies really know how to leverage as much creative as they can get out of their partners.The broadcast community, I find, is much more segmented. You could walk in on the project at any point — beginning, middle or end. On the interactive side, the team comes together before they even have concepts sometimes, which is great because it means that everyone gets on the same page early. Everyone can add to the creative, and it makes for a much more satisfying creative experience."
WEAKNESSES: "It's a very technical field in terms of execution and delivery. With commercials, you put them on tape or upload them; there are some format things, but with the Web, we deliver  100 little individual pieces of 3D elements. It's very asset intensive. It's not necessarily a weakness, but it can bog a process down."
OPPORTUNITIES: "The real opportunity is the ability to work collaboratively. There is a lot more opportunity to concept, which is something that we prefer to do on our projects but don't always have the opportunity. The more we can come up with new ideas, the more we have to offer. The interactive market is much more open to that kind of thinking as opposed to an agency that might be a little more guarded as to who they open up the playing field to. Particularly because of the work an agency needs to do to get a client on board for a broadcast spot. They've made a lot of decisions at that point, but Web seems a little bit looser."
THREATS: "You just have to be careful to not let the technology get the better of you from a content standpoint. We did some games work on the Coke Zero site and in the final equation they threw out a lot of stuff because it was distracting to the brand. There were cool new technologies that they were trying to apply, and finally they went with the 'simpler is better' rule because it sold the idea better.You can get a little bit carried away if you are not careful and, frankly, buried if you are not careful with the technology component. All of the partners have to have the same level of understanding of what the goal is."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "Despite the current economic gloom, Gasket Studios has always maintained an optimistic view. We're 'the glass is half full' sort of people. In 2009 we plan to expand our visual effects offerings, as well as continue to grow and refine our design and animation departments. We don't plan on going anywhere but up. Plus, our fallout shelter is almost complete, so we feel pretty secure in the 'Imminent Doom' department."

Sean Henry
Executive Producer
Wayne Brejcha
Co-Owner/Creative Director
Calabash Animation
www.calabashanimation.com
Chicago


Calabash specializes in animation for broadcast spots. At press time, the studio was in the middle of a challenging Web project for General Mills and Saatchi & Saatchi, creating seven-minute animated Webisodes for one of its cereals. It will launch later this month.
STRENGTHS: Brejcha: "One of the wonderful things about working on these Webisodes is that we've been editing them as we go and refining the story. And it doesn't really matter if you are clocking in at some length or not. It opens up your timing possibilities. You have to keep your eye on it though. What we planned for was a seven-minute production and we have to make sure it doesn't grow to a 16-minute one."
Henry: "One of the strengths is that it's a much softer sell for the client. It's not a direct form of marketing, where on TV you are buying time and trying to sell something very directly in :30. This has a more indirect connection to its audience. It's more entertainment value, brand recognition and brand celebration. It's a little more story based."
WEAKNESSES: Henry: "The budgets are so low that there is only so much you can accomplish. You are typically forced to turn to more economical forms of animation, with which you can still accomplish a great deal with good storytelling and design, but the animation is much more limited than full-up cell or 3D."
Brejcha: "As long as you are designing for it and planning around that, you can find the strengths of that, and it becomes a nice asset. But the one thing that you have to be very careful of in the planning of is to know you can't design Pinocchio on a Wally Gator budget."
Henry: "There are also bandwidth issues, if anything has to be downloaded. You try to economize for those reasons."
OPPORTUNITIES: Henry: "It's such a new thing. I think everybody is trying to figure out how to make money."
THREATS: Brejcha: "That first wave of Flash animation, which presented tremendous opportunities, was also the best opportunities for very small studios, like the guy in his basement with a computer and no overhead. He could almost undercut studios because he could get something done very, very quickly and it would still look good.
"The one thing that the larger studios still have is — most of the agency guys and the clients, too — they know that the one guy in his basement is not going to turn around and deliver what would take 30 people, doing the actual artwork, to do. There are also people who don't have very developed storytelling or design skills, and you just don't get that overnight."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: Henry: "We are definitely targeting our existing clients and showing them that we have the capability in-house to do this because we put a substantial investment in this General Mills project. To make that investment worthwhile, we need to keep it going. We brought in new technology, four or five new computers and the Wacom Cintiq tablets, so we're under a lot of pressure to keep this going."