News Stories

Digital Out-of-home Entertainment Network Association Conference stresses Immersion, Engagement, and Creativity

By Philip Lelyveld

Representatives of all parts of the Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) Industry met last week at the second annual DOE Network Association (DNA) Conference, held at USC’s Davidson Conference Center.  Many of the attendees are involved in pressing the limits of digital technology and physical design to greatly expand the storytelling and engagement possibilities of out-of-home venues.

The DOE industry defines itself as covering the professional theme park, educational and edutainment (museums, visitors centers, science centers), arcade, retail and mall advertising and enhancement, ‘exergaming’ (workout experiences), and other public pay-to-play, ticketed, and free entertainment experiences.  These experiences span the spectrum from fully real, physical equipment and spaces such as hands-on museum ‘sandbox’ exhibits, to fully virtual immersive gameplay.

Consultant Randy White of White Hutchinson Leisure gave some troubling statistics specific to the arcade industry.  While other forms of discretionary entertainment spending, such as movie attendance, has been holding relatively steady, 60% of arcade dollars have shifted to home entertainment and ‘stay-cations’ in the last five years.

BMI Gaming’s David Young said that one of the arcade industry’s responses has been to encourage and recognize innovation through an international design competition.  This year’s winner was Speed of Light; a vertical, button-based, two-player version of wack-a-mole with a lot of flashing lights.

Americans go to the movies on average 4 times per year.  But they eat out approximately 167 times per year.  Dining is a highly social experience.  The top 20% of income households account for 48% of out-of-home spending.  Mr. White recommended that arcades redesign their facilities to attract this upscale market with restaurants, wifi-equipped lounges, and games that allow for more group social and competitive activities.  One audience member noted that this would redefine the businesses that arcades compete with to include coffee shops, shared work spaces, hotel lobbies, and other social gathering spots.

Kevin Williams, the organizer of the DNA conference, spoke forcefully of the DOE industry’s need to embrace technology to a far greater degree than it has to date.  There is no reason, he argued, why devices could not recognize players when they return to a facility, coordinate communications as they interact with devices throughout the facility, and – if they opt-in – connect them with people who have similar interests and skill levels anywhere on the planet.  The technology already exists to offer experiences outside of the physical environment to patrons that could motivate them to return to the facilities.  The DOE industry can compete with rapidly improving home and personal entertainment options by offering attractive, safe locations to socialize, access high-end specialized devices, and have location-specific blended physical and virtual experiences.  It is critical, he added, that equipment be software-upgradeable so that experiences can be regularly refreshed.

One example of a business doing this is MagiQuest (, a Harry Potter-like world with home-play, clan-building, and location-based components.  Players can buy physical objects, like wands and capes, as well as virtual goods that aid in gameplay.  With 15 physical locations in the US and Japan, MagiQuest offers a unique, integrated on-site and virtual game and social experience.

The ETC’s Phil Lelyveld moderated a panel on 3D Interactive Entertainment Experiences in Public Places, which more accurately covered 3D, 4D, 5D, 6D, and 7D experiences.  3D is stereoscopic visuals.  4D adds motion and effects, while 5D includes a live performance component.  Interactivity in addition to all of the above is called 6D.  7D, as one vendor stated, is for customers who want more than 6D – Spinal Tap’s ‘the dial goes to 11.’

The immersive theatrical, walk-through, and cart-based experiences that the companies at this conference have developed match or exceed those found in the major theme parks.  In fact, many of these companies have been involved in developing attractions for those parks.  For example, Alterface developed an interactive 6D dark ride in Germany that, they claim, predates and is more complex than Toy Story Mania at Disney California Adventure.  Thinkwell Design’s installation at the Fernbank Nature Quest, Atlanta, Ga., makes very effective use of augmented reality and simulations in their educational experience design – including a scientifically accurate, interactive river simulation walkway with fish, plants, and turbulance.  (Watch a Fernbank video here: )

3D projections onto building surfaces, ‘the other 3D,’ are increasingly in demand for both event programming and advertising.  Oscura Digital discussed their amazing projection over the Zayed Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world, in Abu Dhabi, UAE (Video ,  story ).  Pearl Media, which proudly self-brands itself as a ‘guerilla marketing firm,’ discussed how they always get permits, but do not always ask permission from the building owner when they install their temporary work.  They have developed real-time rendered 3D projections that crowds can interact with via tablet controllers.  Their projection onto a bagel store in Austin, TX during the SXSW conference increased bagel sales three-fold at the location.  Pearl Media also does very clever interactive storefront installations that capture pedestrians’ attention and imagination (see )

To sustain and grow the DOE sector, and to compete with other experiences, a number of show developers framed their work in terms of preshow, show, and post-show components (See photo). In some locations, the preshow has become so engaging that patrons have to be encouraged to move on when the main attraction is ready for them.

The key presentations given at this conference will be edited and distributed as both a physical book and e-book.  Overall, the DNA conference was an interesting window into an industry that is using digital tools to create engaging storytelling, learning, and advertising experiences.  Their work can inform what the traditional entertainment and CE industry is planning.

The next meeting of the DNA will probably be held in San Francisco in the first half of 2013.  Go to for more information.

Key companies represented at the DNA conference include;

Simiosys ( , Chris Stapleton)

New Models of Ineractivity in Movie Theaters

Timeplay Entertainment  ( , John Race)

Vortex Immersion Media ( , Ed Lantz)

Maximizing Social Media

Snibbe Interactive ( , Graham Plumb)

Augmented Reality’s Next Stage in Leisure Facilities

Thinkwell Design ( , Craig Hanna)

Ogmento ( , Brian Selzer)

3D Interactive Entertainment Experiences in Public Places

Triotech ( , Ernest Yale)

Super 78 Studio ( , Brent Young)

Mediamation ( , Dan Jamele)

Alterface ( , Benoit Cornet)

3D Interactive Marketing in Public Places

Obscura Digital ( , Barry Threw)

Pearl Media ( , Joshua Cohen)

USC Student Media Habits – notes from the 9/20/12 ETC MegaSession

By Philip Lelyveld

Questions about Millennial media habits were answered by six USC undergrads at the Sept. 20th ETC MegaSession.  The students ranged from incoming freshmen to juniors, with study focuses covering computer science, engineering, gaming, 3D animation, media studies, and the business of entertainment.

These students watch movies either in theatres or on laptops and mobile devices.  They rarely watch content on a TV, except as a social, community event in their dorms and houses.

When they are in a movie theatre, they may text or Facebook before the feature starts, and post their opinions after the feature, but they usually don’t use their devices during the feature. The consensus opinion was that they go to the theatre to be immersed in the experience.  One student said that he occasionally texts a running commentary with his friends in the theatre, but that he has a “financial incentive” to pay attention to the feature.

They were curious and skeptical about second screen experiences in the theatre.  They were not interested in second screen experiences that took them out of the immersive experience, or that contacted them afterwards unless they actively opted in.  One student said; “I’ve always wondered if a film would be developed that integrated social media into the movie.  I think it would be fantastic, but it would need to be specifically developed for that.”

They were asked ‘what really bugs you?’ when you go to the movie theatre.  Previews that give too much away, or don’t reflect what the movie is really like, were the first two responses. Then a freshman redirected.  “All the tech and choices are getting annoying.  3D, IMAX, etc.  Especially when the tech is used badly.  I first saw 3D at Disneyland where it jumped off the screen.  In theatres the 3D was minor and disappointing.”

The students sought out, and paid for, the best available in-theatre tech experience for films that they anticipated would be viewing events.  Their favorite movies of the last year are Batman (Dark Knight in IMAX), Avengers (in 3D), and Brave (in 3D).  One student said “I love 3D.  I saw Batman on my own, then saw it again in IMAX when my father paid.”

They watch live TV for event programming (ex. live sports), as well as social engagement programming (ex. watching the same show at the same time as their friends and texting or Facebooking them during the program).  Mostly, though, they watch programs on Hulu and Netflix.  They also mentioned iTunes, Crackle and the pirate site DeepDiscountDVD.

“Our generation is ‘I should be able to watch it right now,’ so if I can’t get it legitimately, I’ll find it.  But most prefer to do it through Netflix and other legit channels,” one junior said.  “My friends know which [piracy] websites are hot.  It is info that is going around.  At some of the sites you pay to share,” added one freshman.

Does audio visual quality matter to you?  “If it is awful, you won’t watch it.  But great and ok quality are equally acceptable,” said the media studies major.  The freshman CS major said “all the stuff I find is fine.  Quality isn’t a problem.” And the incoming 3D animation major said “for really visual movies, quality matters.  For dramas, as long as I can hear it, the quality doesn’t matter.”

When did you last buy a DVD, and how are you watching movies now?  One student collects DVDs, another couldn’t remember the last time she bought a DVD, and a third said he buys movies on iTunes instead.  A sophomore added, “I buy movies I’m invested in, like the Harry Potter movies, but I rent movies that I have to watch for classes.   The cloud is shifting my buying habits.”  The students like turning on the commentary tracks, but only after they’ve watched the movie or show once without it.

Second screen activity at home was of interest as long as it adds value and doesn’t detract from the programming. Two students suggested pop-up facts pushed during the commercial breaks, rather than during the show.  The students were defining second screen activity as something ‘pushed at them.’  They did not mention texting, tweeting, or other viewing-time commenting as a second screen activity.

An incoming student described his use of social media this way;  “When I went to Hawaii for the summer before starting at USC, I tweeted asking for suggestions of things to do.  I got many suggestions, including insider activities.  I joined 20 USC Facebook groups when I got here.  I use Gmail for professional communications, but it is linked to my USC email address so I only have to check one location.”

A junior commented; “I got my job at Sony by tweeting a headhunter.  I’ve found social networks to be very useful for finding things, for staying connected to my friends, and for connecting to others and the world.  ‘I use social media, and social media uses me.’”


Data & Analytics Project

The Storytelling Cipher: Mapping Precise Story and Character Mechanics to Box Office Returns

Our Data & Analytics Project held “The Storytelling Cipher: Mapping Stories & Characters to Box Office Revenue” Tuesday, December 6, 2016 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

This study leverages the Dramatic taxonomy of film narrative to infer which scene-level character and story attributes generate more box office returns, by genre. We are extending this study to ads and movie trailers.

The project researchers used machine learning to map 70+ story attributes for 300 films to their box office returns to extract which story mechanics or character features in film generated the most revenue. This was the first time granular story and character mechanics have been used to predict box office returns, which opens up many avenues to make more data-driven creative and development decisions throughout the industry.

What’s a good story? The question has been hanging without a scientific answer since the dawn of man. It seems that a story’s lack of clear mathematical structure and universal taxonomy would relegate such classification of stories to the qualitative – and highly subjective- empire of critics and … people.

Until now.

The event presented results from the research, discussed applications for the development and creative process, and outlined next steps.

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