Magazine article Variety

Viewer's Choice

Magazine article Variety

Viewer's Choice

Article excerpt

The way people experience moving images hasn't changed much since the film industry's flickering dawn. It's a one-way street: There you sit, often in a dark room, passively gazing at a screen. Sleepy yet? Now a cluster of startups is breathing new life into an idea that's been around for decades - making video interactive, so that viewers pay closer attention, and become more emotionally invested in what they're watching. Turning audiences into active participants, the theory goes, translates into digital dollars. Advertisers can let consumers click to buy a featured product or tap to find related info. For creative types, the technology opens up a panoply of possibilities, letting users dictate the action in a movie, TV show or musicvideo with multifaceted, immersive content that rewards repeat visits.

Some tout interactivity as the next major evolution in video, akin to the advent of HD, and predict that it's destined to play a major role in the future of entertainment and advertising. "It's not going to be very long before the expectation will be that the video you are watching on your smartphone, the Web or smart TV should be interactive," says Erika Trautman, founder and CEO of startup Rapt Media. "We are fundamentally rethinking how video is presented."

But will interactive video really be huge? While the technology will prove useful in some cases, especially for advertisers, it's not clear Hollywood will rush to embrace it, says Jon Liebman, CEO of talent management/production company Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

"The jury is still out on that," Liebman says of TV showrunners or moviemakers using interactivity as a storytelling device. In any case, he notes, flawless execution is critical: "Things have to be super-easy for a generation that is intuitively digital. It has to be like turning on the light."

Startups proselytizing the message of ubiquitously interactive video, in addition to Rapt, include Cinématique, Fuisz Media, HapYak, Interlude and Wirewax.

The concepts have attracted interest from filmmakers, TV networks, music labels and marketers that have dabbled in the milieu. As the glut of video produced and distributed on the Web continues to soar, interactive hooks can make a project stand out.

"It's a way to cut through the clutter," says Julie Greenwald, chairman and COO of Atlantic Records Group, whose artists have used Interlude's system to produce interactive vids. "Anyone with an iPhone can make a musicvideo. This presents a new creative tool." Atlantic talent including Wiz Khalifa, Coldplay and Trey Songz have launched clickable musicvideos.

A breakthrough demonstrating the technology's potential was Bob Dylan's 2013 interactive video for "Like a Rolling Stone." In the vid, created by Israeli director Vania Heymann, viewers can flip through a generic cable TV lineup - with newscasters, home-shopping hosts and movie actors eerily lip-syncing to the iconic tune as the user channel-surfs.

True believers say the trend is only poised to grow bigger. One such prognosticator: Nancy Tellern, a longtime TV bigwig who earlier this year joined Interlude as executive chairman. Millennial, who grew up glued for hours to game consoles, are especially "rabid and engaged" with interactive vid, she says.

"I'm not saying linear experiences are over," says Tellern, who previously held top jobs at CBS, Warner Bros, and Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios. "But this is a technology that lets people relate very differently to video."

To be sure, forms of interactive video have existed for years. More than a decade ago, DVRs let TV viewers easily record, play back, rewind and fast-forward programs. (Remember how astounding it was to be able to pause live TV?) Videogames evolved into sophisticated, interactive narratives with stunningly realistic graphics and live-action sequences, and virtual reality moves the ball forward into a 3D realm. In traditional video formats, YouTube's "annotations" feature lets creators overlay clickable banners at specific points in their videos. …

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