Change we can believe in

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We’ve been talking about the content industry being in a state of flux for as long as I can remember now. Every month there has been a new disruption doing away with the old and introducing the new, bringing with it a slew of experts, producers, startups and projects. There has been almost no escape, and the industry has been scrambling to keep up – or in some cases, chosen to ignore the signs and the reports, which almost always has ended up not so well. Not that trying to adapt has always been very successful either…

In a way, it feels like we’ve been bombarded with so much change that we’ve had a difficult time to grasp the real change. There are levels to the changes that are introduced; just because 3D TV didn’t happen, doesn’t mean that the users won’t flock to new technologies that allow them to experience content in more immersive ways. Just because UGC never became a mainstay of any big entertainment production doesn’t mean that a world full of people isn’t creating enormous amounts of content on an hourly basis, directly competing with whatever “serious professionals” produce. And just because “choose how the story unfolds” narratives never became runaway hits anywhere, doesn’t mean that the audience wouldn’t want to be able to engage with the narrative of a story they care for.

So it was a little bit at MIP this spring as well. I only managed to squeeze in a few sessions and talks – I managed to come down with a flu and a mangled foot on the Tuesday, which hampered my capering about to quite a degree – but the ones I did manage to squeeze in all reflected the same thing: while everyone is acknowledging the fundamental shifts in audience behaviour and how people approach content today, very few are addressing the issue in an innovative way. This will spell disaster in the long run, as the younger generations of today are much used to disrupting whatever they feel is not up to standards. Some clues were there to be had from different speakers – some broadcasters were exploring how to create short form versions of popular shows for distribution on social media, while others were taking the other route – curating the best or most hilarious or disgusting of citizen-produced content to be sold to broadcasters.

I will admit it’s a little bit underwhelming; while a lot of players are happily praising their own solutions, actual groundbreaking stuff is difficult to find. There is no Elon Musk of the media industry – not yet in any case. Amazon and Netflix and the likes are moving in those areas, but while their model of VOD for the modern user has found many millions of subscribers, the core of TV series production still remains the same.

Whomever manages to create the Tesla of the media industry will be a very wealthy person. That one solution that makes much more sense than the solutions of others’, that gets the hype going and actually delivers on said hype – and not only from a technological standpoint, but also from a content and audience engagement viewpoint.

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On another note, I would like to change subject. One of my latest posts was on our work with location based storytelling. As I wrote then, I firmly believe that location based storytelling can strengthen the engagement with an enjoyment of a story. On the back of that article, I was approached by another company in the same vein, although geared more towards museum experiences. Wezit works with placement of stories or parts of storied as well. I caught up with one of the managers as Wezit, Ségolène Valençot, and was able to ask some questions:

1. How come you decided to move into location-based solutions? What are the added benefits, for the consumer and for the producer?

Before the arrival of smartphones on the market in the mid-2000s, we were already developing content for devices such as interactive kiosks, websites, CD-ROMs and audioguides. The technologies’ evolutions brought new opportunities and, with them, the possibility to use them to adapt to visitors’ increasing mobility and new traveling habits.

Location-based solutions offer many benefits for the visitors: they can discover and explore their surroundings at their own pace, get access to relevant content depending on where they are (and when they are there), become more autonomous and gain confidence, get a special outdoor experience based on what they discovered or learned inside. From a more technical point of view, they can use an app with an offline mode that does not consume too much battery, giving them more time to explore what interests them.

As for the producers, they have the possibility to offer tailored, location-aware experiences to their visitors by covering their immediate environment with a layer of relevant content (a museum, a garden, a zoo, city streets, monument surroundings, etc.). Thanks to data mining and analysis systems, producers can examine how the targeted visitors behaved and perceived their content, improving their storytelling techniques.

When we talk about location-aware experiences, the field of possibilities opens up immediately. Our expertise resides in heightening awareness about the fact that, at a given time or space, not all content or experiences are relevant. It is not by exhaustively covering a whole area with content that people will go from one place to another. That’s where storytelling enters the stage: it helps bind together points of interest across space, maintain a higher level of attention and engagement (people want to know what happens next) and incentivizes visitors to explore their environment.

Finally, location-aware experiences that rest on the unfolding of one or multiple stories across space often insert themselves in an environment (be it a national park or a small town) that offers other leisure and cultural activities and, sometimes, stories. Rather than ignoring this fact and offering a new (but redundant) experience, our approach is to take these existing (and, sometimes, conflicting) activities and stories into account to offer a new, original and relevant layer of information (and, why not, referring to existing activities or stories). When it comes to transmedia, location-aware storytelling, this particular point becomes crucial: visitors need to know what is part of the storyworld (which needs to be coherent) and what is not. Wezit allows us to manage this complex but permanent situation.

2. What has the reaction been to Wezit? What do your clients think and what do the consumers experience?

When we launched Wezit around 2013 (after a 2-year R&D project), many other companies offered the possibility to create digital content for smartphones and tablets. What we wanted to do, though, was to:

  • Take into account every type of devices (not just smartphones or tablets) for the unfolding of a coherent story
  • Allow and facilitate the circulation of content and people from one device to another
  • Cover the whole visit continuum: before, during and after a visit
  • Link, in an urban context, the museum and the city and, in a rural context, a heritage site or museum with its environment (be it immediate or relatively distant).

Up to now, our clients have been very satisfied with Wezit. They appreciate the fact that they can be autonomous in creating their own applications and the ones who are the most familiar with our platform are getting more and more confident in exploring the many possibilities it offers. Thanks to a continuous dialog with our clients and a close listening to and an active participation in the field’s debates, we constantly adapt and improve our solution.

What is and will be the most difficult thing for producers, though, is to adapt their content and storytelling techniques to an ever evolving technological environment and to tell the right story at the right moment.

It is not only the device that is important for us but also the ways by which we tell meaningful stories (be they fictional or non-fictional) to the visitors. And that’s where the right platform is required to manage and coordinate every aspect of a meaningful and satisfying experience.

To have more information about our approach on transmedia storytelling, you can read this article (in English) about a French R&D project called CULTE (Cultural Urban Learning Transmedia Experience):

3. How do you envision the future – have you thoughts regarding the evolvement of location based storytelling? What areas can it be used best for?

We think location-based storytelling will be more and more important in the near future and this, for three main reasons.

First of all, many visitors do not have a preconceived idea of the type of collections a museum preserves and exhibits. Location-based storytelling can help them navigate the museum space and make them discover bits of information as they browse the collections. Instead of not knowing where to start or being frustrated in front of objects, this technique can put a layer of relevant content upon the museum’s space and collections. Location-based storytelling is particularly fit for such visitors.

Outside a museum, location-based storytelling can facilitate the reappropriation of one’s cultural heritage, be it tangible or intangible. By offering the possibility to discover content about such or such object or place, people can explore in a whole new way the cities, the towns, the villages in which they live. Location-based storytelling can encourage us to renew the way we look at familiar environments, the ones we do not longer pay attention to as they have become so common. By doing so, it can facilitate or strengthen the feeling of belonging, of attachment to a place and to the communities (past and present) that are linked to it.

Location-based storytelling can also strengthen and deepen the links between heritage sites, museum and tourism facilities. When we take into account people’s visit continuums (before, during and after a visit), we can’t help but notice that a visit occurs within a variety of other activities. Hence this complex question: when does a story begin? When must it begin? When do visitors enter a storyworld? Location-based storytelling can help answer these questions by adding a layer of content in an environment and ensuring a certain degree of autonomy to these content, while being inserted in an over-arching story. In this way, every piece of geolocalized information constitutes a point of entry in the storyworld as a whole.

These three points insist on the fact that museum and heritage sites need to think of themselves as part of a more global ecosystem in which they live together with other tourism and leisure facilities and activities. Inside this unique ecosystem, museums or heritage sites can spearhead a storytelling initiative and choose to build a storyworld that relies on one or multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, kiosks, virtual or augmented reality, laptops and desktops, etc.), indoors and/or outdoors. And that’s when a flexible, adaptable and transmedia solution like Wezit is required.

Even when smartphones are thought at as being “hubs” for a visit experience, relying only on one device is becoming more and more difficult or insufficient in the long term. Since the start, Wezit has been designed and developed as an evolutionary solution so that our clients can come with a single-device project and, afterwards, start building up on it, adding new experiences and depth to the stories they want to tell their visitors. Of course, no client has to come to us with a full thought-out plan about the devices they want to use. Stories and storytelling come first, before the choice of the appropriate devices (digital or not).

That means a shift in the ways institutions think of their projects: moving form a device-based project (“I want to make an app”) to a story-based project (“I want to tell that story to my visitors”). Fortunately, cultural institutions such as museums and heritage sites are the ones that are the most ready to make that shift and make the most of it. A lot of them have already made the move.

This report was in part made possible by the kind support of Svenska Kulturfonden.

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