Event Recap: The Art of VR – June 2017

Last month, the Lab attended The Art of VR event presented by the VR Society. The two-day event hosted at Sotheby’s NYC brought together leaders in the VR industry to discuss the future of the space from creative, production, media, and advertising perspectives. The day was split between panel discussions ranging from realistic human avatars to the future of media and many different demos illustrating the wide range of VR applications today.

VR’s Growing Pains

It is no surprise that the VR space is still in its infancy. While there has been rapid adoption of the Samsung Gear VR – almost 5 million headsets have been purchased – and mobile VR, overall, the VR space is stilling lacking content and users. As we observed in our 2016 Outlook report:

“While early adopters and hardcore gamers are starting to buy virtual reality gear with the launch of Samsung Gear VR and the upcoming Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, and HTC Vive, creation of content that will spur real adoption is only beginning. It’s a chicken-or-egg problem: Why buy a headset if there’s little content and why invest in content if so few can see it?”

The Indie VR panel only reinforced this point. The industry is starting to gain traction, however, the final format for VR is still unknown. Panelists suggested that there needs to be weirder experimental content to test out what VR can truly be.  

Realistic Human Avatars

One of the most interesting concepts that is starting to solidify are realistic human avatars within VR. Companies like Loom.ai, Wolf3D, Macinnes Scott, and Facebook’s Oculus team are all, already working on the technology. However, it begs the question – who is actually going to use them?           

If we look back, videos games have been offering a level of personalize/stylization for years. Players are able to customize facial features, skin tone, height, clothing, gender and more. Fast forward to October of 2014 and the launch of customizable avatar platform Bitmoji took personalized avatars even further. Now people are able to create human-like social avatars to be shared on different social messaging platforms. Bitmoji was so successful that Snap Inc acquired Bitmoji’s parent company BitStrips for $100M. Looking to the future, Macinnes Scott is looking to create hyper realistic avatars for celebrities and allow such avatars to be licensed out for mind-blowing VR content creation.

Takeaways for Brands

Three major takeaways from this event for brands that is curious about exploring VR:

1). At its current stage, VR excels at storytelling, so don’t expect to sell large volume of products in VR but rather focus on driving brand loyalty and awareness instead.
2). Be mindful in choosing the type of VR content to integrate with — they needs to be able to align with brand products in a natural way.
3). The analytic tools are here today to measure the success of a VR campaign, but brands will need to use their own judgements as to which ones they want to use.

The Lab team have been shouting from the rooftops that the best use case for VR is storytelling. VR is the perfect realm to tell stories and engage with a user in a way that has never been possible before. From a brand perspective, we envision brands integrating into VR experiences where their products fit organically .VR is exciting because the experiences are built within gaming engines that make integrating branded 3D objects simple. Brands can have their product built directly into a game’s environment and allows game publishers to bring this additional layer of realism to their game (as well as generate some extra revenue). Overall it is a win-win scenario for both VR content creators and brands.

Well-placed product ingratiation within a suitable VR experience doesn’t mean anything to a brand unless real tangible insights can be produced. That is where VR analytics companies like CognitiveVR come into play. They allow brands to track a multitude of rich interactions within a VR experience including; how a user moves within the game, gaze (where a person is “looking”), number of branded object interactions and time spent. There is no consensus on what metrics will be the most useful to measure campaign success, which brands will have to decide for themselves on a case-by-case basis. However, the tools are available today to provide real tangible insights for brands.


Event Recap: NY MusicTech Meetup February 2016

On Thursday, February 25th, the Media Lab attended the NY MusicTech Meetup. The groovy event was hosted at the Harman store on Madison Avenue where a number of interesting music startups demonstrated their products for the crowd.

The first was CymbalFM, a social music discovery app for iOS. Users post their favorite song of the moment so others can listen and discover new tunes. Users have the ability to like and comment on posts, or explore a friend’s entire history of posts as one playlist. The platform is built on top of Spotify and Soundcloud’s APIs so people can listen directly on the platform. Soon they will be launching a discovery-specific page that surfaces trending hashtags and recommends users that have similar tastes as you.

Next was Cadenza, an app that provides an entire classical orchestra to accompany you while you play your instrument. Through AI and machine learning, the app adapts the tempo to your playing style in real time to create an ensemble performance consisting of one musician. The app is currently being used by young students who are taking music lessons and has a user base of around 40,000. They also have a social component where people can record their sessions and share to Facebook. Cadenza is a very powerful tool for beginning and intermediate musicians and it will be exciting to see how they grow as their tempo matching technology becomes even more robust.

Finally, Feature.fm discussed how they are helping aspiring musicians get discovered on streaming services. Their ad platform allows users to easily create and distribute sponsored songs that play natively during a user’s listening session. The artist can customize their message, a call to action, and their album artwork as well as select which region, genre, and tags they would like to target. The average cost-per-play is around 2 cents. However, there is no cost if the user skips the song before 30 seconds has elapsed. The ad unit is currently integrated into 8Tracks with plans to expand to 3-4 more services during 2016 (although they were not able to share which ones at the time).  There is an opportunity for advertisers to brand the info box that appears with the sponsored tracks or even sponsor the artists’ advertising budgets themselves in order to provide real value to consumers by surfacing new music.

Lots of exciting things are happening in New York’s music tech scene. As audiences become increasingly averse to being served with bland messaging, there are lots of opportunities in this space for brands to provide audience with real value to earn their attention.

Event Recap: NJ Tech Meetup #68

On Monday, January 11th, the Media Lab attended the 68th New Jersey Tech Meetup. The guest speaker for this first meetup of the year was Mark Gerson, the co-founder and Chairman of the Gerson Lehrman Group and of Thuzio, a service that connects businesses to celebrities for local appearances. He has also founded a number of philanthropic organizations including United Rescue and the African Mission Healthcare Foundation. Mr. Gerson spoke about his early history as an entrepreneur, beginning with a $50 wager over fantasy basketball in grade school. After this early taste of success, Mr. Gerson shared his experience as a founder where he had to pivot and adapt his companies’ missions in order to fit the market and client demand. He also shared a good bit of advice on starting a company, which was to find the dumbest person you know and tell them your idea. If they don’t understand, refine the idea.

Aside from the fireside chat, three entrepreneurs took the stage to introduce the group to their new businesses. Indicative, based in Union Square, provides behavioral analytics for marketers with a focus on clean data visualization for the end user. HYPR is a marketplace that connects brands to relevant social media influencers based on their proprietary grading system. Their three main verticals include political campaigns, app promotion, and CPG. They are active on a variety of social media, including Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vine.

Last but not least, GrownOcean presented their mobile app for adventure travel planning. The app allows users to create a bucket list of adventures and helps them sort out the logistics by making lodging and travel recommendations, as well as providing a supply checklist for their voyage. Although still in the early stages of growing their user-base, GrownOcean is set up to enable brands to promote content in the form of custom adventures and recommended travel items, with a link to purchase.

The NJ Tech Meetup kicked off 2016 with an impressive array of inspirational entrepreneurs and the Lab is excited to see what else is in store for the new year.


Event Recap: November 2015 NY Tech Meetup

The New York Tech Meetup is the largest meetup group in the world with over 47,000 members from the tech community in NYC. On Tuesday, the Lab attended their monthly event to see some of the city’s most promising startups demo their products live. As always, the ingenuity on display was inspiring. Below are brief summaries of some of the exhibitors:

Venuebook offers an easy way for a user to book a group outing or private event with the Expressbook tool. Available in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington DC, the tool allows you to search for and reserve the perfect space for your party. Venuebook is able to provide real-time venue availability because they are the calendar platform of record for a number of restaurants and event spaces.

For those that are dedicated to eating healthier, Foodstand is building a food community to help foodies find, cook, and eat better food. Users can search posts to see what others have made for inspiration, discover local restaurants, and win prizes for participating in challenges (like their recent food waste reduction challenge). Pictures, recipes, and reviews live on a central news feed. Foodstand also mentioned they have a partnership with Dig Inn.

For consumers that are tired of dealing with cellular providers, Karma is a Wi-Fi hotspot that allows users to purchase cellular data when they need it for $14 per GB. Users can also earn karma points in the form of data by allowing others to connect to their hotspot. There are over a thousand Karma devices currently deployed across the US and a user’s “gas tank” of data can be accessed via any of them. Karma currently operates on Sprint’s 4G LTE network. The founder claimed that he has had his phone on airplane mode for the past three years and has instead been operating entirely on Karma’s network.

In addition to the main exhibitors, students who had participated in HackNY demoed their projects. The first was Roam, for people that may be stranded without data or strong service (often at the end of a long night). The app allows users to get directions, check the weather, and even hail an Uber ride without the use of cellular data. Instead, requests are routed entirely through SMS. Second, Lights, Camera, Location! uses a Google API to search the entire world for the filming locations of any Hollywood movie. It is incredible that both of these solutions were conceived and built in only 24 hours!

Other companies to present included a podcast that drops hints for listeners to piece together to unlock the next episode, an online education platform for web development, and a safe way for sexual assault survivors to report their attacks. Overall, the audience was introduced to some extremely interesting and useful products, and it is clear that the tech community in New York is thriving.

Event Recap: NJ Tech Meetup #65

On October 20th, the Lab attended the 65th New Jersey Tech Meetup in Hoboken, NJ. As is tradition, the event began with three entrepreneurs introducing their startups, followed by a fireside chat with an industry veteran. This month’s speaker was Micah Rosenbloom, Managing Partner of Founder Collective, an early-stage investor fund.

The first entrepreneur to present was Scott from Thrive Commerce. A major friction point in eCommerce occurs when consumers leave a retailer’s site to search for coupons on third party sites like RetailMeNot. Often times, once someone leaves the site, they do not come back to check out. Purchased on a SaaS model, Thrive Commerce is a deal management platform that enables retailers to publish, track, and offer discounts to their products across their owned properties. With the coupons readily available, the consumer is encouraged to stay focused on checking out once they have decided to purchase. The platform also allows brands to optimize language on their site to efficiently compete with these third parties’ SEO campaigns.

Next to the podium was Lisa, Founder and CEO of Savile Row Society (SRS), to discuss her new app, Savil.me. Savile Row Society is an eCommerce platform for men who are in need of fashion advice. The site and app connect consumers to personal stylists who shop for them. Products are delivered through Postmates. Each user can also curate their own ‘Virtual Closet,’ which is composed of items already in a user’s closet and garments they have purchased through SRS. Users can then leverage SRS’s color matching algorithm to receive outfit suggestions.

The last presenter introduced the audience to Paydunk‘s secure checkout service, which solves an issue even further down the funnel than Thrive Commerce. Rather than shopping cart abandonment, Paydunk is looking to solve checkout abandonment. Too often, online shoppers get confused or spooked by having to enter personal information over and over again on different sites in order to purchase online. Pay dunk allows users to have one secure method of checkout that does not save purchase information. A user is prompted to enter a pin number to confirm purchase, then a push notification is sent to their mobile device as a secondary confirmation. This essentially acts as a virtual debit card.

After the presentations concluded, Micah Rosenbloom took the stage to discuss his career as a founder and a funder. He stressed the importance of leaving no stone unturned because inspiration or opportunity may reveal themselves in unlikely places. He also recommended that everyone frequently take a pomodoro to maintain focus and increase productivity at work.


Event Recap: Oculus Toybox Demo

Live from Oculus Connect in Hollywood, it’s IPG Media Lab. We’re on the ground trying the latest demos and covering the latest news from the conference.

Today the IPG Media Lab went hands-on with the Crescent Bay headset and Touch controllers as part of the Oculus Toybox Demo, their multiplayer interactive sandbox. As the headset booted-up a holographic head wearing a Crescent Bay appeared along a pair of hands – a headless avatar named Oculus Mike. From there, Oculus Mike introduced himself and began to walk me through the Oculus Touch controllers which are ergonomically designed carbon joysticks with a thumbstick and trigger buttons.

As the demo started, a table appeared that had a number of different toys, blocks, and lasers to play with. The hardware sensors allowed for a variety of gestures and interactions, including grabbing, moving, flicking, as well as punching the surround toys and blocks, and even head-butting the hanging tetherball above.

Despite the inability to walk around the virtual environment with Oculus Mike, the combination of VR and social interaction was perhaps its most impressive feat. With VR headsets poised to hit the consumer market in early 2016, marketers need to start exploring the VR landscape in order to understand what game developers will do with the ability to have multiplayer virtual environments and how brands can seamless integrate to enhance and bring value to the experience.

Event Recap: NJ Tech Meetup #64

On September 16, the Media Lab crossed the Hudson River to attend the 64th NJ Tech Meetup in Hoboken, New Jersey. This month’s meet up featured Kevin Ryan, founder of Gilt, Business Insider, MongoDB, and other tech startups. Mr. Ryan shared his experiences as founder and CEO of multiple companies. He spoke about the tech bubble burst at the turn of the century, during which he was faced with difficult layoffs but somehow maintained his optimism.

Mr. Ryan also shared some interesting statistics about his own ventures. According to him, 34 former employees of Doubleclick have gone on to become CEOs. On another note, Business Insider has never spent a single dollar in advertising, rather counting on audiences to embrace good products when they see them. Mr. Ryan also stated that he considers Jeff Bezos to be the most impressive CEO in the world, (although many former Amazon employees may disagree with his sentiment.)

Other entrepreneurs (vying to be the next Kevin Ryan) pitched their startups during the event. The first was Ceros, a cloud-based software for creating interactive, dynamic content. The studio includes drag-and-drop assets within templates for users to build experiences in HTML5 without needing to code. Once completed, the content is immediately published and can be embedded across the web. Ceros also provides real-time performance data and feedback on which elements of the content consumers are interacting with. This platform has obvious marketing implications as brands can build their own content quickly and without having to hire a specialist.

Next up to the podium was Vognition, a natural language voice control for connected devices. Vognition’s representative informed the audience that it is not a standalone solution rather, a component to be implemented into a complete voice recognition system. Conversational UI is a crowded space, and Vognition seems to be leaning on its ability to recognize normal speech as its differentiator.

The last company to present was Livnlist, a messaging app to help coordinate plans with friends. Although the layout and solution were both interesting and appealing, this platform currently offers limited marketing opportunities.

There continues to be interesting and exciting tech coming out of New Jersey and the NJ Tech meetup represents only a microcosm of the ingenuity that is emerging from the state.


Header image courtesy of NJ Tech Meetup 

Event Recap: September 2015 NY Tech Meetup

Last week, the Media Lab attended the New York Tech Meetup on campus at NYU. A number of startups showcased demos of their products, with varying levels of marketing implications. The environment was an open forum and the only question that was off limits from the audience was: “what is your business model?”

There were a wide range of solutions on display including a company that turns text into digital handwriting, a URL security database for brand protection, and an app that automatically edits music videos by syncing multiple takes to the audio. As far as companies that could be potentially interesting to marketers, a couple of the presentations stood out:

  • Grsp is a shopping app that allows a consumer to shop confidently by aggregating product reviews and competitive online and offline pricing. Consumers can scan a barcode, take a picture, or manually type in the name of a product in order to inform purchase decisions. As of now, Grsp is focusing on growing their scale. However, in the future, it may be possible to leverage their purchase data to re-target or conquest consumers.
  • Goldbean is an investment platform that targets finance novices. They are able to recommend equity to users based on their consumption data. Goldbean offers transparency into holdings within ETFs in order to lift the veil to people who are just starting off with their investments in order to make finance less intimidating. Their trading is built on Tradekings API and once scale is achieved, they will have an impressive amount of consumption and finance data on their audience.

Overall, there were some very impressive demonstrations that had practical use cases, although not many of the presentations offered much to be leveraged by brands. Most were in the very early stages of development and will be monitored as they grow their user bases for potential partnerships.


Everything Marketers Should Know From Apple’s iPhone 6s Event

Regular as clockwork, Apple’s annual iPhone launch event took place this afternoon in San Francisco, where the company unveiled some major upgrades to almost its entire product line. Here are the highlights from today’s event that all marketers and brands should be aware of.

• Apple Watch Gets More Apps and Fashionable Watch Bands
Apple demoed various new Watch apps such as Facebook Messenger, GoPro, and AirStrip, and collaborated with Hermes on new models with exclusive bands.

• iPad Pro Gives Brands More Screen Space To Impress
The brand new iPad Pro that boasts a stunning 12.9-inch screen, giving brands more space and processing power to impress their audience on mobile devices.

• iPhone 6s Presents New Features For Brands To Engage
With 4K video recording, animated Live Photo, 3D Touch, and more, Apple debuts the next-gen smartphone that brands need to adept to.

• The Future Of TV Is Apps
With “tvOS”, Apple brings App Store, gaming capability, and Siri to Apple TV, providing brands with a gateway to infiltrate the living room space.

The new iOS 9 will be made available to all users on September 16, with updated iPhones available starting September 26. The Apple TV and iPad Pro will hit stores later this fall, in October and November, respectively. As always, the Lab will offer our hands-on take on these next-generation devices, so remember to check back for more.

iPhone 6s Presents New Features For Brands To Engage Mobile Users

Announced at Apple’s annual press event on Wednesday, the new iPhones, predictably named iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, may look similar to their precursors at the first glance. Upon a closer look, however, the newest additions to Apple’s smartphone lineup reveal some neat new features that brands can make good use of. In addition, the new phones also come with the “always-on Siri,” which allows users to activate Siri with just their voice by saying “Hey Siri,” as well as improvements to the processors, cameras, wireless, and Touch ID.

Besides a new 12 megapixel camera that supports 4K video recording, the new iPhones will also add “Live Photos” to its imaging arsenal, a new photo format that essentially functions as HD animated gifs with audio. Apple has released the developer API for Live Photo and alluded to Facebook’s integration of this new format, which could brings a richer layer to brands’ visual content across platforms.

The new iPhones also boasts a crucial new feature named 3D Touch. Developed upon the Force Touch technology, this new system-wide feature enables new touch gestures such as Peek and Pop that allows users to dip in and out of apps without opening them full-screen. While this offers brands a new way to provide handy shortcuts to their app users, it also presents a challenge for brands to truly engage with the mobile consumers as they jump in between apps seamlessly. This expands on the recent trend of app content appearing outside of the app itself, a double-edged sword which rewards the most useful apps with higher visibility, while punishing apps which can’t provide content that is useful in multiple contexts.

Apple also announced their own iPhone Upgrade Program, a financing product which allows users who purchase a phone at the Apple Store to get a new, unlocked iPhone every year starting at $32/month. Along with carriers unbundling their own financial offerings, this has the potential to increase the rate of upgrades, and further shift control of the customer relationship from the wireless carriers to Apple.