Asgard awaits: Analyzing the entertainment model

Gratuitous shot of Chris Hemsworth as Thor

So. Movies. Specifically, action ones (but any, really). I just indulged in 3D Imax Thor, good enough entertainment – shot a little too much with “angles” for gratuitous 3D impact, but overall beautiful and surprisingly sweet.

I’m just sorry the actual screen resolution is still so low….and that the 3D is a bit wonky. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an improvement in the “embedding” yourself aspect of being entertained, but why am I still faking 3D with cheap plastic glasses, and too low resolution on 2D screens?

Why am I not being surrounded with at the very least, a curved screen, and optimally – sitting in the middle of the action with a visor that put me into the movie? Whatever happened to the promise of virtual reality? The gaming industry is going there. I understand that it would require a tech revolution in filming technique (360° vision required), but as so much of the environment on screen is currently created with Cad-like programs anyway, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

I realize those owners of huge real estate housing large screens have a good reason to *not* go there, but entice viewers to shell out $15 (!) for the “big screen” experience, but to be honest the small visor / virtual reality version would look better.

And the established film creation industry has similar interests in keeping the status quo.

So while I understand the legacy industry players have a vested interest in keeping the seats filled, I wonder if there isn’t any room for other players to innovate the space? Particularly since other players in the entertainment industry are starting to create original content.

Instead of the current model (entertainment companies make a movie, which is turned into a game), how hard would it be for the game companies to create their own original movies / entertainment with a game-like interface? Or other players who don’t have a vested interest in the existing interface?

I’m not underestimating the amount of effort it would take to launch a completely new entertainment model, but I don’t think there’s a lot the established industry could do if a well financed, concerted effort was made – in partnership with the visor / hardware companies. It sure would be a really interesting space to innovate.

I’ve consciously kept this post reasonably attainable, because where I think really interesting development is, is in true interactive virtual reality so you’re not just watching from the vantage point of the producer but are free to interact with your surroundings in any way you want.

This would open a whole new world of commercial applications – from eliminating the need to travel (you can do that trip of a lifetime, without the food poisoning or uncomfortable beds) to simulations for any activity the requires any physical training (fire, police, pilot, race car driver, etc). You could actually walk through Asgard, sit on the throne, walk through the halls.

Reminds me of a “living theater” experience in Manhattan recently told me about: the entire building is made up of rooms, each of which has a part of a story line being acted out. You choose to sit, engage, walk from room to room, create the experience you want while being transported to a crime scene a la Agatha Christie.

It makes sense that people who are – by the time the technology arrives – spoiled for personalized experiences they dictate themselves, instead of ones foisted upon them – would prefer this type of entertainment. So: a merging of the gaming industry and movie / entertainment is inevitable.

Throw in augmented reality so that interactions in your daily life can be enhanced with game-like features, and the convergence is 360°. I have to admit, the idea of actually interacting the Chris Hemsworth – albeit, virtually – an enticing one! 

Reality, what is it really? Exploring Augmented Reality

I love the concept of augmented reality. I mean, isn’t watching Avatar in 3D Imax so much better than the gray reality when you come home to look at your walls?

Don’t you love the colors! – and can’t you feel your muscles twitching as you mentally jump from psychedelically colored palm frond to palm frond along with the Navi?  When I got home after the movie, all I could do is stare at my (boring) walls and wonder “where are my white floating squids?” Uch. Reality is tough, gray, cold – well, “real”.

But seriously, I think augmented reality has the potential to be the next mass (and I mean, MASS) addiction after social networking.

Currently every discussion around it seems to focus on the information it will bring…as interesting as it would be to have directions overlaid onto my wanderings (directly into my retina, or indeed – the optic nerve at some point) I think another obvious application is more akin to gaming in nature.

Your neighbors, the Smiths.

Imagine you’re just in one of those moods, and instead of having to look at all the “regular” faces you pass on the street (gray, dour) you could instead decide that today is “sea monkey day”. Seriously, you’re in the mood for sea monkeys. So you program your “sea monkey setting” into your yet-to-be-determined data input module and voila! Everyone has a sea monkey head.

It’s the ultimate version of beer goggles.

The program could generate facial differences by interpolating from real faces, or by pulling data from various public profiles (the sentiment analysis of your current Facebook status interpolates: “bad mood”) and an unhappy (but potentially, comical) Sea Monkey face is projected. Etc. etc. You get the picture.

An additional idea would be being able to set your own markers so that AR programs interpret your data in a certain way that day. In a flirty mood / want to chat? Advertise with a certain color (how about, green face = available). We could color code the world and communicate without any words at all. After all, if our information from a wide variety of sources is going to be broadcast anyway (ref: https://lindaricci.com/01/04/not-just-a-pretty-face), why not control what we put out there in this way?

This could be seriously addictive. And seriously lucrative from an entertainment merchandising standpoint. Think about it: Now I don’t have to just leave the Navi behind when I get home, I can superimpose licensed Navi images on my whole day. All I need is some giant pond fronds (why not my office chair??)

It makes sense as part of the “personalization” trend: everyone wants (information) how they want it, in the way they want it. How difficult is it to imagine that this will also include superimposing our own desires for what “reality” will look like that day?

Once it happens would you ever go back to just seeing things the way they “are”?  I don’t think so.

Virtual me

A few years ago I met with a company that was in start up phase, with a cool vision: they were developing body scanning software (not new) BUT – and this is the cool part – they were taking it a step further by planning on installing kiosks in malls which were tied to the apparel inventory in the store at that mall.

So you could be scanned, tell it you were looking for a red dress, and it would give you the list of options: “At Macy’s Liz Claiborne has a red dress in your size. At Bloomingdale’s, Tahari”.

Note: as any women can tell you, sizing is a “rough estimate” not an absolute – so you can be one size with one brand, and a different one with another. The body scanning software eliminated this fuzziness – it correlated your actual measurements with individual brand measurements and then checked inventory there to ensure you didn’t have to waste a lot of time searching and trying on things that didn’t fit. It would send you to the right place/brand/size without all the hassle.

Aside from the fact that some don’t find shopping a hassle and it’s a very utilitarian approach to searching and finding, this is clearly genius. But I’d like to see it taken a few steps further.

The body scanning /real time inventory integration should be combined with avatars and virtual world technology. Not in Second Life, although that can be a real hoot (hey, I know, I’m a geek) – but the ability to scan, build an avatar that actually does resemble you (not the idealized 20 year ago in my wildest fantasy version), with correct dimensions, and then – and this is the next steps – have it try on apparel that actually is based on real manufacturers styles and sizes. You could *immediately* actually see if that dress fits, how it looks in 3D, and whether it’s flattering.

This would be a huge cost reduction for what is a practice barely improved since the advent of the Sears catalog back in 1888. Currently catalog or Internet sales are a fuzzy science – a teeny picture (maybe, a shot from the back too), that’s no where close to your size/body shape. I don’t even bother, but when I have, I order two sizes and return the one that doesn’t fit – or return them both in disgust.

These returns cost both the retailers and the manufacturers a huge amount of money and hassle. It keeps inventory management a guessing game for the manufacturers, who have to take back inventory that doesn’t sell in the retail channel and also share – if not own – any sales price reductions that the retailers implement. So, if something comes back, it either goes to the sales rack or gets returned to the manufacturer. For the retailers it’s more about hassle and the costs associated with logistics.  

With body scanned avatars – and accurate sizing reflected in a virtual garment – the number of returns would be greatly reduced, because you would *know* it fit, and that it looked good. It’s such a win-win-win solution for everyone involved (consumer, retailer, manufacturer) that I don’t understand why I’ve not seen any movement towards developing this.

I’m not sure I really want to see what I look like in 3D, which I’m sure is a concern for many (I like my delusions as much as anyone….). But the amount of hassle and guessing it would eliminate would be a powerful incentive to try it.

And then when customized apparel manufacturing starts to go mainstream – it will be a necessity. Straight from scan to cutting table, so to speak, even if a laser is doing the cutting. But this disintermediates the retailers to a large extent, so has less incentive to be implemented.

I’m disappointed that in truth, I’ve been thinking about this for at least 5-6 years and as yet, it seems the industry is sticking with the old.

The good news is that my delusions are for now, still safe.