News and Press Releases

IBC Video Content Innovation Summit Kicks Off IBC 2017

By • Posted & filed under News and Press Releases

On the first morning of IBC 2017, Chris Pfaff Tech Media and Integer 1 hosted the IBC Video Content Innovation Summit at the Rockstart Accelerator in Amsterdam, which featured some of the leading innovators in the broadcast technology space today, including Vimond; Verizon envrmnt; HCL, and Valossa.

Emceed by Chris Pfaff, the breakfast event, held in the main event room at Rockstart, featured a technology keynote from Sanjay Macwan, focused on the shifting landscape for content distribution and consumption, and presented the audience of 55 producers, distributors, and vendors a view into where global content behaviors are headed. Macwan moderated a panel with Helge Hoibraaten, CEO of Vimond, Mika Rautiainen, CEO of Valossa, and Raheel Khalid, CTO of Verizon envrmnt (Kanwaldeep Kalsi, VP of Media for HCL, could not make the event, due to a delayed flight). The event literally presented some of the leading figures in OTT (Vimond), VR and AR (Verizon envrmnt), AI (Valossa), and cloud infrastructure (HCL).

Chris Pfaff emcees the IBC Video Content Innovation Summit

Sanjay Macwan, CEO of Integer 1, presents his keynote 

Sanjay gets into discussing the Muybridge experiment

Poster on front door of Rockstart Accelerator, Amsterdam

Raheel Khalid, CTO of Verizon envrmnt

Helge Hoibraaten, CEO of Vimond

Sanjay Macwan, left, and Mika Rautiainen, right

Long shot of the event room at Rockstart Accelerator

Sanjay poses a question to the panel

Raheel Khalid, Verizon envrmnt           Helge Hoibraaten, Vimond                   Mika Rautiainen, Valossa                     AI, OTT, and VR/AR all-stars

Highlights from the panel discussion included Helge’s discussion regarding content consumption (“we now have all the content we would ever want – in some ways, we don’t have to produce any more”) and content behaviors (“we interviewed teenagers about TV and they said ‘I have everything that I need in my phone'”). Raheel discussed the issue of every-cinreasing on -demand behaviors, in that people will “not wait for large files to download.” he said that Verizon envrmnt can now stream large-file content by taking game logic and running it on the fly. In this sense, VR and AR content is seamlessly distributed. He discussed Verizon envrmnt’s mobile edge compute strategy – which takes 20 milliseconds for a round trip. With 5G coming in, 1 gigabit bandwidth will enable VR content to be flawlessly streamed. Mika talked about the need to understand how video can be read and how machine learning can train to enable smarter questions around content itself.

See the promo highlight video at: https://youtu.be/lfZPjMLZa-w

The event was a swan song for Rockstart, as it was the last event in the main room at their 182 Herengracht location (they have since moved slightly north to a larger facility). But, it was a kickstart for IBC 2017, and in addition to a good meal, the crowd feasted on some hearty discussion.

 

Advertising Week TechX Brings the Fun to Ad-Tech

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The brainchild of VentureFuel and the Experiential Advertising Group, the Advertising Week New York 2017 TechX experience in Times Square, in a pop-up space between H&M and the NASDAQ MarketSite, curated some of the hippest tech for the ad world, from September 25-28. From digital art projects to AR apps to VR tools and holographic displays, the TechX arena offered a wide palette of commercially available experiences for attendees – creatives and media buyers – to play with and understand.

Ryan Hilla demonstrates Verizon envrmnt’s AR activation for Time Inc. to Guy Story and Vinne Grasso

The value of TechX cannot be understated: for years, Advertising Week has shunted ad-tech demos into the lower level of the Times Center on 8th and 41st, mainly as an afterthought to the main programming upstairs. TechX was both long overdue and also groundbreaking in its depth, bringing start-up companies in the immersive and AI worlds into a forum for major brand conversations on the state of the ad industry.

Mika Rautiainen demonstrates Valossa AI

TechX saw the launch of immersive analytics company QuantumXPR, with Scott Susskind and Kris Matheney camped out in the lower level of the venue, near two rows of digital art projects. Verizon envrmnt, the end-to-end VR/AR studio from Verizon Labs, was in full force, showcasing its AR projects for the likes of Time Inc., and Conde Nast, as well as its Virtual Sportsbar experience. The Valossa AI demo presented attendees with a new way to understand video, and VNTANA

showcased the best holographic display technology we have yet seen. Retinad’s VR in-console ad analytics and Tunity’s out of home display audio solution presented measurable technology for audiences underserved, or not yet measured. DreamSail Games showcased an expansive VR game environment, and Holosonics presented directional audio solutions.

VNTANA’s holographic display demonstrated the full-size immersive side of out of home displays

Sean Brown, with Turner Courageous, gets a demo of the Verizon envrmnt AR activation for a Verizon Store drone campaign, from JR Dawkins

Brian Roth, from Immersv, gets a VR demo from Christian Egeler, director of VR/AR at Verizon envrmnt

Nestled just steps away from the Times Square bustle, TechX was a rare opportunity to glimpse some of the more inventive ways to deliver and measure ads – and no PowerPoint involved.

Yes – there were sessions at TechX as well. Here’s a lively VC discussion in play

VR/AR Association Presents ‘Narrative in VR: How to Create Compelling Stories with Virtual Reality’ at NYU Tandon Future Lab

By • Posted & filed under News and Press Releases

On a steamy late-September Monday (September 25, 2017), on the first day of Advertising Week New York, the VR/AR Association hosted an event with some of the leaders in VR storytelling, ‘Narrative in VR: How to Create Compelling Stories with Virtual Reality,’ at the NYU Tandon Future Lab in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

(l to r) Brian Seth Hurst; Caitlin Burns; Raheel Khalid, and Lewis Smithingham at the NYU Tandon Future Lab in DUMBO

Moderated by Chris Pfaff, the panel featured Brian Seth Hurst, Chief Storytelling and President at StoryTech Immersive; Raheel Khalid, CTO of Verizon envrmnt; Caitlin Burns, founder/CEO of Caitlin Burns & Associates, and Lewis Smithingham, president and partner at 30ninjas. An audience of 35 producers, artists, and students were part of a lively discussion regarding VR’s narrative structures, and how much of today’s VR industry has adapted game design techniques to better deliver moving experiences.

Marco Castro, artist in residence at NYU Tandon Future Lab, welcomes the crowd

Brian Seth Hurst showed his groundbreaking piece ‘My Brother’s Keeper,’ which premiered on HTC Viveport at Sundance 2017, and was produced for PBS Digital Studios. Currently the most widely distributed VR film to date, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ was what Hurst detailed as an invention process, as it is the first live action VR film shot at 120 frames per second, and includes innovation such as 180 framing and Bokeh inside the sphere.

Brian Seth Hurst discusses ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Raheel Khalid showed some of Verizon envrmnt’s latest work, its ‘Virtual Sports Bar’ experience, which creates opportunities for multi-user drop-in experiences. He has helped build new tools for multi-user VR experiences that will enable producers and consumers to shape their own VR narratives in real-time.

Raheel Khalid shows off the Verizon envrmnt virtual sports bar, and discusses new VR tools for multi-user narratives

Caitlin Burns described some of her work on Space Nation, a Helsinki-based organization that uses virtual experiences to train civilians for space travel. She also discussed some of her early learnings in VR storytelling, and how to overcome technological hurdles to maintain narrative focus.

Caitlin Burns discusses Space Nation

Lewis Smithingham described challenges that he has faced with VR and AR productions, including his work for the ‘Conan O’Brien Show.’

Lewis Smithingham describes the challenges of live VR and AR production

Raheel Khalid gives Lewis Smithingham a Google Daydream demo

Adweek: ‘Growing Up the Son of a Mad Man in Advertising’s Golden Age,’ May 11, 2016

By • Posted & filed under News and Press Releases

voice-man-mad-01-2015

I was fortunate enough to have my personal reflections of growing up the son of an ad industry legend – Warren Pfaff – in the ‘Mad Men’ finale issue of Adweek, datelined May 11, 2015. The print edition had some retro fonts and design, and captured the spirit of the era. Dad would have been proud.

The full copy is below, and the link is at: http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/growing-son-mad-man-advertisings-golden-era-164629

 

Growing Up the Son of a ‘Mad Man’ in Advertising’s Golden Era

Reflecting on career and work of a Don Draper-like father

  • May 11, 2015, 12:00 AM EDT

Warren Pfaff’s work yielded iconic slogans, lyrics and campaigns for Pan Am, McDonald’s and the Marines.

There are many memories of the so-called “golden era” of advertising that are conjured up expertly by Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men on AMC Networks.

Largely, it is the effort to create a world that somehow captures the excitement of an era that stood for unyielding possibility. For someone like me, who was a small child during those years, with a father who may have been a model for someone like Don Draper, the show is an inescapable reflection of just how great that era really was.

And this is why the end of Mad Men, which kicked off its final episodes—fittingly enough—on Easter Sunday, April 5 (in the Mad Men era, clothiers such as Robert Hall would have flooded the airwaves with enticements for fathers to take their sons shopping for a new suit, or two) is an indelible reminder of what we have lost along the way.

My father, Warren Pfaff, was the creative director at J. Walter Thompson, the world’s largest ad agency at the time, for most of the 1960s. It was his work that yielded many iconic slogans, lyrics and campaigns, from McDonald’s “You deserve a break today” to the Marines’ “We’re looking for a few good men” to Pan Am’s “Get out of this country … get out of this world. Pan Am makes the going great.”

Even as a small child, I was caught up in the excitement of the advertising revolution that was occurring. The sunroom study in the house where I grew up with my brother and sister was a mini-playback studio, with an Ampex quarter-track reel-to-reel deck, on which Dad’s demos and finished product were played. Dad’s return from Seattle in 1968, where he shot the original ads for the Boeing 747 that Pan Am debuted, was epic: Pan Am toy planes and other trinkets were major prizes for someone who would soon become obsessed with the Apollo missions to the moon (something captured beautifully in the previous season of Mad Men).

One of my first visits to New York City was to visit a cutout of the 747 plane that was in the Pan Am Building (now MetLife) just atop Grand Central Station (where we came into the city, from nearby Stamford, Conn.), and adjacent to the Graybar Building, where my father’s office at J. Walter Thompson was located. New York in 1968-69 was as Olympian as it could get for a small child. We were all “going places,” and it seemed that all that aggressively positive energy was somehow emanating from a place called home.

My father’s return from the Clio Awards ceremony in 1970 woke me from my sleep. I went downstairs, heard the gleeful good news of his winning an award. When he handed me the gilded trophy, I promptly dropped it on my big left toe. He spent the whole night with me, icing my toe and foot and eating Kellogg’s Corn Flakes while we listened to the radio. He had spent plenty of early mornings with me and my siblings having breakfast, after having spent the entire night working in a recording studio or making a client deadline.

Chris Pfaff, CEO, Chris Pfaff Tech/Media LLC

The Pan Am campaigns that epitomized the Madison Avenue 1960s era were a reflection of the creative power of the ad industry. Pan Am produced an album of Steve Allen’s arrangements of the “Pan Am Makes the Going Great” theme. Steve and Eydie did the song in their nightclub act, and even Sammy Davis Jr. did a hip version of the song. Advertising didn’t need to license music for ads back then. The music industry came to the ad world for its cool.

Like many in his profession at the time, my father came to advertising as a way to make a living when the theater and other creative arts proved far less lucrative. He acted with the likes of Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith and was successful at greeting cards, but advertising was a noble endeavor with a steadier paycheck. And in the Mad Men era, advertising was a creative business, well captured in the TV show. (Although, no creative would be caught dead wearing a full suit at work. That tie was untied, if not taken off when at work, with shirtsleeves rolled up.)

My father was as much of a restless creative maverick as anyone. He left J. Walter Thompson to start Warren G. Pfaff, Inc. in 1971, launching his concept of an advertising “cartel” with a two-page ad in The New York Times on April 19, 1971, with $14,000 of his own money. He received 1,600 letters within two weeks (only one was negative). His friend and industry muse, The New York Times’ longtime ad columnist, Philip Dougherty, had given him major ink to help push that effort along.

Dad merged that firm with McCaffrey Ratner in 1990. His office at 505 Park Avenue—with a penthouse wraparound terrace—had the largest round oak conference room table I have ever seen, and standing ashtrays filled with butts were a mainstay image. He and his small band of creative and account men even built a screening room off the reception area that was state of the art. It was the scene of a company family holiday party in 1972 where the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup was screened.

My father’s last office was at 185 Madison Avenue, across from the old B. Altman Department Store. He had the last agency to have an actual Madison Avenue address, and he moved out just a few months after B. Altman had closed for good.

Dad died in 2004, a victim of lung cancer, but he was working on ads up until his death. I think that he would have loved the portrayal of the New York ad world Mad Men conjures so well (particularly the pre-1966 era).

It would be almost like going home.

This article was originally published by IndieReader.

Chris Pfaff (@pfaffchris) is CEO of Chris Pfaff Tech/Media LLC and a founder of the PGA New Media Council. 

 

 

Chris Pfaff Tech Media-CleverTap event at General Assembly packs the house during Internet Week New York

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On Wednesday, May 20th, in the middle of Internet Week New York 2016, CleverTap and Chris Pfaff Tech Media produced an event with some of the leading New York players in the mobile app space, including CleverTap’s own Arkady Fridman, as well as Al Jazeera Media Network’s Tian Chen; Cachette Group’s Ellie Cachette, and Rumble Fox’s Julie Andrews.

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Julie Andrews, Arkady Fridman, Ellie Cachette, Tian Chen, and Chris Pfaff at ‘The Full Stack: Creating an App From Beginning to End’ at General Assembly, 05.18.16

Chris Pfaff joked that the crowd was gathered together to pay its respects, “with a 1.5 nanosecond moment of silence,” to Windows Phone, which had essentially been killed by Microsoft the day before.

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Julie Andrews, from Rumble Fox, presents

 

‘The Full Stack: Creating an App from Beginning to End,’ assessed a wide range of issues connected with the design, development, maintenance and promotion of apps. Julie Andrews presented a case study that showed how Rumble Fox created a hybrid web-mobile app for the Health Management Academy that integrated with existing data systems and worked with an easily maintainable code base. Tian Chen showed the evolution of Al Jazeera America’s app, and discussed the decisions that forced design changes and overall structure of the app. Arkady Fridman showed the CleverTap dashboard and discussed the need for better app engagement with users.

20160518_202458

Tian Chen, talks about Al Jazeera Media Network’s app

 

The crowd at General Assembly was comprised of 100 people, mainly tech and media professionals, many of whom were in the process of building an app, or planning an app. The panel discussion provided a range of topics, led by Chris Pfaff, that included forecasting an app’s performance; dealing with apps that never seem ready for primetime; the best tools to use for development and quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA); how brands view apps and how developers and designers need to consider overall brand touchpoints, and how to communicate with app users without overwhelming or annoying them through notifications.

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Julie Andrews answers an audience question

 

This was the third CleverTap-General Assembly event in New York, and there is clearly a growing community for this kind of forum.

 

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Arkady Fridman; Julie Andrews; Chris Pfaff; Tian Chen, and Ellie Cachette, after the event

 

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Julie Andrews, Tian Chen, and Arkady Fridman, prior to the event

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Tian Chen with Ted Iannuzzi, from Ixonos, after the event

Producers Guild of America New Media Council East panel: ‘Gaming the System: Branded Entertainment for Producers’ – Wednesday, September 30th, 7:00-9:00 pm at The New School’s Lang Auditorium

By • Posted & filed under Announcements, News and Press Releases

Join me and six branded entertainment luminaries at my PGA New Media Council East mega-panel during Advertising Week New York, ‘Gaming the System: Branded Entertainment for Producers’ on Wednesday, September 30th, from 7:00-9:00 pm, at The New School’s Lang Auditorium, 55 West 13th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), 2nd floor.

In addition to great networking, food & drink, and a gathering of the new media tribes, the following presenters will appear:

  • Ian Schafer, chairman, US CEO and founder, Deep Focus
  • Warren Weideman, founder, First Look Productions LLC
  • Luis de la Parra, senior vice president, partner solutions, Univision
  • Colas Overkott, CEO, Sync
  • Will Misselbrook, head of branded entertainment, Condé Nast Entertainment
  • Andy Oakes, managing director, The Drum

You can RSVP at:

http://www.producersguild.org/events/Sessions.aspx?id=688263

 

I hope to see you on Wednesday, September 30th during Advertising Week New York for this event.

 

 

Synched TV-Mobile Ads Are Coming to a Device On You!

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As more TV is delivered over IP networks, and as more mobile viewing takes place, the synched TV-mobile experience will soon become a more enriched unit for advertisers and a fun – yes, you heard that word! – way for consumers to enjoy ads. Again.

Approximately 84% of TV viewers are dual-screeners (according to Mary Meeker KPCB Internet Trends 2014), and that figure jumped 200% since the 2012 London Olympics. More significantly, those dual-screen viewers are spending 50% of their viewing time using a second device (Millward Brown Abreaction, ‘Marketing in a Multiscreen World, 2014). During ad breaks, 67% of the audience shifts to mobile (United Internet Media, 2014).

As contextual content – user-aware; location-aware content served to individuals – increases, the synched ad solution market will rise. Solutions from the EU 2nd screen market have, so far, led the way. Paris-based Sync (a spin-off from Visiware) conducted the first such unit placement during the half-time of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final. The perfectly synched spot, a rich animated interactive ad unit for smartphones and tablets in the app of L’Equipe (France’s top sports app, with more than 9 million downloads), highlighted the precision of Gillette razors, and included a contextual game, asking users to guess the precision of the shots during the first half, and instantly provided users with the live result. The unit, created by Sync’s patented Sync2Ad unit, which was developed by the Visiware studio, bridged the gap between TV And mobile advertising, between the brand and individual consumers. More than half of the top 20 French apps currently have installed the Sync2Ad SDK, and Sync is actively signing partnerships for Sync2Ad in other countries. The new ad format creates unique additional high-value inventory for publishers, and can be used for their own promotional purposes.

Sync2Ad, Sync, Coors Light, TV ad

In-app advertising is far more likely to gain the attention of viewers, who are well used to blocking ads on their desktop browsers. What will likely happen is an understanding of how gamification can reward the synched ad viewer. When Yahoo! streams the NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars from London on October 25th, the worlds of TV and mobile will undoubtedly collide. It will be interesting to see how Yahoo! and its ad agency and ad network partners view this experience. And, yes, how the NFL – no stranger to the 2nd screen world – sees the synched ad experience. So far, the U.S. market has seen small steps toward synched TV-mobile ads. Xaxis launched an attempt in this field in the spring of 2014, and NBC has made in-roads with Never.no, a Norwegian 2nd screen solutions provider. But, overall, the mobile ad shift has not lived in the synched universe.

 

Sync, Sync2Ad, TV ad

The hurdles overcome with user privacy surrounding Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) has hampered some of the progress in this arena. Also, critical mass is an issue for app publishers. Meaning, unless there is a solid audience using apps while TV spots are aired, or with devices that have apps live or open, the opportunity may be lost. This is where gamification lends itself to the experience. A synched spot needs to have true bi-directionality to really enhance the experience, where users could, in a game construct, lead to new levels of play or engagement. This is nothing that the SMS marketing world has not known for years, and has done with great success in the participatory TV genre that has included ‘American Idol,’ ‘America’s Got Talent,’ and other war horse shows that have, literally, taught the U.S. population to text.

TV as we know, and the ad units that support it, need to change just as live TV has changed radically in the past decade. When on-demand streamers such as Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix figure out how to engage viewers with synched spots, the arena will expand dramatically. And, one can only hope, create more fun for TV viewers.

Click on, people. Click on.

Nordic Showcase in New York Demonstrates the Power of Cohesive Innovation

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Pär-Jörgen Pärson, general partner at Northzone, and an early backer of Spotify and Bloglovin, welcomed guests to Scandinavia House in New York on a steamy Tuesday evening, August 25th to a Nordic Showcase of start-ups selected by the best accelerators and incubators in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. His remarks said it best; the reason that the Nordics are kicking such serious ass in the EU, and global, start-up market is due to one word: socialism. Yes, the cohesion created by the Scandinavian model of state-sponsored education, healthcare, and – in the case of Sweden in the mid-’90s – home computing has yielded entrepreneurs better educated, better prepared, and creatively forged in markets where innovation is as much a natural characteristic as it is a personal trait. The driver for the success of large companies – from Ericsson to Kone to Lego – is also the driver for Nordic entrepreneurs.

Pär-Jörgen Pärson, Northzone, venture capital, Swedish, Nordic Showcase, New York, Scandinavia House

I coined the term “Finntrepreneur” in 2011, in the wake of Nokia’s implosion. It was initially used to market ex-Nokian entrepreneurs who had taken the plunge in the start-up world. Now, four years on, the Finntrepeneur is everywhere. She, or he, are creating seminal new technologies and digital media services at a frantic pace. It is no longer cool to work for a big company in the Nordic region: start-ups are the new vitality.

 

And, unlike the U.S., the Nordic start-up scene is infinitely more diverse. It was not a surprise, then, to see that 6 out of the 10 presenters at the Nordic Showcase, produced by Helsinki-based Slush, were women. Women from Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In an era where female start-up founders are still marginalized in the U.S., the Nordic Showcase proved again the power of Nordic progressivism in action. The two Slush event producers, Eva Fogdell and Ghita Wallin, are not only Finntrepreneurs, but students. Yes, Slush – the dynamic, ever-growing conference that is the largest venture confab in the world – is completely run by students from the Aalto Center for Entrepreneurship. If a group of U.S. students attempted the same feat, it would flop around like a perch on a dry dock in blazing summer heat (sorry, just speaking the truth).

SLUSH, Ghita Wallin, Eva Fogdell, Jeremy Rougeau, Peter Vesterbacka, Julius Hietala, Nordic Showcase, Lemonsqueeze, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

 

For the record, the Nordic Showcase held this week may have made history, as the start-up incubators/acclerators and premier growth ventures from all 5 Nordic countries were represented. Erik Engellau-Nilsson, VP of Swedish e-commerce powerhouse Klarna, also spoke, but more as a quasi-mentor, displaying the kind of sangfroid that investors so relish: I’m here now in New York, and we have grown well, even after past mistakes. How refreshing, in this age of rocket-phase “unicorn” ambitions, to hear start-up founders and execs discuss operations and geographic expansion in mature tones.

klarna, Erik Engellau-Nilsson, e-commerce, Swedish, Scandinavia House, New York

One of the more illuminating opportunities of the evening was the chance to see Icelandic entrepreneurs present. Breakroom’s Didrik Steinsson and Tagplay’s Sesselja Vilhjalmsdottir displayed new paradigms for, respectively, workplace privacy and automatic web updates. Swedes in the house included Per Emanuelsson, CEO of Soundtrap, a mobile music education and production platform, and Sofie Lundstrom, CEO of Toborrow, a unique lending platform for small businesses. The Danish side included Thomas Helms, CEO/founder of Vaavud, a smartphone wind meter, and Gulnaz Khusainova, CEO/founder of EasySize, a personal fashion e-commerce platform. The Norwegian contingent included Jeanette Dyrhe Kvisvik, CEO/co-founder of Villoid, an app that enables users to follow fashion trends and buy the latest fashions, and Ivar Sagemo, CEO/founder of AIMS Innovation, an IT performance analytics platform for large enterprises. The Finns were well-represented in the persons of Jenny Wolfram, CEO/founder of FaceForce, a brand reputation and ad performance tool, and Katariina Rantanen, CEO/founder of Cosmethics, an iOS app that scans bar codes and cross-references ingredients with a database that enables users to make smarter product and health decisions.

 

The historic nature of the Nordic Showcase will be borne out in the coming months and years: more young entrepreneurs will hear of the various U.S. successes of these start-ups and accelerate their moves into the massive American market. And, yes, Slush 2015 (November 11-12 in Helsinki) will be an even more immediate barometer of how fast the Nordic venture ecosystem is growing.

 

In the region where the sun shines least, cohesive innovation seems to burn brightest.

 

 

 

Chris Pfaff in the News: Austin American-Statesman, ‘SXSW Influence Still Growing in Gaming World’

By • Posted & filed under News and Press Releases

SXSW influence still growing in gaming world

Organizer expects gaming expo to draw at least 55,000 people.

PHOTOS BY EFREN SALINAS/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Mark Anthony, 13, plays a virtual reality light saber simulator made by Sixense at South by Southwest Interactive’s gaming portion at the Palmer Events Center on Friday. The convention kicked off at noon and features tournaments, demos of new game technology and booths for gaming enthusiasts and developers.

Finnish video game publisher Mika Laaja had never been to Austin, or Texas for that matter.

But he’s here now for South by Southwest Interactive to drum up publicity for his company’s mobile racing game, “AG Drive.”

“It’ll be a bit of a new experience for us,” said Laaja, who is fresh off the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco earlier this month. “Austin is a very cool town, from what I’ve read or heard.”

Video games have long been a part of SXSW, but their presence continues to grow. Whether it’s to make a splash or to network, developers continue to flock to Austin to be a part of the conference’s critical mass of tech industry movers and shakers.

Last year, the gaming portion of SXSW drew about 48,000 people and filled the parking garage of the Palmer Events Center in an hour. This year, the festival’s gaming project manager, Justin Burnham, said he “conservatively” expects 55,000 attendees.

“We’re growing faster than we can staff,” Burnham said.

On Friday, scores of independent developers showed off their games to onlookers who packed the gaming expo at Palmer Events Center.

Robert Dougherty, who runs a gaming company out of Boston, was walking attendees through his spacethemed card game, “Star Realms.”

“It’s our first South by Southwest,” Dougherty said. “We just want to show as many people as possible the game.”

Another product, SymGym, looked more like a piece of fitness equipment. It required users to move their arms and legs to control the game on- screen.

“The idea, it’s combining the exercise and the gaming all in one,” said Glenn Susz, as he helped an attendee use the device.

This year at SXSW, gaming panels run the gamut from talks by programmers for the Intellivision console to a speaker who wants to use gaming to forge peace between Israelis and Palestin- ians.

While SXSW has dabbled in gaming for years, Burnham was brought in four years ago to grow the gaming segment. In addition to panels and featured speakers, the gaming portion has stages devoted to e- sports, comics and other nerd culture pursuits.

“(Gaming) is under the Interactive umbrella,” Burnham said, “but it’s like the baby that can almost walk on its own.”

Burnham credited the growth to being a part of SXSW, which is one of the largest festivals in the country. That leads to not only hardcore fans showing up, but also casual attendees dropping by, he said.

“I think it’s just a perfect blend of everything,” Burnham said.

The growth of video gaming at SXSW comes as the industry continues to be a growing part of the Texas economy.

The computer and video game industry in Texas grew by 15.9 percent from 2009 to 2012 and added $764 million to the state economy, according to a study last year by the Entertainment Software Association. The number of video game establishments in Texas increased to 127 in 2012 from 80 in 2009, according to the study. That’s continued to increase since 2012. Last year, the Entertainment Software Association’s Tom Foulkes told the state House Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives that Texas has moved ahead of Washington state and is just behind California in video game production. He said the state’s 200 game developers employ about 5,000 Texans at an average annual salary of $90,000.

Chris Pfaff, who owns a New Jersey based tech marketing firm and is working with Laaja’s company, said SXSW is a good way to get attention for a new game and also to network.

“The gaming scene in Austin is pretty robust, so we’re looking to hook up with like-minded folks, but also partners on the advertising side, the branded entertainment side,” Pfaff said. “It’s a good way to introduce not only the game, but also the chops that (the company heads) have to a new audience.”

Pfaff said he thinks SXSW is now known more for the Interactive portion than anything else — even music.

“People go to South by Southwest to learn and network and take a pulse on what’s happening,” he said. “And (people) know that if you want to be in the nerve center of creativity and really aggressive forward thinking creativity, you kind of have to be there. It’s one of the few events where you’re really conspicuous by your absence.”