Visual storytelling trends

Strategic stocktaking as of July 2016


At the end of last year, it seemed clear which visual storytelling trends would dominate communication with film and video in the future. Six months ago, the list of buzzwords was headed by virtual reality, 360 videos, immersive journalism, Wearable Computing and dynamic storytelling, all of which are finally and invariably poised to make their breakthrough and all of these megatrends seemingly as near as Brexit seemed far. And today?

The summer holidays are frequently followed by planning the budget for 2017. A sufficient reason for determining the summer’s stocktaking when it comes to trends, recommendations and best practices. As was the case during the last strategic stocktaking regarding the trends for visual storytelling, we have to once again distinguish between technical and content-related trends. And just as importantly: all comments are very welcome.

Virtual Reality (VR)

The chances that Virtual Reality (VR) is close to its breakthrough from a technical perspective remain intact. However, we do need to be aware of the fact that numerous successful applications are NOT targeted to communication with film and video or to entertainment, but to industrial purposes instead. Thanks to VR glasses and Mixed Reality, the engineers at BMW are now able to optimise the construction and interaction of individual components in automotive engineering beforehand in order to produce virtual simulation. Similarly, soon-to-be physicians have already been conducting complicated virtual reality surgeries during their training for quite some time.

In mid-April, the American entertainment group HBO and the TV Discovery channel announced their “substantial investment” in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in order to draft the map for future entertainment. The plan is no more and no less than to create a universal publication platform for TV and films for the distribution of products in the holographical realm of virtual reality. In this regard, both content partners want to link the audience to artists and producers. We already know that this requires the development of new short formats. This will probably result in slightly shorter stories in the realm of virtual reality. This is sensible and commendable, because contextually, storytelling for interactive forms of narration is still in its experimental phase.

Visual Storytelling Trends. Strategic stocktaking at the end of the 2nd quarter 2016.
Google Search: Screenshot as of July 14, 2015

Every time the Marketing and Communication departments have developed a new technology, storytelling also begins to adapt to this new technology. This process has only just started. Like “Internetification”, which will offer us empathetic refrigerators and enlightened bulbs together with the Internet of Things, visual storytelling for Virtual Reality is still in its infancy. But even infants can take small, happy steps. This should keep us in suspense.

Philosophers and consciousness researchers do not regard Virtual Reality as something radically new but only as a consistently advancing development. Humankind has always created its own very personal virtual reality, even without digital technology, because all human perception cannot be anything but subjective. During dreams or in the presence of certain medical illnesses, the human brain has always been able to generate haptic feedback and realistic tactile sensations without external stimulation. In this light, the digital Virtual Reality discussed in this article is merely an extension. The virtual inner world is supplemented by a virtual outer world. Virtual Reality is therefore inevitable.

In an enlightening newspaper interview, Adrian Taub, Professor at Stanford University, assumes that the breakthrough of virtual reality is delayed, not because of technology but rather because the digital world is still far too sterile and too controlled for us to reconcile it with the reality of our actual life experience. Not without humour, he refers us to the resulting consequence:

After today’s antiseptic virtual reality, it sounds like a promise: a virtual world in which there is also room for all the horrors and wonders of human bizarreness. And if someone trips over their couch and breaks their neck during virtual sex, they will become the first martyr for an idiotic, chaotic, happy world far beyond any patronising. What a vision. Adrian Daub, NZZ dated 25 May 2016

A sure sign for the fact that virtual reality is indeed asserting itself will be the start of political discussions regarding the legislative standardisation of how to handle this new technology. However, we haven’t come to that yet. From a legal perspective, what happens if someone participates in a criminal act previously recorded in virtual reality remains to be seen for the time being.

Virtual reality may be a megatrend but is still in its infancy for communication with film and video. The risks posed by trial and error and the lack of market penetration continue to characterise the few application scenarios.

360˚ Videos

From a technical perspective, you cannot help but be enthusiastic about the possibilities in the digital production of 360° videos. In contrast to Circlevision films, which served as major attractions in Disney’s theme parks and world exhibitions from the 1950s to the last turn of the millennium, the technical quality of today’s films is far superior and they are incomparably cheaper.

However: praised as the sole sanctifying new visual experience, 360° videos are unfortunately currently hitting a brick wall at full speed. Unnecessarily so. On the one hand, innumerable videos of this nature were produced during the last 6 months, usually in the hope of being able to generate additional attention as front runners thanks to their new format. On the other hand, too many producers incorrectly understood 360° film as a genre, not as a supplement to already existing film formats, but as an opportunity for new, alternative business models. As a consequence of these two factors, numerous contents were filmed in 360° video form, but could have been told far better with conventional means.

360° films still have a second chance, provided that producers and customers utilise this expensive variety of moving image communication wherever it is also able to exploit its strengths. Its format and opportunities will have deserved it.

Immersive videos

Immersio is Latin and stands for “to immerse”. Combined with Storytelling as a palatable keyword, immersion is considered a trend in connection with visual communication. The viewer is supposed to be immersed in the story. I beg your pardon? Hasn’t it always been the dream of every storyteller to captivate his audience or viewers? Which creative individual, which customer, which producer does not want to implement films and videos for the audience? Naturally, if a film is misunderstood it is either because the audience is too stupid or because the film is a work of art. In all other cases, the aspiration for maximum effect, which includes immersion, is self-evident. The power of the moving image is based on immersion.

Numerous experts justify immersion’s alleged triumphal march with new technical innovations: digital interactivity permits total absorption in the story and the co-determination of its development. As medical trials have confirmed: immersion measurably changes the heart rate and the moisture on the skin surface.

However, virtual reality is not imperative for immersion. The viewer will also immerse in the story when viewing a film in conventional manner (cinema, TV, Tablet) and his essential physical functions are influenced by the image experience. Immersion is based on powerful imagery, dramaturgy, our humanity and perception psychology at least to the same extent as it is based on technology. Reduction and the placement of gaps are important ingredients in the shrewd storyteller’s magic potion. Wherever technology in communication and marketing with film and video may lead us: the viewer’s ability to become part of the film experience thanks to immersive techniques does not automatically turn the film into an experience and the viewer into a part of the film.

Storytelling only has one purpose. To combine relevance and emotions. There are vast amounts of information on everything. Information is available at any time, in every quality and prepared from every perspective and for all possible and impossible purposes. Information in itself is therefore inexpensive. Only the weighting, the interlinkage of information, context and meaning make information so valuable. With this in mind, immersive videos can and will score. Already because they are able to distinctively increase the attention span of users on portals with journalistic content and news so important, for example, for Google and the SEO values.

Immersion is like old wine in new wineskins and, for communication with film and video, is like bringing coals to Newcastle. The word storytelling goes hand in hand with the notion of immersion. And has always done so.

Wearable Computing

In our part of the world, the Wearable Computing segment has seen surprisingly little development with reference to storytelling during the last six months. Maybe also because – generously defined – Wearable Computing has already become reality thanks to Smartphones and Tablets. Irrespective of whether separate hardware such as Head Mounted Displays (HMD) or Google Glasses will actually assert itself in a second attempt, or whether the next development stage with software in the form of a silent revolution will follow, one thing will remain unalterable in the next months: when wearing such a device, you won’t look like a digital pioneer but rather like an actor from a 1980s Science Fiction film. This has been proven by President Obama, Chancellor Merkel and Federal Councillor Burkhalter.

Like 360° videos, Wearable Computing will extend the options of telling a story for a certain target audience with the adequate means – but will not replace the other formats.

Dynamic storytelling

There was less talk about Dynamic Storytelling as a trend in Europe during the last few months than expected. The interactive narration of stories was supposed to be a precursor paving the way to transmedial storytelling.  A logical step in itself and also a correct, sensible development with regard to convergence. Also because interactive formats, unlike YouTube videos, are not as quickly forgotten as they are uploaded to distribution platforms. Thanks to Social Media, interactive formats are able to increase their user numbers even months after their first publication.

Nonetheless, dynamic storytelling has so far remained a chess-like mental game for creative lateral thinkers. Those wanting to present themselves to a customer as an innovative film agency or marketer will also present an additional fourth to three other painless campaigns in the moving image segment, one which is based on transmedial storytelling. The reaction of the customers usually compares with that of potential buyers of VR glasses: I would love to try it out but would prefer not to pay for it.

Conceptually challenging in its production, dynamic storytelling offers real added value for moving image communication. However, the market still does not believe that this additional expense for creation can be compensated with effect. References and successful examples of application were unable to change this. It is probable that dynamic storytelling will only assert itself when technical innovations are able to further decrease the content production costs.

Last, but certainly not least

For more than 100 years, the triumphal march of the moving image also has something to do with the fact that, after an hour, an average person will only remember 10% of what he has heard. Only 17% of what we read remains in our memory. The situation is naturally different when we do or see something: we remember 80% of images and activities. One does not have to additionally praise the talent of the storyteller who has invented these images, and that of the cameraman who has captured them (once off). Our brain is able to absorb visual information 60 000 times faster than text. At this point and with this in mind, I would like to apologise for the fact that you had to read this blog as text and are not able to view it as a video. But as my former professor for film dramaturgy once said: “One should always have to make an effort for the important and real things in life.” As it should be, the important part is at the end of this article but before the best-practise videos further down on the page:

The reason why virtual reality has the right to exist even beyond entertainment and escapism can of course be found in its effect! This can be quantified in figures and has been scientifically proven repeatedly. If a visual experience (80% memorability) is combined with an action, for instance with virtual interaction, the memorability of the test subject is increased even further. Travel in virtual reality has a memorability of 90%.

Visual storytelling, combined with virtual reality, has a unique, unsurpassed efficacy. Among the storytelling trends, this turns virtual reality into the candidate with the actual potential of changing visual communication in marketing to communication.

Visual storytelling trends: Best practise

Interactive Storytelling:  American Express Unstaged – Taylor Swift

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Virtual Reality (VR) – Project Syria

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Interactive Documentary: Bear 71

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Real-Time Storytelling with Streaming Live video is not really new and usually flies under the radar as a trend. However, since streaming Apps are able to stream the videos in real time on Twitter or Facebook or on a web site and can therefore reach hundreds of thousands of users, Visual Storytelling in Social Media has entered new dimensions. Not only for news. Real-time streaming with Social Media is becoming a megatrend.

Wearable Tech: Every Day is Veterans Day – Hero Tours

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Über Kristian Widmer 27 Artikel

Kristian Widmer (49) is Executive Producer and CEO of Condor Films Ltd. He has been advising customers on film and video for 23 years.

2 Kommentare

  1. Good article, with great examples. Just recently I was discussing with my team use of Virtual reality in TV. This gives some more food for thoughts.

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    Just wanted to mention keep up the fantastic work!

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