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Mark Melling, head of Ryot Studio EMEA at Verizon Media, discusses why demand for its unique suite of live-streaming and mixed, virtual, and augmented reality content capabilities has increased – and where the future of the tech lies.

Digital, digital, digital. We’ve been hearing for months that brands have been investing in cutting-edge content to emulate lost real-world experiences in lockdown. One man on the ground for that transformation is Mark Melling, head of Ryot’s Holborn outpost, sister branch to its LA office.

The studio was founded to deliver linear-digital content for brands, but things became complicated in the following years. It now works in live and 3D production and has even taken on a broadcast partner role, too.

Ryot is building virtual worlds, live-streaming mo-capped digital artists and more at the cutting edge of media.  Prior to the pandemic, it worked with the NFL and Star Wars. In lockdown, it’s helping to deliver live VR broadcasts of the NBA and Indy 500, and a futuristic fashion show.

With large physical audiences shut out in lockdown, the desire to gather around cultural phenomena has been redirected into the digital.

Enter Ryot. As a child of connectivity and media giant Verizon, the studio’s been building use-cases for 5G tech and the benefits it can offers. In lockdown, there has been heightened demand for the tech.

“Demand for our time has increased exponentially. It has given us the opportunity to develop some cool concepts to bring to market. We have learned about what worked and what doesn‘t,“ said Melling. 

“In lockdown so many types of human experiences changed. We have really focused on those that converge in the virtual and physical world.”

A prime example of this was its ‘Fabric of Reality fashion‘ show. Three mixed reality artists were paired with three designers to create a unique virtual catwalk.

It was available to select VR headset owners to watch live. But in the 2D realm, the team virtually shot a video for those without the tech to get a peak at the show, reaching a further 150,000 odd people. 

 
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“We challenged what it meant to do a fashion show in real-time. We created a virtual environment where we could get inside the story of the motivations of fashion designers.”

When pushing into the virtual, there’s a balancing act between extending what a fashion show can be, while delivering a familiar experience.

Melling explains: “So, as an example, when we were first doing our virtual conferences, we wondered why not go to the moon instead? But it was too far of a departure. There's also the reason you meet in the conference center – it‘s familiar. People understand what they do there. We need to strike a balance what can be improved using tech.”

The fashion show “wasn't a total departure” from what you‘d expect. There was a catwalk, a seating plan and more. Melling adds: “There’s a constant battle between pushing the limits, but also making it familiar enough so it's not confusing.”

 

Is it worth it?

Melling’s often challenged on the value of Ryot‘s tech. Immersive as it is, is it worth the investment? He is no stranger to the ‘build it and they will come‘ mentality. But right now, he admits, there's too much friction in AR, and he admits many haven't picked up VR since some shoddy experiences half a decade ago. 

Melling‘s seen what 5G tech can deliver. As well as delivering a seamless experience, such experiences will be easier to enter. It will remove the friction points from the process, including the likes of app logins and long load times. 

“You have to make sure that you‘re not just using technology for technology‘s sake. There‘s a difference between getting someone's intense attention and truly engaging them. When you see some AR work, it can be a gimmick just doing it for technology‘s sake if the story isn’t there. That can be painful and consumers are savvy enough to see right though it.

“We always ask, what‘s the story that you want to tell and what’s medium that best tells that story? Sometimes that‘s AR, sometimes it‘s VR and sometimes it‘s a billboard in the middle of central London.”

 

Virtually the same

If you’ve been paying attention to the live events space, you’ll have noticed the convergence of the virtual and the physical; be it The Weeknd performing a virtual concert in TikTok; Travis Scott doing the same in Fortnite, or Joe Biden campaigning in the world of Animal Crossing.

“It all feels like a big jumble but it is actually quite simple. They are all heading towards the same space.

“The Fortnite x Travis Scott work was a virtual event happening with live integration. On the other side of the coin, we have seen football games piping in EA Sports FIFA 2020 audience sounds into empty stadiums, a live event with virtual integration. Any activity you see in this space will be one or the other.”

Same could be said of Ryot‘s VR NBA broadcasts. 

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Going forward it is clear that there are benefits to come from enhancing physical events in the virtual – or vice versa. “We‘re moving towards a ‘digital twins‘ set-up. When you do a live event, you‘d almost be foolish not to do a virtual event alongside it.”

This was happening anyway, but it has certainly been “accelerated”.

One of the big criticisms of these works is that they reach smaller, niche audiences than they perhaps deserve. As well as the coming promise of 5G making it easier to interact with this content, Verizon Media’s built a tool to offer mixed reality work at scale through its ad network, to a reported 900 million global unique visitors monthly. Verizon Media Immersive has been live in the US region and is now going live in the EMEA.

Melling said: “With previous technology that was all app-based, there were challenges with scale. Now we have a more holistic ecosystem, we can not only can we build these virtual platforms to engage audiences but also reach through our native product in web AR. You can interact with the AR aspect of the ad within the publisher platform now you're already in so it's not a big disruptive experience.”

In short, you’ll likely be seeing a lot more of Ryot’s work in the real world, if you visit sites in its stable like Yahoo, HuffPost and TechCrunch. With the friction removed from these activations, we‘ll have a clearer view where exactly mixed reality sits in the modern media mix.