Tallinn has once again confirmed its status as Europe’s digital capital by the addition to its arsenal of Storytek, one of the first technology intellectual property (IP) accelerators for creative industries. Here is the inside story of an ambitious and inspiring concept.
The birthplace of Skype and Kazaa as well as a pioneer of digital citizenship, Estonia chose as early as the late 1990s to bet on technology to lift its modest population of 1.3 million inhabitants to the rank of most advanced digital society in the world (Wired). It is today possible to benefit from comprehensive support to develop intellectual property around media content.
In 2016, Black Nights, Tallinn’s international film festival, held its first Storytek forum dedicated to the need to focus on technological innovation to boost the film and media industries. Less than a year later, Storytek implemented a content acceleration program for fifteen or so high-potential proprietary technology development projects. This intensive ten-week program is attended by two cohorts annually.
La maison de prod, a Montreal-based film and interactive production company, was given the opportunity to participate in the very first cohort from September to December 2017. It developed the technology behind the VFC multiplatform project which combines a fiction feature film, a companion interactive experience and a SaaS (software-as-a-service) neurotechnological audience monitoring platform. VFC was one of the six projects that benefited from strategic professional support during this program, the five others being:
Cues (The Polka Dot Factory, Great Britain) – A mobile app used to discover movies in cinemas and on users’ favourite platforms;
MaNaBu (Amulet Studio, Croatia) – A multiplatform dialogue-free animation series aimed at raising young audiences’ awareness of current social issues, in partnership with international NPOs;
Fanvestory (Estonia) – A transactional platform that enables artists and musicians to seek the financial support of their fans in exchange for a share of the profits generated by the songs and video clips;
The Club of Different Rooms (Cabaret Rhizome, Estonia) – A service that combines technology and experimental theater to stage inspiring and interactive meetings and conferences;
GoShareWork (Filmitegija, Estonia) – A social network supported by an educational documentary series that enables tenants and real-estate owners to hire the services of vocational school graduates.
Storytek’s mandate is to help technological entrepreneurs and content creators to develop the most appropriate business models to accelerate the international marketing of their projects and attract investors from around the world.
The program is an intensive course that focuses on the revenue potential of distinctive and competitive intellectual property. Among other aspects, it covers target marketing, income modeling, legal issues, sociomarketing strategies as well as user data analysis and exploitation.
Among the main challenges that media entrepreneurs face is the need to develop a business valuation based on revenue growth beyond the traditional production business cycle (i.e., a project-based approach), namely in markets supported mainly by public agencies.
In this sense, the Business Model Canvas that was developed by Alex Osterwalder and on which will be based most of the information conveyed to Storytek participants made it possible to improve each company’s strategic positioning. This work is carried out according to concrete and demonstrable competitive advantages on which are based all aspects of the deployment strategies. In the new content economy, that means sometimes leaving behind the usual development, production and distribution model to better manage a production’s fate in the digital space by developing customized and proprietary technological platforms and tools.
Initiated by Sten-Kristian Saluveer, the former director of the Industry portion of the Black Nights festival, Storytek is part of the recent trend characterized by platforms and events dedicated to mentoring and promoting technological innovation with the media and film industries. Others include Propellor Film Tech Hub (Germany) and R/O Institute (Belgium).
It remains surprising to realize to which extent the prevailing discourse has evolved accordingly. Whereas as recently as five years ago, all the buzz concerned interactive, multiplatform and transmedia, today’s buzzwords seem instead to revolve around artificial intelligence, the blockchain and neurotechnologies. This explains the necessity for media companies to resort to R&D to make their mark and be technologically innovative.
Storytek’s first cohort benefited from the presence of experienced mentors to accompany those who are today designated as content entrepreneurs.
Three participants during the MethodKit workshop under the supervision of Ola Möller, founder of Hyper Island. Credit: Storytek
Among these mentors was Sweden’s Olla Möller, creator of the agnostic priority development and management system Methodkit. This system, adopted by IKEA, Apple, Paypal and Spotify among others, makes it possible to generate scenarios—simply using a deck of cards (no computer is required)—showing the challenges and opportunities available to content producers who are intent on incorporating revenue models for recurring revenue generated from the exploitation of innovative media technologies.
For his part, Germany’s Dirk Hofmann, founder of DAIN Studio and an expert in data analysis and visualization, shared his approach according to which science and data interpretation are at the very core of each of a production company’s activities, whether in terms of content ideation, internal administration or the strategic analysis of potential audience returns.
Overview of the statistical evaluation of the potential of a media project developed by Slated.
As for England’s Colin Brown, strategic consultant and former editor of Screen International, he explained his belief that the future belongs to companies that take advantage of platforms such as Slated, which uses advanced performance indicators based on analyses of a film or series project’s creative team, script and revenue forecasts to establish contacts between eligible applicants and media investors.
In addition to the ten-week mentoring program, Storytek provides access to the e-Estonia virtual residency making it possible to register one’s company in Tallinn giving it access to the Enterprise Estonia development fund. E-residency is one of Estonia’s main battle horses to make its mark in the European and world digital economy. In the case of a canadian film production and “filmtech” company such as La maison de prod, it means benefiting from a more direct access to the European market, from cultural and technological start-up funds as well as from business development incentives from the Baltic regions and Scandinavia.
The digital ID card provided to Estonia’s citizens and e-residents.
The program also offered the opportunity to take part in the SLUSH festival in Helsinki, Finland. Our presence at the SLUSH conference—which attracted more than 20,000 participants including 1,000 technology start-ups and numerous investment fund representatives—allowed us to extend our business network beyond the circle of film professionals.
Going from being a producer to being a “content entrepreneur”—i.e., focusing as much energy and resources on developing the potential of an audiovisual project’s technological IP as to the script, the production and the interactive marketing strategy—requires considerable effort and resolve.
However, in an industry in which offer largely surpasses demand and in which traditional funding sources are no longer sufficient to ensure the long-term viability of production companies, it is important to explore new forms of business valuation around complementary intellectual property.
The very rapid democratization of technology combined with the flourishing investment ecosystem in Canada and abroad have opened the door wide open to production and distribution companies to innovate and themselves develop the most appropriate technological solutions to ensure the progress of the film industry and the media in general throughout the value chain.
Development, funding, production, administration, marketing, sales, distribution, archiving… There are multiple opportunities to innovate, particularly in a market that is increasingly fond of apps, software and platforms. It’s a market in which economies of scale can be achieved and new creative avenues can be explored.
In the shadow of Silicon Valley, other centres such as Tallinn are in turn promoting the idea that creative industry actors are possibly in the best position to themselves develop the tools they need to ensure their future.