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June 10, 2016

June 10th News Report from your Los Angeles Representative

Weekly Update from Kelly Graham-Scherer, Los Angeles Representative

Happy Friday everyone,

I spent last weekend attending sessions at the Producers Guild of America conference and among the most exciting was the panel discussion on Virtual Reality. Although I have sometimes wondered if VR is destined to become just another industry flash in the pan, many of the points made by panelists - which included a futurist from Fox studios and the CEO of The Virtual Reality Company - have convinced me that the technology will indeed have a huge impact on the entertainment industry. 

The massive investments that both Facebook and YouTube have made in Virtual Reality mean that distribution platforms for VR have already been established, which in itself is an extraordinary thing in an industry which has typically seen distribution as the final, and often most challenging, hurdle for content creators to overcome.

Panelists agreed that advances in VR are likely to be driven by industries other than entertainment - including healthcare, engineering and education - which stand to gain tremendous advantage as delivery systems become more refined and accessible to more people. Pioneers in these fields relieve the pressure on entertainment companies to shoulder the financial and logistical burdens of innovation. Within the entertainment industries, there is consensus that gaming, followed by hard news and documentary-style programming are likely drive the technology forward.

One of the latest issues of Rolling Stone had a comprehensive article detailing Facebook's $2 billion acquisition of VR delivery system Oculus Rift. As reported below, the pioneers of VR aim to "redefine fundamental human experiences in areas like film, education, architecture and design."

Gender diversity in the entertainment industry was also discussed throughout the conference and particularly during the VR session, with the takeaway being that there are tremendous opportunities for women and minorities in a still-burgeoning, forward-thinking industry. The trade organization Women in VR, which can be contacted via its Facebook group, was singled out as a great resource.

The notion of tying U.K. tax credits to a diversity quota also made headlines this week. As detailed in Screen International below, Rebecca O’Brien, a long-time producer of Ken Loach films including this year’s Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake, has suggested the lucrative UK tax credit could be amended to encourage more diversity in the industry.

Another session I found fascinating at the PGA conference was entitled Meet the Digital Buyers and it featured execs from YouTube Red, Fullscreen and Watchable. The budgets for programming on these digital platforms are now approaching those we see in cable television and the on-screen talent commands remuneration and yields influence commensurate with actors in the film and TV industries.

Further to that, last week's Time magazine featured a profile on the richest and most powerful celebrity you've never heard of: Felix Kjellberg, whose alter ego is PewDiePie, hosts the number-one rated YouTube channel with 22 million subscribers.

The Los Angeles Times this week devoted the front page of its business section to the increasing prevalence of brand integration into digital content. As detailed below, the practice is becoming more prevalent in an era of commercial-free streaming and ad-skipping DVRs and, researchers say, nearly half of all commercials on prime-time shows won’t actually be seen this year.

Streaming giant Netflix has been notoriously guarded with its viewership metrics, so the disclosure of some binge-viewing data this week made headlines. Just one of the findings detailed in the New York Times below reveals that according to Netflix, subscribers who finish the first season of a show generally do so in a week.

Finally this week, summertime is not just fun and games for the Hollywood studios - it's when they traditionally make 40 per cent of their annual theatrical box office. The Hollywood Reporter below published a very engaging story on just what's at stake as the season's blockbusters roll out.

Warmest regards, 

Kelly Graham-Scherer
Los Angeles Representative
Toronto/ Ontario Film Office

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