Turning Billboards into Movies

Last week I met with Mike Alfred of Brightscope for some feedback on a project that I demoed at Startup Weekend, Movie Roundtable. It’s a platform to discuss movies, tv shows, and media in general. We had a great talk, and there were a few key takeaways from our conversation– the idea wasn’t big enough, and if I’m going to go through the pains of startup, I might as well have a larger vision and aim a bit higher. Made sense.

After bouncing some thoughts back and forth, Mike brought up an interesting point– how often do you see someone in a movie and kind of recognize the person but don’t really know who it is? For both of us, it was fairly often. Currently, I go to IMDB, look for the character, click on his/her page, and then go through his/her filmography to find out where I know this person from. Not the smartest way to do it. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just tap on the person (assuming we’re using an iPad), and their filmography pops up? Then you can figure out who it is, put that nagging voice to rest and continue watching the movie.

Now while we both agreed that it would be cool, it’s not the most useful application. What would be cool though, was to make the movie experience as a whole interactive. How else can we use this (interaction with a screen) with movies & tv shows? Screens have traditionally been static. Our interaction with a screen is either with remote or mouse– tools that help us interact with the screen, but they’re just not as intuitive as tapping, swiping, pinching, etc. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, we can now interact with the screens in front of us. The media we watch has yet to catch up though.

What we envisioned was an entirely different media experience. Instead of searching through IMDB to find out who that actor is, trying to remember what car the movie star was driving, or what clothes they were wearing, what if you could just tap on that amazing suit Daniel Craig was wearing in Skyfall, see the price, and buy it right there? Movie stars have always been used to advertise products, but it has always been indirect when in film. We’re used to seeing stars on billboards, magazine ads, tv commercials, etc. But rarely do we inquire about the products advertised to us in the film.

The reason is that identifying a product is easy through print/tv ads. Identifying products/clothes during a movie/tv show, not so much. The advertising done during a film is largely ignored by the viewer. But the potential is enormous– what if you could click on Daniel Craig’s watch (I know I keep going back to James Bond, I just saw Skyfall) and buy it? Or if there’s a group of girls sitting around watching Gossip Girl and they can buy the clothes that Blair/Serena are wearing while watching the show?

I think there’s a ton of potential behind it. It’s an idea that provides value to everybody– advertisers, viewers, and even movie studios. Advertisers gets better use of the products they put in movies & a measurable return, viewers can view/buy products they like by just lifting a finger, and studios can charge for “ad space” in the movie & encourage a second viewing from the viewer (can’t do this in theater, has to be on tablet/iPad).

The next step is to build a prototype and test the idea. After doing some research, I have a few ideas on how to build out a prototype, although none are easy. Technologically, this is new territory for me (considering my only experience so far is Movie Roundtable). I have an idea on how I would tag clothes/faces/products (involves breaking down the film frame-by-frame, matching taps to seconds to frames to tagged products) and a general idea of how the user experience would be. Realistically though, it’s all a bit out of my range from a technical standpoint. So we’ll see what happens.



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