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⚡️ Brands transition to premium content to survive streaming ad-desert

Brands transition to premium content to survive streaming ad-desert

The Future. As the entertainment industry prioritizes streaming above all else, advertisers have found themselves with fewer eyeballs… and fewer options. So, in order to get audiences to search for them, brands are investing in long-form narratives and docs that put storytelling before advertising. The results are already interesting and successful, which may inject Hollywood with funds for projects that would have otherwise been earmarked for commercials.

Ads aren’t welcome here
Paywalls for streaming services are keeping advertisers locked out and leaving them with fewer people to advertise to on traditional channels.

Research firm WARC found that advertisers spent 10% less on broadcast television last year. Meanwhile, overall online video spending went up by 12%.

Dipanjan Chatterjee, an analyst at Forrester Research, said traditional commercials have “zero credibility” with consumers.

Chatterjee says that the new goal for brands is to now invest in long-form content that “doesn’t come across as an intrusive bit of advertising, [but] feels much more like a natural part of our lives.” These movies and shows could then exist as entertainment on any streaming platform.

Put a story on it
Making long-form content for advertising purposes seems a bit cynical at first, but it has actually been a tried-and-true strategy since General Electric produced the TV show General Electric Theater back in 1954 (fun fact: it hosted by future president Ronald Reagan).

In 2018, Pepsi co-financed the comedy feature Uncle Drew, which was an expansion of the character from the Pepsi Max commercials. It made $42 million.

Airbnb produced the doc Gay Chorus Deep South, which played the film festival circuit in 2019.

The Apple+ hit Ted Lasso started as promotional material for NBC Sports’ acquisition of the broadcast rights to the English Premier League.

Imagine Entertainment launched Imagine Brands in 2018 to connect companies with filmmakers. The company was behind the mockumentary John Bronco (starring Walton Goggins as the title character) for Ford, which aired on Hulu. It’s currently working with Procter & Gamble on a narrative film entitled Mars 2080 that will play in IMAX sometime next year.


⚡️ The year in review

⚡️ The year in review
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Five takeaways from 2019

2019 was a transitional year. Old became new as we hit peak nostalgia. Friends became enemies as we began to see Big Tech in a darker light. The youngest person ever was Time’s Person of the Year, and the embodiment of the Old Master is a baby.

This year we saw our internet-connected globe a little more clearly, and analyzed it with a more skeptical eye. We took things like phone addiction and climate change more seriously. After a decade of disruption and confusion, we began to find our purpose again.

To round out 2019, here are five main takeaways from the year, followed by five major predictions for 2020 and beyond.

1. A new player has entered the game
One cause for hope has been the arrival of Gen Z. In 2019, Gen Z graduated from the nihilism of Soundcloud rap to more meaningful social commentary like “Ok Boomer” and #1 albums about depression and anxiety.

The central symbol of Gen Z’s new-formed identity is an emoji eye roll towards the fake goodness of Boomers and the Insta-narcissism of millennials. Gen Zers are simultaneously more focused on money and the environment than any generation before. They aren’t sold on the idea that an expensive education guarantees a good life. Gen Z trusts less, verifies more.

Up until 2019, no one was quite sure how to characterize Gen Z. Now that we know more about them, we can’t wait to see how they’ll express themselves in ’20.

2. Phones are the bad guy, duh
Our most engaged with email of the year covered a comprehensive study proving that phone addiction is very real. Meanwhile, backlash against the toxicity of social media has risen to an all-time high. In 2019, more people sought out digital detoxes and phone-free travel, embracing mindfulness as they left their “leashes” behind.

3. The rise of virtual people 
While some put down our phones, humanity also delved deeper into the virtual world. 2019 saw the ascent of the virtual influencer and virtual clothes for real influencers. Holograms went on tour and fictional characters set up Instagram accounts. Actors became young again and deepfakes made us question our most trusted figureheads…although Gen Z thinks “trusted figureheads” is an oxymoron.

4. Sustainability is not a trend
2019 was the year that sustainability transformed from stylish perk to permanent fixture of everyday life. The fight against Fast Fashion caused many retailers to go out of business, while others have plans to overhaul their production lines. Brands like Everlane and H&M launched transparency initiatives identifying the producing factory and material source for every item they sell. Major musicians stopped touring to reduce their carbon footprints. Fast food chains served fake meat burgers. The world’s craziest truck was unveiled in a disastrous presentation…before 250k were sold solely because it’s electric.

A lot of people are skeptical about the fuss over climate change, but with phenomena like these, it’s not just a “cause” anymore—it’s an economy all its own.

5. The streaming wars began
Two new competitors in the streaming wars launched (Disney+ & Apple+). Two more are coming early next year (HBO Max & Peacock) along with a lot of smaller projects like Quibi and Discovery/BBC. The demand for content has never been higher, and most small-and-mid-sized movies are relegated to the small screen. The content consumer saw more options in 2019 than ever, and at more affordable prices. But for Hollywood, it was a shaky year. The entertainment landscape was irrevocably altered, and many of the old entertainment elite struggled to adapt.

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Five predictions for 2020

The teens were a decade of sequels and nostalgia. To escape widespread anger and polarization, we were driven to the past, to simpler times when a trip to the mall was all we needed to be happy.

But the age of remembering is coming to a close, and all signs point to the 2020s as the decade we start living in the present. Not a sequel to the past, but something new where everything we’ve learned online is used to make not just a better world, but a more exciting one.

1. Independent curators will dictate culture 
Due to content overload, consumers will seek out relatable curators. The marketplace is responding by naturally selecting ones like email newsletters (e.g. yours truly), YouTube pundits, and Instagram meme accounts. These players are all part of Gen Z’s “push notification news cycle,” which will replace the 24-hour news cycle in the next decade. Where musicians like Kanye “curate” sounds to create modern music, so will journalists, podcasters, and comedians curate the stream of information to become the voices of the ’20s.

2. Labor rights will become the new sustainability 
With student debt and rent at an all-time high, human capital is struggling to make the economy function. As a result, unions are making major inroads in urban fields like art, media, and hospitality. Fashion labels are responding to sweatshop criticism with more transparency. Movements like #PayUpHollywood are publicly embarrassing high-profile employers with social media campaigns. Look for Gen Z’s practical view of money and education to lead to a resurgence of the blue-collar-mindset that’s been absent in American pop culture for decades, even if it’s for white-collar jobs.

3. Real-Time Marketing will dominate the creative industries
Our second-most engaged with topic of 2019 was the Peloton ad and Ryan Reynold’s clever response for Aviation Gin. Also in the top 10 was Popeye’s massive success with the chicken sandwich, largely born from a clever tweet. In response, the old, stodgy, slow-moving corporate approval process (the one that cost Disney billions in Baby Yoda merch opportunities to indie meme-to-merch-makers) will relent to quicker, more creative solutions, opening the door to more resonant ad campaigns that might actually convince Gen Z to buy things.

Get ready for every creative brief in 2020 to come with the line “can we do something like Aviation?”

4. The battle for IP will move to the physical world
In 2019, streaming wars competitors learned that building dedicated fandoms around popular IP is key to victory. Nurturing those fandoms means satisfying fans’ cravings for branded IRL experiences, the model that made Comic-Con the cultural tentpole it is today. For consumers, experiential campaigns bring us together and cut through the stream of digital content. For brands, they excite fandoms, convert sales, and create viral waves of social media sharing. In 2020, as movie theaters become mainly amusement parks for superhero blockbusters, the experiential trend will continue to dominate festival and con culture and expand to new heights.

5. We’ll finally get off social media
In 2019, we took large strides in understanding our relationship with phones and social media, which are increasingly compared to cigarettes in their addictive potential. Elite institutions are taking heed by offering phone-free digital detox options that force us off of our phones. Instagram is hiding likes and Facebook’s user numbers are plummeting, particularly among Gen Z. Brands and celebrities are using programs that allow them to text fans instead of tweeting at them. While many haven’t caught up yet, they will in 2020 because their health depends on it.


Vice cancels itself

After a series of major blows, Vice is currently on life support provided by George Soros. The supposed savior of Millennial media was once valued at $5.7 billion. How, and why, did Vice fall so far?

The long way down
The hits just keep coming.

Monday, HBO axed Vice News Tonight. It was the second Vice project HBO has cancelled. The first, the weekly show Vice, lasted 7 years.

A more recent Vice project, “Vice Live,” made it less than 2 months.

Last year, Vice laid off 15% and froze hiring. In February, it let another 10% go.

In May, Disney “wrote off” its $353 million investment in Vice. The previous fall, it “wrote down” $157 million of the same.

What write off means
“Writing down” an investment means devaluing it. “Writing off” an investment means cutting ties. Disney thinks Vice will never be worth anything.

In other words, the coup de grâce.

Bailed out by Soros
But the company is not dead yet. In a desperate move, it took on $250 million of debt from a group of investors led by George Soros.

Vice says the investment will help execute a new vision to accelerate growth. The way things are going, that would be a miracle.

So what happened?
notoriously toxic work environment and a business pitch “built on a bluff” certainly didn’t help.

But the smart money is that a flawed assumption sunk Vice. The same flawed assumption that may have led to the decline of Buzzfeed.

Vice and Buzzfeed grew because of social media. Their models were built on knowing how to use Facebook effectively. Investors assumed they would figure out how to convert their popular social media presences into ad dollars.

But that never happened. Instead, Facebook drank their milkshakes. Vice thought it was using a distribution platform. As it turned out, it was giving free content to a competitor. Vice failed because the vast majority of Vice’s engagement never happened on Vice. It happened on Facebook.

The Future. Betting on hot media companies without real revenue, or at least innovative plans for generating it, is officially a thing of past. Social media popularity means little without a path to conversion. Investors will be more cautious. And media companies will chase revenue, not engagement.



Bees are embracing plastic, and they aren’t alone.

For the first time ever, wild bees in Argentina have constructed a nest entirely out of plastic, Science Alert reports. Previously, North American bee nests were found with individual cells created from plastic, but never an entire nest.

The plastic in question is blue-ish in color and was found stuck on a nearby fence. Plastic may provide adaptive advantages, similar to birds using cigarette butts to repel parasites.

It’s also a rare positive development for beleaguered bee-human relations; pesticides are inducing bee die-offs in unprecedented numbers.

Everyone’s doing it.
Other animals are also finding creative ways to use destructive plastic waste.

Even humans are getting on board.

  • Adidas Parleys made of ocean plastic
  • G Star RAW’s similar line with Pharrell
  • Banners in Virgil Abloh’s new Chicago Nike store

None of this is to say that plastic isn’t still a massive threat to the environment, but it’s something.

The Future. Life finds a way.

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This is what made Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish is the first musician born in the 2000s to have a number one hit. Her dreamy SoundCloud sound sounds just like how Xanax feels. But it’s not the music alone that makes the woman. That’s just how it starts.

Found on SoundCloud
In March, 2016, an unknown Billie Eilish posted “Ocean Eyes” on SoundCloud. It was her tenth post on the platform, and only her third original song.

It exploded. The first comment ever on “Ocean Eyes” says only “gorgeous.” The third comment, however, is from a random musician named Michael Enwright.

    • Even from here I can hear the sound of A&R’s everywhere freaking out.

Enwright then presumably created this Hillydilly post, which is how she was discovered by the industry (but not by her fans). Later, in a Facebook post made after she was globally famous, Eilish thanked Enwright.

    • “Hillydilly.com started it all. Thank you for everything Michael Enwright, Chad Hillard, I love you.”

The Attention Economy
When Eilish’s obsessive Gen Z SoundCloud following devoured her Khalid collab on Spotify, she rocketed to mainstream global stardom.

    • “This is what true reactivity looks like in an attention economy,” is how Mike Biggane, head of global genre groups at Spotify, described it to Billboard. “She’s always focused on her core fan base. Credit’s due to her team for maximizing opportunity as her audience developed.”

Her natural aesthetic is almost-too-perfectly relatable for a disaffected teen in the Xanax age.

    • Her Instagram handle was “wherearetheavocados.”
    • She has a penchant for baggy streetwear outfits.
    • Her song titles are in text-speak: “ilmomilo”, “8”, “xanny.” Her album intro track is about Invisalign.

These choices feed an intense Gen Z fandom for whom music is secondary to followability.

    • Even Justin Lubliner, part of her all-star, 16-person management team, acknowledges that image is equal to the music, “not through one song, but with a body of work and a well-defined image.”

The Future. A&Rs are scouring places like SoundCloud and Hillydilly for the next Eilish at all times. But they aren’t just looking for a great songs, they’re looking great packaging. Someone who Gen Z is going to click and follow in droves. It helps to be gorgeous.

future party elon musk

Fighting The News – Media Credibility

It’s no secret that Elon Musk is well loved. He’s been in the press since Peter Thiel’s Confinity bought Elon’s X.com and rebranded it as Paypal before taking it public in 2000. While most people vied for their fifteen minutes of fame, Elon had a solid 18 year press run. This spring, however, has been full of critical press coverage not only about Tesla but also Musk’s leadership of it. A contentious Elon took to Twitter to vent his newfound frustrations with the media. In typical Elon fashion, he made quite a stir in the process.

There’s been reported rumors of union-busting to Bloomberg’s lamentable Tesla progress charts. Some detractors call his visions tall tales and say his companies are teetering on the brink of collapse. ‘Haters gonna hate” though. It’s easy to say that when we see a company consistently operating at a loss, but look at Jeff Bezos who posted loss after loss for years. Now, Amazon is so ubiquitous with e-commerce that there is a self-penned Onion article about Bezos’ pending world domination and he is also the richest man in the world.

Angry, rich and retaliatory or not, Elon is on to something. There’s a problem with the media. Not one to be content with problems, Elon has a solution ready. He calls it Pravda, the Russian word for “truth.” His concept is a site where people can rate the “core truth” of any given article. Over time this would “track the credibility score of each journalist, editor & publication” then display it online for all to see. Crowd-sourced accountability is a viable option for oversight of publicly published information. Still, “core truth” isn’t a very strong attribute to base a credibility score on as truth is, by definition, subjective.  

Mark Twain famously said, “there are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics.”  An early champion of informational distrust, Twain decries the manipulation of the context in which we are presented data. A political poll or a study done on a hot public health topic can easily be manipulated to control the perception of the issue in the public eye. The thing to remember about truth being subjective is that it’s always been this way. Throughout history facts have been what is societally accepted as true at the time.

The problem now is sifting through all of this information. Whereas our parents read the newspaper every day, we are bombarded with too much information every day via the internet. This is what Elon is talking about. There is simply so much content being released so quickly that it’s basically impossible to give it all a quality edit. We need some kind of system to discourage bad actors and reward quality content providers. While, I don’t think creating China’s social credit system for journalists is the answer, something needs to be done and soon.

Speaking of context, we have to consider the context of the media companies themselves. They’re businesses operating in a capitalist economy. Their job is not only to police the facts but to generate revenue for their company and its shareholders. If we want better information the challenge lies on us.


Subscriptions – The Future Of Online Publishing

In 2018, online media publishers are competing for a dwindling share of advertiser revenue. Alphabet and Facebook continue to leverage their magnitude to take the lion’s share of digital ad revenue forcing both smaller and bigger publishers to get creative for their piece of the pie. Currently, most publishers rely on advertisers but many have either built or are starting to build direct relationships to their consumers through paid subscriptions. Already this year, there has been a growing swath of publishers falling into this trend.

The ad driven model is broken, that’s why Buzzfeed is selling spatulas in Walmart. It’s masked as innovation, however it’s preceded by necessity, especially considering their struggle to hit their numbers by almost 20% last year. Consumer behavior is adapting and quality is being demanded. Ironically, the idea of subscriptions for publishing businesses isn’t foreign. Newspapers have been around for centuries and subscriptions have been popular since the 1830’s. This is why companies like The New York Times are ahead of the digital media pack with a cool 2.6 million subscribers. At $120/year per subscription, they aren’t hurting for income. Their annual subscription revenue in 2017 was roughly a billion dollars and that’s more than half of their overall revenue. They transitioned successfully from their established print subscription business where others could not. This model represents the future of media, one where advertiser revenue is supplementary and not the fulcrum a publisher leverages for profitability.

The last few years, subscriptions have been revolutionizing everything. Equal parts convenience and the sanguine satisfaction of unboxing and this physical trend has made its way into the digital realm. We already know that music, TV & Film have been revolutionized by the likes of Apple, Spotify, Netflix and Amazon. These companies have been great examples as to what a content business can offer to their consumer through the power of subscriptions. We’ve even started to notice gaming move in this direction via programs like Twitch subscriptions, where fans support their favorite streamers art with a small monthly fee.

At the dawn of the world wide web, the concept of “the free internet” gained steam. When websites began competing for eyeballs robust ad systems were born and became very profitable, very fast. As the value of that content became more about turning heads, and less about creating substance, online subscriptions created opportunity.

It’s in this space that the consumers win as our dollars, no longer those of advertisers, dictate what content the platform will publish. This is a renewed opportunity for publishers to strengthen their trust with their consumers. The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, has even discussed giving its subscribers direct access to communicate with writers and staff. While they’re only tallying about 40% of the Times’ digital subs, they have the ability to bundle their perks with Amazon and its other subsidiaries.  

Recently, Bloomberg announced its new subscription model. Financial Times makes most of its revenue through this method. Conde Nast owned Vanity Fair is giving a $20/year offering to its readers. The Information, a new publisher for the tech elite, publishes high quality content that holds its own against more popular ad driven tech publications. They recently held a media summit and there, New York Times COO, Meredith Kopit Levien stated to the audience, that “a rising tide lifts all boats” speaking to their passion to help media businesses everywhere move into subscriptions, knowing if most or all publishers can show that subscriptions are the most valuable for their customer, everyone wins. As glorious as it sounds, it also makes it more difficult to compete and show value. Subscription content has to be premium and it has to create an experience for the customer. Google and Facebook see this as well, both giants are creating tools for publishers to create and support subscription platforms and Apple is actually creating its own platform for news. These companies recognize the new upward trend and how it could change large aspects of their businesses.

Publishers across various fields big and small will thrive in this coming time. Strong brands creating content for passionate niche’s are finding each other, and the customers are paying for exactly what they want and value. We’re seeing this in sports with The Athletic, hype fashion culture through Maekan, and even newsletter darling, The Skimm. There’s a host more of new and established companies moving in this direction.

At its core the subscription is recurring revenue, a business model that’s been around since 1440 with the advent of the printing press. And here we are in 2018 as our modern media tycoons return to their 15th century roots while simultaneously guiding their businesses into the future. If you’re the customer, get excited and ready to pay for what you love and need. If you’re the publisher, be prepared, maybe even a little scared.

Travel In The New Year

With a crazy year behind us and the unknown in front, we are at an interesting intersection where the proliferation of technology, the current state of the world, and “fake news” are leading people to want to get the hell out and go on perpetual vacation.

The good news is, we’re living in the age of “The Experience Economy” where experiencing something new and authentic from nostalgia to wanderlust is an addictive drug easily accessible to all.

The office is now where your laptop is. Your friends and family are always with you on your phone. We thrive on experiences and have never been more empowered to enjoy them.

A compelling study done by popular event ticketing platform eventbrite mentions that millennials, America’s largest generation, are entering their prime in the workforce. Guess what, this demo spends $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending and more than 3 out of 4 “millennials” would rather experience something than buy something. This combination of interest in events, and the increasing ability to spend, is driving the growth of the experience economy.

It should come as no surprise the apparent shift in the way individuals are now approaching travel and vacation, in fact, the travel and tourism industry brings in an annual $7.3 trillion dollars and is growing every single year.

Now this is about more than just taking a trip to Coachella. People can actually make a living while living a life of entertaining experiences. They can even make it their business.

Facebook allows for remote working and encourages their staff to work in their different offices internationally.

WordPress runs a billion dollar establishment and they don’t even have an office, by the way, they power 25% of all websites on the internet.

Airbnb is tapping into experience culture and moving from a platform just for booking interesting places to one of discovery and adventure. Their new full service travel experience empowers  hosts to provide guests with dining options, tour guides and transportation. In fact, CEO Brian Chesky wants “a world more like the villages of old: highly trusting and filled with micro-entrepreneurs who share their assets to make a living.”

He thinks they can contribute heavily to a world of 100M micro entrepreneursmaking a living through sharing their property or skills for business.

Everyone’s looking for their sense of self and no longer is success defined by your status or what you own, but instead by what you’ve experienced, who you were with, and where those memories live.

This should give insight to how brands and businesses can create unique experiences with customers that are out of the box, in the element and connective with a generation bent on this way of living.

As we enter 2017, no matter what happens, good, bad, crazy or astounding, go see the world, work to unbridle yourself from your own location, and don’t be caught in the dangerous cycle of the mundane.

Create opportunities of learning and make smart investments with your time. Build who you are as an individual, tap into your sense of adventure, take a risk, think of what you define as success, and go after it. You’ll continue to see more opportunity wherever you go and be inspired by it. With so many empowering technologies, there is such a huge opportunity to learn and discover yourself and it won’t be found building a life from a cubicle.

2016 Was Horrible

It ain’t over till it’s over…

Love it or hate it, 2016’s been a wild ride. From a monumental election to noticeable paradigm shifts in our economy as well as iconic phenomenons like Pokemon Go, big things popped and people dropped. As we turn a page in the history books, 2017 in all its anticipation, feels a lot more promising.

The Future Party this year was gangbusters. We threw numerous events including a SXSW activation with some of the world’s leading pioneers, intimate dinners with open discussions about the state of the world, and the most epic halloween party with top hustling millennials.

Throughout the year, we hosted monthly gatherings bringing together world class speakers to explore the future of fashion and merchandise, share what we’ve come to understand about virtual reality, and challenge the existing music landscape.

Hundreds of you are in constant communication online within the community and in just three months, thousands of you are reading the growing weekly email list.

Thanks for sharing the newsletter and feel free to continue. We’ll give people access if they say the magic words.

We’ve got a bunch more things planned from bigger and better events to cool new pieces of content. Email us if you have any ideas or want to contribute.

Stay woke this next week. Hang in there, 2016’s almost done, but you know what they say, it ain’t over till it’s over.

Happy New Year ?

Next Wave Of Content

Everyone’s creating content…

Vidcon just happened this last weekend, and the annual conference has evolved overtime as a marquee event for pre-teen fandom to a full blown platform for major video and editorial platforms, brands and companies to talk business and economics. By now, it’s been no secret that the content landscape is changing. There’s no brand allegiance, no one place to watch everything, and people’s attention is scattered. Some organizations are capitalizing on this, feeling they have the distribution, means, and talent to do it better than their counterparts.

The success of Amazon and Netflix makes everyone feel like the film and TV industry must be too good to pass up. Facebook has been paying for original scripted content, and Apple just hired some TV veterans to man their new TV operation. Musical.ly is now creating original content and Snapchat might become the next MTV as Snapchat’s deal with Time Warner show their ever expanding move into content. Vice keeps getting money. Complex, now owned by a majority of Verizon is branching out in the same way Vice did. Verizon is also pushing the envelope with go90. Super Deluxe looks like it will be the next Adult Swim. Youtube is still managing to stay strong with 1.5 billion viewers every month. Spotify’s in the game with new shows like Traffic Jams, and so much more.

It’s not news for some, but there’s an opportunity to act and get ahead while it’s hot. It seems like we’re going through a revolution. Studios are stuck doing blockbusters and taking chances on old models, while many millennials and pre-teens are “mobile first” consuming content on anything other than traditional cable. Content creators, writers, producers, and celebs alike all have the opportunity to leverage what is happening and create a strong brand while telling compelling stories.

New upstarts are clamoring for people’s attention, but what are people going to talk about in the next 3, 6, 10 months and even the next two years? How can we understand what comes beyond “Silicon Valley taking over Hollywood?”

The next studios are any attention grabbing platforms. It can be editorial blogs, a board game or it could even be subscription box services with massive audiences like Loot Crate or Dollar Shave Club. The old guard doesn’t have too much to worry about though. Vice isn’t likely going to make a blockbuster movie any time soon and even if older studios are overthrown, their massive libraries of stories, licenses, and options that can be spun into games, theme parks, toys and even more stories on new platforms are priceless.

Nevertheless, pay attention to which platforms people are paying attention to that may not even have a video service yet, from hardware, to tech services and beyond. These platforms have the potential to be the next Netflix’s of the world. Remember, it was just yesterday Amazon only sold books.