When you have the opportunity to take part in an exciting panel at SXSW, it’s a good day. When Obama references that panel, it’s even better. POTUS was at SXSW yesterday for a talk that happened to be at the same time as my session, something he took note of, according to the Austin American-Statesman’s live blog:

He noted that his SXSW panel was in [competition with] strange topics like “Dude, where’s my par? Making virtual reality golf.”

“It’s true,” Obama said. “So I can confirm, you’ve kept Austin weird.”

I’m happy my panel topic and copywriting skills could help keep Austin weird. And hopefully, the topic my fellow panelists and I discussed was an interesting one. Kudos to T.J. Won of Oculus and Alex Lindsay of Pixel Corps for joining me in the session.

My portion of the panel centered on the efforts I’ve been leading with the PGA TOUR around virtual reality, efforts that really started during last year’s SXSW conference when I connected with Won. They continued last summer as I spent time in the Oculus lab in Palo Alto and as we began testing VR content production at a Web.com Tour event.

For the test, we spent two days filming at the Stonebrae Classic, working closely with Web.com Tour players to shoot a variety of videos, including instruction, player-caddie interaction on course, and video from the practice putting green. As with any good test, we learned a lot. Instruction video, for example, came across extremely well in the VR environment. Gathering good audio from the windy course proved tricky, a common issue for a sport that deals with the elements on a daily basis.

The other big takeaway was in how unique golf comes across within VR, particularly as compared with other sports. For one thing, our venue changes every week. And those venues are beautiful. Being immersed on any one of the courses where we play is compelling. The other element comes back to the individual nature of the sport. When a viewer puts on a VR headset and gets immersed in the environment, there’s a sense of being there with the player or with the player and his caddy. It’s an intimate view of the player and creates an experience that can’t be captured in traditional video or broadcast TV.

That brings us to this year. In February, we became the first sports league to launch an app on the Oculus platform. The initial app is meant to give us a foundation on the platform, one that we can build on over the course of this year and beyond. We launched the app with four pieces of original on-demand VR video. All were shot and edited during the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One provides a unique view of the experience on the 16th hole. We also captured two instruction pieces, one with Peter Malnati on chipping out of bunker and the second with Patrick Rodgers on putting. And finally, we went behind the scenes at our PGA TOUR LIVE production, showcasing the TV truck environment, something few fans ever see.

Throughout the year, I’m excited to continue experimenting in VR storytelling, identifying players or storylines that may play well on the platform. We’ll continue to publish those videos to the Oculus platform. And to reach a broader audience, we’ll be publishing 360-degree versions to Facebook and YouTube.

Thanks to SXSW for making video from the panel available. Enjoy!

 

The New York Times began its virtual reality journey after a staffer experienced VR for the first time. “You remember your first VR video,” said Sam Dolnick, Associate Editor for the New York Times, in an off-site SXSW session today on VR.

After Dolnick watched that video, he went to Jake Silverstein, Editor-in-Chief of the New York Times Magazine. The rest is history. Since then, they’ve gone all-in on VR, producing content, developing an app, and even distributing Google Cardboard devices to subscribers.

Sending out those Cardboard viewers was important. In the early days, “it felt like we were making TV when no one had a TV. The magazine mailed you the TV,” said Graham Roberts, Senior Graphics Editor at the New York Times.

Their content can also be accessed via mobile device but more than half of their views are coming from Cardboard, leading this panel to believe that most people who received them in mail kept them. They’ve also kept accessing the content, with the highest viewership days (so far) being on Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time when people were likely sharing content with family members.

The Cardboard devices themselves are also branded with the GE logo, an early sponsor of their VR work. Interestingly, the New York Times VR app features brand content alongside its own in the experience. That sort of distribution model is how the publisher sees things moving not just within the VR space but also beyond.

Another notable development from the New York Times is that they’ve created a position specifically devoted to VR. Their VR Editor, Jenna Pirog, was also a participant on the panel. She’s overseeing their work in the space and fielding VR story pitches from every desk at the Times. With VR being so early in its development, a big part of her job is also in testing different approaches. The Times recently incorporated positional audio in their app, meaning a viewer may hear something in one ear that will prompt a look in that direction. It’s a way to help direct the viewer to a particular part of the storytelling experience. While it’s a new technique in VR storytelling now, within the next year or so, it will likely become incredibly common, Pirog said.

That sort of experimentation is part of the fun and part of the challenge of being active in the space now, something I can relate to at the PGA TOUR in the initial VR work we’re doing.

Of course, the work I’m doing centers more on entertainment. The work the New York Times is doing is serious journalism that can have a big impact on the world. After the Paris attacks last year, they produced a VR piece showcasing what it was like the day after. VR allows producers to create a sense of being there, which, in some circumstances can come through stronger than words, stronger than pictures or traditional video. “It’s more akin to being like a journalist in the field,” Silverstein said. “A reporter always has to leave something out. The promise of VR is nothing gets left out.”

With all of this potential in VR, it’s also “important to remember that VR can’t do everything,” Dolnick said. You still need the background and the context on stories that the written word or traditional video can deliver upon. “VR is one more tool in the arsenal. It won’t replace journalism or filmmaking.”

 

 

While in Austin this month for SXSW, I became the new owner of a selfie stick. I must point out that I didn’t purchase this stick. It was gifted to me in one of the many goodie bags you’re inevitably handed during the festival. The reason I must be clear that I didn’t shell out money for the stick is that I despise these inventions.

What could possibly be so awful about a small photography tool, one may wonder. Well, it goes back to my adventures across Italy last fall. In every city I visited, selfie sticks were all the rage. Just off Venetian canals, they there were in droves for sale. In front of the Duomo in Florence, they there were. In front of the Colosseum, there they were. Well, you get the idea.

The selfie stick had become as common as any other touristy souvenir. Seeing said sticks for sale isn’t so awful. It became awful for me when I saw them in use.

It was a perfect fall day in Florence. I was taking part in a favorite travel activity: wandering. As I turned a corner, I found myself walking behind a tourist. And not just any tourist. This tourist was carrying a selfie stick in order to capture video of himself walking through Florence. I instantly thought of this tourist’s poor friends back home who may be subjected to this narcissistic and boring video. For a moment, I thought about trying to rescue his friends by absconding the selfie stick but then I realized how sad the situation was. This tourist was walking through one of the world’s great cities and he was missing it.

He was missing all of the little details that can define a place–the way the light hits a building, the local graffiti, the small architectural elements over a doorway. These are the things I love to discover. I have photos of some of them from strange medieval looking doorbells in Venice to a metal statue of a beer-swilling guy in Prague. Others are catalogued in my brain for the rest of my life and they’ll always contribute to the way I feel about a place I’ve been.

As much as I love technology and thrive upon it, there’s a time to step away from it. There’s a time to experience life.

The 24-year-old co-founders of location-based app Yik Yak took the stage at SXSW this morning, donning matching socks with the notable Yik Yak mascot. Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington recounted a familiar story in the world of startups — meeting during college, coming up with a cool idea and eventually launching. The difference with these two is they weren’t out of one of the typical schools like Harvard or Stanford. They actually hail from Furman, a small liberal arts school in South Carolina. Well beyond launch and investment rounds, Yik Yak is still based in the Southeast, something the founders are passionate about.

That’s not where the differences end between Yik Yak and other startups. Their approach to outreach around the app was also unique in that it was incredibly personal. Maybe this is the Southern touch. The founders went school by school, sending personal emails to student representatives and school newspapers. They’ve actually stayed away from the tech press, “doing a lot of college paper interviews. Those are the people who are using the app,” Droll said.

If you’re not a college student, you might be wondering what Yik Yak is. It’s a location-based application that surfaces topics around you. Where it gets really interesting is that the people posting are anonymous. When you log in to Yik Yak, you’re not prompted to develop a profile and follow people like you would elsewhere. All of this was of course done on purpose.

“On Twitter, it takes a long time to build followers,” Droll said. He and Buffington wanted to make conversation instant, so they removed user names and ensured the platform isn’t about building a following. “Location first, anonymity second.”

The anonymity angle may remind some of other apps like Secret but Yik Yak is different, according to the founders. “The reason why people are anonymous on Yik Yak is that it puts everyone on a level playing field. It matters that you have something good to say. Other apps are anonymous for other reasons.”

While some of the use cases around this end up being completely for fun (just look at the prevalence of people posting as “Campus Squirrel”), there is a lot of utility for Yik Yak. Droll offered up the example of the Florida State shooting. “People found out about the shooting on Yik Yak nine minutes before a campus alert went out.” With that kind of hyperlocal utility in mind, Yik Yak “can have more serious implications around petitions, elections, and protests.”

The ability to broadcast to only those around you, it makes Yik Yak different from Facebook or Twitter — at least for now. Twitter, reportedly, has been exploring a location-based Tweet feature. Would that kill Yik Yak? The founders don’t seem to think so and, for now, are focused on international growth and then a post-graduate audience.

ESPN’s Matthew Berry moderated a SXsports session this afternoon that brought the more traditional world of Fantasy gaming together with the daily model. Nigel Eccles, CEO of FanDuel, kicked things off with a tale of the origins of his company. “It was born in Austin six years ago,” he said. He and his partners stood in front of a shed with post it notes containing several ideas. FanDuel is the idea that won. How’s that for Austin startup lore? Pretty amazing as it turns out. FanDuel boasts 1.5 million paying players. And they’re growing all the time.

That growing audience isn’t just for the good of FanDuel either. As Berry pointed out, “Fantasy drives traffic everywhere…Even if they play at another site, we believe it means they’re going to be more engaged in sports and will eventually come to an ESPN platform.” To put that into context, for ESPN, the average sports fan engages with an ESPN platform about six hours per week. The average Fantasy player engages about 18 hours a week.

That’s in line with what FanDuel sees from a broader perspective. Not only are FanDuel players consuming more sports content, they’re also paying for that content. About 10 percent of its players buy a league pass. Another notable characteristic of the FanDuel audience is that it skews younger than the traditional league model where 40-something men dominate.

While daily gaming is the shiny new object, league play remains popular. Clifton Ma, Head of Fantasy Sports for Yahoo, rounded out the panel with the league perspective. “It’s about camaraderie with friends,” he said. “The stuff Nigel (FanDuel) is doing is more around money.” The tricky element in the league model is in how you keep people interested late in the season when their Fantasy team is already out of the playoffs. Certainly, the daily model has a leg up there.

This afternoon, Brent Dewar, Chief Operating Officer at NASCAR, and Bob Bowman, President & CEO for MLBAM, joined reporter Rachel Nichols for a discussion on how each league thinks about technology, and more importantly, its fans.

NASCAR looks to its very passionate audience for guidance, including a group of about 13,000 that make up its Fan Council.

MLBAM also prioritizes its fans. “With technology, it’s hard not to make money as long as you serve the fan first,” Bowman said. If you don’t put the fan first, “it will either be inauthentic or it won’t work.” It’s wise advice but too many brands forget the fan, putting emphasis instead on internal or sponsor demands. By focusing on the fan, brands can find success and the rest should follow suit.

Another encouraging tidbit from MLBAM is that they start with social media and, from there, they work backwards. “It’s the only way to reach tens of millions of people,” Bowman said. This is another common brand miss. Many brands start with a message, thinking about it from a television or traditional website perspective. By starting with social, the content or program goes where fans already are. And it can ensure it’s focused and relevant to fans. From there, it can be built to go deeper across a variety of platforms.

Closing out the session, an attendee asked how MLBAM tackles the question of the ROI of social media. Bowman’s response was that he’s not sure if there’s a direct link to commerce, but “you ignore at your peril.” Baseball has to be where its fans are. Even if one of those fans has been a Facebook fan for three years before making it to a game, it’s a big deal. “Once you’ve gone to a game, you’re a different kind of fan,” he said.

It’s a theme NASCAR echoed in the session as well. Their highest loyalty comes from the fans who attend at least one event a year. Serving those fans at the event and away from the event is the key to success. And to that ROI question, those fans who are attending are likely promoting the experience to friends and family as they post to Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and/or Facebook. If you’re looking for ROI, that kind of promotion is priceless.

As part of this year’s SXSports agenda, a team of heavy hitters talked about what watching sports will look like in the future.

In the session, the topic of the smart TV was raised. Will this or won’t this be the key to the way sports are consumed going forward? Mark Kramer, Head of Digital Technology for Pac-12 Networks, argued one of two possibilities will happen here. The first, is that smart TVs die off in favor of “dumb TV.” The TV becomes just a monitor and your phone is your cable box, allowing you to put whatever you want on your TV. A true remote control.

The other possibility Kramer outlined was that TVs start to become bundled with providers much like they are with phones today. This scenario would allow TV technology to move much more rapidly, with consumers replacing their TVs every two years.

Another key topic for the future was around data and personalization. The purpose here–and to some extent, this is already happening–is to better understand fans. “It’s not to be creepy but to make the experience better,” Kramer said.

Understanding what fans are interested in and how they want to watch the game opens up interesting possibilities. Having the ability to change camera angles on the fly is one such possibility, according to William Mao, Head of College Sports Partnerships for YouTube. This could involve anything from moving to a first person perspective or getting audio from a coach, player or ref who’s mic’ed up.

For fellow panelist Spencer Hall, Editorial Director for Vox Media/SB Nation, he’d like to have the ability to switch to other broadcasts on the fly. That might mean going between hometown broadcasts to get their view or tuning into international feeds. That international feed angle is where “the confetti” is. You don’t need to understand the language to get the sense of excitement during a big moment. These examples could take fans to new places, but of course current realities around media rights prevent such things from coming to life.

Whatever the creative idea, the message is clear. In the words of Kramer, “The more choices we can give fans, the more they’re going to want to watch…and the more they’re going to buy a ticket and come to a game.”

AUSTIN—Will Dailey put everything he had into producing his first solo album, including his prized red Honda Civic. Selling the car to finance the album, which was appropriately named Goodbyeredbullet, “added sweetness to that record,” Dailey says from Austin’s Apple Bar, which is being taken over this week by L.A.’s Viper Room for a series of showcases during SXSW.

“I have a lot of friends who are musicians and they’ve never parted with anything they loved,” Dailey says. “I’ve had to sell a guitar and, now, a company just gave me a guitar for free. It’s so bizarre because I don’t need that guitar now. I needed you guys to help me keep my guitar four years ago. But it’s a whole bittersweet process and I think I’m healthier for it.”

From the start of his solo career, Dailey says he’s always been “DIY.” He hit the road to promote his first album, selling more than 10,000 copies of it on his own and garnering a large national following. On the road, sales of those records helped Dailey pay for food and gas. “If I went to a small room and played for five people in a town for the first time and I sold two records, that 20 bucks was food for the next day and what not. There was this kind of circle of survival,” he says.

Now, those kinds of worries are gone for Dailey, who received the 2006 Boston Music Award for Best Male Singer Songwriter. His second album, Backflipping Forward, has been picked up by the newly reborn CBS Records, which is also promoting Dailey’s music on CBS TV shows. Despite the recent success, Dailey is still modest and has an unassuming air as he hangs out in the alley off of Fifth Street where standing puddles are the sole reminder of the bad weather that’s plagued Austin for the last two days.

A few feet away, a set up crew is fast at work prepping a makeshift stage for tonight’s performances, which include Will Dailey; English band Mohair, who channel The Beatles and Queen; and L.A.’s catchy Reeve Carney and the Revolving Band. Dailey is up first tonight, starting off his set with “Bi Polar Baby.” The small covered stage area in back of Apple Bar lends the intimate feel of being at a house party where a friend’s band is playing. Dailey only adds to this as he shuns his footwear, choosing to play the entire set in socks.

He and his band move from the rocking “Bi Polar Baby” into the mellower “Yesterday’s Gone.” Being able to transition from an upbeat song to a slower one is the sort of style Dailey says many contemporary artists lack. “I miss the Elton Johns and the Billy Joels who could write a really upbeat song and have a complete ballad on the next one—and just have different feelings and genres coming through all the music.” In an age where there are so many singer/songwriters, Dailey sets himself apart with the ability to rock out an audience before moving them to the verge of tears.

He continues his set with “Hollywood Hills,” which gets a big response from the crowd that’s packed into the venue. Dailey is winning new fans over tonight, including Jay, an Austin native. “It takes a lot to impress me but this guy has an amazing voice and it looks like he’s working hard up there,” he says.

Hard work isn’t something Dailey has shied away from over the years. He’s interested in longevity in the music world and not in being an overnight sensation. “I think now it’s hip to be like, ‘Oh they’re the new big thing,’” Dailey says of the current music scene. For him, it’s been different. “Someone didn’t hear me all of the sudden. I played many nights over the last four years and have all the road bumps and still have to plug away” despite the CBS Records deal. Now isn’t the time for Dailey to sit back and relax even though the days of financing albums with his car are likely gone. But Dailey isn’t forgetting where he came from either.