Experience Spotlights: Richard Kastelein

This blog post we feature a true original in the field of virtual world production, someone who wears his digital heart on his sleeve and inspires others everywhere he goes. The man travels the globe, meeting people for the events he spearheads and gets a lot of people interested in what he is doing. As of this writing he is contemplating taking Twitter up on their offer to join their social TV team. Richard Kastelein has clout, and he opens up about his firsthand experience creating a project known as Twinners.

Entertainment 2.0

My name is Richard Kastelein, and my first project developing content in virtual arenas was an experimental project called Twinners in 2007-2008, where we took real time virtual worlds and put them on Linear TV.

The mission was twofold.  One was to provide the public with a unique, virtual, 3D environment that allowed them to self-brand, become “famous”, communicate with others, create and provide content that can appear on the format, and entertain. Twinners was a 3D social networking platform, where content was served to the end users while generating different revenue streams. This brings – to the end user – the first interactive participative format, where everybody had the chance for a minute of fame or to participate in the selection of the content to be broadcast in real time.

Two, this met the television stations’ necessity of a technology platform that allowed them to develop various low cost production entertainment concepts against revenue sharing while keeping some control over their viewers in a TV to Internet to TV cycle. This also created an opening to advertisers with a unique window on TV via interactive sponsorship and product placement.

It was a transverse format – both in terms of aggregation of concepts and content as well as in terms of technologies that were harmoniously brought together.

Twinners 1

What was Twinners about? How might it have been relevant for today?  In a nutshell, Twinners was a VOIP-based social networking in a 3d world on television and the net and was pre-smartphone and pre-connected TV. Smartphones and connected TV applications would mean a totally different proposition today. You can see more at http://www.youtube.com/sparklingmedia.

What did you want out of producing/creating Twinners? What were some of your goals? What were some of the drawbacks or initial challenges? What we wanted?  Think of a place where well-known and successful concepts around communities are joining together in harmony on the Net, TV and mobile (pre-smartphone): Second Life meets Meetic meets Myspace meets Facebook meets YouTube to create TV2.0. Think TV with user-generated content coming from a web community that can be accessed and interacted by mobiles, telephones, and the Web. TV viewers use a phone to create a character that interacts in virtual worlds on TV and on the web. Web users create content that can been seen in a smaller streaming box viewable within the 3D environment on TV and the Web while being invited to vote, download, upload, participate, play – all in real time.

The main drawbacks were: a huge download for plugin for online Web experience (the Quest3D plugin was over 150 MB, which was huge back then; today we would use Unity, of course); time slots on Linear TV were in the wee hours of the morning, competing with sex call in shows and tragic advertorials (nightmare); the technology was complex.

Do you have any insights on producing television or TV like content in a virtual world? I have told Pooky Amsterdam a number of times that the future of creating pilots and sizzle reals for new ideas – both in terms of pricing (affordable) and validating ideas — should be in virtual worlds. We are almost there.

What made you want to produce/create Twinners? I was asked to be honest. My experience building online communities dated back to 2002, when I built http://www.expatforums.org in Open Source Software and created a buzzing place where over 350,000 posts were compiles by over 1000 members. Taking this to TV seemed natural to me. When Twinners came about was when Facebook was just appearing on the scene – so it had potential.

What about the production in a virtual environment makes sense? Affordability, flexibility, total creative control – the last being the most important to me.

Any other thoughts on using virtual environments for entertainment and series? We are moving into a niche world where the niche of virtual environments will be a major player. In the beginning the expectations for Second Life were far too high – that it would become ‘mass market’. Mass market is dead in five years. Except for massive live events, most of us will be niching more and more into our own worlds. I see creative machinima becoming a critical part of the transmedia storytelling movement most certainly. As virtual worlds, gaming and transmedia storytelling converge, we will see some very interesting interactive and co-creative new experiences in the future.

In a nutshell, what do you do today? I consider myself an innovation catalyst who drives creative co-creative technology events around a number of verticals using the hackathon concept of community, competition, cooperation, commercialization, awards-rewards, gamification, marketing and public awareness, education, reach and scale, social buzz , community and social, ego (the good kind) – all of which results in rapid prototyping of ideas and technologies leading to potential startups. I am an assessor for helping deliver millions of euros to startups. I am venture partner for NYC’s Zephyr Technology Ventures. I have been in a number of startups in the past, completing three sides of the innovation growth sector.

I build, innovate and help create products and formats that align with the future of television – from transmedia to social TV, from multiplatform engagement to TV apps, from smart/connected TV to advanced game mechanics – I live, work and play on the cutting edge of entertainment. As founder of The Hackfest brand (London and San Francisco) and TV App Market publication, I have worked hard to be part of and participate in driving innovation – both the disruption and the democratization of television as we know it today — helping to move the industry from “one to many” to “many to many,” and giving insight to broadcasters, brands, production companies, technology startups, telecommunication giants, and others to identify both threats and opportunities.

As a creative technologist, transmedia storytelling (the technique of understanding how to carry the narrative across multiple platforms and formats using digital technologies) is part of my DNA. I fully understand numerous technologies and have worked both with my own formats and others. From second screen to 360 degree video and other technologies, I have a global network of vendors with cutting-edge technologies.

Having worked with, and been an influence on, leading second screen platforms such as zeebox, Ex Machina Games and at least a dozen social TV startups, I understand the nuances and differences between the major players and can ensure that you make the right decisions when moving into the space. While all current trends indicate that TV and advertising spending are still vital components of the media marketplace, TV viewership does face a number of challenges, including fragmentation, technology-enabled time shifting, and the disruption of media stacking or mobile/tablet multitasking. I am fully versed in this new world, building a global network and thought leadership since 2010 at TV App Market.

I teamed up with Pixengo Media in 2011, making the finals of the UK Technology Strategy Board’s £1 Million Tech City Launchpad competition by creating the UK’s first travel and destination marketing channel for connected TV with HD video-on-demand and high resolution images perfect for the 10-foot, lean-back living room experience, with second screen engagement on mobile devices and tablets. We planned to monetize by forming partnerships with travel agents, tour operators and activity and entertainment companies in each destination on revenue share deals. We have excellent relationships with Samsung, LG, Sony, Opera, The Smart TV Alliance and numerous TV app vendors.

The rise of the second screen and its integration with social media has helped drive some stunning numbers.  In the US, 88% use TV and the Internet simultaneously, once a month (Nielsen) and some 50% do so every day (Google/Clustalabs); 44% of total tablet usage is while watching TV (Nielsen); 72% of under 25′s in the UK comment on programs via social networks (Digital Clarity); and some 62% of TV viewers pick up the phone as soon as TV advertising break starts. (Nielsen). As a pioneer in the social TV movement, from guest lecturing at MIT Media Lab to working with the likes of the BBC, RTL, NPO, Eurosport, NBCU and other broadcasters as well as production companies and brands, I have a deep understanding of the new technologies and can help design systems using multiple vendors to create the ultimate in social TV.

Having worked on a number of VOD projects and TV Everywhere, including two startups, I have close contacts with companies such as Kit Digital (now Piksel), BeeSmart, The Connected Marketplace, Connect TV, NeuLion and more. From number crunching CDN costs, to designing systems that work on all devices – phone, tablet, TV, STB and PC – I have worked with some of the best. It’s clear that consumers want to watch TV they want, when they want it, on any device they want it one, wherever they are, and I am capable of designing and delivering from both low end STB solutions to advanced TV Everywhere architecture with EPGs that can deliver both live and VOD.

As an instructor for Future TV with Perpetual Solutions in London, working with numerous departments of British Telecom, and guest lecturing at MIT Media Lab and various universities in the UK and Netherlands, I have designed both a half day and full day courses to share market intelligence and have worked with broadcasters around the globe such as the BBC, NPO, RTL, Eurosport, NBCU, ITV, RTL and others with media convergence strategies – particularly around social TV and second screen. My speaking on the future of TV since 2010 has taken me to London, Cannes, Sheffield, Amsterdam, Hollywood, Groningen (TEDx), San Francisco, San Jose, Madrid, Liepzig, Vienna, NYC, Rio, Copenhagen, Hilversum, Belfast, Berlin, Brussels, Brighton and beyond.

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