Fold7 CEO Marc Nohr heads to Silicon Valley

From talent to distribution to tech optimisation, Fold7’s CEO Marc Nohr shares insights from inside US companies Fullscreen, Paradigm, Maker Studios and Snapchat on the fourth day of the IPA/UKTI mission to Sillicon Valley.

Our first stop of the day was Fullscreen, a company which describes itself as a next generation content business – part talent agency, part content studio and part distribution network. It positions itself at the intersection of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Its premise is that linear TV is suffering a slow death, in terms of the age and size of its audience. By contrast it sells itself as the definitive content play for millennials with access to the new generation of content superstars, whose influence with their loyal followers is as “hegemonic” as MTV was with a previous generation.

Our host used the word “authentic” at least 20 times, which raises the question that when sponsorship rules start kicking in – as they do on TV  – and millennials get hip to how the monetisation model works, will this authenticity start to ring a little hollow? It’s a slick sales spiel – from talent to distribution to tech optimisation. A little thin on ROI. But compelling all the same. And it’s a play directly to brands as well as agencies. Which means they’d like to eat everyone’s lunch, albeit they do it with good grace and great coffee. I don’t know if it was a slip of the tongue when he indicated we’d all agreed “Friend DAs” rather than NDAs. It’s a lovely phrase but I have no idea what it means…

Next stop was the beautifully manicured estate of paradigm talent. An aside – it was designed in the 1920s by Afro-American architect Paul Revere Williams who learnt to design upside down as he couldn’t sit on the same side of the table as his clients. Inside the wood panelled board rooms is another interesting Hollywood hybrid. A Hollywood ‘A’ List talent agency which has understood how to exploit IP in the technology age, hence its investment in an entrepreneurial series of products and platforms.

One such example is Influential, an eye-watering social influencer platform which allows brands to plan, develop and deliver influencer campaigns with their thumbs across all social channels. The levels of granularity – in terms of the integrity of the data and the degree of reporting – were truly impressive. Another example it shared was Vntana, an “affordable, scalable” hologram system with interesting new applications, such as allowing performers to appear on stage, simultaneously, in several countries at once. Or products to be demoed in three dimensions, manipulated by customers using gesture control, with the data delivered back to the brand.

Sticking with the content theme, the tour bus then pulled into Maker Studios, the self-described “global leader in short-form video”. Like Fullscreen, the talk is all about the new generation of talent being YouTubers and not TV stars. And again, like Fullscreen, the argument revolves around higher user and engagement numbers than TV and shares the strong emphasis on “authenticity” which sits oddly with the massive commercial muscle that now sits behind this content. But as questionable as the quality of some of this content is, there’s no getting away from the fact that some of these brands like PewDiePie have millions of followers, and in his case a best-selling book. Which explains why Maker is a Walt Disney company. It’s like the perfect R&D facility to access millennial audiences and talent.

The final stop of the day was the glistening sands of Venice beach and the modest warehouse which is Snapchat. It has chosen not to locate itself in north California where its competitors are. This is highly relevant because in the four years it has existed it’s had a lot of its innovations copied (witness the recent launch of Moments on Twitter). Snapchat describes itself as a storytelling platform – individual stories, collective stories or curated ones. With ephemerality baked in to liberate us to enjoy the moment. It has only just set up in the UK and its advertising product is in its infancy as are many of its new products. It’s early days, but despite this, it has come a long way, with a claimed 100 million-plus users and 20 minutes average usage per day.

When I came on this same IPA trip in 2011, Snapchat didn’t exist. And some of the brands whose stars shone brightly at the time have since lost their sheen. Will Snapchat win, I wonder? It’s impossible to say – it needs to get its advertising story tight and keep clear blue water between itself and its competitors. But that’s why they call it the Wild West, right?

This article was published by The Drum.