Mobile Marketing Magazine chats to Pip Brignall and Thomas Winsor, founders of The Round- a bespoke app for the creation and distribution of live digital performance in augmented reality. This Sunday they will make history as artist Liam Payne's 2021 EE BAFTA performance can be watched with an augmented reality, real-time experience through their app.
Pip Brignall and Thomas Winsor
Mobile Marketing: Firstly, congratulations on your upcoming gig. Can we start by talking about where the inspiration for the app came from?
Pip Brignall: Thank you. As a first project with the technology we've been developing we're kind of blown away to be honest with you. We've both been working in theatre for about a decade. Tom got really into VR a while ago and I was picking my brains in terms of producing something. We started throwing ideas around and both got absorbed by the creative potential of using immersive tech to develop live performative storytelling.
We did a really exciting project in VR (virtual reality) with New Adventures dance company, a couple of years ago. Then we started to explore with them, and the guys at Intel studios in LA, how we could use augmented reality to bring stories to life on mobile. It's the accessibility of mobile with augmented reality, versus headsets. You're essentially inviting the performer into your own environment rather than you going into theirs.
But then COVID-19 struck last year and everything stopped. So we sat down and thought 'Right. Is there a way we can pivot that solves issues we've encountered whilst working with theatre companies?' We then identified the core concept for The Round. There was no centralised marketplace for people to go to and find performative AR experiences. People were creating standalone apps where they are the destination - you're only ever going to catch the early adopters that way because they're going to be the people looking specifically for it.
So we thought if we create an app that essentially channels these experiences into one place, then we can hopefully start to build an audience of people who want a new way to engage with their favourite artists or performers. Then the other side of it was the workflow of creating experiences using immersive tech itself, with it being prohibitively expensive and technically having a very high barrier to entry.
The bigger goal is to eventually have something that any creative company, agency or producer can take and build their own live AR experiences without having specific game development skills or knowledge.
MM: That's interesting, so The Round will be a place where people can come to enjoy AR content, whether you guys have created it or not. But it will be exclusively content that's been created by the platform that you're developing?
Thomas Winsor: Yes. We're calling The Round app the world's largest venue. It's a digital venue for live entertainment in your own surroundings. Our vision for the future is to have twenty shows going on at any one time, on The Round - there's a whole range of content from comedians to contemporary dance, from actors to musicians.
MM: So, the million dollar question - how will you make money out of it?
PB: Very much like a venue, actually. We've really tried to stick to what is already familiar within the world of events production.
TW: Each show is a ticketed event. The audience will pay to watch the show as they would in any other live experience.
PB: This performance on Sunday is very much a brand partnership with EE. We're not charging for tickets and that is very much a part of the way that the platform can also work. It's a very exciting way for brands to be able to use a new creative channel to engage with customers, so the potential is broad.
MM: It sounds like this could be a real game changer when it comes to touring productions- theatre, bands ect. Audiences can experience the performance from all over the world without the performers having to travel?
TW: We by no means think that global touring should stop, as it's an important part of connecting cultures. But we've always talked a lot about the impact of global touring, both financially and environmentally and having some sort of change to that.
It's important to differentiate that experiences based on our platform will probably be bespoke. As opposed to a show that was already existing and was about to go on tour being re-captured for our platform. We're thinking of it much more as a new medium- a new form of live entertainment. That word 'live' is really important. As of yet, no one can deliver live augmented reality in the way that we can to mobile phones. That is the key part of what we're doing and the key part of what makes it incredible for performers.
MM: Is AR still a fairly foreign concept to most consumers?
PB: We're fully aware that AR is still a little misunderstood. It's been very successful in brand activation and mobile marketing but perhaps hasn't been fully grasped yet by the consumer market. We're really hoping that The Round adds value to consumers' everyday lives.
TW: People are using AR constantly. It's there every time you go on Instagram with a filter it's AR. Google maps is now increasing AR directions. AR is going to become a normalised part of our lives pretty quickly, in a practical sense. We want to make it exciting and fun. That's the next step - the entertainment driven side of stuff. It almost needs a name change- we've been thinking of 'live holographic performance'. People really buy into holograms.
MM: Do you think it has the potential to take over from VR in that it's more accessible?
TW: Accessible, yes. But also shared.
PB: VR offers more potential of really immersing yourself in another world but that is a very different medium. Augmented reality is placing something within your world rather than placing you within somebody else’s. They’re completely different forms of immersion. We're creating shared experiences, which again comes back to the performance nature of it.
On Sunday's performance, Liam Payne is going to be singing live in your living room and it's the fact that he's in your living room that makes it so unique. That's why the goal is to create a platform that anyone can use, rather than us being the gatekeepers of this tool, because we want to see where people push that.
We're really excited about the idea of a murder mystery, where your home is the setting and you follow the characters around. Or a super intimate monologue, where you've got a performer telling you the intimate details of their life, sat on the end of your bed.
One of the cool things about working with a company like EE is we've been doing lots of experimenting using 5G technology. At the moment it's very much a one way street- you have a performer performing and an audience watching. But using 5G and the potential that has for reducing latency and increasing bandwidth, means that in the not-too-distant future we'll be able to build a really meaningful interaction between audience and performer on the platform. That's really exciting.
TW: I completely second that. Not just from audience to performer but from audience to audience. 5G allows us to have the potential for four or five audience members all paying for a ticket and booking as a group, watching the experience and being able to look to the right and see an avatar of their friend. That is a use of 5G that we are so excited about. You can have these shared experiences from anyone anywhere in the world if they're all on a 5G network. This is why we're working with EE on their kick-ass 5G network - it opens up so much exciting potential for us.
Fans will be able to stream Liam Payne’s ground-breaking AR performance through The Round app on Sunday 11th April at 6:45pm, ahead of Liam Payne’s spectacular 5G-powered EE BAFTA opening performance on BBC One at 7pm.