Friday, September 4, 2009

MEF Mobile Leadership Summit | Sarkar: Artists Will Define Medium

The Mobile Entertainment Forum held its Mobile Leadership Summit Tuesday at the Writer's Guild of America West headquarters in Los Angeles. The first keynote of the event was delivered by Sam Sarkar, a senior executive for Johnny Depp's production company Infinitum Nihil...a somewhat unexpected and, ultimately, very interesting choice. Sarkar provided some valuable perspective on the rollercoaster ride the mobile entertainment industry has been on over the last 10 years. His thesis was that fits and starts are inherent in emerging businesses, and that in the development of every medium, the business model is what makes it viable, but the artistry is what comes to define it.

Sarkar suggested that television didn't really begin to realize its artistic potential until the late 60s or early 70s, despite having public debuted in the late 1920s. He told an interesting story about how television’s inventor, Philo Farnsworth, was so frustrated by the vacuousness of the medium that he wouldn't permit the device in his home. It wasn't until the broadcast of the moon landing in 1969 that he was able to concede that it was worthwhile invention.

Even on the internet, which has been a consumer phenomenon for almost 15 years, we've only begun to see traces of its potential as an entertainment medium with stuff like Will Ferrell's "The Landlord" for and LonelyGirl15 on YouTube (which ended up being professionally produced). But these are one-offs and lots of companies have failed trying to recreate their success.

In mobile, the potential of the medium was first teased with the ringtone (a legit consumer phenomenon) and now again with the App Store...but these are still early stages of what Sarkar characterized as Alien (as in the movie) Evolution...I'm still trying to fully decipher this amusing analogy, but I think the gist is that it’s going to be a sometimes painful path, full of surprises, but ultimately the monster potential will be revealed. Sarkar reminded the group that the record companies didn't invent Rock N’Roll…artists did, and similarly, he believes, artists will define the mobile medium.

Sarkar demonstrated several experimental iPhone Apps from Singapore developer Omnitoons, that he thought were interesting and hinted at the creative potential of mobile media. They included a photo essay about refugees in the Swat Valley featuring the work of photo journalist Kevin Coombs, a mobile manga version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and some text-based Asian ghost stories augmented with photos and sound.

In conclusion he asked to audience to think about how to commercially make old stories new again in the medium and to imagine the new ideas and stories that will come to it and from it.

Again, great perspective. I think many of us, who consider ourselves mobile entertainment "veterans", are getting battle weary waiting for this to become a real business or become a truly entertaining medium. But 10 years really isn't that much time in the development cycle of a just feels that way in our time compressed, muti-tasking, quarterly reporting, 140 character thought-byte world. We need to take comfort/pride/heart in the knowledge that we are, in fits and starts, building the steel structure that will support a giant (and hopefully creatively interesting) business that will be important for generations.

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