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Face off

Starcom MediaVest Group and its content division, LiquidThread, brought their content-centric conference “Valleywood” to the Middle East for the first time this year, in partnership with YouTube. The conference debuted in Los Angeles in 2013, followed by a second edition in  London, with the third edition being held in Dubai in May 2015. The conference’s name comes from the idea of combining Silicon Valley – the tech hub of the world – and Hollywood – the biggest content producers of the world.

Neuroscientist Beau Lotto presented the keynote, engaging the audience with several optical and audio illusions to demonstrate how the human mind suffers from various biases. He noted that brands need to go beyond “what, when and how” and instead ask “why?” to understand consumer behavior. Moreover, brands should observe rather than ask, because people often don’t know why they do what they do.

The next segment brought in the people from the opposite side – the clients – to find out what keeps them up at night. Nick McElwee, sales and marketing director at Yas Marina Circuit, expressed his frustration with the slow and conservative process of creative agencies when it comes to creating content, especially as technology and consumer behavior change, forcing clients to seek other agencies. Aref Yehia, media group manager at P&G Middle East admitted that the traditional setup – of agencies and clients – needs to change. Now, P&G’s media planning team also develops digital content and, just like P&G, big agencies are still adapting to changing times. This has forced P&G to look for smaller boutique agencies. The speed with which these agencies deliver content for digital as well as the quality of content is what matters to clients. However, McElwee was quick to point out that “we have to break down this manufacturing complex”. He said that the quality of engagement is more important than the quantity of content generated.

Bassem Youssef, satirist, columnist and former host of El-Bernameg, kept the audience entertained through the afternoon with his anecdotes. When Youssef’s hit YouTube channel got him his own TV show, he did not ignore the digital platform and continued to adapt his TV show for it. In fact, he did not give up the digital rights of his channel either and this is an example of how digital media empowers people. “The only way to be known was to be discovered by a TV producer,” he said. This changed in 2011, when people could create their own content, prove their concept works, acquire a fan base and then approach – or be approached – by a TV producer, who would have to negotiate on the content creator’s terms.

Kaswara Al-Khatib, chairman and CEO of Uturn Entertainment, attributed the success of his YouTube series Ala Al Tayer to the fact that the online medium gave him the freedom to discuss issues pertaining to Saudis that they couldn’t find on national TV.

One of the panels of the day “The New Creators: What Exactly Does an MCN [multi channel network] Do?” didn’t really answer the question, but did shed light on what audiences want. Mark Adams, senior vice-president and head of innovation at the once-controversial magazine, Vice, said that now its objective is to create the best content across platforms and “the Internet has proved that the best content is honest content”. He added that people are desperate for the truth and that entertainment can be more important than it is made out to be – simply because entertainment engages people and Vice wants to make entertaining content with an important message. Unfortunately, he said, this is not something brands are ready to be a part of. “Brands will look back and be utterly ashamed of the way they operate on the Internet. They’re trolling people. Do brands want to support people or interrupt them?” he wondered.

Valleywood’s first edition in the Middle East encouraged brands to trust in the power of content and take risks that would eventually pay off. It also reassured the audience that the Middle East isn’t alone in convincing clients to join their consumers on their platforms and devices.

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