Game On: The Future of Sports Arenas

The Guardian: “With its own dedicated fromagerie, microbrewery and Michelin-calibre restaurant, it might be easy to forget you have come to watch the football when you are reclining in one of the premium lounges of Tottenham Hotspur’s new £750m stadium. The 61,000-seat behemoth will feature the longest bar in the country, heated seats with built-in USB ports, a glass-walled tunnel so you can see the players before the game and even a ‘sky walk’ allowing fans to clamber over the roof of the arena.”

“Besides the fancy catering, the football pitch itself has to work a lot harder, too. This is the first field of its kind designed to split into three parts and slide seamlessly under the seating stands, revealing an astroturf field beneath for American football, positioned at a lower level to ensure perfect sight lines for both modes of play. Acoustic consultants were brought on board in order to guarantee maximum amplification of crowd noise, ensuring a “wall of sound” will resonate from the 17,000-seat south stand.”

Christopher Lee, an architect, “says the next big frontier is holographic representation, describing a world where players might be beamed on to the field from thousands of miles away.” However, architect Jacques Herzog “says his focus is always on capturing the local specificity of the place, designing a venue that somehow responds to the fan culture of the team in question, whether that’s a glowing lantern for Munich, a sharp white temple for Bordeaux, or an archaic masonry complex of vaults and buttresses for Stamford Bridge.”

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Movies & Toys: Box-Office Bingo

The New York Times: “With the decline in DVD sales speeding up and the box office stalling on a global scale — even as movies become more expensive to make — studios like Warner for the first time are looking to merchandise as an engine. Film companies will release 25 movies with toy tie-ins this year, according to Bloomberg analysis, up from roughly eight annually in the past.”

“More than ever, consumer products are influencing moviemaking decisions — namely, sequels and more sequels. Retailers are more willing to devote shelf space to tie-in products when there is already proven interest … the opportunity is too great for studios to pass up, and Exhibit A is Disney. Over the last five years, operating income at Disney’s consumer products and video game business has roughly gone from $1 billion to $2 billion … Disney is the world’s No. 1 licenser, with themed products generating $56.6 billion in retail sales last year.”

‘It is not a coincidence that Warner, Universal and 20th Century Fox have turned to Disney veterans to invigorate their merchandise divisions.” Pam Lifford, the president of Warner Bros. Consumer Products, “spent 12 years at Disney Consumer Products, leaving in 2012, when she was an executive vice president … Jim Fielding, former president of Disney Stores Worldwide, took over consumer products at Fox in January. Vince Klaseus became Universal’s consumer products and video game chief in 2014 after a long run at Disney.”

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Hit Factories: Making Songs Like Sausages

BBC: “A new study by Music Week magazine shows it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create a hit single … Ten years ago, the average number of writers on a hit single was 3.52 … Even solo singer-songwriters like Adele, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, whose identities are deeply ingrained into their music, lean on co-writers …. So why is this happening? Are songwriters increasingly lazy or lacking in talent? Or are they second-guessing themselves in the search for a hit?”

“According to Mike Smith, managing director of music publishers Warner/Chappell UK, it is simply that the business of making music has changed.” He comments: “Think back 20 years and an artist would take at least two or three albums to really hone their craft as a songwriter. There is a need to fast-forward that process [which means record labels will] bring in professional songwriters, put them in with artists and try to bring them through a lot faster.”

“Writing camps are where the music industry puts the infinite monkey theorem to the test, detaining dozens of producers, musicians and ‘top-liners’ (melody writers) and forcing them to create an endless array of songs, usually for a specific artist … British songwriter MNEK, who is one of 13 people credited on Beyonce’s hit single Hold Up, says the song is essentially a Frankenstein’s Monster, stitched together from dozens of demos.” He explains: “She played me the chorus. Then I came back here [to my studio] and recorded all the ideas I had for the song. Beyonce snipped out the pieces she really liked and the end result was this really great, complete song.”

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Vegas Shuffle: Invasion of the Drink Bots

The Wall Street Journal: “As Las Vegas has transformed into one of the world’s most-visited tourist destinations, casino operators are re-examining the perks that historically lured gamblers. Over the past year, casinos have started charging for parking at resorts on the Strip … Now operators have started scrutinizing complimentary drinks, introducing new technology at bars that track how much someone has gambled—and rewards them accordingly with alcohol.”

“It’s a shift from decades of more-informal interplay between bartenders and gamblers … On a recent night at a bar inside the Paris Las Vegas casino, Jamie Balazs and her father were getting used to the new drink-monitoring system. They had just been instructed on how much they needed to put into the machine to allow booze to flow. A bartender told her to push the “max bet” button four times, she said. She said she understood the desire to weed out freeloaders who aren’t gambling but found the instructions off-putting.”

“Her father, Jim Fletcher, was in town with a group to celebrate his 70th birthday. As a top-tier member in Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s rewards program, he felt the new system was ‘insulting’ … Bartender James Tanner said the system has made his job easier because he can avoid awkward debates with customers who were lingering at machines but not really playing.”

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Pie Face: A New Era in Toymaking

The Washington Post: “Pie Face, a game in which a dollop of whipped cream is served up from a plastic “throwing arm” to someone who has positioned his face in its path … was the single best-selling item in the games category in 2016 and the fourth best-selling toy overall, according to market research firm NPD Group.”

“Pie Face is a symbol of a new era in toymaking, one in which social media is allowing the industry to marshal you, the everyday shopper, to become a product’s most powerful advertiser. And its mega-popularity has helped fuel a flurry of action from toymakers to create games that offer a ‘shareable moment’ — a brief visual morsel that parents and grandparents will post on Instagram or Facebook and that teens will put on Snapchat or YouTube. It’s a new breed of toy that can’t just be fun for players in real time. It has to be demonstrative. Performative, even.”

“Social trends go boom and bust at warp speed, and so toymakers say that they have to move at a breakneck pace to capitalize on them. Such was the case with Speak Out, another Hasbro creation. In this game, players wear a mouthguard-like plastic mold that stretches their faces to look cartoonish and makes it hard to talk. Players must say a phrase to a partner and get them to guess their garbled words. The idea for it was sparked by Web videos of people putting in dental mouthpieces and getting the giggles when they tried to speak clearly.”

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Netflix & the ‘Tinderization’ of Feeling

Tom Vanderbilt: “Netflix, as you may have heard, is … shedding its former one-to-five-star rating system in favor of binary digits: namely, thumbs up or thumbs down … For one, Netflix was transitioning from a DVD rental business to a streaming company. It was less reliant on you telling it what you liked (via ratings), because it could already tell what you liked — simply by analyzing what you had watched.”

“And there tended to be a gulf between the two behaviors. People rated aspirationally, but they watched situationally. Yes, you did give That Important Documentary five stars when you got around to watching it, but at the end of a trying day at the office, you more often settled on viewing some pleasing pap like The Ridiculous 6 … Another reason for Netflix’s shift from stars to thumbs is that … even when people are given star-rating options, the responses, as research has shown, tend to cluster in the one-star and five-star endpoints — serving as a de facto thumbs up or down.”

“The Netflix move seems another example of what Alicia Eler and Eve Peyser, in an essay in The New Inquiry, call ‘the tinderization of feeling.’ The dating app Tinder, they argue, ‘is a metaphor for speeding up and mechanizing decision making, turning us into binary creatures who can bypass underlying questions and emotions and instead go with whatever feels really good in the moment.’ In a world of vastly proliferating consumer choice, it is small wonder we should turn to the quickest, most primitive gestures to express judgments.”

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How Music Changes Dining Behavior

Quartz: “Soundtrack Your Brand, a Spotify-backed music-streaming startup, today released a massive study on the impact of background music in a restaurant setting … Researchers found that music they deemed thoughtful and ‘on-brand’ can drive up sales—especially dessert sales, as customers linger longer—but music that’s too mainstream can actively hurt sales. Restaurants would actually be better off not playing music than playing a random scroll of top hits, it turns out.”

“Soundtrack Your Brand co-founder Ola Sars, who previously helped found Beats Music, which is now owned by Apple. Sars adds that music branding seems to come down to finding the perfect level of subtle emotional engagement: customers balk at hearing overly popular songs because they likely find them too noticeable or distracting, for example.”

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Escape Rooms ‘Pop Up’ As Brand Experiences

The Verge: “The SXSW conference has a history of being home to some of the most elaborate marketing events imaginable. Whether it’s a chance to stay over at the Bates Motel, visit the restaurant from Breaking Bad, or see Kanye and Jay Z perform (courtesy of Samsung), it’s as much a part of the show as technology talks and movies. But this year, a new style of tie-in swept the festival: the escape room.”

“Disney launched a pop-up escape experience tied to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Fox took over the ‘Prison Break’ room at The Escape Game Austin to promote the new season of, yes, Prison Break. And HBO had a multi-room installation in place to promote Game of Thrones, Veep, and Silicon Valley … It’s marketing sleight of hand, circumventing audience exhaustion over endless advertising by offering up free experiences that many would pay for if given the option.”

“And with audiences happy to share their own participation, these real-world marketing experiences form a self-sustaining cycle of hype: fans take part and take photos, which they then share on social media, which inspires more people to come, and the entire thing starts all over again.”

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Cassette Comeback: Blame it on Bieber

The Wall Street Journal: “Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA’s Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album “Purpose” in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum).”

“Among the labels duping new releases to tape will be Anticon Records … Its manager Shaun Koplow has long appreciated cassettes, despite their demise in the ’90s. He said he finds that vinyl offers the best sound quality and that streaming is the most convenient—but when he gets home after a long day, he often reaches for cassette.” He explains: “Cassette tapes demand that you’re patient. You’re not going to be skipping tracks as you would on your phone. It’s nice to have something to force you to relax.”

“Indeed, anyone can create and share a playlist with a few clicks on Spotify. But the instantly shareable, streamed compilation will never be as meaningful as a handmade mixtape … Although audiophiles have never embraced the cassette for its audio quality the way they have vinyl records, the format does imbue music with a subtle hiss and other audio vestiges that appeal to the discerning.” And: “Getting into cassettes, unlike vinyl, is relatively inexpensive: Even high-end players cost less than $150.”

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