Can the UK be the next hub for the digital production industry?

Although the last eighteen months have been a really challenging time for most people in the advertising industry, there is one sector that has positively blossomed as a result of the turmoil caused by the recession. As advertisers consolidated their spend into single agencies, many found that they just did not have the capability to deliver on the digital side and therefore relied heavily on the digital production companies. Piero Frescobaldi said, “We have been in production for 10 years now, but the last 2 have been the most exciting, as we have seen the best creative teams of ATL agencies world wide actively reaching out to production shops and enjoying it.“

Historically Sweden has been the hub of digital production for quite some time with such great agencies as B-Reel and North Kingdom (although B-reel also now has capabilities in London). This was as a direct result of the fact that the Swedish government invested very early in a good internet framework – the UK is still far behind on the broadband front (in fact the UK is 14th in Economist Intelligence Unit’s digital economy rankings). However with the recent growth in the UK market, can the UK become the new hub? One agency head felt that alas it will not happen anytime soon as he felt the UK advertising is still too traditional in its view and another agency head said that the UK is too conservative. However Nicky Hamilton from Your Mum disagreed “A large proportion of our enquiries have been from the agencies erroneously classified as ‘traditional’ who may well have smaller digital production capabilities but appear to have some fantastic digital ideas.” One production shop head went as far to say “Digital agencies, are the new dinosaurs. If they don’t evolve quickly they will have lost the 10 year head start they have enjoyed so far.”

One recent development in the Swedish digital production market has been the move away from digital production by some, choosing instead to work with clients direct. Is there a risk that this may happen in the UK as well? Tim Rodgers of rehab feels not “I don’t see that happening here. Most have some direct to client relationships already (with brands looking for special project intelligence on a project by project basis). The classic agency style set up has a much larger, layered structure that we’re simply not interested in. But agile-collaborative projects with any type of client are a lot of fun!”

So what is exciting those in the digital production world? Well obviously there is the iPad – as much because it represents computing for our mums – all the fun bits of computing without the geeky bits. As a starter, this means people can now have fun redefining a grammar for magazines. Related to this is the launch of HTML5 and the very public spat between Apple and Adobe – no-one still knows where this is going to go but the digital production companies are surely going to have a big say. Social media was obviously an area of interest with one agency head particularly excited about creating immersive interactive experiences based on your social media footprint and interactions using Unity3D.

Others are excited by the fact that digital is increasingly becoming more tactile, with increased fusion between digital and physical. It will not be long until we become a world where all of your digital touch-points will accumulate to provide a seamless interactive experience – from your alarm going off in the morning telling you your favorite director has just released a new film, to being able to order it on the way to work on your phone and then it being downloaded, ready to watch when you get home.

So what developments can we expect over the next 12 months. Many would like to see standarisation across the digital production space and hopefully the development of stndrd_, an open source approach to establishing standards and practices in digital production, should hopefully facilitate this. There is also likely to be a move to a Director model, which is more akin to TVC production. Not unexpectedly many also would like to see budgets continue to grow and expressed a continued . A few also pointed to the challenges of talent – Eduardo de Felipe, founder of Pirata, commented “University courses for digital careers are on the rise, however small production agencies are heavily reliant on experienced talent and as their teams tend to be smaller, creatives often need to be accomplished in more than one skillset. Its getting increasingly difficult to find experienced digital people that are familiar with working in this way, particularly in roles such as hybrid producers who needs to be both account and project managers. If we can establish the UK as a hot bed for learning this craft, we’ll be well on the way to maintaining it as a hub for digital production world-wide.” Hopefully the potential launch of Hyperisland, the leading Swedish digital school, in the next 12 months in the UK will help address this issue.

Irrespective there is no doubt that there next 12 months are going to be exciting for the digital production industry in the UK. As Tim Rodgers quite succinctly put it, “it’s going to be awesome”.

Anyway here are the key players in the UK:

From top left clockwise: B-reel London offices, Unit 9 on Hoxton Square, Founders of rehab, Sam and Dave from LMFM attack Your Mum and the team @Pirata. More photos can be found here

B-reel
Founded: 1999
Offices: Stockholm (HQ), London, NYC
Employees: 40
Best known for: Hotel 626 (with Goodby Silverstein), Talk Talk Brightdancing (for CHI Partners) & AXE Hair Crisis Relief: 100 girls (for BBH New York)

Disqo
Founded: 2006
Offices: London
Employees: 10
Best known for: GTI Project (for Tribal DDB), Lexus Experience (for CHI) & Sony Bond (for Dare Digital)

Pirata
Founded: November 2008
Offices: London
Team Size: 17
Best known for: McLaren F1 (for WorK Club), Robinsons Put on a Panto (for BBH London) & Pirata Boat Race (self promotion)

rehabstudio
Founded: 2005
Offices: London and Belfast
Team Size: 30
Best known for: Doritos iD3 (for AMVBBDO), T-mobile Dance (for Saatchi & Saatchi London) and Marmarati (for Wearesocial)

Stink Digital
Founded: Jan 2009
Offices: London and New York
Team Size: 15 (London)
Best known for: Carousel (for Tribal DDB), A Hundred Lovers (for Anomaly), and Lexus Dark Ride (for Skinny NYC)

unit 9
Founded: 1996
Team size: 40
Offices: London (Head office), Florence, Stockholm, Florianapolis
Best known for: Stella Artois – The King Of Cannes (for Mother London), Breakingbad.com (for Mono) and Comcast Town (for Goodby Silverstein & Partners San Francisco)

Your Mum
Founded: 2010
Offices: London
Team Size: 5 (core)
Best known for: Your Mum’s first project was Extreme Gamer for Epson via TwentySix

And the best from the rest of the world
Acne Production (Stockholm)
Barbarian Group (New York, Boston and San Francisco)
Mekanism (San Francisco and New York)
North Kingdom (Skellefteå and Stockholm)
Perfect Fools (Stockholm, Amsterdam and New York)
Projector (in Tokyo)

Please note: The agencies were taken from members of Creative Social AND who they said their key competitors were. If there are any agencies that are conspicious by the absence, do feel free to give them a shout out in the comments below.

3 Comments

  1. Specialmoves (http://specialmoves.com)
    Founded: 1999
    Offices: London
    Team Size: 20 (London)
    Best known for: E.ON The Virtual FA Cup (for TBWA), lynxeffect.com (for BBH), Carpe Diem Daily (for W+K London), rolex.com (direct), MyDeco Room Planner (direct)

  2. HowieSPM says:

    I think Digital has to change big time. But it needs to be exactly what the 30 sec spot is. All Advertising for Mobile and online needs to be Pre-Roll. This will require people to see ads in exchange for free content. Whether that means a 5 or 15sec video that you can at some point click through or something else I do not know. I will say one reason Digital has been an overwhelming failure is because 1] it general is lame 2] people like me get to block every bit of it with Firefox (Including paid SEO results!).

    My point is what is considered digital needs to change into something broader that includes traditional video with CGI etc. And how websites and content providers deliver it, what they deliver, and when they deliver it has to change. Because I advise my clients that digital should not be a primary strategy if you are just talking banner ads.

  3. Hi Daniele – I work with Made by Many in London and though not purely a production house, we do do some production – the Barbarian Group works in a similar fashion to ours where strategy and development are combined: http://madebymany.co.uk, @madebymany on Twitter.