Richard Taylor’s Weta Workshop has long been at the forefront of film, but it’s now at the forefront of an entirely new form of media, Mixed Reality. It has been called on by one of the world’s most exciting (and secretive) startups, Magic Leap, to help create one of its first games. Weta officially launched what it calls the “world’s first specialist mixed reality development studio” this year and this technology has the potential to completely change the way we play games.
Dr Mark Sagar, the CEO of Soul Machines, started off in film and is now on a mission to humanise artificial intelligence. And he’s doing pretty bloody well. With digital assistants becoming more intuitive, and brands starting to invest in digital humans that respond to their environment, this could change the way people interact with brands and have big implications for customer service, potentially spelling the end of phone or text-based systems (and the start of paid-for digital facsimiles).
Script-writer, documentary maker, producer, art lecturer, digital innovator, Lisa Taouma has dedicated her life to telling the stories of the Pacific. As producer of pioneering Pacific Island youth show Fresh, and the creator of Thecoconet.tv, an online hub for Pacific moving image content online that is funded by NZ on Air, she’s an important link in the chain of New Zealand’s Pacific identity.
Around two years ago Tony O’Regan saw a gap in the market for – and a new way to deliver – local news. So he created the Wanaka App, which shows “daily news, sports reports, weather, road information and paid-for directories ranging from trades and services to restaurants and jobs”. Since then, six other regions have followed suit under a licensing arrangement and the Wellington App is launching soon. often employing journalists who have been ousted from the big media companies.
WhileSinead Boucher doesn’t have the same variety of resources as NZME and her company doesn’t have as much of a presence in Auckland, there’s still plenty of editorial innovation happening under her watch – whether podcast series like Black Hands or impressive digital storytelling – and she has an understanding that media companies need to do more than simply sell space – and particularly digital space – to advertisers if they want to survive. Times are tough for the newly named Stuff, but it is has created a host of new products – such as fibre, SVOD, energy and insurance – under Boucher’s watch and is selling those products to its audience.
Aleisha Staples has got an AR/VR tiger by the tail. Not only is her company creating immersive experiences for brands like Fire and Emergency’s award-winning ‘Escape My House’ campaign or using the technology to calm kids in hospitals, it has also created a separate business renting out equipment to others hoping to dabble in this booming media sector.
Amie Mills, an expert in the field of transmedia storytelling and children’s and digital commissioner at TVNZ, has helped orchestrate large-scale multi-faceted campaigns and show promotions, and was instrumental in its web series competition, New Blood, which aims to “create content that is different, provocative and champions diversity – through a range of voices, ethnicities, genders, sexuality, beliefs”. The winning show, Oddly Even, is now playing on TVNZ OnDemand and, in what is generally seen as a mark of success in TV, the scheme is back again this year, with a few tweaks.
Quinton Hita is probably best known for his role as an ambulance driver on Shortland Street. But now he’s driving something else: Māori development through the media. He runs Kura Productions, a joint venture with South Pacific Pictures that has been behind the game show Kupuhuna, interview series Kowhao Rao, kids programme Pukoro and, most recently, contemporary series Ahikaroa. As he told The Herald recently: "Some people are in this industry because they live and breathe film and television, but that's not my motivation. My motivation is Māori development. I see this as a burgeoning industry and it has really positive benefits for the reo."
Ian Taylor, the founder of Animation Research Limited, has carved out a position as a world leader when it comes to sports graphics. Its company Virtual Eye started off on America’s Cup visualisations around 25 years ago and has produced graphics and animations for cricket, golf, sailing, motorsports and snow sports. Technology includes graphics showing fielding positions in cricket, and providing 3D tracks and driving lines in Formula One. But he is not only influential when it comes to broadcast media. He’s also an outspoken proponent of New Zealand’s design and tech sector, something clearly demonstrated in our America’s Cup win. He’s also pushing for the Māori economy to embrace tech and IT solutions to enhance the primary industries.
Rhonda Kite is the founder of Kiwa Digital, the self-styled “world’s leading production house for experiential digital books”. Now based in the United Arab Emirates to developed new business in the Middle East, she has more than 20 years experience in the production industry and founded the company in 2003 as a company with a focus on foreign-language dubbing solutions in the screen industry. She then pushed into publishing and used tech to make the literary worlds of authors and illustrators come to life – and other languages, including sign language and Te Reo, also included.
Whether it’s creating content through his brand Frontside (which started off as an action sports production company and was recently sold to Publicis Group), harnessing new channels to broadcast, speaking around the country on tech and Māori development, or regularly spouting off his opinions in video form across pretty much every social channel, there’s nothing traditional about the way Robett Hollis uses media to get attention.
Laura Maxwellhas been at the head of NZME’s digital team for a few years now. And while the digital riches certainly haven’t replaced print, that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. There was a major redesign of nzherald.co.nz last year, a host of new online video shows like Economy Hub and ANZ Sports Scene and the launch of a range of new, more transactional products like OneRoof, YUDU and Driven that are trying to shift the company away from its reliance on display advertising.
Duncan Greive stepped down as editor ofThe Spinofflast year, but he’s still its undisputed spirit animal. Since it started in 2014, it’s grown into a real and very innovative player in the local digital media scene. Its funding model is largely based around sponsorship of specific sections, which sometimes raises questions about independence, but its content - whether text, visual, audio or video – is always high quality, its contributors are world-class, its commercial ideas are interesting, its audience is growing and it’s also expanding into TV with a new show planned this year.
John McRae, the managing director of Let’s Play Live, sees eSports as the next big thing in broadcasting and wants to educate brands about the opportunities. While it still sounds strange to many non-gamers, eSports are starting to boom as a viewing and event experience and drawing massive crowds, to the point where billionaires who own NFL and NBA teams have started to buy gaming teams and professional players are getting rich. Previously part of Duco events, McRae helped launch the first gaming show on Sky and the first inter-school gaming competition.
A man of many talents, Bailey Mackey started off as a radio DJ and sports reporter, before deciding to go behind the scenes and create shows. He has a strong focus on Māori content programming for broad audiences and he’s good at it, with his company Pango Productions making shows like Marae, the semi-topical, fully satirical Brown Eye with Taika Waititi and the high profile reality show The GC. The cooking series The Game Chef has been sold to the National Geographic channel and Sidewalk Karaoke, which takes singing to the streets and was Māori Television’s number one show of 2016, is set to be rolled out across up to 30 different markets. Not only that, he’s also started a tech company called Kaha aimed at the film sector.
The universally loved Jon Bridges has been part of the local TV furniture for years, first in front of the camera, and now more often behind it making great shows. He played an important role developing New Zealand’s comedy scene, he’s a big part of the 7 Days juggernaut, one of the main forces behind The Project, and a prodigious and very entertaining author, blogger and columnist.
GrownUps general manager Richard Poole deserves a place on this list for creating a media platform to service those over 50. In 2006, he and entrepreneur Shane Bradley identified an opportunity to help the 50-plus make the most of every day with a website serving up information for them that had no existing home in the local media market. That’s idea turned into GrownUps, a New Zealand lifestyle website, social club and brain training hub for over the 50-plus as well as being a platform for advertisers looking to access the 50-plus market.
Many don’t like his outspoken and occasionally aggressive approach, but there’s no doubt NBR publisher Todd Scott has a vision. Some may say it’s tunnel vision, but he is very clear in his belief that the only ethical way to fund a newsroom is to create essential news and charge readers for it. That means he’s alienated some advertisers recently – and said goodbye to a few columnists who haven’t reached his standards of independence – but he’s sticking to his guns and continuing to invest in online media.