Creative Media Labs: Innovations in Screen Storytelling in the Age of Interactivity and Immersion

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Electronics


Storytelling is central to human activity, one of the ways in which we make sense of the world. The screen industries are the latest in a long line of technologies and cultural practices committed to the creation of stories. Film, TV, video, computer games and other interactive media now tell stories digitally. But digital technologies are changing rapidly, enabling new modes of creation, new approaches to storytelling, new experiences for audiences and users. How can the screen industries keep pace with such change? How can they make the most of the new opportunities available to them? How can they develop the skills necessary to engage with these new technologies? How can they create with those technologies in ways that are exciting, commercially viable and capable of generating significant economic growth? These are some of the questions that Creative Media Labs (CML) seeks to answer, as it enables innovations in screen storytelling in the age of interactivity and immersion.

The focus of CML is the considerable cluster of screen industry enterprises in the Yorkshire and Humber (Y&H) region. The partnership aims to enable this regional cluster to become the UK centre of excellence for the next generation of digital storytelling. This is an established creative industries cluster that has been earmarked for significant support through Screen Yorkshire's (SY) Growth Plan, backed by the British Film Institute's (BFI) Creative Clusters Challenge Fund, and showcased in the Creative Industries Sector Deal document as one of five "prominent creative industries cluster projects". SY, the BFI and University of York (UoY) have come together in a collaboration that blends world-leading research on digital storytelling with national strategic vision and unparalleled regional industry nous.

Clustering is key to the development of the contemporary screen industries, and clusters come in many shapes and sizes. With key initiatives across its five major cities, the Y&H region saw the fastest rate of screen industry growth in the UK in 2009-2015. It is home to one of only three ITV production centres, producing around 500 hours of TV annually; True North, the biggest factual producer in the North of England, now owned by Sky; Warp Films, probably the most important out-of-London film company in the UK, and winners of multiple BAFTAs; Rockstar, one of the largest games developers in the world; Sumo Digital, one of the fastest growing games companies in the UK with over 300 staff; Revolution Software, developers of the hugely successful Broken Sword series; Viridian FX, one of the largest VFX houses in the North of England; and Church Fenton Yorkshire Studios, a major production facility used by Mammoth Screen for ITV's Victoria. There is also a wealth of micro businesses working in the sector.

Creative Media Labs will build a sustainable, collaborative R&D partnership around this regional screen industries cluster, its numerous MSMEs and branches of large creative enterprises. Its core delivery partners are UoY, SY and the BFI; the key local authorities, enterprise partnerships and universities in the region are on board; so too are investors and several leading national trade associations, organisations and creative enterprises. Co-creation and collaborative working will be at the core of what we do.

UoY has an excellent track record in multi-disciplinary research, with huge investment in creativity, across the arts, humanities and sciences - a combination reflected in the multi-million pound Digital Creativity Labs. There is an extensive pool of research expertise in digital storytelling, from writing, through media embodiment, to development of underpinning technologies. By identifying industry-led challenges, this expertise will be shared with the Y&H screen industries cluster in ways that will enable us to fulfil our ambition to establish the region as the UK centre of excellence for digital storytelling.

Planned Impact

The Creative Media Labs (CML) Partnership will act as a regional hub through which to invest strategically in R&D that is capable of having a transformational impact to grow the screen industries economy in Yorkshire and the Humber. Our goal is for the Y&H cluster to become the UK centre of excellence for immersive and interactive storytelling, and for that cluster to be economically sustainable and financially healthy. Given the nature of this AHRC programme, CML is all about impact, and we have established a number of pathways to achieving, measuring and demonstrating that impact.

In order to ensure that the products, services and experiences produced through our R&D programme are thoroughly innovative and capable of commercialisation, we have devised a series of funds to support different types of R&D activity in different ways. These will enable the development of both small and large projects, working with specific companies on specific R&D challenges, ranging from student internships, through three-year PhD projects, to collaborations between teams of academic researchers and industry practitioners. Our funds are also designed to enable both slow-burn, extensive R&D developments, and ones that require immediate and swift intervention.

One fund will support industry partners who identify collaborative R&D challenges on which they want to work; another will support post-doctoral research and knowledge exchange; a third will enable the flexible deployment of researchers to projects that will benefit from their skills and expertise. Some of these funds will come from the AHRC grant, some from the University of York contribution, and some from CML partners. We have not committed large sums of money to long-term Co-Is, preferring a more flexible and dynamic model that can match researchers to challenges as they arise.

The BFI and UoY will also fund economic and policy analysis and business modelling, and the development of the creative and technical skills necessary for the production of high-quality digital storytelling. The criteria we will apply when evaluating the viability of any proposed partnership activities are designed to ensure that such activities have the capacity to generate both creative innovations and economic growth. That growth potential will be defined in particular in terms of the creation of new skills, jobs and businesses, and the scaling up of existing businesses.

We have developed robust systems for gathering evidence about partnership activities, and monitoring, understanding and evaluating the impact of those activities. We will continue the work of mapping the screen industries economy and analysing the market in the Y&H region begun by our key partner Screen Yorkshire. This work will be led by the 0.2 FTE Co-I based at the BFI, our other key partner. One key task will be to define what we mean by the 'screen industries' (film, TV, games and other digital media), a term in wide use in industry and policy circles, but one that does not map easily onto Standard Industrial Classifications of industrial sectors. In terms of measuring growth, we will develop a bespoke Customer Relationship Management system to track business interactions and company information.

In terms of measuring success, our overall goal will be to demonstrate the impact of partnership activities on the strength of the screen industries economy in the Y&H region. To do this, we will draw on the analytical categories and reporting processes developed by Nesta et al., to establish a set of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for each individual R&D project and the CML Partnership overall. Working with a bundle of OKRs will enable us to measure success in a flexible and balanced manner and make investment decisions based on robust evidence. In terms of reporting, monitoring and evaluation, we have developed a rigorous set of processes involving our Executive Board, Delivery Team and Partnership Steering Board.


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