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Wallonia's audiovisual cluster Twist celebrates 10th anniversary
For the past decade, Cluster Twist has been working with Wallonia’s audiovisual and media industries, helping to build new businesses and stimulating cooperation. As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, Twist is also looking forward, to the challenges of a constantly changing media landscape and the need to build new international markets.
Twist – Technologies in Wallonia for Image, Sound and Text – brings together around 100 organisations, mostly large and small companies but also universities and other actors in Wallonia’s audiovisual industry. Unlike many other business clusters in Europe, it is a private rather than a public initiative.
“Here we are really working for the companies, understanding their needs and thinking about how to bring them solutions,” says Pierre Collin, Twist executive manager.
The cluster’s community falls into three broad markets. First there are content providers in the cinema, TV and animation sectors, such as sister companies DreamWall and KeyWall.
For Thibault Baras, general manager of both companies, networking is the most important aspect of the cluster. “Twist helps us to know the other companies involved in the industry, from animation studios to special effects companies,” he says. In addition, the network also nurtures closer partnerships. “For example, it can help to establish links with research centres and universities,” he says. The second market sector is broadcast and event technology, providing the services and knowhow that underpin the media industry.
One of these companies is Freecaster. “In B2B [business to business], you need a good, strong network to find partners, to get new ideas, and to be recognised for who you are and what you do,” says Baptiste Fosséprez, the company’s chief development officer. He also appreciates Twist’s research connections and eye on the future. “When you’re in a small company you always have to balance the short-term imperative to generate revenue with the need to think of longer term developments.”
Finally, there is the transmedia market, where content crosses from traditional media to the new screens of mobile phones and tablets, and entirely new experiences emerge such as augmented reality. Being part of the Twist cluster helps companies such as Memovie address the challenges of this rapidly evolving sector. “It’s an important moment for the media sector,” says co-founder Olivier Gaillard. “People are looking for new business models, mixing traditional production methods with approaches using new technologies. Twist is the only place in Belgium I’ve found where I can have conversations about that and meet experts and professionals – not just consultants but CEOs of companies – who are thinking about it.”
Twist also provides a constant stream of intelligence about the market, along with invitations to meetings and missions abroad that can help develop new business contacts. “It’s a way of permanent research for us.”
Participating in projects supported by the European Union is one of Twist’s most important activities. These not only address specific goals, such as research and development (R&D), but also help build broader relationships with partners across Europe.
“We’ve developed strong links with the regions of Paris, Barcelona, Malmö and Munich. And we are working on links with Greece, Madrid, Lyon and Bordeaux,” Collin says. This in turn benefits individual companies. “It’s another way of finding new prospects and new partnerships, and to be able to gain new markets.”
Twist recently won EU funding, together with Munich, Paris and Malmö, for a project to support the internationalisation of small and medium-sized enterprises beyond Europe. “This project aims to establish an internationalisation plan to understand what markets we can focus on and how we will approach them,” Collin explains.
On the research front, Twist coordinated the Eurotransmedia project, a €2 million initiative between 2013 and 2016 that developed an R&D agenda for the transmedia sector. Its findings are now being applied in the Arena 3.0 initiative, which will explore how transmedia can transform the experience of arena events.
“What we are trying to do is to develop secondary content around the primary content, which is the music or the sports event within the arena, in order to enhance the users’ experience,” Collin says. That might mean providing new services, such as apps that allow people to order food and drinks from their seats, or complementary entertainment during or after an event, such as games, or analysis and information on mobile phones.
The test case for this work is the Spiroudome in Charleroi, which hosts concerts and sports such as tennis and basketball. The Twist community will be asked to come up with new ideas for entertaining the public and building customer loyalty at the digital level. Well-developed ideas will then be tested in the arena, while those that require more work can be brought on in a ‘living lab’ that Twist has set up with partners in Flanders and northern France. Called C2L3Play: Cross Border Living Labs, the project is funded by EU’s Interreg France-Wallonie-Vlaanderen initiative.
The aim across the transmedia sector is to encourage companies to become unique. “To be a service provider is very interesting, but it has to be over the short term, because then you have competitors who may be less expensive or have innovations, and you lose your business,” Collin warns. “If you don’t develop technological and narrative intellectual property, it is complicated to survive in the long term.”
DreamWall was created a decade ago as a joint venture between Belgian public broadcaster RTBF and comic book publisher Dupuis. The aim was to build a company that could produce animation and TV channel branding, and create designs for virtual sets. These sets are ubiquitous now in television, providing digital backgrounds for news broadcasts, weather reports and magazine programmes.
The man behind DreamWall, Thibault Baras, built Belgium’s first virtual studio for RTBF in 2005. When the time came for DreamWall to create its own virtual studio, a second company was created so its facilities and services could be offered to third parties. Called KeyWall, it has two virtual studios and a conventional live studio in Charleroi.
Baras manages both companies, and they work closely together. “At KeyWall, for example, you are shooting in a virtual studio, on virtual sets that have been designed by DreamWall,” he explains. Hardware and software are sourced outside the company. “We are always looking for the most powerful technology,” says Baras, “and we are developing new workflows, new content and new ways of using that technology to provide high added-value to our customers.”
For example, a partnership with Turkish company Zero Density means highly realistic 3D virtual sets and other content can be produced using technology developed for the video game industry. This was used to deliver virtual sets and infographics to enhance France Télévisions’ live coverage of the 2017 presidential elections.
Freecaster began its business of managing and streaming video on the internet in 2004, a year before the creation of YouTube and three years before the first iPhone. Much has changed in the intervening years. “We have always evolved as a company,” says Baptiste Fosséprez, chief development officer. “There have been a lot of technological changes, for example in the technology used to manage and stream content, but also in the devices on which people watch.” Freecaster’s business remains video delivery on the internet based on its own platform. Content is accessed on clients’ websites, apps and social media sites.
Freecaster will arrange production of the content as well, if clients request it, offering services across the entire value chain. It has a staff of 12, around half of them busy with software development. “Our core product is a video platform, so we need these guys to maintain and develop the platform, and to tailor it to customers’ requirements,” says Fosséprez.
Freecaster’s online video platform is used by media companies, including Belgian public broadcaster RTBF, and also by event organisers. This includes fashion shows ( for clients such as Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent, Givenchy and Kenzo); sports events such as motocross and cycling; and music festivals, such as Tomorrowland. It also works for businesses and public institutions, helping screen meetings internally and to the public.
Memovie began with a family that wanted to celebrate its grandparents. The idea was to collect memories from them and other family members, and turn this material into a themed party, including a short movie. The result was so impressive that other people started asking how it was done – not just other families, but in time also institutions and companies with a story to tell.
“People want to share their stories, but it’s difficult for them to gather all their memories and then to produce a story. And that’s our job,” says co-founder Olivier Gaillard.
The platform allows people to gather photographs, films and other documents, which can then be opened up to the community involved, whether family and friends or employees and other stakeholders in an organisation. They can then add their own material or provide further information, for example adding memories or identifying people in old photographs.
Community input also helps decide which elements are the most important in telling a story. Then Memovie transforms this archive into a story that can be told through different media, for example a movie, a book, an exhibition or an event. The company has existed for four years, but with the transmedia market still developing, it is challenging to find the right business model. “We have more and more big clients, so the market exists and the need is real, but finding a business model that combines transmedia and technology is not easy.” Clients so far include the Brussels metro, the castle at La Hulpe and restaurant chain Exki.