Mix Off, an app created for the latest U.K. season of The X Factor, is pushing the boundaries of user generated content with its latest version which goes live September 27.
Users are already able to use the app to create and star in their own music videos. However now they will be able to mix their performance with up to three other people’s without being in the same room–pulling in content from friends via Facebook or an in-app gallery of users from around the world.
The app’s extended functionality will be showcased by a number of established artists–including girl band Little Mix–who have agreed to make their own video selfie using the app. The first of these air on ITV September 26.
Mix Off was conceived by London ad agency CHI & Partners for TV, broadband, mobile and home phone company TalkTalk, The X Factor’s U.K. TV sponsor.
TalkTalk has built UGC into its TV sponsorship idents for the past three years–initially, by inviting viewers to submit video of themselves performing in front of a webcam–with the best videos submitted broadcast around ad breaks during the show.
“The idea for this year’s series was simple and exciting: to bring the excitement of The X Factor to everybody,” CHI creative director and partner Micky Tudor explains. Though popular among home performers, UGC production values have been low in recent years. So the aim was to improve the experience for all viewers.
“The challenge we gave ourselves was to find a way of ensuring the UGC had the quality you’d expect in a top end music video. So we set out to give them something great to watch–something they’d feel could have been made for MTV,” he adds.
Working closely with London-based digital production and post-production house MPC and Canadian music video director and photographer Sammy Rawal, CHI worked toward an app that would deliver both high production values and an opportunity for users to mix their content with other people’s.
“It’s an idea that taps into a number of recent social trends, including open social platforms, where everything is quick flick and you can add people to your circle sometimes without them even knowing it,” CHI digital creative director Chad Warner says.
It was also a compelling proposition, which it had to be to motivate users to download, understand, use, and sign approvals for TalkTalk and The X Factor creator Syco to use the UCG content created before finally uploading the finished video.
“It had to be fun and easy to use and guarantee a great result for people to want to use it to make content they’d then want to share,” MPC interactive creative director Andre Assalino explains. “So it was all about maximizing sharing opportunities.”
The challenge was finding a solution that would ensure high production values whatever the user’s camera, and that was scalable and flexible enough to be used across different platforms–iOS and Android, mobile, social and the sponsor’s website.
The answer was an app built around nine different music tracks (including Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and Lorde’s “Royals”) and eight music video templates.
Each template, conceived and developed by Rawal and MPC, offers the user a different music video style into which their lip-sync performance can be mixed. Users then select from a number of filters to adjust the look of their video–for example, lighting–before uploading the video to be rendered and coded. The finished product is available to view in just seconds.
Rawal, whose past credits include music videos for AlunaGeorge, came up with a number of different creative ideas for the templates, including one called “Wheatpaste”–a sequence in which user’s footage appears on panels in an urban environment, while a professional dancer performs in the foreground.
To make “Wheatpaste,” the director filmed in Hackney Wick, London. However a number of others–a template called “Vertical Lines,” for example–were computer-generated.
“As this was to be an app, variables such as data size, upload times, rendering times and numbers of filters had to be taken into account during the development stages of each music video style.” Rawal explains.
“These variables dictated how far I could push an idea in many instances.”
Another challenge was coming up with ideas that worked not in a standard three to five minute music video format but ten to 15 seconds. Typically, 180 sponsors idents are during The X Factor’s three month run. The idea was that each would feature a different selection of ten to 15 second UGC clips.
An early version of Mix Off launched with the start of the current UK series of The X Factor on August 30. The app’s full version, however, will push the boundaries of UGC, Tudor predicts. “What’s different about this is the scale of its ambition–the number of different combinations of elements a user can select is simply enormous–and, of course, the top product quality of the end result,” he says.
In just four weeks this year, the number of UGC videos submitted has equaled the total achieved across the 2013 series’ entire run.
Now, with the show entering a new stage this weekend with the start of “boot camp”–when audience numbers regularly take a marked step up–all involved are bracing themselves for an accompanying uplift in the volume of Mix Off UGC submitted.
Rawal, meanwhile, believes Mix Off also points to the future of directing.
“This was the first hybrid project I’ve worked on,” he says of his role which straddled directing, creative directing and creative technologist. “(But) I definitely see this approach becoming more prominent in the near future as technology continues to evolve at such an exponential rate.”