Date: June 17 - 19, 2020
Place: Barcelona, Spain (Virtual)
General Chairs: Pablo Cesar, Sergi Fernández, Mario Montagud
Author/Reporter: Vinoba Vinayagamoorthy (BBC R&D, UK)
I work in the department of Research & Development, based in London, at the BBC. My interests include Interactive and Immersive Media, Interaction Design, Evaluative Methods, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Synchronised Experiences & Connected Homes.
In the interest of full disclosure, I serve on the steering board of ACM Interactive Media Experiences (IMX) as Vice President for Conferences. It was an honour to be invited to the organising committee as one of IMX’s first Diversity Co-Chairs and as a Doctoral Consortium Co-Chair. I will also be the General Co-Chair for ACM IMX 2021.
I hope you join us at IMX 2021 but if you need convincing, please read on about my experiences with IMX 2020!
I am quite active on Twitter (@What2DoNext), so I don’t think it came as a massive surprise to the IMX community that I won the award of the Best Social Media Reporter for ACM IMX 2020. Here are some of the award-winning tweets describing a workshop, a creative challenge, the opening keynote, my co-author presenting our paper (which incidentally won an honourable mention), the closing keynote and announcing the venue for ACM IMX 2021. This report is a summary of my experiences with IMX 2020.
Before the conference
For the first time in the history of IMX, it was going entirely virtual. As if that wasn’t enough, IMX 2020 was the conference that got rebranded. In 2019, it was called TVX – Interactive Experiences for Television and Online Video! However, the steering committee unanimously voted to rename and rebrand it to reflect the fact that the conference had outgrown its original remit. The new name – Interactive Media Experiences (IMX) – was succinct and all-compassing of the conference’s current scope. With the rebrand, came a revival of principles and ethos. For the first time in the history of IMX, the organising committee worked with the steering committee to include Diversity co-chairs.
The tech industry has suffered from a lack of diverse representation, and 2020 was the year, we decided to try to improve the situation in the IMX community. So, in addition to holding the position of the Doctoral Consortium co-chair, a relatively well-defined role, I was invited to be one of two Diversity chairs. The conference was going to take place in Barcelona, Spain – a city I have been lucky to visit multiple times. I love the people, the culture, the food (and wine) and the city, especially in the summer. The organisation was on track when, due to the unprecedented and global pandemic, we called in an emergency meeting to immediately transfer conference activities to various online platforms. Unfortunately, we lost one keynote, a panel, & 3 workshops, but we managed to transfer the rest into a live virtual event over a combination of platforms: Zoom, Mozilla Hubs, Miro, Slack & Sli.do.
The organising committee came together to reach out to the IMX community to ask for their help in converting their paper, poster and demo presentations to a format suitable for a virtual conference. We were quite amazed at how the community came together to make the virtual conference possible. Quite a few of us spent a lot of late nights getting everything ready!
We set about creating an accessible program and proceedings with links to the various online spaces scheduled to host track sessions and links to papers for better access using the SIGCHI progressive web app and the ACM Publishing System. It didn’t hurt that one of our Technical Program chairs, David A. Shamma, is the current SIGCHI VP of Operations. It was also helpful to have access to the ACM’s guide for virtual conferences and the experience gained by folks like Blair McIntyre (general co-chair of IEEE VR 2020 & Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology). We also got lots of support from Liv Erickson (Emerging Tech Product Manager at Mozilla).
About a week before the conference, Mario Montagud (General Co-Chair) sent an email to all registered attendees to inform them about how to join. Honestly, there were moments when I thought it might be touch and go. I had issues with my network, last-minute committee jobs kept popping up, and social distancing was becoming problematic.
During the conference…
Traditionally, IMX brings together international researchers and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines to attend workshops and challenges on the first day followed by two days of keynotes, panels, paper presentations, posters and demos. The activities are interspersed with lunches, networking with colleagues, copious coffee and a social event.
The advantage of a virtual event is that I had no jet lag and I woke up in my bed at home on the day of the conference. However, I had to provide my coffee and lunches in the 2020 instantiation while (very briefly) considering the option of attending an international conference in my pyjamas. The other early difference is that I didn’t get a name badge in a conference branded registration packet, however, due to my committee roles at IMX 2020, the communications team made us zoom background ‘badges’ – which I loved!
My first day was exciting and diverse! I had a three-hour workshop in the morning (starting 10 AM BST) titled “Toys & the TV: Serious Play” I had organised with my colleagues Suzanne Clark and Barbara Zambrini from BBC R&D, Christoph Ziegler from IRT and Rainer Kirchknopf from ZDF. We had a healthy interest in the workshop and enthusiastic contributions. A few of the attendees contributed idea/position papers while the other attendees were asked to support their favourite amongst the presented ideas. The groups of people were then sent to a breakout group to work on the concept and produce a newspaper-type summary page of an exemplar manifestation of the idea. We all worked over Zoom and a collaborative whiteboard on Miro. It was the virtual version of an interactive “post-it on a wall” type workshop.
Then it was time for lunch and a cup of tea while managing home learning activities for my kids. Usually, I would have been hunting for a quiet place in the conference venue (depending on the time difference) to facetime with my kids. None of that in 2020! I could chat with my fellow organising committee to make sure things were running smoothly and offer aid if needed. Most of the day’s activities were being efficiently coordinated by Mario, based during the conference, at the i2Cat offices in Barcelona.
Around 4 PM (BST), I had a near four-hour creative challenge meet up. However, before that, I dropped into the IMX in Latin America workshop which was organised by colleagues in (you guessed it) Latin America as a way to introduce the work they do to IMX. Things were going well in that workshop, so after a quick hello to the organisers, I rushed over to take part in the creative challenge!
The creative challenge, titled “Snap Creative Challenge: Reimagine the Future of Storytelling with Augmented Reality (AR) ”, was an invited event. It was sponsored by Snap (Andrés Monroy-Hernández) and co-organised by Microsoft Research (Mar González-Franco) and BBC Research & Development (myself). Earlier in the year, over six months, eleven academic teams from eight countries created AR projects to demonstrate their vision of what storytelling would look like in a world where AR is more prevalent. We mentored the teams with the help of Anthony Steed (University College London), Nonny de La Peña (Emblematic Group), Rajan Vaish (Snap), Vanessa Pope (Queen Mary, University of London), and some colleagues who generously donated their time and expertise. We started with a welcome to the event (hosted on Zoom) given by Andrés Monroy-Hernández and then it was straight into presentations of the project. Snap created a summary video of the ideas presented on the day.
Each project was distinct, unique and had the potential for so much more development and expansion. The creative challenge was closed by one of the co-founders of Snap (Bobby Murphy). After closing, some teams had office hours where we could go and have an extended chat about the various projects. Everyone was super enthusiastic and keen to share ideas.
It was 8.20 PM, so I had to end the day with my glass of wine with my other half, but I had a brilliant day and couldn’t get over how many interesting people I got to chat to – and it was just the first day of the conference! On the second day of the conference, Christian Timmerer (Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt & Bitmovin) and I had an hour-long doctoral consortium to host bright and early at 9 AM (BST). Three doctoral students presented a variety of topics. Each student was assigned two mentors who were experts in the field the students were working in. This year, the organising committee were keen to ensure diverse participation through all streams of the conference so, Christian and I kept this in mind in choosing mentors for the doctoral students. We were also able to invite mentors regardless of whether they would travel to a venue or not since everyone was attending online. In a way, it gave us more freedom to be diverse in our choices and thinking. Turns out one hour was whetting the appetite for everyone but the conference had other activities scheduled in the day, so I quite liked having a short break before my next session at noon! Time for another cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate!
The general chairs (Pablo Cesar – CWI, Mario Montagud & Sergi Fernandez – i2Cat) welcomed everyone to the conference at noon (BST). Pablo gave a summary of the number of participants we had at IMX. This is one of the most unfortunate things in a virtual conference. It’s difficult to get a sense of ‘being together’ with the other attendees at the conference but we got some idea from Pablo. Asreen Rostami (RISE) and I gave a summary of diversity & inclusion activities we put in place through the organisation of the conference to begin the process of improving the representation of under-represented groups within the IMX community. Unfortunately, a lot of the plans were not implemented once IMX 2020 went virtual but some of the guidance to inject diverse thinking into all parts of the conference were still carried out – ensuring that the make-up of the ACs was diverse, encouraging workshop organisers to include a diverse set of participants and use inclusive language, casting a wider net in our search for keynotes and mentors, and selecting a time period to run the conference that was best suited to a majority of our attendees. The Technical Program Co-Chair (Lucia D’Acunto, TNO) gave a summary of how the tracks were populated w.r.t papers. To round off the opening welcome for IMX 2020, Mario gave an overview of communication channels, the tools used and the conference program. The wonderful thing about being in a virtual conference is that you can easily screenshot presentations, so you have a good record of what happened. Under pre-pandemic situations, I would have photographed the slides on a screen on stage from my seat in the auditorium hall. So unfashionable in 2020 – you will agree. Getting a visual reminder of talks is useful if you want to remember key points! It also exceedingly good for illustrations as part of a report you might write about the conference three months later.
Sergi Fernandez introduced the opening keynote: Mel Slater (University of Barcelona) who talked about using Virtual Reality to Change Attitudes and Behaviour. Mel was my doctoral supervisor back in between 2001 and 2006 when I did a PhD at UCL. He was the reason I decided to focus my postgraduate studies to build expressive virtual characters. It was fantastic to “go to a conference with him” again even if he got the seat with the better weather. His opening keynote was engaging, entertaining and gave a lot of food for thought. He also had a new video of his virtual self being a rock star. To this day, I believe this is the main reason he got into VR in the first place! And why ever not?
Immediately after Mels’ talk and Q&A session, it was time to inform attendees about the demos and posters available for viewing as part of the conference. The demos and posters were displayed in a series of Mozilla Hubs rooms (domes) created by Jesús Gutierrez (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Demo co-chair) and I, based off some models given to us by Liv (Mozilla). We were able to personalise the virtual spaces and give it a Spanish twist using a couple of panorama images David A. Shamma (FXPAL & Technical Program co-chair for IMX 2020) found on Flickr. Ayman and Julie Williamson (Univ. of Glasgow) also enabled the infrastructure behind the IMX Hub spaces. Jesús and I gave a short ‘how-to’ presentation to let attendees know what to expect in the IMX Hub Spaces. After our presentation, Mario played a video of pitches giving us quick lightning summaries of the demos, work-in-progress poster presentations and doctoral consortium poster displays.
Thirty minutes later, it was time for the first paper session of the day (and the conference)! Ayman chaired the first four papers in the conference in a session titled ‘Augmented TV’. The first paper presented was one I co-authored with Radu-Daniel Vatavu (Univ. Stefan cel Mare of Suceava), Pejman Saeghe (Univ. of Manchester), Teresa Chambel (Univ. of Lisbon), and Marian F Ursu (Univ. of York). The paper (‘Conceptualising Augmented Reality Television for the Living Room’) examined the characteristics of Augmented Reality Television (ARTV) by analysing commonly accepted views on augmented and mixed reality systems, by looking at previous work, by looking at tangential fields (ambient media, interactive TV, 3D TV etc.) and by proposing a conceptual framework for ARTV – the “Augmented Reality Television Continuum”. The presentation is on the ACM SIGCHI’s YouTube channel if you feel like watching Pejman talk about the paper instead of reading it or maybe in addition to reading it!
I did not present the paper, but I was still relieved that it was done! I have noticed that once a paper I was involved with is done, I tend to have enough headspace to engage and ask questions of other authors. So that’s what I was able to do for the rest of the conference. In that same first paper session, Simon von der Au (IRT) et al. presented ‘The SpaceStation App: Design and Evaluation of an AR Application for Educational Television’ in which they got to work with models and videos of the International Space Station! Now, I love natural history documentaries so when I need to work with content, I don’t think I can go wrong if I choose David Attenborough narrated content – think Blue Planet. However, the ISS is a close second! They also cited two of my co-authored papers – Ziegler et al. 2018 and Saeghe et al. 2019 – which is always lovely to see.
After the first session, we had a 30-minute break before making our way to the Hubs Domes to look at demos and posters. Our outstanding student volunteers were deployed to guide IMX attendees to various domes. It was very satisfying seeing all our Hubs space populated with demos/posters with snippets of conversation flowing past as I passed through the domes to see how folks fared in the space. The whole experience resulted in a lot of selfies and images!
There were moments of delight throughout the event. I thought I’d rebel against my mom and get pink hair! Pablo got purple hair and IRL he does not have hair that colour (or that uniformly distributed). Ayman and I tried getting some virtual drinks – I got myself a pina colada while Ayman stayed sober. I also visited all the posters and demos which seldom happens when I attend conferences IRL. In Hubs, it was an excellent way to ‘bump into’ folks. I have been in the IMX community for a while, so I was able to recognise many people by reading their floating name labels. Most of their avatars looked nothing like the people I knew! Christian and Omar Niamut (TNO) had more photorealistic avatars but even those were only recognisable if I squinted! I was also very jealous of Omar’s (and Julie’s) virtual hands which they got because they visited the domes using their VR headsets. It was loads of fun seeing how people represented themselves through their virtual clothes, hair and body choice.
All of the demos and posters were well presented but the ‘Watching Together but Apart’ caught my eye because I knew my colleagues Rajiv Ramdhany, Libby Miller, and Kristian Hentschel built ‘BBC Together’ – an experimental BBC R&D prototype to enable people to watch and listen to BBC programmes together while they are physically apart. It was a response to the situation brought to a lot of our doorsteps by the pandemic! It was amazing to see that another research group responded in the same way to build a similar application. It was great fun talking to Jannik Munk Bryld about their project and compare notes.
Once the paper session was over, there was a 45 minutes break to stretch our legs and rest our eyes. Longer in-between session breaks are a necessity in virtual conferences. At 2:30 PM (BST), it was time to listen to two industry talks chaired by Steve Schirra (YouTube) and Mikel Zorrilla (Vicomtech). Mike Darnell (Samsung Electronics America) talked of conclusions he drew from a survey study of hundreds of participants which focused on user behaviour when it came to choosing what to watch on the TV. The main take-home message was that people generally knew in advance exactly what they want to watch on TV.
Natàlia Herèdia (Media UX Design) talked of her pop-up media lab focusing on designing an OTT for a local public channel. She spoke of the process she used and gave a summary of her work on reaching new audiences.
After the industry talk, it was time for a half an hour break. The organising committee and student volunteers went out to the demo domes in Hubs to get a group selfie! We realised that Ayman has serious ambitions when it comes to cinematography. After we got our shots, we attended another paper session chaired by Aisling Kelliher (Virginia Tech) titled ‘Live Production and Audience’. Other people might have mosquitos or mice as a pest problem. In this paper session, I learnt that there are people like Aisling whose pest problems are a little more significant – like bear sized bigger! So many revelations in such a short time!
The first paper of the last session, titled ‘DAX: Data-Driven Audience Experiences in Esports’, was presented by Athanasios Vasileios Kokkinakis (Univ. of York). He gave a fascinating insight into how companion screen applications might allow audiences to consume interesting data-driven insights during and around the broadcasts of Esports. It was great to see this wort of work since I have some history of working on companion screen applications with sports being one of the genres that could benefit from multi-device applications. The paper won the best paper award! Yvette Wohn (New Jersey Institute of Technology) presented a paper, titled ‘Audience Management practices of Live Streamers on Twitch’, in which she interviewed Twitch streamers to understand how streamers discover audience composition and use appropriate mechanisms to interact with them. The last paper of the conference was presented by Marian – ‘Authoring Interactive Fictional Stories in Object-Based Media (OBM)’. The paper referred to quite a few BBC R&D OBM projects. Again, it was quite lovely to see some reaffirmation of ideas with similar thought processes flowing through the screen.
At 6 PM (BST), I had the honour of chairing the closing keynote by Nonny. Nonny had a lot of unique immersive journalism pieces to show us! She also gave us a live demo of her XR creation, remixing and sharing platform – REACH.love. She imported a virtual character inspired by the Futurama animated character – Bender. Incidentally, my very first virtual character was also created in Bender’s image. I had to remove the antenna off his head because Anthony Steed, who was my project lead at the time, wasn’t as appreciative of my character design – tragic times.
Alas, we had come near the end of the conference which meant it was time for Mario to give a summary of numbers to indicate how many attendees participated in IMX 2020 – spoiler: it was the highest attendance yet. He also handed out various awards. It turns out that our co-authored paper on ‘Conceptualising Augmented Reality Television for the Living Room’ got an honourable mention! More importantly, I was awarded the best social media reporter which is of course why you are reading this report! I guess this is an encouragement to keep on tweeting about IMX!
Frank Bentley (Verizon Media, IMX Steering Committee president) gave a short presentation in which he acknowledged that it was June the 19th – Juneteenth (Freedom Day) in the US. He gave a couple of poignant suggestions on how we might consider marking the day. He also talked about the rebranding exercise that resulted in the conference going from TVX to IMX.
Frank also announced that we are looking for host bids for IMX 2022! As VP of Conferences, I would be very excited to hear from you! Please do email me if you are looking for information about hosting an IMX conference in 2022 or beyond. You can also drop me a tweet @What2DoNext!
He then handed over the floor to Yvette and me to announce the proposed venue of IMX 2021 – New York! A few of the organising committee positions are still up for grabs. Do consider joining our exciting and diverse organising committee if you feel like you could contribute to making IMX 2021 a success! In the meantime, I managed to persuade my lovely colleague at BBC R&D (Vicky Barlow) to make a teaser video to introduce IMX 2021.
That brought us to the end of IMX 2020, sadly. The stragglers of the IMX community lingered a little to have a little bit of chat over zoom which was lovely.
After the conference…
You would think that once the conference was over, that was it but no, not so. In years past, all that was left to do was to stalk people you met at the conference on LinkedIn to make sure the ‘virtual business cards’ were saved. Of course, I did a bit of that this year as well. However, this year had been a much more involved experience. I have had a chance to define the role of Diversity chairs with Asreen. I have had the chance to work with Ayman, Julie, Jesús, Liv and Blair to bring demos and posters to Hubs as part of the IMX 2020 virtual experience. It was a blast! You might have thought that I would be taking a rest! You would be wrong!
I am joining forces with Yvette and the rest of a whole new committee to start organising IMX 2021 – New York into a format that continues the success of IMX 2020 and strive to improve on it. Finally, let’s not forget Frank’s reminder that we are looking for colleagues out there (maybe you?) to host IMX 2022 and beyond!
The story continues… Do get in touch!