Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Is the future bright?

Chuck Dages from Warner Bros. opened up a session called Pulling it all together by charting some of the disruptive technologies in its history. Talkies were introduced, he said, to reduce operating costs: if the sound was on the movie then the theatres saved the cost of a piano player. He also mentioned the impact of colour in 1939, with The Wizard of Oz, and the coming of scripted television with the 1954 series Cheyenne.
In 2006 Warner Bros. had 1.3 billion transactions for its products. By 2011 – with the coming of smartphones and tablets, among other factors – that had risen to two billion. The challenge is to accommodate that 50% growth in content deliveries without a matching growth in delivery costs.
He said that as a business Warner Bros. has learned through this, and through other revolutions like music and photography, that consumers want access wherever and whenever they are. They also want to want to release the value of the library: there are 10 billion DVDs on shelves in homes which they want to take with them. And consumers want tools to be able to manage their digital libraries.
From Technicolor Christophe Diot said he agreed entirely with Chuck. He added the point that a regular movie is now delivered in 200 different versions. He also claimed that Disney collects nine petabytes a day in user data – far more than they can possibly use, at least with today’s technology.
He said that the last 10 years have been the research years, the time when the infrastructure and the technology was developed. Now we are entering the consumer years, when this technology will be used to deliver the experience that audiences want. It is a time of dematerialisation, when we make life easier for the consumer by making consumption seamless and transparent, and letting the consumer pay the right price to the studio for the content.
Studios then have the ability to determine the balance of content, quality and price without it becoming commoditised. The content and the technology should work together to deliver, so simply that anyone can understand, the right experience at the right price.
He reiterated the importance of metadata, and outlined three kinds of metadata: the technical metadata, the user metadata, and the crowd-sourced internet metadata. This third class is what will drive discovery through recommendations.
The third panellist was Chin Siang Lim from Singapore Media, who suggested that having too firm a vision of the future was dangerous because you will be trapped into a fixed path. And it will be boring!
He then offered a couple of hints of what might be to come. First, he noted that the amount of data is rising hugely. One solution might be that all the content in the world could be available to every consumer, and at the point of consumption you pay for the resolution for the device you choose. IPv6 will allow everyone to have their own server to achieve this.
His second hint concerned automated production. With enough fast cloud computing anyone can make their own content. Lim pointed to Apple’s Siri as the foretaste of what will come. Today it gives you recommendations for restaurants, tomorrow it might run scientific experiments or create videos. It might be the way to achieve the idea of interactive content which adapts to the feelings of the audience.
If you can produce content that will expand the minds of the audience, then not only will that will help societies grow, it will help your audiences and revenue grow.
One comment from the floor picked up on the idea of adaptive content, and asked if this would be a way of presenting alternative cuts of a movie, perhaps an adult version for late night screenings. Lim suggested that this would happen if the audiences demanded it.
Diot saw a couple of problems: the creative people do not like to see any changes to their movie; and the need to build the movie in a different way, with metadata inserted into the file to allow the dynamic interaction. But technology is growing, particularly for the home where it is possible to detect who is in the room so you can protect the adult version.
Another comment from the floor noted that, given the general agreement that metadata was the key to the future, what does this mean for the future of the industry? Do we need more data analysts?
Dages said that it was important to collect, collate and parse metadata at every stage of the process. Data wranglers are now a part of a movie crew.
There was a debate on how metadata could be standardised, and even if it would be worthwhile. Diot felt that because much of it is transient, and linked to cultural and social thinking, then even keeping it long term is not necessary let alone standardised.
From the floor there was the suggestion that artificial intelligence might, in just a few years time, be capable of automatically generating all the metadata we need, in the way that Shazam does in cataloguing music.
The issue then was raised about how the next generation of staff – creative and technical – can be attracted into the industry. Given that, at least according to the young people’s panel yesterday, there is a strong feeling against the corporate world, will they want to work for big producers?
Diot said that Technicolor is addressing this concern through workshops and mentoring schemes to develop the passion for quality and creativity. He said they can teach the details of technology, but schemes like this encourage interest. Dages added that the film festival scene is mushrooming, to reflect the fact that many more people are taking advantage of the ready availability of tools to create content.
Chairman of the session David Wood recalled Alvin Toffler’s theory that change accelerates – future shock. What does this mean for the coming years in our industry?
Lim thought it was a case of survival of the fittest: only those who can keep up with the pace of change will benefit. Dages suggested that there was another piece of human psychology that came into play here: we all develop our selected subset of favourites. We may have access to hundreds of radio channels in our cars but only listen to a couple of them.
Diot said he was a researcher, and understood the curve that utility of new concepts stabilises over time. At first it might be too complex for the majority, but we will adapt in time. But he felt that predicting that time – and putting a date on events in the future – was not possible. In a show of hands, there was overwhelming agreement that the future is bright.

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