Industry Strength & Effective Doubts: Digital Hollywood Fall 2012 – Feature

Digital Hollywood has always been effective in reflecting the doubts and strengths of the industry at a given time melding creative content structures with a notion of the technology background that drives it. This years in the brief sample experienced was no different in highlighting the hurry up and wait attitude that has been prevailing the intention of industry.

The first symposium “Cable, TV & Broadband – New Content & New Network” explores the reasoning of expanding properties on different devices, primarily mobile thus leading into 2nd Screen. Bruce Eisen, who currently serve as VP of Online Content Development & Strategy for Dish Network, started his internment in digital as one of the founders of CinemaNow. His introduction in terms of mobile delivery happened when he was at a bar in Atlanta because he was producing movies at the time. He thought it was a “cockamamie” idea when his boss at the time asked him to come back and pursue the possibility. The video at time was “herky jerky” (this was 1999) and “postage stamp size”. Personally, when they launched CinemaNow, he thought he would be a billionaire in 5 years (which didn’t happen). The model has not “progressed as furiously as I thought” though he admits that “the tech influences what gets creative” but that “the progression on the ad side has been much slower”. The reasoning why HBO is so successful in this area simply comes from the fact that they don’t have ads. The problem on the advertising business model, from his perspective, is that “the tech isn’t there to measure it but we are getting there” but that “is what is keeping the networks from doing what the premium nets are doing”. Also, Eisen says, “dynamic ad insertion doesn’t work in the pay TV business yet” adding that the company he works for (Dish Network) “would work with that”.

Robert Leighton, SVP of Programming at Liberty Global (which is a bigger company in Europe than in the US), says that he first encountered these elements of mobile right back in the late 90s when he was working with Starz/Encore. The problem at that time is that “internet rights became the less than 1% share that took 75% of the time in field negotiations”. He agrees that the initial ten years were slow but says that they did the first significant output deals adding that “it has been a succession of new windows in effect”. For him, it is all about scale, which is hard to implement new strategy without. The key is “infection points” because “you can jump from that and try something new” but “it takes awhile”. The reasoning is that “there tends to be an inverse relationship to the content and the perceived quality of the product” because “the bulk of the value is still associate with in-home viewing”. Recent developments in technology mainly represented the home platform including aspects like 2nd and 3rd screen. The disconnect is that “the broadcasters are fighting or as conflicted and confused by the entrance of over-the-top [specifics] as we are”. The irony he points to making reference to a media giant is that “I don’t see Microsoft owning the home but owning the basement” which “doesn’t sound good”. However, that said, for Liberty, “that is one piece of a set top box we don’t have to worry about”. Using that perspective though, the sweet spot of Liberty is their high speed broadband service which he says can operate at 15MB a second which “allows for an over-the-top intrusion of video”.

Michael Kernan, who is CEO of NuMedia Studios but previously worked for ICM (plus his new company also consults for Paradigm) says that, in recent years “all the data showed that the money was flowing away from TV to the internet” but “the adventising dollars haven’t jumped over to digital as everybody thought”. One way that its different possibility has shown it moving is in elements like Kickstarter. Knowing the entry point involves, for him, “finding the right partner”. David Anderson, the VP & Head Of Digital for SHINE America, Elizabeth Murdoch’s production company continues that expanding the process is “definitely ratcheting up but there is alot of rights and economics issues” though when they started four years ago they were producing web content “to find the application needs”. Jennifer Sharp, SVP of New Platforms for the struggling MGM Studios who has partners releasing the large scale “Skyfall” and “The Hobbit” this fall says the extension of “the device growth has surpassed our expectation but the content has not caught up”. This, she says, is evidenced in other user experiences in that alot of interactive content, especially “in the app and gaming systems, has shifted off facebook and from web to mobile”. With pure video content they “are still looking at business models” but doing it “with full franchises in mind”. The thought “is to be moderately profitable and cover costs”.

The second symposium attended “Video Anytime Anywhere: Video Across Platforms – Understanding The Value Proposition” builds on the first question which is how to make money. The data is beginning to indicate 2nd screen during primary viewing, most likely in primetime. Emil Rensing, who is the CTO of EPIX, says that “a couple years ago, people were talking about IPad versus tablet” which first came to play when he was “dissecting a cable deal”. From his point of view, “fundamentally there are only three business models. Either you pay, the producer pays or somebody else pays”. Sometimes it can be moved around as his evidenced with EPIX in using their concert and comedy hall specials in that “we used it as a driver for fundraising for 2nd screen apps” because “it helps support that revenue issue”. The reality he admits is “I agree that there is a demand for product that the current section cannot service” which primarily “is not really a decision point around money” but rather “it is about I want what I want the way I want it”. In this instance, “the experience in this connected world becomes a key part of the equation”. The problem also becomes that, even internally, there must be advocates for improvement. Rensing relates that “it took a month for me to convince my board [of directors] that we had to create a new IOS application because they kept asking “why do we have to build it again”.

Scott L. Brown as SVP of Engineering and Strategic Relations at The Nielsen Company comes from a different background which requires the accounting and analyzing of this new arena which is proving increasingly difficult to full understand metrics and advertising relation. He admits that it is “a precarious space”. When they first got into the space “we were into it for a year and a half before we got into some unpleasant litigation”. Progressing into the discussion of 2nd Screen from the point of view of Nielsen, his perspective is that “being a measurement company, you should stay away from second screen apps” though he admits that “TV and video usage has been growing year by year” to the point that “the past couple years we have adjusted downwards”. The advice he offers is that “in this industry, incumbancy equates to standing still”. The downside and reality though is “if it can’t be measured, it can’t be sold”.

The final symposium attending “Advertising Strategy, Expenditure & Analysis: Balancing The Portfolio – Broadcast, Cable & New Platforms” takes this one step further in terms of quizzing the new perspective of what constitutes advancement and accountability.Davina Kent, who is Western Regional VP for Comcast 360 and previously worked for TIVO, accentuates firstly that “on demand in the past was clunky from a user interface standpoint”. With Concast, she relates that “we are developing a guide on the various platforms we control” and that “we have a lot more flexibility on the online interface as well as with mobile”. The continuing question for her is “how do we get people on there?” She continues as a matter of reflection that “while I was at TIVO in 2000 [through] for 8 years, one of the things we learned is that advertisers were freaked out that consumers were forwarding through commercials”. The differences now, specifically in relation to the 2nd Screen applications is that “our tablet app is a remote control device [in which] we are seeing heavy usability” in terms “of what that two screen experience is”. She adds that “we have middleware that allows us to bridge material in” but “there is only so much you can do from an interactive standpoint on their TV”. The advantage is that the “tablet is a forward leaning [device] in terms of buying material”. One of the hurdles to overcome is “talking about customer database matching to informational media buys”. She starts with the research partners and then bridges with the media people but “all of us are trying to figure it out but also dumbing it down”. She explains that “Comcast has invested alot in an audience intellect database which we can use to inform targeting across all of our platforms”. They can then take “all the impression and figure out how to count those” but “we are not 100% there” because “there is a still a tug-and-pull around branding and conversion”. She teases that “there is one company that has a 50 million [count] customer value but [they] still haven’t been able to separate them.”

Bon Mercado, Head Of Mobile Solutions at Google for North America, connects the idea into a very centric state-of-mind saying “if you were asking a 7 year old when they are watching You Tube, they would say they are watching TV”. He inters that “we can specifically target and engage the consumer with the right message” but “the lines are going to be blurred”. Right now, he says “I feel that advertisers are asking for more accountability”. The future of what they are looking at Google rests in, of all places right now, Kansas City where they are deploying a dark fiber line that allows material to run through at 100x speed of what is available in the marketplace but they are still waiting for data back on what it means. The beginning begins with “the remote is the tablet but now we have a way to look ar what you have to do with your TV” though “we are seeing conversion across the board” because people “are watching TV and surfing the web at the same time”. In terms of business, “people are looking for the attribution model where there is convergence on the platforms”. He uses the example of the advertising they use on You Tube as an advancement saying “if you have heard of True View, there was a bit of backlash because we offered the ability to skip the ads” adding that the reality is “the advertiser only pays if the consumer watches past the seconds limits”.

Donald Wong, a partner at media & entertainment vertical EMC, says that part of the challenge of video on demand is that the cable infrastructure is difficult to operate in” because “each each toggle and cord that can be included in is hard to standardize”. From his perspective, “VOD is a way to increase customer loyalty”. For his experience at Roki, they found “with the programming guide, acreage accrued at about 8 minutes a day”. Though he was sitting next to two of the executives, “there is a degree of concern of here the two giants [Time Warner and Comcast] go” in terms of “should the tier 2 [companies] follow?”. He says that he is “excited with the new developments from NDS and Cisco since more players are coming in from overseas”. He does believe that “within five years, you will have stratification in terms of age groups” but the reality is that “everybody is going to launch their own storefront through [at least] three different service providers”.

Lisa Meier, SVP of Time Warner Cable Media for the Western Region, rounding out the panel says that “everybody is excited to bridge [the gap] between the market and advertiser”. However, in her mind, “now it has evolved from a ‘pay-per’ platform to a dynamic platform with the ability to target hand razors”. The evolution is that now “the long format is more accepted so [the players] are looking for access”. From her perspective, “that was the main issue before” but the companies “are asking for a solution to bundle screens together since they want to transact and post [the possibilities].

The intrinsic element of Digital Hollywood this fall in a small sampling dictates that the progression is distinctly fast within the technology but the advertising and monetization still severly lags behind. With the introduction of 2nd Screen as well as the inherent element, as evidenced by Google, of such futuristic elements as dark fiber, the chasm of what is possible and what is supported lingers on.

Stark Raving Black – DVD Review

Having only seen Lewis Black live recently, the aspect of his comedy becomes an edge of spite. His angles require an adjustment of sorts because beneath the rapid outbursts is an interesting texture political subtext. Not that he needs it. Black knows his audience and tries to manufacture on his end a sense of knowing in how the common man thinks. As his Epix concert “Stark Raving Black”, now being released on DVD by Comedy Central, illustrates, the connection to his parents and his idea of “paying dues” reflects a man who made his way through the comedic jungle. While most comics crave the next step of motion pictures, Black himself started late within the thought process so to speak because he spent many years working the comedy club circuit like most talent trying to make it. Now over the age of 60, he has attained an enlightenment but has lost none of his rage yet a softer edge protrudes making him applicable for the edgy twenty-something kids but also for their parents. He shows his disdain for new technology but also the aspect that his generation never quite did it right. He takes real world ideas like a story of him playing a benefit where he performed after Vince Gill which made him feel jokingly like “a despicable piece of shit” because Gill and his wife Amy Grant (a Christian singer of note) were so perfect. These perceptions make him accessible to the audience. Granted, like Kevin Smith at times, Black’s ideas and anecdotes can become too “inside” for the audience but it doesn’t seem to have hurt him. While the economy does come into play, it is interesting though that Black doesn’t specifically address the location of Detroit [where the concert took place] more unilaterally during the special beyond a quip of the end that shows his opener John Bowman playing for nickels in an abandoned field outside the city.

The documentary included on the disc brings the idea of Black a little closer to the forefront showing his beginnings with his buddies in a comedy club where he wrote a musical called “Czar Of Rock N’ Roll”. It definitely is a little film schoolish but navigates around what motivated this man in the first place. Comedy as a form of stand up seemed to not be the primary focus initially of his life but seemingly became where his energy eventually was placed. Earlier comedy tape from the 80s and into the 90s showed a younger Black who, while angry, didn’t support the life experience per se in terms of glancing. He actually needed to get into his late 50s and 60s before he became like the teacher you both like and you could learn from. This is reflected in a small but slightly odd piece off-the-cuff that shows him performing in Amsterdam and acting as mentor to some up-and-coming comics over there. While it provides the balance which leads to a small resurrection of his “Czar” play Off Broadway in NYC, the docu seems more chronological in many ways including his current tour which perhaps might be what fans want to see but it lacks a succinct through-line.

“Stark Raving Black” gives a view of the man and the current idealization that defines his act. While inclusive and showing of his focus and beliefs, some of the comedy comes off more inside when not pinpointed which was more apparent at his performance live at Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. This might simply dictate the way the special was edited since it was done over two nights but perhaps not. The docu is interesting mainly for some of the older tape on Black which shows the evolution of his act from the VHS days on. Out of 5, I give the DVD a 2.