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Media Summit Probes Primacy of Content

18 Feb, 2005 By: Anne Sherber

NEW YORK — Content is still king. That maxim holds true even as consumers grow more technologically sophisticated, according to studio, cable and technology executives discussing the future of entertainment delivery at the 2005 McGraw-Hill Media Summit. The summit took place Feb. 9-10.

Executives agreed that even the cleverest gadgets and highest-tech delivery systems can't entice consumers without content — especially movies.“Hollywood continues to create the most valuable content,” noted Mitchell Weintraub, senior director, new media initiatives and implementation, Comcast.

Still, the available technology, particularly for Internet access to movies and other video programming, continues to present an impediment to consumers.

“It's still a problem for people to receive content and easily watch that content,” said Curt Marvis, CEO of Internet movie provider CinemaNow.

The challenges of delivering that content to consumers, while taking precautions to protect copyrights, continue to confound. Still, “technology is our friend,” noted Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, in his keynote address. “We have to be compatible with available technology in order to get the maximum benefit out of the content we create,” he said.

Executives at several video-on-demand [VOD] services noted that until electronic delivery is seamless for consumers, there will be a market for packaged media. “There is an irrational fear that [VOD] will destroy the pre-existing distribution channels,” CinemaNow's Marvis said.

In order to avoid the devastating effects of peer-to-peer file-sharing plaguing the record industry, copyright holders and service providers need to be proactive. “Traditional channels need to hold their customers' hands, guide their way over to digital delivery legally,” Marvis said.

Ron Wheeler, SVP, News Corp., said his company is searching for “carrots” rather than “sticks” to persuade consumers to obtain movies legally, using iTunes as an example of a working model. But he also noted that Fox will shortly begin bringing suits against people for uploading its copyrighted movies.

Meanwhile, James Henderson, VP of corporate development for Charter Communications, said the top reason consumers aren't using the Internet to buy or rent movies is that they can't watch those movies easily on their TVs. He said Internet video delivery needs to meet three goals:
• There must be connectivity between PC and TV, because consumers want to watch movies using their media centers, rather than on their computer monitors;
• There needs to be an affordable portable digital media device (an iPod for movies);
• And there needs to be good, easy-to-use players that can record content and play it back.

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