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Panel: Studios Figuring Digital Into Planning

7 Nov, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

LOS ANGELES — Five leading experts in the industry mulled the cloudy future of the post-DVD world at the iHollywood Digital Conference during this year's American Film Market Nov. 6.

“Studios are rethinking every aspect of the business,” said Krishnan Rajagopalan, the VP of digital media technologies for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). He pointed to recent moves by studios to add digital copies of movies on DVD, in an effort to combat — or at least acknowledge — attempts at piracy.

Richard Bullwinkle, chief evangelist for Macrovision, said his company's protection software is on 5 billion DVDs and 1 billion players. Now the company is looking at how best to protect high-def and digital videos.

“We're sort of the Tony Soprano of the protection business,” he said.

Bullwinkle pointed out that digital downloading is still a drop in the bucket in terms of studio revenue, and that's due to the consumer.

“Consumers are still happy with packaged media,” he said, adding that reasons for that include fear of hard drives crashing, concern over what they're purchasing online and lack of standards for digital downloads playing on every type of media device.

“The focus needs to be on providing content that freely moves around the home,” he said. “A DVD will play on most any DVD player.”

Still, the studios know part of the focus must be on digital delivery, Rajagopalan said. In 2005, the MPAA recorded major studio's worldwide theatrical revenue at only 16%. The rest came from home media.

“[We need] more consistent standards,” he said. “Services are not consistent.”

Bullwinkle agreed. “If [consumers] finds themselves [with the message], ‘You are not authorized to use this content,' and they are honest and have purchased that content, we have failed completely,” he said.

In the digital world, finding content will be key, said Bradford Auerbach, senior entertainment executive for Hewlett-Packard's digital entertainment services division.

“There's a lot of content out there that if you're aware of, you'll enjoy it,” he said. “Being able to build a metadata cloud for the content that's out there will be crucial.”

“Access drives demand,” said Kevin Schaff, founder and CEO of Thought Motion Equity, which licenses content to numerous buyers.

“Take NCAA content,” he said. “There are more than 5,000 titles … there are new distribution avenues based on digital access.”

While getting consumers everything they may want is still troublesome, at least quality doesn't seem to be much of a problem any more. Ron Atkinson, the principal of eDef Media Labs in Burbank, Calif., said with the technology used by his company and others, even the most beat-up of old movies can look new and nearly flaw-free.

He showed how a 36-year-old movie with muted colors and poor shadowing could be improved to be sharper, with more color saturation and better-defined borders. Few should notice any digital artifacts either on DVD or in digital downloading or streaming, after the improvements are done, he said.

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