Studio CTOs Talk Threats, Opportunities22 Apr, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey
CENTURY CITY, Calif. — Where many in the industry see nothing but a threat with new technologies, Greg Gewickey, VP of digital distribution technologies for Warner Bros., mostly sees potential dollar signs.
“With technology you turn a threat into an opportunity,” he said April 22, speaking at the Hollywood IT Summit. “It’s exciting, it’s threatening, it’s interesting.”
He and other tech chiefs for the major studios discussed how distribution technologies are adding both headaches and avenues for monetization, and how new technology has made for a closer relationship between the content owners and the consumer.
Eddie Drake, VP of technology for The Walt Disney Studio, said the relationship has changed; in many cases there’s no middleman (a retailer or theater operator) between the studios and the consumers today.
“It’s more direct, more close,” he said. “I think it’s a very exciting evolution that’s occurring.”
“We can turn technology challenges into opportunities,” agreed Hanno Basse, chief technology officer for Fox Filmed Entertainment.
New, disruptive technologies such as Ultra-HD and high-dynamic-range imaging may add stress to the workload, but they also offer new avenues for revenue, panelists agreed.
“The question is how to enable your businesses and creative process to leverage everything that’s out there,” he said.
Sean Flynn, chief technology officer for Marvel Studios, noted that technology has made the production process more accessible as well.
“From the moment the camera starts rolling, [we’re moving data] to creative around the world,” he said.
But that also means the windows for creating content and deadlines for getting things done have shrunk as well, he added.
“We’re finding the time we have to deliver [content] is shrinking.”
That’s not a problem for Lincoln Wallen, chief technology officer for DreamWorks Animation. “I can now [work] with end-to-end digital delivery,” he said, noting that only recently are both the content creators and content consumers sometimes using the exact same technology platforms.
“And these fast means of distribution, whether it’s Netflix or YouTube, now challenge how we create,” Wallen added.
However, Flynn pointed out the technological difficulties inherent with moving around these new film elements. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is currently being shot in several overseas locations, and the film is being shot in 4K.
“It’s absolutely crushing to deal with,” he said. “That’s why we talk about the velocity at which data needs to move.”
He and other CTOs are constantly re-evaluating their storage, file transfer and other technology offerings they utilize around the world. Flynn added that there’s potential in cloud storage, but it’s “not quite there yet,” not for the sheer amount of elements a big budget film has to deal with.
“Every pixel costs us money,” said DreamWorks’ Wallen. “The technology approach we take is how do we make the cost of two images [cost only] one.”
And digital content has opened up another possibility for filmmakers that’s also a nightmare for the tech heads, Basse pointed out: Completely different elements for the same film in different countries (not to mention all the languages, subtitle tracks, screen sizes, etc.).
Variety drives cost, and “it’s terrorizing the people in the supply chain,” Gewickey agreed.
Overall, studios need to embrace the technological chaos, panelists agreed. The living room is fragmented into maybe a half-dozen screens today, and instead of fighting it, they should figure out how to monetize it.
“I look at my own children, and they’re doing three things at once,” Disney’s Drake said. “It drives me crazy, but that’s what they do.”