Content Goes Hollywood—How the Film Industry is Struggling with Digital Content

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Managing Assets
For Sony Pictures, producer and distributor of the Spiderman movies, this presents the problem of having to control and centralize access to thousands upon thousands of moving parts. Using INSCI's ActiveMedia digital asset management (DAM) software as its platform, Sony has created cineSHARE. cineSHARE is designed to move and share marketing materials and stock footage with post, print, finishing, and marketing houses. The system provides secure access to more than 20,000 assets, all of which can now be accessed through the Web. "ActiveMedia has become one of many point solutions used by Sony," says Mike Koehler, systems engineer for INSCI Corp., developer and marketer of the ActiveMedia software. "All of these point solutions together are wrapped up with a bow and become Sony's enterprise-wide solution." As a piece of this enterprise solution, cineSHARE enables access by producers, directors, lawyers, editors, and marketers alike to digital media from around the world and in all parts of the production cycle—digital dailies, location photos, head-shots, and production notes, among others. Because it is Web-based, collaboration can take place in near real time.

"We feel that ActiveMedia really ‘plays well' with other applications already in use at Sony," adds Susan Worthy, INSCI's marketing VP. "In addition to allowing for high customization on the front end, we think that being able to interface with so many other applications is one of the major keys to making this all work."

Search capabilities also get a high priority. "cineSHARE is basically a big collection of Web-based folders with the ability to execute great searches," notes INSCI's Koehler. "Your ability to find what you need with this software is much greater than when we all worked with just FTP."

Television networks also seek to brand individual programs. But more important for them is the extension of their overall channel brand. "We very intentionally have reached out to online users for our auto-makeover series Pimp My Ride," says Beth J. Greenwald, MTV Network's executive who oversees the popular series. "Kids come to the MTV Web site because they get an overall experience consistent with the culture of our network. That experience is bigger than any one particular show. We tried to grab the attention of these kids by giving them the opportunity to play our Build Your Own Ride game online." The show quickly became a hit, especially in the 12-34 age range, and it was ultimately seen by more than 80 million viewers in its first season.

Of course, MTV's problem mirrors Sony's, but because of the added emphasis on overall channel branding, it's a struggle that occurs on a longer-term basis. In order to maintain consistency of the MTV brand online, the network turned to Extensis' DAM software, Portfolio. Extensis' director of product management, Kirk Sadler, says, "Among other things, MTV has used Portfolio to archive and centralize all of its branded elements. Logos, graphics, video clips, animation, photographs—anything branded—is able to be accessed, sorted, and identified immediately." This ease of access to multiple terabytes of data allows departments and contractors in many locations to quickly gather the most current brand assets and then use them creatively. Likewise, centralization enables administrators to more easily implement a formalized backup procedure, and Portfolio's Express feature allows users to transfer data to various other desktop applications through simple drag-and-drop methods. Extensis' Sadler adds that an unanticipated benefit of the software for MTV is that they've vastly sped up internal approval times, thereby allowing MTV's branded content to go on-air and online more quickly. By ultimately speeding up production time and ensuring a consistent brand identity, Extensis considers MTV's use of the software a time-saving, competitive advantage for the network.

These days, legal online distribution of Hollywood's content to mainstream audiences appears confined to downloadable movie trailers and program clips. But, as the music industry has quickly discovered, things are changing…and fast. Whereas only a few years ago the download time for a full-length feature film was seven hours or more, widely used broadband connections have cut the time to less than one hour.

A new study conducted by the Motion Picture Association of America and online research firm OTX reports that an astounding 58% of online users in South Korea—where 98% of the population has high-speed Internet access—have downloaded movies. Although the study claims that the number of Americans who have downloaded films is around 24%, the penetration of high-speed access for Americans hovers at only 46%. Clearly, without immediate attention as access to broadband increases, Hollywood is on the verge of some serious piracy problems. According to Derek Wilson, chairman of Neospire, a Dallas-based provider of mission critical managed-hosting services for companies such as ABC Radio, Loews Cineplex, and others, "Our entertainment clients are seriously considering the implications for their Web-accessible content as consumers continue to gain broadband access at such accelerated rates."

And this, 10 years after the start of "convergence," is where Hollywood and technology might be showing signs of becoming bedfellows. In addition to developing its electronic anti-piracy protection and digital rights management applications, Hollywood now seems willing to consider accepting the technology industry's latest overtures. Although each is wary of the other, there's no question that the ability to quickly and efficiently download a film opens Hollywood's content to all sorts of new platforms. Even Microsoft has jumped back into the fray. This holiday season, Microsoft expects to debut its Portable Media Center, a handheld PDA capable of playing downloaded movies, music, and other recorded programming.

Likewise, there's a move to piggyback Hollywood content onto the inroads already being made by wireless gaming. "With hundreds of millions of wireless phones out there and a rapidly accelerating installed base of consumers anxious for its content, Hollywood is pushing hard to merge the worlds of gaming and movies," says Dominic Ianno. Ianno, formerly VP of merchant bank Europlay Capital Advisors, has worked on merging movie and video game properties such as Terminator 3 and Matrix 2. He is now EVP at Outlaw Productions, the movie company responsible for such blockbusters as The Santa Clause and Training Day. One company to watch, Ianno says, will be JAMDAT Mobile, the mobile gaming company that filed paperwork in July signaling its intention for an initial public offering. Says Ianno, "After wireless, the next natural leap will be downloadable Hollywood content jumping from your computer to your living room television."

Levey, the Producer's Guild's New Media founder, concurs. "I have no doubt that the Subscription Video On Demand (SVoD) model will win. You'll turn on your TV, turn to channel 400, choose virtually any movie, download it, and play it in real time…all without leaving your couch." And yet, with its intense fear of losing control of its content and not yet necessarily having the means to digitally manage it successfully, the notion seems to scare the heck out of Hollywood.

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