JWR Articles: Commentary - Entertainment Technology in the Internet Age (Featured speaker: Patrick Griffis, Rod Bogart, John Apostolopoulos, Scott Daly, Sunil Bharitkar, Florian Pestoni, Alex Holub, Adam Powers) - June 23, 2013

Entertainment Technology in the Internet Age

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In search of my tailor-made channel

Day 2 of the conference took personalization of content and experience to two quite different levels, both of which contained utopian elements.

But before the individual consumer (do we really consume video and film?) had her/his turn at the podium of singular thought—and prediction—the vital notions of “Preserving Artistic Intent” and “Achieving Quality” on the Internet had their moments in the digital spotlight.

Pixar’s Rod Bogart gave a fascinating account of “What’s a creator to do?” when his full-length, painstakingly crafted features leave the studio’s fold and are put into the hands of all manner of exhibitors from Dolby-rich state-of-the-art theatres to TV, tablets and mobile phones.

With so many destinations to appear on, it’s little wonder many of the renderings pale in comparison to the original creative intent. Some of those failings, Bogart explained, include: wrong aspect ratio, not always 24 frames per second, low resolution, low data rates, compression artifacts and arbitrary surround brightness. The entire assemblage commiserated with his fatherly concern over too many “sad pixels” robbing viewers of such superb animation artistry.

Rising to the challenge of preserving this spectacular art in a digital world, NVIDIA’s Ricardo Motta extolled the virtues of meta data to digitally unravel the minutiae of textures, shades, shapes and colours. [Not surprisingly—given the vast array of technical wizards on hand—that solution was summarily dismissed by a fellow presenter just a few hours later.]

The heady notion of quality (necessarily—for this presentation—confining itself to everything but story, acting/voices, editing and the actual music components—the “what” rather than the “how” and the “wow”) was artfully tackled by two reps from Dolby (Scott Daly for video, Sunil Bhartikar for audio) and Cisco’s John Apostolopoulos.

As could be expected Bhartikar, a wizard of sound, opined that his video colleagues were devouring [vrai consumption, this time] too much bandwidth at the expense of the audio tracks. However, with various compression solutions coming on set (the proprietarily sparing between Google’s VP9 and proponents of HEVC (H.265) was evident on several occasions during the two-day think tank), “consumers” should soon be hearing and seeing premium products on line in ways never realized thus far. (Yet full theatrical sound in two-driver headphones must await further research and refinement to a gaming [this huge industry creates far more innovation than mainstream cinema ever will] prototype “vest” where players will soon be able to feel the bullets that their on-line alter egos were just riddled with from a competitor half-way around the world.

Then, after working through sessions dealing with the perpetual challenge of monetizing the Internet, second screen opportunities and the ever-present problems/solutions of analytics gone wild [Big Brother can’t hold a candle to Big Data], the final two topics succinctly summed up the hope for the future and pitfalls ahead for “consumers” trying to survive and prosper as the tsunami of content overflows devices everywhere.

“Content Discovery and Personalization” (newspeak of content navigation and search, according to entrepreneur Florian Pestoni along with fellow freethinkers Alex Holub—Vidora and Adam Powers—V2 Solutions) imagines a brave new world where every consumer has his/her own “channel” chock-a-block full of programming—spanning all content providers—distinct to them. While data mining techniques could probably produce just such an offering now, there isn’t a provider or distributor on the planet who’d agree to let even paying customers cherry pick their bundles [to best illustrate that point, an irate Dish Network subscriber publicly ranted against Vivek Khemka’s satellite enterprise saying uncategorically, “I don’t like sports and I don’t want my [subscription fees] subsidizing the [more expensive acquisitions] of others.”].

And so the ultimate me-I generation of digital consumption must await quite a few more years before really asserting its growing power and authority to wag the content/distribution dogs that feed them.

Finally, during the last panel, an example came to light of just why so many improvements and possibilities are prevented from realizing their potential.

The discussion focused on the latest FCC regulations [2010] for closed captioning (with the concurrent spectrum auction a very hot topic, it is unlikely the much-needed statutory direction for described video will be out anytime soon).

To make a long story short, the Internet’s primary protocol arbiter has approved two formats for closed captioning files: SMPTE’s Time Text solution and HTML5-driven WebVTT formats. Both will work, but neither are cross-compatible. The FCC added further mud to the “one for all, all for one” waters by designating the SMPTE solution as “Safe Harbor” in its regs (meaning that as long as SMPTE-TT files are used—even if the captions fail—there will be no penalty to the company—owner or distributor—responsible). The hoped for clarity and level playing field must await the inevitable “collision” of solutions in the coming months. Once again, bureaucratic inertia trumps the public good.

Since the powers that be can’t get this right—relatively, compared to so many more complex issues such as autocratic bundling of content—how will TV Everywhere reach its promise, potential and respect for its most important component: a willingly engaged pair of eyeballs. JWR

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