There is no doubt in my mind that everyone working in the filmed and broadcast entertainment industry now “gets it”: digital technologies are a vital part of the production, post-production, and delivery models of today and tomorrow, and producers of Film and TV are eager to learn how their projects can benefit from “New Media” technologies. What members of the production team don’t want, however, is to be unnecessarily encumbered with technological detritus, representing much of “the latest”, but little or none of “the greatest”.
Over the past couple of years, I have been gradually expanding the focus of my column in "Produced By" Magazine – moving beyond “websites of interest”, into a more diversified exploration of what is “out there” in the landscape of advanced media and entertainment technologies and services. My interest has been, and continues to be, in unearthing what could serve as an invaluable resource to a producer of a feature film, videogame, or television property. With this in mind, this column has explored wireless entertainment, online film archiving, location tools, web-based production directories, the biggest interactive entertainment conference in the world, emerging residual revenue platforms, and much more. Each of these areas represents, in my opinion, another potentially useful tool in the producer’s kit: an opportunity for enhancing the financial, creative, operational, or technical potential of their initial concept.
One problem remains: bandwidth.
The obvious definition of the word, given the nature of this column, would relate to data transmission rates. I am more interested, at least for the purpose of this article, in the colloquial meaning “The amount of data that can be passed along a communications channel in a given period of time”.
Producers are already stretched to the limits of their capabilities, what with every hat they already wear. To expect them to be able to understand, let alone manage, the diversity of technological innovations available to the production team is unrealistic. Let me refine that statement: it is unrealistic to expect a member of the production team to effectively assess and manage each and every facet of the production, post-production, distribution, and presentation throughline - on a creative, financial, operational AND technological level.
In the medical industry, Olympus has recognized the challenge facing hospitals: how can doctors possibly absorb, assess, and manage the medical, financial, operational, and technological advances in their industry, whilst also practicing their trade? The answer being “they can’t” - at least not without eventually becoming a patient themselves. Thus companies like Olympus have developed programs designed to inform their clientele of not just the product offering that they bring to the table, but also the context within which that offering exists, and the evolving nature of that changing environment. This consultation is offered in recognition of the fact that Olympus offers several products and services within that environment, and if their client or partners can better perceive the nature of that environment, they will better understand the value proposition offered by one or more of the products and services offered by Olympus within that particular environment.
A feature film producer often seeks the same sort of offering from a studio: what sort of products, equipment, and services will the studio offer to their production, during the various phases of development, pre-pro, production, post, and distribution? Not to mention later presentation or representation via DVD, VoD, Broadcast, Wireless, and game channels. A successful partnership will permit (if you’ll forgive the enormous oversimplification!) the production team to focus on the project’s creative needs, while the studio deals with various other aspects of the process. Studios today are, however, not yet equipped to respond to the evolving technological possibilities, present already in our industry. It’s as if we were to expect Cedars-Sinai hospital (to continue a previous analogy) to invent and build the latest MRI machines. Unrealistic. The hospital may be able to demonstrate and clarify a need, but they naturally look to their partner specialists to produce a solution.
In much the same way the studios, production companies, networks, and other entertainment and media entities in today’s industry are constantly in search of preferred partners, within areas they may not possess sufficient knowledge or market presence.
That’s why many studio marketing departments continue to rely on outsourcing for their website marketing: it’s cheaper, and the technology is so fluid, that it relies on specialist knowledge (do you know what versions of Dreamweaver, Flash, or Java scripting are currently in release?). It’s also why many production companies look for partners in the video game industry, and wireless entertainment industry. It’s why Kodak, Panavision, Avid, Technicolor, Grass Valley, and Discreet continue to operate.
The point of particular interest, however, is this: just as a producer will look to establish a relationship with the studio that can offer the most comprehensive and advanced parallel operational and distribution offerings for their project, so media and entertainment companies across the board are looking for partners that will be able to take care of the majority of their technological needs during that same process. The creation and distribution of entertainment and media properties is already so complex. To introduce myriad new platforms and channels and technologies in to this mix risks tipping the boat, unless you can rely on a specialist to guide you through the thickening forest of offerings. Consulting companies such as McKinsey and Company are hiring technology experts for just this reason. Precious few companies, however, are positioned to offer this A-Z service, from an operational POV.
This was why I was especially pleased to be introduced to a company recently that seems to be doing just that. Thomson is over 100 years old, and I had previously known it as a French consumer products company, identified mostly via its RCA brand. In the past 5 years or so, however, the company has been refining its ongoing legacy of technological innovation, to meet the evolutionary demands of the marketplace within which it chooses to operate. Chairman and CEO, Frank Dangeard, recently explained in an interview that the company’s ambition was to ensure that any TV show, film, or ad viewed on whatever platform, was produced or presented with the collaboration of one of Thomson’s divisions, which now include such storied brands as Technicolor and Grass Valley.
The company has aggressively reoriented itself, no longer as a B2C producer, but rather as a B2B partner, offering a mind-boggling array of products, equipment and services to every stage of the aforementioned production, post-production and delivery chain.
Take for example the Viper FilmStream™ Camera from Thomson’s Grass Valley division: one of the most compact and versatile cameras on the market, it has three 9.2-million pixel Frame Transfer CCDs, and delivers an RGB 4:4:4 10-bit log output which has not been compromised by electronic camera signal processing. In English – it kicks a***. This camera sees images at night like the human eye does - Michael Mann used the camera in his latest feature film, “Collateral”.
The Technicolor division continues to offer best in class services in film processing; post production (including digital intermediates, visual effects, and international versioning); and DVD compression, authoring, replication and distribution.
Thomson’s Access Platforms and Gateways division is a worldwide leader in access solutions for satellite, cable, terrestrial broadcast, and telecommunications networks. Simply put, they’re one of the world’s largest suppliers of resources for that last mile, on the road between a producer’s vision and the audience experience.
I haven’t even mentioned the company’s 45,000 industry-related patents, or their role as co-developers of mp3 technology, digital satellite technology, and video compression technologies. Space permits me only to mention in passing their remarkable Film Grain Technology, which is capable of creating a life-like quality to compressed video and has been selected as a tool in the HD-DVD standard.
Thomson is the first of what I believe will be several companies, offering soup to nuts - or as company CTO, Jean-Charles Hourcade, put it so eloquently, “glass to glass: lens to display” - solutions for the media or entertainment project looking to take advantage of the latest innovations in their field. Other companies, such as Gannett and Hearst are beginning to build up their capabilities in the multimedia/cross-platform communications services arenas, but I get the impression that Thomson is the only company offering solid and full spectrum service in the production, post-production, AND delivery stages of media and entertainment properties.
Members of the Guild will be pleased to learn that, when I asked Thomson whether they would be interested in interfacing with the Producers Guild, they expressed great enthusiasm in collaborating with the membership. They have even extended an invitation to Guild membership to come visit their facilities in Burbank, when they open officially in December, and have promised to extend a formal invitation at the time, with an exclusive event!
As storytellers, our interest is to ensure that our stories are told to the widest audience, in the purest form. We want to ensure that our creative team is given every tool and resource available to maximize their capabilities, and that we are able to deliver the results of their creativity with maximum impact and cost-efficiency. Partnerships with companies such as Thomson make sense, given that focus. What they offer are the very tools and resources we may need to produce and present our stories.