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  Storage on Location: The CurrentStateof the Entertainment Industry's Adoption of Digital Storage Technologies
By Art Edmonds, CSO, Second Star Group. Art can be reached at artedmonds@covad.net

A dichotomy exists and has always existed in the Entertainment Industry in general, and the Movie Industry in particular. That is, while the creative teams that have brought us such blockbuster movies (known to the insiders as: "Boffo hit" or "This pic has legs, man") as the Terminator Series, The War of the Worlds, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and yes, even Team America are considered to be state-of-the-art productions, they still use analog recording technologies, print film (haloid/silver emulsion) and some high-definition (HD) digital technologies. The latter is done primarily on digital tape. In short, the Movie, Cable, and Network TV Production Houses are a very conservative group in light of the fact that their ideas and creative works are avant garde.

This is the source of the dichotomy: the Entertainment Industry adopts new technologies very slowly, even though a measurable ROI & TCO can be demonstrated to them.

Why is this so? Are the current advances in digital capture on storage media unknown to these creatively  cutting-edge movie people? No.

Does the Movie Industry understand that they could preserve their creative work over the decades better, cheaper, and faster? Yes.

Does the Movie Industry want to incorporate leading-edge storage technologies and sometimes 'bleeding-edge' methods? A qualified and guarded Yes.

The main question is: Is the Movie Industry interested in using new technologies for the movie creation-production-distribution cycle followed by the preservation and archival needs of protecting creative works over the ages? DEFINITELY.

Then why isn't the use of digital media used in every aspects of the creative, capture, production, and distribution processes of the movie-making cycle? Now that is the $64,000 question.

Here's the answer: the hurdle for anyone promoting digital storage technologies or ANY new, but unproven to them (keep this in mind. It is a key point) is not an economic one. It is not an education hurdle. It is none of the well-understood objections a salesperson needs to overcome with a prospect in order to make a sale.

It turns out to be due to basic human traits and learned behaviors: comfort zone, tried & tested methods, routine, trust and more. What is meant by all this is embodied in the old phrase: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and "It's worked that way I know before, and it will work again".

As an example that we in the IT Industry can grasp & understand, the above behavior pattern in the Entertainment Industry is exactly the same as when we used to manage Data Centres in the 1970's & 1980's, e.g.: "I chose 'Big Blue' (IBM) because it works. But most importantly, I picked 'Big Blue' because it is the tried-and-true, SAFE decision. If something goes wrong, it's IBM's fault, not mine. I'm not putting my job on the line."

The Movie Industry works due to similar old-school values: Reputation; Trust; Ability to get the job done & get the job done well; and Recommendation of Others Known to the Recommender (Director or Producer, Actors, Production or Locations Managers, etc.).

So, how does this relate to digital technologies and digital distribution methods being adopted by the Entertainment Industry?

How and when will digital storage technology become mainstream rather than used every now and then or sometimes here and sometimes there?

How do we in the Storage Industry get the Movie Industry to buy Digital Storage Technology Solutions when movie makers are creative yet extremely conservative group?

How do we get the Entertainment Industry to  listen to us long enough to trust us long enough to buy, use and recommend our technology offerings (remember - this is a 'you bet your job' thing)?

We in the Storage & Digital Media Industry CAN transform the Entertainment Industry to these technologies, and the transition MUST be done following the 'rules of engagement' (above) and MUST be done is small, evolutionary steps, and CANNOT be accomplished in quantum leaps.

Before I give you some insights that will maximize your success with the Entertainment Folks, I'll summarize the previous discussion with a quote:

"Any Digital Technology Company that is going to introduce new technology, either disruptive or evolutionary and do it successfully, has to understand the underpinnings of how the relationships between each other, creative pressures placed on all members, trust, memory of the people staffing up new projects, and the reputation factors of the Entertainment Industry works".

With this quote in mind, where do we start? ROI & TCO considerations resonate with the Entertainment Business Decision Makers (i.e. the Producers & Director) just as much as they do with the CFO and CEO in our world, the IT Industry.

Without further ado, here are the numbers that reveal the reality of how thin and how shallow (breadth & depth) Digital Technologies have penetrated the Movie Industry to-date. The data points include:

i) Location & Sound Stage Filming;

ii) Video Village;

iii) the Dailies Editing Process;

iv) the overall Editing Process Cycle;

v) Final Cut & Final "Print"
(note that the old terms will never die, by the way. "Clear The Gates", which is meaningful only for film cameras was originally a command used to remind the Cameraman to check for dust, film fragments and any other foreign body in the lenses & sprocket assemblies that will mar the print. This call-out is still used on the set by Production Staff before "Cameras Rolling" followed by "Action/Clapboard" usage for digital cameras, where the warning is meaningless);

vi) Movie Theater Distribution;

vii) the Archival & Preservation Process.

The data points are:

1) The majority of Cameras used to capture TV, Cable, and Movies is still film-based; and High-Definition (HD) Camera Technology is closing the gap to 50-50. Current HD Tape camera penetration is 1% and rapidly growing. It is expected that HD Cameras will be used in 50% of all productions by mid-2006.

2) Of the HD Cameras used in the field & on-location, almost 100% are HD Tape Technology. Blu Ray is virtually unknown to Hollywood.

3) The use of Digital Cameras is expected to gain market-share very rapidly beginning 4QCY05 and through all of 2006 due to one pivotal event that occurred recently: George Lucas and Star Wars II: The Attack of the Clones. Lucas fully intended Star Wars II to be digital from the start. Everyone knows Lucas and his works. He is, in the Movie Industry a great Producer/Director and, like Steven Spielberg, a bellwether in the Industry, or so goes Lucas & Spielberg, so goes the Movie Industry. A little known additional fact about George Lucas is that he is unparalleled in the Technical side of making movies. His understanding of cameras far surpasses many of the camera manufacturers in the world. Lucas designed and executed a digital camera and digital process that made it possible for him to realize his dream of a 100% digital production. Star Wars II is already a tremendous success; and it is start-to-finish a digital film. He put icing on his own cake by licensing his technology (just like he did with THX Ltd. which revolutionized cinematic presentation) to SONY.

4) HD Tape Cameras are currently being successfully deployed and, more importantly being used in long-running TV shows such as "Monk" on USA Channel. It is also being used on other cable stations for soon-to-be released series on HBO, ShowTime, StarZ, and Cinemax. However, the penetration is still small as mentioned in 1) above.

5) The Video Village, as known in the Movie Industry is a very important step in setting up the next shot or scene. As in painting a room, where 90% of the time is prep-time and 10% of the time is used to actually paint the room, the same goes for the Video Village. The Director and Cameramen sit in a trailer 90% of their time setting up and prepping for the next scene. Once the shot/scene is set up satisfactorily, it is actually shot & wrapped for the Editors to mix sound, both from library & location (Foley), and other visual feeds for the Dailies Production.

6) The Dailies are finished before the next day's shoot and is usually sent via courier on DVD Format. Both the Director & Producers review, comment, make changes, and approve the previous day's shoot material. Then, after reviewing the Dailies, the Director sends back the DVD (usually created by the Editing Companies) in lower resolution in the interests of turnaround time and cost) with instructions to keep or delete or modify certain tracks. These tracks will be corrected, modified, updated, and placed in the Editor's storage devices, usually HD Tape, and some storage devices (spinning media).

7) Once the Dailies are integrated using digital sound boards and an admixture of film & digital visuals, a 'cut' is made and sent to the Director & Producers. Upon review, decisions to call it a 'Final Cut' is made. Usually, the output reveals continuity issues that require the First Unit or Second Unit to create re-shoots or additional 'footage' (again, anachronistic terms still used).

8) The Final Cut is called by the Director. Distribution to the Theaters is approved. Here's where it all gets interesting. Even though the movie may have been created digitally, only 1% of all Movie Theaters have Digital Cameras. That number is growing, but very slowly. Why? Digital Cameras are very expensive and the Film Cameras are already in place and are still used side-by-side with the newer Digi-Cams. What this means for the Editing Houses is that they are not done with the Final Cut that was placed on digital technology. Editors are required to reverse print the film on standard film from DVDs for eventual wide distribution of the Cinematic Production. This adds hundreds of thousands of dollars to the distribution process (> $100,000) or about 5-10% of the overall film budget, whichever is higher.

9) Archival is an even bigger ROI/TCO motivator. Due to environmental, space, and stewardship costs, keeping and preserving film in special climate-controlled warehouses costs 3x - 5x the cost of preserving digital films. This gap is ever increasing.

What is the overall cost-savings of creating a TV show or Movie on digital media (including tape, HDDs, Solid-State media types) versus traditional film (haloid, silver-based film development processes)?

It is estimated that if digital film production and distribution were used throughout, over 20% of a film's budget would be saved over using traditional film capture, editing, and distribution processes. This percentage is a compelling factor for Producers and Directors; and the percentage is growing. This percentage does not include the archival and preservation process which could add over 5% to the overall cost. But the focus should be on the production/Distribution Cycle, as not all films are marked by the MPAA for archival.

So, positive ROIs can be demonstrated and TCOs become less when digital technologies are used. Overcome the hurdle of "If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It", and digital technologies will become widely accepted by the Entertainment Industry. This domino effect has already begun with Lucas' successful digital release of Star Wars II, and the New Zealand post-production house, WETA's work on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

To us positive-minded folks, all this means that the Entertainment Industry is not anywhere near heading towards a steady-state. The Entertainment Marketplace represents a HUGE opportunity; it is a so-called 'green field'. But our success (and theirs, ultimately) won't come easy. Overcome the 'traditional' momentum, and you'll gain more market-share in this Industry with your digital wares. I believe that we in the Storage & Digital Media Industry need this market segment just as much as the Entertainment Industry needs us. With some education on our part as to the rules of the road to success, the  building of relationships, and trust-building between us and Hollywood coupled with educating the Entertainment Field, we'll both win and will both realize greater revenues for our respective companies, efforts, and productions.
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