June 28, 2000

The New Digital Domains

by Kathleen Fairweather

It seems Hollywood might have found a way to harness the power of the Internet: Encode back catalogs and video content for multi-platform delivery online, and make a profit ... Someday.

For companies such as Trimark and Bravo/IFC, who are leading the pack in terms of Internet content streaming, this is the next step. They are leveraging video assets through a distribution base and method that was unthinkable a few years earlier.

While this is a revolutionary concept relative to theatrical distribution technology, it is a step backward economically for companies who are accustomed to generating huge revenue streams from theatrical releases and homevideo markets. The question du jour is how they stand to generate any revenue by providing online video content on demand.

Curt Marvis, CEO of Trimark's, explains why they are pioneering the online distribution of theatrical films via CinemaNow:

"We view this as an emerging distribution vehicle. Television began as a version of vaudeville, video started as a way to distribute porn, and cable TV was a vehicle for stations like HBO to show second-tier product.

"Right now we are in the early stages of this new industry. From my vantagepoint, it's a mechanism that's not going to wipe out movies or television. It's another medium that will generate new kinds of content that was inconceivable before.

Richard Darling, VP of Operations at Digital Outpost, which encodes content for the Web, concurs with this analysis, saying, "We are seeing a lot of studios delivering content to video-on-demand sites and that makes good sense. For example, DreamWorks is taking an angle that I think is going to be the model for other studios.

"They encode their digital files for the Web through companies such as ours. This allows them to control the quality of the files. Right now they're being taxed by all of these different little Web sites who want to lease movies. The studios had no control over the quality of content that ended up on the site."

Darling says it has been a slow building process. "We've done a lot of work with independents in the past and now the studios are finally jumping on board. We are fully prepared to handle this new load and don't need to ramp up like the companies who are now jumping in."

Joseph Cantwell, executive VP of new media for Bravo and the Independent Film Channel, says the cablers are selectively choosing current and library content and placing it on the Web.

"We are reaching out to an audience we think will most likely watch the network through a media that is a closely aligned our viewership," he says. "What's become apparent to us is the number of people who love IFC, are already online, and want to grab our content. It makes sense to reach those viewers - before they get digital cable or satellite.

"The question is how to grow the revenue," continues Cantwell. "There is not a lot of money in it today. Anyone who says otherwise, is pre-IPO or has a post-IPO company that's underwater.

"What we see is the opportunity for brand extension and sampling. There will be a diverse mix of small, incremental revenue streams that will make sense down the road - including advertising in all of its forms."

But Bravo and IFC won't discard their cable-bred subscription model entirely.

"We also think that consumers will be willing to pay a small premium to have complete control and access to the kind of content they care about," says Cantwell. "We want to give the user the ability to choose their content."

Copyright © 2000 Reed Business Information

February 2002

The New Digital Domains

by Kathleen Fairweather

It is 3 a.m. on the other side of the world, and you need a special shot of yellow tulips for your big commercial presentation in the morning. In the old days, you would be Sleepless in Singapore, but with today's technology and access to visual digital records: the stock-footage image you need is just a computer key-stroke away.

Previously, hunting for the perfect stock-footage shots was a time consuming process of searching catalogs, ordering and viewing tapes. Today's technology has not only speeded up that process, but, has made thousand of images instantly accessible via the web, CD-ROM or DVD.

According to Rob Sherman, Vice President of Business Development at Energy Film Library, the new, visual digital data-base has benefited both the buyer and seller of the stock-images. "For years, certainly over the last decade, the leading stock footage houses have used text data bases to catalog and key-word the shots they had in their collection."

"This, of course, was only one step of many in the selection process. After the sales and research person found the desired images, they would then have to view and lay down these shots on a reel for the customer. The buyer would select from these provided shots, and the researcher would then pull the tapes based on their specific request. It was a rather slow and cumbersome process."

"The digital revolution, thankfully has changed that process, and made it both immediate and interactive for the consumer. Now you can access a visual record of thumbnail photos of the subject you are searching for via the web, or CD-ROM, and, at the same time, communicate your needs to the researcher. In other words, the buyer and the researcher can be shopping the images together on-line making the search much more efficient."

"We are in the process of revamping our web site and will have over 25,000 clips available for viewing sometime in mid-summer. We also have a CD ROM catalog, that our customers can use as well, to the scan available images."

Jeffrey Goodman, President of Producers Library Service is also in the process of digitizing their clips and archives to maximize storage, retrieval and image quality.

"We are in the process of transferring material from tape to DVD's that can be accessed by computer. This cuts down on the storage, and makes everything more accessible to the client. For example, if an ad agency wants a shot of Paris, we can immediately send over 60 shots."

Goodman cautions that despite the digital revolution, that service is still the backbone of the stock-footage biz. "It's important to talk to the buyer about their exact needs. The exchange of good ideas will never be replaced by automated digital technology. There's so much you can do these days; I call it the "Forrest Gump" approach where you can inset images, insert live actors, and come up with a whole new creation that was not possible before."

Goodman explains that one of the great advantages to the digital format is that the customer can manipulate these images digitally to remove imperfections, scratches, or even to enhance the image to their exact specifications. For instance, if the project called for white fluffy clouds set against a deep, blue sky, the operator can deepen the blue, or manipulate the clouds to fit the desired look. This was one of the advantages cited by Dan Holm, and NBC producer and creator of the Snap.Com commercials.

"We knew that we wanted to present excitement and variety with a global feel. We needed shots that would elicit a visceral response from the viewer, and at the same time, represent a real cross-section of people places and things. The cost to shoot this commercially would've been prohibitive.

"With the immediate access and availability of the stock-footage libraries, I can get the look I want at a fraction of a commercial shoot. For Snap.Com we hired a commercial director to shoot the opening and closing shots for us. The rest was all filled in from stock-footage cuts that we pre-selected from the digital library."

Copyright © 2000 Reed Business Information