In a series of Q&As, frontline practitioners in all facets of the packaged media and digital delivery industry share their views of things past, present and yet to come. It's the turn of MARIA INGOLD, Founder and CEO of mireality, a technical consultancy in video-on-demand delivery.
Where do you see your company's comparative advantage/uniqueness in this crowded market?
I offer technical consultancy in premium Video On-Demand (VOD) delivery through my company mireality. My commercial advantage? I'm one of the few people in this industry who has built a full end-to-end (content acquisition through delivery) VOD infrastructure and services for the most premium content - films from the movie studios in the first rights window. As Head of Technology for FilmFlex Movies, I designed the architecture and delivered FilmFlex, the Virgin Media cable movies on-demand service, and the broadband product that powers Virgin Media Online Movies, Film4oD and hmvon-demand.
I delivered these solutions for a fraction of the cost and resource of other major VOD solutions in the market, while even using some of the same suppliers. The technical security departments at all the studios trust me to deliver a solution that meets their security requirements.
Amongst the range of services you offer, which one did grow in importance over the past 2 years and which one diminished?
mireality launched in June 2012, building on my 5 years of experience with FilmFlex Movies as Head of Technology. I've watched how consumers, who now have access to more and more high-tech devices at home, are now driving what they want from the industry - they want it everywhere and they want it now!
One keeps hearing alarmist opinion about the rapid demise of packaged media in the face of online delivery. What is your view as to how long discs will be around? And what could become its main target market?
We hear about the decline of DVD and the increase of Blu-ray and on-demand. At the moment the consumer often perceives more benefits from physical media, e.g. extras, portability and ease-of-use, but there are also perceived downsides, e.g. media takes up space and discs degrade (especially when children use them as Frisbees!). Discs will be around as long as the customer feels that they get more value from them and the studios feel they can monetise them more than on-demand.
Given the apparently slower than expected take-up of 3D, do you thing 3D is here to stay or consumer interest in stereoscopy is temporary?
I delivered the 3D movie on-demand service to Virgin Media cable, several days before BSkyB launched theirs. We learned a lot about the variation in 3D during testing!
3D can be an incredibly powerful experience, even with 3D glasses. But bad 3D is often literally headache-inducing. Films like Avatar, Hugo and Disney's A Christmas Carol all showcase 3D at its best. These are films that were designed in and for 3D. Many films and sports events add 3D after the fact. Because the content wasn't created with 3D in mind, and because the Z-depth is often outwards only, the experience is frequently not as good.
Both poor 3D content and poor 3D hardware adversely affect 3D interest. Early 3D TVs used passive technology (or less technology) in the sets and active technology (or more technology) in the glasses. Oddly, this is referred to overall as an "active" TV. The result was cheaper sets and expensive glasses. The hertz rate of the glasses also conflicted with the hertz cycle of lights which created a flickering effect. And you had to remember to turn the glasses off so the battery didn't run out. If that weren't enough, high contrast 3D content created shadows on some of these sets and if there wasn't a black line between the left and right eye content sent to the set, then the middle line wrapped around to the edges.
"Passive" sets turned this around. The active technology was in the set and glasses were passive. So, cheaper glasses and more technology in the set. No flickering, no batteries and no shadows or line wrapping. Active sets then started adding in more technology to resolve these issues as well, but still used expensive, flickering, battery-powered glasses.
So, to make 3D successful there needs to be a mix of technology that renders it well and content where 3D actually adds value. I remember the first time I watched Avatar in the cinema. I felt like I was an avatar in the film, just on the edge, watching from the corner of the action. It would be amazing if all 3D were like that every time.
Do you see the arrival of 3D as the shot of adrenaline the Blu-ray disc format badly needed to progress in the market, or do you think consumers will eventually make a success of Blu-ray irrespective of whether 3D develops?
As noted above, 3D can only make a positive difference if the viewing experience is enjoyable. When it's good it might make a difference. When it's bad, it certainly won't.
Do you think the consumer take-up of 3D depends on the arrival of glasses-free autostereoscopic solutions? If yes, how many years do you believe consumers will have to wait for a high-quality glasses-free system to rival the existing active shutter glasses 3D systems?
Not necessarily. Current 3D takes advantage of existing HD masters for side-by-side delivery for 2 viewing-angles (left eye and right eye). Autostereoscopic needs around 8 viewing angles to view the set from different positions. It often renders this automatically. Only if and when that technology renders well, will it be a pleasant enough experience and not a gimmick, like a lenticular postcard. The best 3D is content that is rendered with 3D and viewing angles in mind.
Cloud-based UltraViolet digital copy is making inroads. Do you see it as potentially increasing the sales of BD discs (as the studios intended) or be the death knell of packaged media?
As with everything there are a number of perspectives to consider. Here we have the studio, the retailer, the suppliers and the customer! The studio, retailer and suppliers all want to make money. The studio and suppliers (e.g. transcoding companies, CDNs etc.) can make money from this model.
Simply fulfilling the digital copy from a BD disc doesn't allow a non-studio retailer to generate revenue, unless they are also a seller of physical media, like Walmart. Non-physical retailers can make more money by creating a digital-only shop, allowing consumers to buy the Electronic Sell Through (EST) ownership file for say £9.99, rather than rent it for say £3.49. If the retailer receives 30% of that sale (and the studio gets the other 70%) then EST or upsell from rental as purely digital would be financially viable to the retailer.
Customers don't want to be worse off with a digital copy. Where it represents perceived value, and they want to own the content, they will use that model, whether it is a Blu-ray or a digital-only copy.
What do you see as the opportunities, but also the pitfalls associated with Digital Copy on a disc?
Again this depends on your perspective. Ultraviolet Digital Copy codes have been for sale on eBay, but that could also be looked at as advertising for the value of an UltraViolet Digital Copy!
How much of a revolution Smart TV represents, given that consumers are already comfortable using other screens (laptops, tablets, smartphones) to access Internet-delivered content?
Most of what I've seen in the last decade has been an evolution, not a revolution. It's easily possible to end up with a TV with Freeview or freesat, a Smart TV interface with apps, a set top box, a media server, a Blu-ray player with its apps, and a tablet/laptop and a smartphone on the sofa next to you connected to the wireless with their apps. So, there's choice!
The service that customer uses in their home, at that time, is the one that wins. That may depend on what content is available, what the quality is like, the cost of the service, whether they subscribe or want to pay by transaction, the awareness of the service's brand, how easy it is to use (and pay for content) and on what and how and who with they want to consume it.
4,000-line Super HDTV is pointing on the horizon. Do you anticipate this to be the next TV format? If so, could it lead to the arrival of a next-generation larger-capacity Blu-ray disc to deliver this content, given that broadband could be inadequate?
Advances in optimising compression with, for example, H.265, a.k.a. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), certainly make 4K Super HDTV technically possible and it seems likely that this is the next evolutionary step.
However, both the content availability (more than that pretty field of sunflowers) and desire to consume it (i.e. it has a perceived value) have to be there. Even with HD sets and HD set-top boxes being largely standard now, HD VOD content, Blu-ray and some HD channels cost more to consume than Standard Definition. Most of the research I've seen seems to indicate a cost-conscious trend amongst consumers right now, so many consumers still watch in SD where cost is an issue. The trade-off between quality and cost has to be worth it, as we've seen with 3D uptake in the home.
If you let your imagination run wild, what system, format, application aimed at delivering content to the home would you like to see implemented in 10 years time?
In June of 1994 I was on a TV show in the USA called Computer Friendly. We discussed the advances in home computing that IBM's OS/2 multimedia division was working on. We talked about watching video on one?s computer (video back then had a resolution of 320x240 at 15 frames per second!) and playing CDs and recording audio on line-in or microphone. We showed pen technology - 256 levels of touch depth! And we talked to the computer and it recognised our voices. That was 17 years ago. Look where we are now with respect to those!
As a consumer who has seen way too many Star Trek episodes, if it's out anywhere and at anytime in the world, I want to able to watch it however and wherever I choose:
- At super-high resolution, 22.1-channel surround-sound ultra-plush cinema (or even a very steep cinema with high-backed, full-sensory seats that included individualised audio (including subwoofer feel) to get around the audio "sweet-spot" issue in cinemas);
- On-demand on my ultra-thin, self-retracting (into a one-inch transparent roll at ceiling level) wireless OLED wall cinema;
- Into my Gucci prescription glasses that toggle to sunglasses in daylight and display my computer screen when I'm sitting on the tube, controlled by voice recognition and/or fingertip spatial-recognition points for "touch-typing" and gestures;
- Numerous mini-shops or kiosks that allow global archive search (type or speak search terms), personal library addition (into my rights locker) and the ability to create standard physical media. Mini-shops would allow for the social aspect and physical browse element (probably for high-value content) and kiosks would have the ubiquity of bank machines and replace large-scale stores as rising rents close down large retail spaces and physical storage facilities. This helps the environment by only creating the content people want to consume.
- Physical creation would take no longer than 30 seconds, once selected, and be of equivalent quality to a purchase in a shop now. DVD, Blu-ray and Super HDTV production houses would continue creating the experience and security and move away from physical pressing other than creating the kiosk architecture.
Contact: email@example.com or www.mireality.co.uk
Predicting the future, let alone the future of packaged media, is a perilous exercise, and possibly counter-productive, as the exercise closes doors rather than keep them open, argues JEAN-LUC RENAUD, DVD Intelligence publisher. Consider that: Apple was left nearly for dead 15 years ago. Today, it became the world's most valuable technology company, topping Microsoft.
Le cinéma est une invention sans avenir (the cinema is an invention without any future) famously claimed the Lumière Brothers some 120 years ago. Well. The cinématographe grew into a big business, even bigger in times of economic crisis when people have little money to spend on any other business.
The advent of radio, then television, was to kill the cinema. With a plethora of digital TV channels, a huge DVD market, a wealth of online delivery options, a massive counterfeit underworld and illegal downloading on a large scale, cinema box office last year broke records!
The telephone was said to have no future when it came about. Today, 5 billion handsets are in use worldwide. People prioritize mobile phones over drinking water in many Third World countries.
No-one predicted the arrival of the iPod only one year before it broke loose in an unsuspecting market. Even fewer predicted it was going to revolutionise the economics of music distribution. Likewise, no-one saw the iPhone coming and even fewer forecast the birth of the developers' industry it ignited. And it changed the concept of mobile phone.
Make no mistake, the iPad will have a profound impact on the publishing world. It will bring new players, and smaller, perhaps more creative content creators.
And who predicted the revival of vinyl?
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