New Technologies Rock the Screenings

By Kathy Tracy

These L.A. Screenings will become more than just a showcase for the networks’ current primetime offerings; they will be a forum for discussing and watching content which has found a new (and more modern) home. “In our company, we’re getting more and more aggressive in mobile and broadband,” said John Najarian, vice president, New Platform Development, E! Networks. “I can certainly see short-form content becoming a more important aspect, as portable devices become more ubiquitous, especially for our company because we believe that Hollywood celebrity content exports and adapts very well to that kind of platform.”
Venevision’s Marketing and Entertainment director Jose Espinal concurred. “We have already expanded our operation to deal with these new and emerging technologies and the new distribution opportunities they offer, especially as they relate to the U.S. Hispanic market,” he said.

Espinal was adamant that for independents that distribute film content, VoD is proving to be a valuable new platform. “We are looking at that window of opportunity with interest for the general marketplace and we are working to establish relationships with all the carriers. Being an international company with a worldwide sales force, we are fortunate to have an established foundation to expand into these other markets, which can be exploited to our benefit.”

Perhaps, the platform generating the most buzz is mobile. Fox has already begun experimenting with the fourth screen, having developed a series of one-minute “webisodes” of 24 that complement the broadcast series with a parallel storyline that only mobile users get to see. Espinal said that kind of out-of-the-box thinking is exactly why Venevision established Lat-Cel, a company specifically intended to provide wireless entertainment to the US Latin community. “We see great opportunities here, from ring tones to subscriptions for local or national news, sports and weather to games to SMS. Outside the U.S., that market is fairly well developed. Here it is not, so we are positioning ourselves ahead of the coming curve,” he explained. “In Latin America they have developed mini telenovelas for wireless users. If you are a company involved with distribution you have to be prepared for the coming technologies. Those who wait will be left behind.”

Technology is also changing the way business is being done at the Screenings and across television markets. NBC Universal has developed innovative digital technology to help promote good ole fashioned salesmanship and marketing with the introduction of a hand-held media player. While desktop media viewers have been used in recent years in lieu of VHS tapes and DVDs to present content to prospective buyers, NBC Uni’s media player is the first device that allows its sales force to literally take their shows on the road. The devices are roughly four inches square and less than an inch thick, with a viewing screen approximately the size of a GameBoy Advance. They have a storage capacity of 20 gigabytes, which can hold approximately 20 hours of Windows Media Player 9 quality content. And because the content in encoded, it is also safe from piracy.

Pauline Bohm, NBC-Universal’s VP International, said the device is a way to expand marketing beyond the office. “With this media player, you can show clients content anywhere. And even if you are technologically challenged, this is so intuitive to use. “At the same time, the handheld comes with AV attachments that allow it to be connected to televisions for those who prefer to see content on a bigger screen.”
The development of the portable media player came about serendipitously. “One day we were talking and said, ’Wouldn’t it be great if we could make our media viewers portable?’ Our IT guys took up the challenge and developed a prototype that we thought was great, although it was much bulkier. Then within two months, they came back with this smaller design.”
Bohm sees the media player as a natural progression of the marriage between technology and traditional media. “Synergistically, it was good to use our in-house IT department because it has engendered a sense that we are bringing together our digital assets in a way to make our lives and jobs easier and more efficient.”
Although seemingly far down the line in implementation, some believe that peer-to-peer (P2P)technology will become the next major distribution force in the entertainment industry as a whole, as traditional media companies realize the potential goldmine P2P offers them. While the idea of file-sharing on the Internet sent chills down the spine of TV execs, they are now realizing that it could actually serve to complement the industry. Intellectual property attorney Steve Masur noted, “You can either take a fear based approach or an opportunity-based approach. But if you take a fear- based approach you close off opportunities. P2P is part of the development of digital media; it’s just another technology for people to distribute files. In China they have created new business models in a culture that has no moral objection to copying. There’s not just one way that it will happen: P2P, subscription, download and playlist marketing are all viable options. But this subject matter is far too polarized and that has closed people’s mind to finding a way to solve the problem.”
Thinking beyond legacy models is imperative if the entertainment industry wants to take full advantage of the super distribution possible through P2P. Jun Group’s Mitchell Reichgut reported that recent statistics indicate 50 percent of all Internet traffic is attributable to file sharing in one form or another. “You need to give consumers what they want. Rather than trying to force-feed them what the industry wants them to accept, let’s see where they are. I try to explain that there are major companies, like Cingular, willing to pay a lot of money upfront to use a song that can be file-shared. The music labels are clinging to older business models.”
The closed nature of traditional models has generated opportunities for P2P upstarts. Glenn Martin, a partner at INTENT Media Works, said: “We are using the pay search market so a content holder is able to monetize that product in a cheap and easy way without trying to change user behavior.”

Ironically, many industry experts agree that the way to curb piracy is by better utilizing P2P. Chip Venters, CEO, DigitalContainers, said: “It is a huge misconception that there is no way to create a legal system. We also believe the P2P isn’t just about music or video, but could be about selling physical products. It’s a city of millions that are being underserved. Plus there’s a ton of content that doesn’t have an economic model,” he said. “So we’ve gone after content that’s collecting dust, like old Superman radio shows that we package along with merchandise that can be bought online. If you can bring a way to make money for content that has no model, people are thrilled.”

One of the biggest hurdles of developing a pay-based P2P is the lack of cooperation from the seven major film studios. Marty Lafferty, DCIA CEO, said: “It ties the hand of P2P companies to distribute licensed product if they can’t get the licensed product from the content holders. The video game industry has embraced P2P and is doing quite well.”