By Gordon Meyer
The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) ended over two weeks ago and I’m still sorting through a flood of information, including 30+ press kits on USB thumb drives. This year, Variety made its presence known big time. In addition to publishing a special “Entertainment Matters” version of the magazine during each of the show’s four days, they also hosted one of their increasingly popular “summits” featuring all-star panels of high level showbiz execs talking about the impact of entertainment on technology and vice versa.
While the CE industry and Hollywood have worked hand in hand since the 1920s (if not sooner), it seems to me that new technologies have motivated even stronger ties and alliances, especially when it comes to content delivery systems and new strategies to enable consumers to more easily access that content in ways that create new revenue streams for the studios and other content owners.
With that in mind, so many exhibitors this year kept talking about “the cloud,” that I began to wonder how many of them really knew what it was, other than the buzz word of the week. More to the point, what’s in it for the consumer and why is it important for P3 Update readers?
In really simplified technical terms, “cloud computing” is a way of enabling users to access data (including high def audio/video feeds) seamlessly from a variety of sources so that both the computing power needed to store and transmit the information, as well as the storage of the data itself, can be spread out over a lot of different systems.
But of course, consumers are just as uninterested in how cloud computing actually works as they are in how your local utility manages to deliver electricity to their homes. All they care about is that it works. In terms of the consumer experience, when cloud computing works properly, accessing movies, TV shows, albums and the latest in computer software from “the cloud” is as seamless and as much a no-brainer as accessing something directly on your hard drive. In fact, for consumers, “the cloud,” is essentially a glorified external hard drive, except that the data being accessed (including entertainment content), is physically stored in a bank of computers located all over the country, and quite possibly all over the world.
Studios are already training consumers to get their content from cloud systems with the introduction of the Ultra Violet service as a means of accessing the digital copies of movies that are now commonly part of what you get when you buy a DVD or Blu-ray disc. But I see this technology being embraced in the very near future as a way to deliver digital cinema files to movie theatres, instead of the current method of either a satellite transmission or shipping a physical hard drive. It’s cheaper, more secure and enables distributors to more accurately monitor theatrical screenings, including a time/date stamp every time a file has been accessed and played.
The good news for filmmakers is that, as the next step in the evolution of digital cinema distribution, the cost and quality benefits of cloud technology should make it easier for indie product of all types to get screen time because it’s that much easier and more cost effective to make DCPs available first to exhibitors, then directly to consumers on a VOD/PPV basis.
Cloud computing also has the potential to make post production faster by uploading freshly shot footage from off-site locations, which is immediately accessible anywhere in the world that the editor has access to a broadband connection. For example, let’s pretend this technology was available when John Huston was shooting “The African Queen” on location in Africa using a digital Panaflex camera (or something similar). Not only would there have been no more waiting for the film to be shipped back and forth hundreds of miles just so everyone could watch dailies, Huston’s editor in Hollywood could have conceivably had a rough assembly cut and available to watch while he was still on location, thousands of miles away.
Cloud computing was one of several technologies showcased at CES that has significant implications for P3 Update readers. I’ll share more with you as I continue to wade through and digest what I saw.