Screens play big at confab

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Some video programming is on TV screens, and some is on PC or mobile phone screens. Some is free, some isn't. Some is available on- demand, and some isn't.

The whole system is begging for simplicity, according to many of the speakers Wednesday at Forbes' two-day Media, Electronic Entertainment, Technology conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The day's conversations returned many times to the concept of narrowing windows. 2929 Entertainment CEO Todd Wagner said few film buffs would shun the theater just because a movie hits the DVD market and pay-per-view simultaneously.

If he's wrong, he's got a solution.

"We should share some of the ancillary revenue back to the theaters to make them whole," he said. "Or, lower the film rentals so they are not hurt. We don't view this as a zero-sum game, we view this as let's grow the pie."

"Hysteria" among some is preventing progress, Wagner said.

"All the studio executives that say windowing is fine, it's worked great," he said. "Their only data point is they've been doing it that way for the past 30 years."

Blake Krikorian, CEO and co-founder of Sling Media, lamented what he called subscriber "fatigue" when it comes to sorting out new platforms and content availability.

"The thing that's not going to be successful is this notion of charging consumers multiple times for different subsets of content based on what display they're on," Krikorian said.

His company's Slingbox device, in hundreds of thousands of U.S. homes, makes it possible to view what's on one's living-room TiVo or other digital video recorder wherever in the world you happen to be as long as there is Internet access. He said, though, that up to 40% of his customers use the device simply to move content around in their own homes.

Krikorian criticized DirecTV for not allowing its TiVo subscribers to view saved programming on multiple TV sets, a capability enjoyed by TiVo's stand-alone subscribers. TiVo general manager of programming Tara Maitra said that while many, including TiVo, are focused on moving TV fare to mobile phones, her company also is working hard on bringing Internet video to TV screens.

TiVo does just that with about 10 Web site partners, but she hinted that much bolder plans are in the works.

Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of BitTorrent, said only a third of loyal fans watch their favorite TV shows live.

"Even for must-see TV?" Forbes managing editor Dennis Kneale asked. "That's a startling fact."

Peer-to-peer company BitTorrent allows Internet users to share high-quality video content at lightning-fast speeds, much to the dismay of Hollywood executives who fear piracy.

But, as was the case with countless new technologies, Hollywood will harness it to its advantage, eventually.

"P2P is the best thing that's happened to the movie industry since the DVD," Navin said.

Little more than a decade ago, VHS and DVD "were dirty words in these halls of this hotel," said Barry James Folsom, general manager of connected home solutions at Motorola.

Folsom advocated a consistent system that would allow consumers to pay for content that contains no ads, or to view content with ads for free.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said his company ships 45,000 different titles weekly, speaking to "how diverse people's tastes really are." Netflix has been recommending movies to its subscribers based on other movies they said they have enjoyed, helping the smallest of films gain popularity.
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