HPA Retreat: How 4K and Other Digital Developments are Affecting Production and Business

Christy King Speaking - H 2014
Rand Lawson

Christy King Speaking - H 2014

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – With domestic film distribution approaching its end and OTT services experiencing significant growth, the Hollywood Post Alliance kicked off its 20th annual technology retreat Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, with a daylong program examining the impact of digital technology from production to distribution and consumption.

“For the last 100 years we have been delivering film,” said HPA president and Walt Disney Studios digital studio general manager Leon Silverman in his opening remarks. "But there’s one thing we know for sure, the end is near.”

Sony Pictures Television has been bullish about moving to 4K, which has four times the resolution of HD. All of its episodic series are now being shot using Sony’s 4K-capable digital cameras, some of which are being finished in the format.

SPT’s senior vp technical operations Phil Squyres pointed out that Sony uses a combination of 4K Raw and 4K XAVC (compressed 4K). The studio aims to shoot all dramas in 4K Raw because it “gives us a comfort level with challenging exposure issues. In comedy, we tend to shoot in controlled setups on stage and limited locations. XAVC is safe,” Squyres added, noting that the studio’s first XAVC series is upcoming CBS sitcom Bad Teacher.

He related that for 4K series The Blacklist, which is shot in New York and posted in Los Angeles, Sony immediately sends HD proxys of the footage to Los Angeles via Aspera high-speed file transfer technology, allowing dailies to be created right away for editorial. The 4K cards arrive in Los Angeles the following day and are sent to postproduction for finishing and archiving. Squyres hopes to extend this effort so that Sony could push the 4K over a 10 gig E connection from Sony’s office in Manhattan to its Culver City studio lot.

Squyres also warned that OTT distribution is prompting some changes in production. Since Netflix makes the entire season of its series available at once, production needs to deliver all of the episodes at the same time (not week by week) and this needs to include all dubbed and captioned foreign language versions (that is typically done afterward for network programs). “This means you are adding 21 days to finish each episode,” Squyres warned. “This affects schedule and budget. Dubbing costs have moved to the production budget.”

Postproduction execs also talked about how their businesses are evolving. For Michael Cioni, CEO of Light Iron, the key is software development. “About half of my company is on the development side. That is how we are able to be different.” Among Light Iron's latest developments is Outpost Profile, a cloud-based database that allows departments to input information and communicate.

Pointing out that Netflix alone now accounts for roughly one-third of bandwidth usage during peak traffic times, industry vet Michel Proulx reported that OTT is experiencing 25 percent annual growth, while traditional TV is experiencing just 4 percent.

He reminded the audience that digital opportunities are not exclusive to OTT players, saying, “Cable has the ability to do this. They have been investing in this, but I think too slowly.” He pointed out that Sky in the U.K. uses a Sky+ set top box that enables targeted advertising -- a sort of hybrid model.

Christy King of Ultimate Fighting Championship (pictured above) discussed how the UFC uses big data to aid its digital program distribution, which involves moving 1TB of content per day over 250 distribution channels. “Mixed martial arts is never going to appeal to everyone, and we have to figure out who it appeals to and how to get it to them.

“Figuring out what is relevant data is a challenge,” she said. “In postproduction you get tons of video and the editor’s job is to put together what is most interesting to audience. Metaphorically, big data is the same thing. You have to pull out what is most meaningful.”

Piracy was also a big topic, and King noted that fans who create user-generated content with UFC clips create a dilemma. “It’s an ongoing discussion because if we let one or two go, we are not defending our rights. But it is really good marketing. I think a lot of people are trying to walk the line between letting users participate and following the rules that have been in place for decades.”

Also during the day, Michael Frey, president of global digital services at Sony Digital Audio Disc Corp., reported that consumers “are seeking more physical goods through digital channels than digital ones.

"The average purchase through our digital platform is about $90 because it is mostly physical goods,” he said. “I think [packaged media] is going to be around for a long time, maybe not at the same volume.…Global distribution is really critical and that is how you can maximize its potential -- 50 to 60 percent of our purchases come from international."

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA