Responsible for leveraging film properties globally across digital distribution platforms, Thomas Lesinski is keenly focused on the changing business models that exist in the studio system. Lesinski, president of Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment, is harnessing his experience in home video to determine what consumers want digitally and when they want it. He recently spoke with Debra Kaufman for The Hollywood Reporter about mobile content, WiMax and the promise of convergence finally coming to fruition.
The Hollywood Reporter: What are the strategies for adapting longform entertainment for wireless?
Thomas Lesinski: There are 150 million handsets in the U.S. alone, and we can’t ignore that. While the market is relatively small (today), shorter, edited pieces of filmed entertainment content could represent a big part of a studio’s strategy going forward. Wireless is a major opportunity for content delivery.
THR: What numbers do we need to see for penetration of video-enabled phones in order for wireless entertainment to really take off?
Lesinski: There are about 10 million (wireless) consumers who will be capable of receiving video content by the end of the year in the U.S. and 20 million in Europe. When you compare that with audience size of a successful cable TV show, you can see that the 3G (third-generation, video-capable cell phone) audience will represent an interesting audience potential for Hollywood. The most interesting thing to talk about is WiMax, an innovation for broadband wireless that allows very large multimedia files to be distributed to wireless handsets. When you look at what broadband has done for video consumption on PCs, over the next three years, WiMax will have that same potential for video distribution on handsets that’s happening on PCs today.
THR: What other technological shifts need to happen to bring about vitality and acceptance of these new digital distribution platforms?
Lesinski: Although it’s robust today, broadband penetration has to increase. Size and capacity of hard drives have to continue to increase. And the cost of both of those things has to continue to decrease. Ultimately, when you download anything to a PC or portable device, you reach its limits fairly quickly. As portable devices become more robust, as PCs get more affordable, hard drives (get larger), that will propel the market along. Eventually, you’ll see a large variety of portable wireless video devices, not just phones.
Second, we need advances in home networking. Many technologists have predicted home networking as the future. You’ll see the impact of home networking in the next year, as people gain the ability to move digital files around the home.
Finally, the increased number of portable devices and higher quality and larger screen sizes on portable devices will have a significant impact on digital consumption to the new consumer. When you look at how young kids grow up today, by the time they’re in their early teens, they’ve spent a large amount of their entertainment life with small devices and small screens. I have friends with children who have never bought a CD. All they have done is download. Think about that generation five to 10 years from now. They won’t have any problem with watching content on wireless devices.
THR: What will the landscape look like in five to 10 years?
Lesinski: My sense of it is that wireless broadband networks will be widely deployed and built primarily for these multimedia content applications. WiMax will be a powerful technology. I think you’ll see a plethora of devices with crisp, high-quality screens, and mobile TV networks will be commonplace.
THR: What does that mean for studios?
Lesinski: This is one of those paradigm shifts in the evolution of content consumption that doesn’t happen very often. It’s possible — when you combine broadband and wireless — that you could see 15%-20% of consumer spending in this whole new digital-media area. Between now and 2010, digital technology will become even more powerful and affordable at every level. At the end of the day, when you look at the history of entertainment consumption, whether it’s stage plays or movies, consumers aggregate to quality. There is a huge interest in user-generated content now, but it’s because professional content isn’t available in any significant way for those platforms. There are professionals who do this for a living, and history would suggest there will always be a significant role for them. Technology propels ahead of content, and as content creation catches up to the technology, we’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunities created by it.