Report from the Digital Media Pipeline 2013

One of the chief messages of the day, a common theme which seemed to inform every panel, every discussion and every presentation — Change is constant. And change in the world of content delivery, whether that was movies, games, or television shows, presents both challenges AND opportunities for studios, distributors, technology partners and filmmakers alike. While Home Media Magazine has done an excellent job with this wrap-up, which I won’t attempt to duplicate, a few points made a particular impression on me and my Giant colleagues.

Futuresource Consulting’s Head of Global Content, Alison Casey, delivered a mini-symposium on the differences in digital media use and device penetration between the US and Europe with a commanding array of charts, graphs, facts and figures providing ample evidence. Interestingly, Germany still ranks VERY high in their affinity for physical media, with only a tiny drop-off in sales, while, generally, the rest of western Europe has mirrored the US with a swift increase in VOD and decrease in physical media. Nevertheless, Western Europe (with the exception of the UK) lags behind the US by a significant margin when it comes to device or digital service adoption, whether that may be smartphones, OTT TV or SVOD adoption.

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Visionary Award winner Morgan Spurlock and EMA President Mark Fisher. Photo credit: Home Media Magazine

Yet, the highlight of the day was the keynote by Morgan Spurlock, presented via a lively Q&A with TAG Strategic’s Ted Cohen (sporting Google Glass, in thematic coordination with the day). Mr. Spurlock is one of the top documentary filmmakers working in the United States today and, with the release of Supersize Me in 2004 and his many projects over the past 9 years, he’s had a profound affect on the popularity of documentaries today. He acknowledged that this trend has been enabled by the broad accessibility of documentaries via SVOD and VOD platforms.

He also noted that docs are no longer staid recitations, a common perception. “Through humor, you can get people to listen,” Mr. Spurlock noted, referring not only to Supersize Me, but also, in particular, to Inside Man, a TV series he executive produced this year, which explores controversial topics with an evenhanded approach, allowing the issues players to speak for themselves. “If you don’t want to look stupid, don’t say something stupid,” Mr. Spurlock noted, speaking of the advice he provided to his interview subjects for this show. That’s good advice in general, actually.

The other keynote of the day, presented by producer/writer/many other things Danny Bilson, as proved to be very informative and Mr. Bilson a lively and nimble speaker. Mr Bilson spoke at length about the value of intellectual property to drive and sustain the interest of consumers. “World, characters, stories”, Mr. Bilson listed, noting that these are the basic building blocks of such successes as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, soon to expand with a spin-off movie, as well as the wildly successful Angry Birds, also expanding into other areas of media such as TV. Grand Theft Auto V was also held up as another example, but since this property pulled in a record $1B in 3 days, Mr. Bilson noted it as an example of a property which DIDN’T get additional exploitation since the risk of polluting consumer perception was greater than the marginal return which other media exploitations would bring.

Of course, for Giant, our moment in the spotlight was the Digital Supply Chain Challenges and Solutions panel, on which Nima Ourmazdi, Giant’s Director, Digital Platform Initiatives participated. The panel had a good make-up, which included a content owner (Cinedigm’s Erick Opeka), an industry group representative (the DEG’s Larry Wilk), a VOD platform (Netflix’s Chris Fetner) and a technical service provider (Giant). Again, each brought a different perspective to the discussion. As a certified iTunes provider with expertise and experience delivering to over a dozen of the industry’s leading VOD platforms, Giant’s involvement in the panel was intended to help connect the beginning of the supply chain with the end.

Grounded by his practical experience, Mr. Ourmazdi spoke to the problems generated by the increasing demands of the growing digital pipeline, the need for and practical use of industry-wide digital standards, (an area where the EMA has devoted significant effort of late, actually) and the challenges posed by the growing number of legacy programming content owners are looking to digitize, deliver and monetize. While this approach allows content owners and distributors to participate in servicing and leveraging the ‘long tail’ in the most efficient way possible, it still falls to technical partners like Giant to turn that decades-old tape into the best digital experience possible for present-day viewers. (Yes, we’ve got that…)

We were pleased to both participate and attend this years event and we are all already looking forward to 2014.