The recent settling out of the high-def DVD market behind the Blu-ray Disc format solves one major problem in the studio-consumer relationship when it comes to distributing prerecorded HD entertainment on a disc medium, namely agreement on a playback format.
However, it did nothing to address the burden studios face in producing, managing, tracking and ultimately benefiting from the distribution of supplemental HD content to broadband-connected players.
Enter Technicolor with its Prisma Full Spectrum Content Delivery Platform — a complete workflow and business management solution — designed to, among other things, help studios achieve the full potential of two-way communications with Blu-ray players in the living rooms of viewers.
HD Technology Update spoke with Lance Ware, CTO of Technicolor’s Electronic Distribution Services, to learn more.
HD Technology Update: Let’s start off with the big picture. What are the major challenges content providers face in terms of electronic delivery of content throughout the digital supply chain, particularly as they relate to Blu-ray?
Lance Ware: The current thing we see around HD DVD is there hasn’t been a common platform that could be reused. So that leads to a bunch of one-off solutions where there’s no continuity between user experiences or naming on the backend or any of those sorts of things. They’re all kind of point solutions.
HD Technology Update: How does Thomson’s Prisma Full Spectrum Content Delivery Platform address those challenges?
Lance Ware: We essentially have this hosted environment that allows content owners to set policies, rules, delivery policies, etc., in addition to maintaining history across titles. If they want to develop a campaign that goes across multiple series of a movie or multiple directors, they can have a consistent database on the backend and a consistent platform to measure those against without having to build it for themselves in advance and having the foresight to do that.
One example would be if you have Quentin Tarantino; you could actually have consistent user information across the “Kill Bill” series or all Quentin Tarantino titles assuming that they were with the same studio or there was some agreement, where users could comment on the scene they saw in a particular movie and have those comments pop up on a particular Blu-ray title and references to other titles — even to the point that you could pull in scenes from those movies as streams, which Blu-ray supports.
Without that consistent backend, it is very difficult to do any clever things that are actually anything more than just neat demos in our view.
HD Technology Update: What is your perspective on the typical Blu-ray viewer’s awareness of the ability for Blu-ray players to access this supplemental content and enhance his entertainment experience?
Lance Ware: That’s a very valid point, and we’ve done some market research of our own, and I think that certainly needs to be fleshed out probably by the consumer electronics companies, to start, and the studios by promoting some of this capability on their titles. The retailers, too, can drive people to upgrade from their DVD player to Blu-ray.
People are certainly aware that consumers are confused about HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray. Hopefully, that gets cleared up a little quicker now. They’re also confused about why they would connect their players to a broadband connection. Certainly, that is going to take some amount of time. The early adopters do have some awareness of that. Obviously, Sony with its PS3 has other reasons for people to connect the device.
HD Technology Update: So do you think that at least initially this will be a generational awareness with younger gamers aware that they can connect their game device to the Internet, and those game players dragging their parents into the reality that a gaming device/Blu-ray player can be connected?
Lance Ware: Yeah, I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. If you have a Sony PS3, no matter what generation you’re at, you’re pretty connected because you do online gaming and pop a Blu-ray disc in it and you realize you're connected because it asks, “Do you want to download new movie trailers or download the director’s commentary, or play a game?” That will pull others into the fray.
HD Technology Update: Does the overriding unawareness about Blu-ray player broadband connectivity create a chicken-and-egg dilemma with what you are trying to do? In other words, are studios reluctant to adopt a solution like Prisma before they see consumers knowledgeable about and willing to pull more content down online for their Blu-ray players?
Lance Ware: I think most of the studios are interested in pushing that pretty far even in the absence of a lot of players being connected at this exact moment. We are seeing a lot of interest in what our current capabilities are for the trailers or streaming or games. So I think they’re trying to do that, and one of the reasons, obviously, is they want to give consumers a reason to go to Blu-ray over SD. A lot of people, even though HD looks better, aren’t compelled to do it.
HD Technology Update: Right, and now you can buy a $60 or $70 progressive-scan DVD player with an upscaler — mudding the waters even further.
Lance Ware: Right, and for most people, it looks good enough. Some may even be confused that because it has component out cables, it must be HD. Those are all issues.
HD Technology Update: Without an end-to-end solution like Prisma, what would studios be facing if they took this on themselves?
Lance Ware: There is real value there. Obviously, we are sort of talking conceptually about Blu-ray, but in terms of HD-DVD to date, there’s been some stuff done. You can certainly go out and build one-off solutions. Web servers and Web technology is pretty cheap. But once you start getting into scale — of which there isn’t a whole lot right now, but ultimately everyone hopes there will be — that’s when it starts costing you money, and that’s when Prisma starts to bring you real value.
In addition to the other areas that I’ve highlighted, from our conversations with content owners and our experience with playing with every connected title that’s out there, they are literally point solutions that have no knowledge of any other disc or title produced by the same studio, and really no apparent kind of data gathering, reporting or analysis. I’m sure they are tracking how many people visit their Web servers with their Web services, but I doubt they have the level and depth of analytics that we have on a player basis.
HD Technology Update: With Toshiba dropping HD-DVD, is there now clarity in direction in the home entertainment market for prerecorded HD content, or will there still be reluctance to commit due to other competitive technologies — e.g. VOD, Internet TV?
Lance Ware: I don’t have a lot of concrete data on that. There are obviously a lot of ways for consumers to get content, and clearly it’s interesting because Xbox was in the HD-DVD camp; they have an external player, but they also have the Xbox Live download service. The sales were pretty lackluster, so that would indicate people are happy to get their content via broadband. But again, those obviously are early adopters, kind of top-tier people with very high-end broadband connections.
I think it comes more down to confusion over if there is really a difference between Blu-ray and an upscaling DVD player. Surely, VOD is there and all of the cable companies are out trying to really ring up huge libraries so that people can get all of the content they want. But I think we are a ways away from the physical getting replaced by electronic delivery completely.
HD Technology Update: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Lance Ware: I think what’s interesting is the Prisma solution — not only does it bring together the online experience, but it also manages copies, ACS and those sorts of things, to the extent there is a reason for consumers to want to get an electronic copy; we’re essentially allowing them to get that off the disc and onto a portable player, mobile device, etc., or over broadband if necessary. So there are a lot of ways to cut this. If you were to just go off and build an online experience for a Blu-ray title, you’d have to spend an awful lot of money to enable all these additional features. I don’t think that’s worth every studio or content owner trying to do on his own.
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