By Jay Ankeney
David Krall, president and CEO of Avid Technologies, began his keynote address at Tuesday's Super Session "Look Before You Leap: The Dollars and Sense of Transitioning to HD" by telling the audience, "The problem with any multiyear transition is that you never really know when you have arrived."
While discussing what makes the move to high-definition production so complex, Krall detailed the steps involved in the HD challenge - demand to production to distribution to consumption - and examined how they affect various segments of the production community including television programming, news production and digital cinema.
He then contrasted that with what he called the need of "The Domino Effect" - customer requirements to production capabilities to production infrastructure to capital requirements - which high-definition content creators will have to overcome. However, he assured attendees at the session, there is progress.
"Most one-hour dramas are still being acquired on film," Krall said, "but most multicam sitcoms are being shot in 24P and most major sports are being broadcast in both HD and SD...so there is some progress."
However, advertisers are lagging behind and there are few commercials being shot in high definition. The reason, Krall said, "There is no quantifiable ROI (Return on Investment). So that is one of the obstacles."
Outlining the 42-percent growth of domestic HDTV set sales from 2003 to 2004 and the progress other countries are displaying in adopting HD broadcasting, Krall concluded that "Yes, the transition is in full swing," but added he feared that five years from now some other keynoter would quote that statement back at him - perhaps in irony.
CHALLENGE OF HD
Krall then turned the session over to a panel discussion moderated by Adi Kishore, senior analyst, Media & Entertainment Strategies at the Yankee Group in Boston, who asked about their experiences tackling the challenge of HD.
"We sell a lot of programs around the world," said Andy King, head of Capital Development for BBC Resources, "and we can't sell them unless they are produced in HD. So it is not in full swing in terms of ourselves, but it is in full swing in terms of what we sell."
"I think it is underway and progressing about as fast as it can," added Gavin Schutz, CTO Ascent Media Group. "But the technology is ahead of the business case or the operating workflows, and those two factors are creating a drain on our ability to execute a fully high-definition solution."
Billy Baldwin, president, PostWorks, looked at the question from the perspective of satisfying his clients. "We are challenged by the number of HD formats and the fact that production and distribution formats vary so incredibly. How you get from point A to point B requires a lot more than just purchasing some HD software and a new high-definition camera."
"We've been broadcasting for almost a full year now in high definition from our studio," said Roger Ogden, senior vice president, Gannett Broadcasting. "But we still have not made the transition to field acquisition in HD. We do shoot in 16:9, but had to educate our photographers that the bulk of our audience is still seeing it in standard-definition format. My guess is that this is the year we will see a large number of [our competitors] begin to broadcast in high definition," he said.
Moderator Kishore then asked if the panel thought the day would come when broadcasting would be all HD.
"Ultimately it will be a crossfade rather than a single transition," Krall said. "I do think standard definition will be around for a long time. There is a lot of infrastructure in place and thanks to depreciation cycles people don't want to give all that equipment up."
"After all we have lots of formats around now that are lower than standard-definition resolution," King said, "be it the Web or cell phones or whatever. So standard definition will be here for a long time."
I don't think 10 years from now we will have the concept of standard definition or high definition," said Schutz. "It's going to be a continuum. The concept of defining resolution by the number of lines is already outdated. It will be how [the programming] is transported and delivered that will determine what intrinsic resolution it has."
"Outside of the technology involved," Kishore asked, "are you finding changes in the way that you do business, in the workflow and the management?"
"High definition is getting easier, and it's getting more expensive," Schutz replied. "Big hardware-based systems like edit bays and production switchers are gone. We need general-purpose platforms on which you run specific software. That means you must upgrade the software more often, which means it is more costly to operate."
"The one piece of advice I would give is to look at the big picture and think of where you want to end up before you go down a dead end," Krall said. "Acquisition has to be consistent with the ultimate quality you want to derive, your storage and bandwidth in your facility has to be consistent with the quality you want as a final output. And you need to know who your customers are. That's probably the most important thing."
By Jay Ankeney