SMPTE 2019: First Woman Progress Medal Winner Cristina Gomila Torres Opens Up

LOS ANGELES—The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers this year is honoring Cristina Gomila Torres, managing director of Content, Technology & Innovation, at Sky, with its prestigious Progress Medal—the first to be awarded to a woman—during this week’s 2019 Annual SMPTE Technical Conference & Exhibition at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.

Cristina Gomila Torres

The award honors an individual for his or her outstanding technical contribution to the progress of engineering in the motion picture, TV or motion imaging industries. The medal is bestowed for an invention or R&D that has resulted in a significant advancement in the development of motion picture, TV or motion imaging technology, according to SMPTE.

Gomila Torres, who joined Sky this year, is being honored for her leadership and contributions to advances in several areas, including the science of algorithms where she holds multiple patents in video coding and other media technologies.

I had a chance to sit down with Gomila Torres this morning at the SMPTE conference and talk to her about what it means to receive the Progress Medal, where women are today in M&E industry, what areas of research interest her today, what the industry can do to attract more young people to its ranks, especially to technical careers and what organizations like SMPTE can do to encourage young women to pursue motion picture, TV or motion imaging careers.

(An edited transcript:)

TVTechnology:Congratulations on being named this year’s recipient of the Progress Medal. What does that honor mean to you, especially since you are the first woman to receive the award?

Cristina Gomila Torres: It’s very emotional. When I thought of all my peers getting me to this level of recognition. My first thoughts were for all the people who helped me on the journey to get here and also for all of the women in this industry who have not been visible for all of these long years and have contributed strongly.

So, I felt really for all of them a lot of weight and responsibility.

TVT:You hold patents for video coding and many other media technologies. What areas of research interest you the most today?

CGT: I started my career on media formats, where the focus was about getting the best possible images to the consumer, focusing on video quality. And I have progressively moved toward what would be the best consumer experience.

Quality is certainly important, but it’s not the only thing. It’s all about how we convey content. How do we make it available everywhere? How do we provide a seamless viewer experience and surprise them with different types of content?

This is today an area that requires harnessing many fields of science. It’s not just one of them. It goes from transmission, but it also goes to machine learning techniques, to cognitive science. Everything that puts the consumer in focus.

TVT:Can you elaborate a bit on how you will leverage these various areas, such as machine learning and cognitive science, to come up with something that achieves what you envision for the consumer?

CGT: We are trying to make the entertainment experience for consumers unique, easier—because we have more and more content to offer them, and at times that can be overwhelming to find what you like—and then mostly we need to listen to them.

What do they like? How do they consume content? And all of the different types of experiences they are looking for. That can go from the current types of content to augmented reality or many different things.

TVT:You brought up unique experiences. Given growing bandwidth availability and other technical advancements do you foresee someday being able to personalize the entertainment experience for individual viewers?

CGT: The future could be much more of a personalized experience. I think there is no doubt about it. We want to better understand the people we serve. We are all very different. So that is not easy. As you said, it has challenges. How are we going to be able to bring all of that content to them? But that is part of the challenge and why we have many years ahead.

TVT:At Sky, where you are managing director, Content Technology and Innovation, one of your responsibilities is the transformation of the existing content supply chain. Can you tell me what your highest priorities are for this effort and why?

CGT: The content supply chain in a media company is the heart of everything. We care about content from acquisition up to delivery for all the processing and enrichment that it goes through, I think it is very important when we look at the future to eventually challenge the established workflows, think about what we could do differently and for that really rely on the new technologies.

I am talking about using the cloud, for example, for everything to scale and for flexibility. I am talking about machine deep learning and all the areas of computer science to assist the editors and the creatives to be more efficient and to make the process more robust.

So, I think that there are plenty of opportunities to introduce new technologies in workflows that have been there for many, many years that sustain the industry.

TVT:How would you characterize where women are today on the technical side of the motion picture and television industry?

CGT: I have seen a major shift during my career. I think right now we are at a moment when the value of diversity is fully recognized, and I think that will encourage many women to step up and prove their value while being true to themselves.

I think in a few years we will see a major change in women taking on more leadership roles and being more visible and really proving that you can think from a different angle and that also brings value.

TVT:What should the Media & Entertainment industry in generaland organizations like SMPTE specifically—be doing to encourage more young women to consider technical careers in TV and motion pictures?

CGT: I think that for many years we have failed to communicate in terms that are attractive to the next generation. If you look at them, it’s all about content. They create content. They consume content all around us. That’s the same thing we do. So why aren’t we connecting?

I think that we need to find ways to communicate that are appealing. Maybe you are doing a YouTube channel, and maybe I am broadcasting sports. But are we that different? Aren’t we looking at creating experiences for people, and why is that not the common future?

So, I think we should approach the young generation, first on their terms, and try to listen because they are the future of consumers, too. But the foundations are the same. When I think of media and entertainment, it’s for me something that the next generation should embrace.

TVT:I have often thought that young people with an interest in technology think first, maybe solely, about careers with companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc., and maybe our industry is yesterday’s news in their minds. What are your thoughts about that?

CGT: Come on. It’s all about images and content. As I said, you can create your YouTube channel, or you can start broadcasting. But it’s all about how we transmit images and ultimately experiences. And I think we can find common ground that motivates us all.

I think we have talked for too long about our industry being only about engineering. But what it takes to get a film out there is much more than engineering. It’s creative. It’s many different things. Again, I think we should communicate about that more and more.

TVT:Specifically related to young women, what things could an organization like SMPTE be doing to attract young women to the technical ranks of the motion picture and TV industry?

CGT: Definitely we should not show pictures of our workflows. I talked to you about the value of the consumer experience. So, maybe the way to attract women is to talk much more about the impact of what we do—about the emotions we create when our images get out, like on the night of the Super Bowl. How many emotions there are among the followers of sports.

Or, when we get a new movie at the cinema. You should look at the faces of the kids. I would put more emphasis on the impact of the images that we carry. Let’s talk about news for example. We should think about how to fight fake news and bring good content to the people.

Let’s think more about that, and then in the many different areas—whether in science or art—that are required to do that.

TVT:Would you like to add anything else?

CGT: It’s an incredible period to be alive. I would like to thank all my peers in this community from who I have learned a lot and enjoyed every single moment.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.