Archive for the ‘posts’ Category

3D Lab at ETC@USC article

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Another Dimension in Technology Awaits


By Ariel Carpenter

Starting next month, a Home 3-D Experience Lab at USC will explore the promise of new innovations for the consumer.

If you’ve been to the movies lately, chances are your popcorn came with a pair of 3-D glasses.

U2 3-D, Bolt, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Under the Sea 3-D are among the slate of recent theatrical entries taking audiences into another dimension.

Now, with affordable 3-D-enabled consumer electronics products on the market and 3-D programming cropping up on television sets, will 3-D technology become a mainstay in the living room?

That’s what the Entertainment Technology Center @ USC hopes to explore with the launch of a new Home 3-D Experience Lab in mid-March.

“We’re acting as ‘Switzerland’ for the many constituents who have a stake in making 3-D work in the consumer market. We believe 10 years from now, high-quality 3-D movies in the home will be commonplace,” said David Wertheimer, executive director of the center. “A significant proportion of televisions – maybe even the majority – will come ‘off the shelf’ as 3-D capable.”

The entertainment and consumer electronics industry-funded lab will encourage collaboration between professional and research communities to develop technical standards and industry best practices for the use of 3-D technology. With the Entertainment Technology Center’s help, Hollywood will take steps to unleash the power of 3-D as an immersive entertainment experience and transform the technology from theatrical gimmick to consumer goldmine.

Displaying an evolving showcase of state-of-the-art products and services targeted to the consumer 3-D entertainment market, the lab’s 3-D products currently range from a $6,500 46-inch 3-D-enabled Hyundai screen to a $90 Webcam by Minoru that comes with 3-D glasses.

“3-D brings something new to the home viewing experience,” said Chuck Dages, executive vice president of emerging technology for the Warner Home Entertainment Group, an Entertainment Technology Center sponsor. “There’s a consensus that there’s a lot of activity around 3-D technology innovation, and we are trying to find out how it fits in today.”

Dages said he expects USC’s role will be to help industry players understand how to standardize 3-D technology for the home by tapping the expertise of students, technologists and “storytellers” on campus.

According to the Entertainment Technology Center’s Phil Lelyveld, the center’s 3-D lab also will help USC faculty study issues related to 3-D entertainment and evangelize the possibilities of 3-D technology across campus.

“3-D is hot,” Lelyveld said. “And we are trying to create a bridge between industry and university to help drive the market forward.”

Wertheimer said USC students will be invaluable to the process. Students from fine arts, engineering, cinema and business already are participating in forums with entertainment executives to discuss their experiences with 3-D technology.

In addition, the USC School of Cinematic Arts is investigating a curriculum built around 3-D technology at the undergraduate level, said USC professor Michael Peyser, a veteran film producer of 3-D content. “There’s a perfect opportunity here,” he said, “particularly around how to use 3-D for creative storytelling and narrative filmmaking.”

Wertheimer added, “The technology of 3-D, especially in the theatre, has reached the point where just about anything is possible; it’s now critical for students and faculty to focus on teaching the ‘art’ of 3-D to the next generation of filmmakers.”

So whether a decade from now, consumers will still need to don goggles to catch their favorite show in 3-D remains to be seen. One thing is certain: Unlike the glasses at the theatre, they won’t have to return them when the show ends.

BluRay as content gateway

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Recently Kevin Kelly posted a blog titled Better Than Free .  (He essentially leveraged Clayton Christensen’s ideas from Innovator’s Dilemma.)  Kelly posited that “When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.”  He went on to describe “eight generatives better than free”; immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage, findability.  

BluRay disks are currently being marketed primarily for the high definition quality of their image.  Behind this, they are being loaded up with linear content extras that take advantage of the much higher capacity of the BluRay discs’ technology (blue laser) relative to standard definition DVD disc’s technology (red laser). 

At the JavaOne show in 2005, Java creator James Gosling suggested that the inclusion of a Java Virtual Machine as well as network connectivity in BluRay disc devices will allow updates to BluRay discs via the Internet; adding content such as additional subtitle languages and promotional features that are not included on the disc at pressing time (source: Wikipedia BluRay entry ).

My $99 standard definition DVD/VHS combo device has “angle” and “zoom” buttons of the remote that have never been made active by the content. 

BluRay disks have the potential of being more than huge data buckets; efficient delivery systems for large amounts on content.  By design in their technical specifications, they are capable of seamless interactivity, game play, and other stand-alone features that take them far beyond the capabilities of standard definition DVDs – or any of the mass market BluRay DVD disks that have been released to date.

But I would argue that loading the disks with content and building these capabilities onto the disc itself is neither the best business application nor the best creative application of the new technology specs to which the discs and the players have been designed. 

Per Kevin Kelly’s point, as long as content can be rendered visible/audible at playback, it can be captured and redistributed by someone else.  All content loaded onto a BluRay disc is a nicely packaged challenge to hackers. 

Per James Gosling’s comment, if the content on the disc can be updated through web connectivity and the storage capacity on the playback device, why not leverage that flexibility and connectivity to the artist’s and their rightsholder’s advantage.  Why not use that feature to help the artist direct their creativity in ways that help them monetize their work – or gain whatever other benefit motivates them (ex. attribution, attention, etc.) in a way that “promote[s] the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. 

I have previously blogged that the linear content should be viewed as the extreme end-member of a multimedia landscape that includes bonus content of all types, community, commerce, data, gaming, virtual worlds, enhanced reality, and a panoply of emerging and yet-to-be developed elements. 

Perhaps what BluRay discs contain should only marginally exceed – albeit in high def – what consumers expect to be on standard definition DVD discs.  Then, taking advantage of the connectivity and ability to accept data updates built into the design, the BluRay discs should be loaded with highly robust and renewable cryptographic keys to enable legitimate access to online resources.  This would be an more defensible, and an infinitely more monetizable, use of the BluRay infrastructure.

There are a growing number of online sites serving up HD content, including UGC HD content (ex. Vimeo), so compression problems, ‘pipe capacity’, and other technical obstacles to the movement of large data files over the internet appear to be falling away. 

The gaming industry’s global deployment and market adoption of MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games) has shown that real-time interactivity with minimal latency is possible for a very large market population.   

The disc should contain enough bonus material to distinguish it from SD DVD, just as the first music CDs contained a few bonus tracks not available on cassettes, in order to motivate consumer adoption.  But they should not contain so much content as to become a frontline in the battle between the hacker’s desire to liberate the content and the artist’s and rightsholder’s desire to gain benefit from the content and maintain the incentive to keep creating and/or funding creativity and innovation. 

Renewable BluRay technology could become the secure mechanism for establishing a legitimate content distribution and access environment that benefits BOTH the consumers / secondary contributors / repurposers of the digital media and the primary creators of the digital media.

From Sundance: On Professional, Indie, and UGC Content

Monday, January 21st, 2008

I moderated the New Filmmaking Technology: What’s Now and What’s Next panel in the New Frontiers area of the Sundance Festival. It was an honor to moderate the first panel of the festival. Surprisingly, we had an overflow crowd for that lunchtime event on a sunny Park City afternoon.

Writer/Director Alex Rivera whose movie, Sleep Dealer, was developed here and premiered here, discussed how he was able to incorporate over 400 special effects shots to achieve his SciFi vision on a very limited budget.

Alex Buono, the D.P. on Bigger, Stronger, Faster, an excellent documentary on steroid use in America, sings the praises of Apple Color, a free application bundled in Final Cut Pro that he used in his postproduction work on the feature. He believes that if Apple Color is an acceptable program for a Digital Intermediate, it will completely change the finishing model for all independent films.

Mark Randall, filmmaker, hacker/inventor, and Chief Strategist for Dynamic Media at Adobe, explained how he does a complete videotaped walkthrough of his movies before he begins filming. This is how he storyboards, since he can’t draw (he says that even his stick figures don’t look like stick figures). For the videotaped walkthrough he doesn’t worry about lighting or acting or the set/background in the shot. But he sets up the shots the way he envisions them, has people who may or may not be actors act out the parts, and uses the captured material to create a rough edit of the film. (Mark developed a system that enables his cameras to record directly onto a harddrive.) This allows him, at very little cost, to get a true sense of the pacing of the scenes. It also allows his crew to discuss and alter setups to improve the quality of material shot for the final film. Then, as he shoots the story with digital equipment, he drops the ‘professional’ footage into the rough edit of the feature. His ‘storyboard’ is, in effect, the feature; just shot with very low production values.

In our Saturday Webolution! – Hollywood Adapts to the Web panel, Kara Swisher mentioned the issue of ‘professional content’ versus ‘user generated content.’

When it comes to storytelling, I believe this is not a particularly meaningful discussion; although it clearly is applicable to other areas, such as news coverage versus editorial and advocacy, and open source software development versus closed software development.

But in the area of storytelling, that dichotomy is based on budget and the politics underlying many discussions of the web. It is not based on factors that either the audience or investors care about. There are enough box office bombs to clearly illustrate that there is not a direct link between budget and quality, audience appeal, and return on investment. Similarly, while there are enough one-off and serial “UGC” successes to illustrate that the ability of the storyteller to engage the audience is not completely governed by budget or gatekeepers, there are also enough videos about kittens, puppies, and people being hurt or embarrassed to illustrate that the unfiltered delivery of content is not a pancea either.

As far as I’m concerned, the dichotomy that matters when it comes to storytelling is simply good versus bad storytelling. The budget indicates what resources the director/creator/author had on hand to achieve their vision, but not how successful they were at developing and realizing that vision.

Alex Rivera’s movie, Sleep Dealer, depicts a distopia in which the US/Mexican border is sealed, water resources are defended by the military, and US agriculture and businesses are able to exploit Mexican workers without allowing them into the US by hiring them to remotely operate robots from facilities in Tijuana via implanted neural and muscle connections. The story plays well, and more importantly, he has done an incredibly impressive job of realizing his vision on a very limited, independent film-level budget.

There is now a continuum between UGC and Professional storytelling (i.e. linear entertainment). Every creative person in Hollywood is creating User Generated Content. The output of skilled nonprofessionals using widely available tools can have Professional-level production values. What ultimately matters is the quality of the story and how well it can find and connect with an audience.

Linear Content as Platform (reposted)

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

 (I’ve reposted this older blog because it is relevant to my Saturday Sundance panel.)

Linear content can be instantly pirated and distributed over the web without the permission of, or attribution to, the artist and owner of the rights to the work. Since that is the case, what is the incentive for creating anything above low cost long-form content? What is the incentive to pay the artist a licensing fee, or legally place ads in or around the content?

Historically, long form linear content has been the primary deliverable. Today, until the mechanisms for respecting the artists’ rights to chose what happens to their work are developed and generally accepted, alternative incentives for the creation of what is widely viewed as high value content must be identified and tested.

One approach is to view the long form linear content as the foundataion platform on which to build evolving and regularly changing value-added content and services that people are willing to pay for.

I recently spoke with a writer/director who wanted to pitch a feature for which his primary distribution would be over the web. He was thinking that he would shoot some of the scenes from multiple angles and offer up multiple versions of those scenes from different perspectives. He estimated that this would add 10 days of shooting to the project, at an estimated cost of $100,000 per day for a union crew and professional-quality production and postproduction work. He believed that this would add sufficient value to the online release to justify the added expense.

The obvious question he needed to answer is; would this bonus material be adequate to not only pay for itself but also contribute in an ongoing manner to the cost of creating the feature itself?

Even for a big name writer/director, the odds of a hit, multiplied by the odds of an online hit, multiplied by the odds of getting paid for a reasonable percentage of view of the online hit, result in a pretty small probability of recouping expenses – and by extension getting the project funded. His ideas are good from a creative standpoint, but do not address the problem that the material can be instantly ripped off, so they can’t be relied on to build a sustainable revenue source. The Long Tail argument might have people looking at the content over a long period of time, but it does not address the problem of motivating those people to go to a place where they can be asked to pay the artist for her or his work. He clearly needed a longer term creative and cash-flow vision.

One approach is to create regularly renewed, lower-cost and community-driven content that is subscription-driven or accessed via a menu of purchase options. Some examples are:

  • Voice-overs by different characters throughout the program; such as the character’s inner voice articulating what they are thinking as events unfold. This can be inexpensive to produce and can be renewed regularly. The fan community can comment on the voiceover, which can lead to additional voiceovers in response to their comments.
  • Plot point forks; ask the audience to write what happens to characters between the scenes in which they appear. This can lead to multi-branch story ideas, which in turn can become the basis for a related game or spin-off stories
  • Community chat with the characters; pose dilemmas and alternative event ideas to the community and ask “what would you do”? This could lead to alternative story lines, which could then be the basis for lower-cost story-boarding, manga, and other alternative multimedia story-telling approaches, as well as potentially another foundation long form linear program.
  • Spin-off products and merchandise; including allowing the audience to suggest products. Allow for ‘insider’ products and services to emerge, because they may help strengthen the community.
  • Behind-the-camera commentary; such as encouraging and linking to personal comments by those involved in the production. Building communities around the cast and crew, including the post-production community, will extend the scope of the potential audience. The fan community will include people who produce their own content. Those creative individuals will want to ask advise and share ideas with the people involved in the production as well as others in the community. More links back to the platform long-form program will translate into more opportunities for people to join the fan community, participate in activities on the site, and contribute to the financial and professional success of the artists and other rightsholders involved in the site.
  • Other: there are always more ideas that will emerge from the web community, prosumers, and professionals.

Linear content used to be a controlled, stand-alone product. It is now an extreme end-member – although one that is highly valued by consumers and advertisers – of a multimedia landscape that includes community, commerce, data, gaming, virtual worlds, enhanced reality, and a panoply of emerging and yet-to-be developed elements. An overriding question is; what art can artists create today that holds the possibility of sustaining their ability to create art. One approach, as articulated above, is to use high cost, high value linear content as the platform for building a fuller artistic vision, which in turn helps pay for the high cost, high value linear content.

Independent Filmmakers and Pirate Bay

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Last Friday the Wall Street Journal ran a story on online video piracy; Showdown Looms Over Pirated-Media Directory.  Swedish prosecutors are going after the organizers of Pirate Bay, one of the largest file-sharing guide sites on the web.  Pirate Bay has a considerable worldwide support group, and takes pride in enabling file sharing, without restrictions or permission from the artist or rightsholder, under the belief that they are performing a social good.  The story goes on the report; “underscoring Sweden’s pro-piracy attitude, seven parliamentarians from the ruling conservative party called in a newspaper opinion article last month for the decriminalization of file sharing. ‘It has become a big part of people’s lives,’ Karl Sigfrid, one of the politicians, said in an interview. ‘I believe it is impossible to really stop this.’”

Coincidentally, The Pirate’s Dilemma , a book by Matt Mason, was released on January 8th.  The author argues that the pirate community is helping society by forcing efficiencies into an inefficient marketplace.  Mr. Mason articulates the position that piracy, along with the altruism underlying the open source movement, are establishing a new business model that existing business models must compete with. He calls it Punk Capitalism.  Mr. Mason advocates reshaping copyright and patent law to accommodate the changes that technology is making possible that render the existing laws, he argues, unenforceable.  Technologies such as file sharing and 3D printers that can produce copies of physical products. 

His book is very well written and easy to read.  I agree with many of his arguments as they are laid out in the book.  But there are points that he leaves out, situations that he doesn’t consider, that are clearly predictable and should be addressed in any balanced discussion of the issue.  Here is one of them.

An artist just starting out today would most likely be supportive of the Pirate Bay / Pirate’s Dilemma arguments.  Why not share content with minimal restrictions (a la Creative Commons)?  It would help the artist build an audience who will support their future work (support emotionally – definitely, support financially – still to be determined).

An established top-tier artist would be supportive of these arguments because they could mount a multi-front multimedia campaign.  Some of it could be free so the artist is in community with their audience, and some of it could be for profit to support their art. 

It is the middle ground, the artist who wants to make a living from her art as well as live and work to create her art, that may be hurt by the unintended consequences of Pirate Bay’s actions and The Pirate’s Dilemma’s arguments.  How does someone who gives their art away, or has it shared for them via Pirate Bay, scale up to realize their larger artistic ambitions?

Again, coincidentally, I can reference a story in the February 2008 issue of Portfolio Magazine, The Pirates Can’t Be Stopped , to illustrate both the value of file sharing and the troubling problems that it raises for filmmakers and others who want to create art that requires more cash to produce than they can generate themselves. 

First, on the benefits of file sharing; “A new independent movie called Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth showed up on one of the file-sharing sites in November. The film’s producers had no idea it had even been pirated; all they knew was that suddenly its popularity was skyrocketing. Their websites received 23,000 hits in less than two weeks, and the film’s ranking among the most-searched-for movies on the internet movie-tracking site IMDB went from 11,235 to 15. Eric Wilkinson, the film’s co-producer, wrote a fan letter to the site responsible for driving traffic to the pirated film: ‘Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download….?People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the Net!’ He requested that fans buy the DVD as well and added, ‘In the future, I will not complain about file sharing. You have helped put this little movie on the map!!!! When I make my next picture, I just may upload the movie on the Net myself!’”

And in the next paragraph, the ramifications of file sharing;   “When I try reaching Wilkinson, though, I’m told that the producer is not available. Instead, the movie’s director, Richard Schenkman, returns the call. ‘Eric was clearly being sarcastic,’ Schenkman says about the offer to upload the film. ‘That’s why he put in the exclamation points.’ I tell him his partner certainly sounded enthusiastic about file sharing. ‘Look, I have mixed feelings about this,’ Schenkman replies. ‘As a filmmaker, I love that people love the movie and have seen the movie. But as a person who literally has a hunk of his own life savings in the movie, I don’t want to be ripped off by people illegally downloading the movie. Some of these downloaders want to believe they’re fighting the man. But we’re all just people who work for a living.’ He acknowledges, however, that DVD sales of the film increased after the leak, and that people have even been pledging money on a site the filmmaker set up to accept donations in markets where the DVD isn’t for sale. ‘I’m not saying I have the answers,’ Schenkman says.”

We will definitely see new monetization opportunities and business models emerge to fund the creation of new artwork.  Maybe this environment will force reduced budgets, greater efficiencies, new story-telling structures, and/or a new view of the place of intellectual property and the artist in society.  Maybe it will redefine our view of what art is.  The answers will emerge as society incorporates the Pirate Bay / Pirate’s Dilemma behaviors and philosophies into the larger fabric of society.  But it would be useful if Pirate Bay, Matt Mason, and others articulated a model for the future support and creation of art that was at least as forceful and disruptive as their argument for the appropriation of the art created by others.

CES highlights

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Here are a few items and trends that stood out for me at this year’s CES

Face detection in camcorders; A number of vendors showed HD camcorders that can detect and track human faces in motion.  The information is used for adjusting the color to more accurately refect skin tone.  This is not face recognition technology, which could be used for security, image search, and other data gathering and processing purposes.

OLED displays: Organic light emitting diode displays.  They are still small, and are far more expensive than the competing LCD, Plasma, and DLP display panel / TV technologies.  But their image looks amazingly clear and bright.

Contrast ratios; there seemed to be a lot more panel displays with 35,000:1 and higher contrast ratio.  The contrast ratio is the range of image brightness that the panel is able to display.  The range from the blackest black it can show to the whitest white.  Panasonic even showed one that they claimed could simulate 1,000,000:1, although to my eyes it was really closer to 35,000:1.

Wireless HD networks; there was a big push toward moving large amounts of content wirelessly within the home.  Unfortunately, there were multiple technologies on display and little convergence on interoperability.  I believe the Sony booth alone displayed three different technologies addressing three different specific applications.  This is an area where cooperation and convergence will be good for the industry and the consumer.

Price gouging continues; This year it cost $30 to park in the normally free parking structure at the Hilton.  Room rates were up to five times their normal rate.  It was big news on local TV in Las Vegas that CES is now threatening to move the show elsewhere if prices are not brought under control (New York, Orlando, and Chicago were mentioned).

My favorite gadget was the FairyFly by WowWee .  It is a robotic Fairy for children that flies in an upright position by flapping wings on its back.  WowWee has a full line of flying robots and other strange toys .

The Significance of Major Media’s Presence at CES

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

One significant development at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was the show floor booth presence of two major media companies; NBC/Universal and Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). 

NBC/Universal had their own booth dedicated to their network programs.  Booth staff gave away 2GB thumbdrives from SanDisk (an NBC/U strategic alliance partner) that could be filled with protected content selected and downloaded from many kiosks scattered throughout the booth. 

SPE had a large montage kiosk within the Sony Electronics booth illustrating the many devices that could receive Sony television programming; ex. phones, PSPs, computers, and TVs.  It also showed a bit of the interactivity associated with that content.

Why is this significant?  Many years ago there was a statement by a Studio head – I think it was Sumner Redstone but I cannot locate the reference – along the lines of ‘consumers don’t buy distribution channels.  They buy content.’ 

But as distribution methods proliferate in incompatible and competing products and services, studios are now seeing value in at least two things; 1) picking a limited number of distribution platforms for which they develop (including open platforms), so resources are appropriately balanced between creating new, rich entertainment experiences and accommodating platform differences, and 2) using the demand for their content to drive consumers to the distribution methods that best serve the studio’s creative and business needs.  Both of these came into play in the recent movement toward BluRay over HD DVD.

On the CE side, there is an emerging understanding that accommodating the needs of Hollywood could lead to more efficient, directed innovation that will accommodate a more creative and engaging consumer experience.  Or to put it another way, Hollywood has areas of expertise that complement those of the creative people in the CE industry.  It is in both party’s benefit to work together cooperatively. 

There is growing recognition that these two creative communities are better off working cooperatively together, whether it be in business partnerships or within divisions of the same company.

The Study of Innovation

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

Lately I have been researching the theory of innovation; how to recognize innovation and how stimulate it.  It has suddenly become a very hot topic in academic circles.  This is a good time to be looking into it – before it joins “paradigm shift”, “re-engineering”, “best of breed”, “disruptive”, and other terms that have become so overused as to be distanced from their original meaning.

The best definition I have found for innovation is ‘creativity that people want.’   

Someone who comes up with a new idea is considered to be creative.   But if the idea is left on a shelf (figuratively or literally), then it is throw-away cleverness.  

When someone takes the idea and implements it in a way that has impact for an audience beyond the creator’s immediate circle of friends and family, then it becomes an innovation.  Innovation is, at its essence, the adoption of creative ideas. 

Innovation can generate business opportunities; such as the exploitation of new patents or business models.  Innovation can lead to scientific breakthroughs; such as repurposing tomography research from the oil and medical industries to both industries’ benefit.  Innovation can have social impact; such as the micropayment movement lead by the Grameen Bank

The entrepreneur (and intrepreneur ) is at the end of this chain.  The entrepreneur  takes on the risk of developing the innovation into a new venture; for example forming and leading a business, research initiative, or social movement.

There are at least two approaches to stimulating creative thinking.  One person by him or herself, can recognize relationships between previously unrelated concepts.  This can be done informally (a la serendipity) or through a formalized process such as mental exercises.  Alternatively, a group of people, especially a group with a mixed set of skills and backgrounds, can brainstorm ideas and bounce them off each other, triggering new ideas and uncovering new relationships among the ideas. 

Innovation enters the process when the group asks how to actually put the creative ideas into practice.  How to make them real.  Innovation, in a sense, is brainstorming with a soft filter of practicality overlain on it.

Entrepreneurship enters the process when someone takes the innovation and builds a structure to support and propagate it.  

One area of research for those studying innovation is how to measure it.  Patents granted, awards received, number of people lifted out of poverty, etc. are one step removed from a metric for innovation itself.  They reflect area-specific results; business, science, social action, etc.  Perhaps that type of metric can be the raw data for a ‘general theory of innovation’ with an associated collection of meta-metrics.

Another area of research is how to recognize innovation – and innovators – in the early stages of the process; before the innovation and innovator has clearly emerged.  It may be that this area of inquiry will remain at the “I know it when I see it” stage.  It will be very interesting to watch as researchers develop creative tests that could lead to innovative methodologies for early detection. 

Then some entrepreneurs will make fortunes snapping up and building on the best ones.

Are tools and applications the new face of “art”?

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

  Is the future of art more in the creation of creativity tools than in the fixed expression of ideas developed using the tools?   For years consumers have been learning to use the tools; initially for word processing and business or lifestyle management, but increasingly for artistic self-expression and communication, competition, and community.  Niche communities of experts and helper/trainers have formed around these tools.  Some of the communities have broken through to become mass-market experiences.  Examples include the various online gaming communities, communities around digital scrapbooking, and of course the hacker communities.  In all of those cases, while the results of each individual’s effort is interesting, the draw is the tool or environment that can be explored, probed, and learned in minute detail.  The tool, rather than the product of the tool, is the object of study and engagement.

Think about flash mobs.  What a flash mob does, whether it is a planned meetup in an Abercrombie and Fitch store where the men take off their shirts, or a gathering at an intersection where everyone stomps their feet at an assigned time and then disperses, could be classified as performance art in the traditional sense.  But perhaps our ideas of what art is have morphed to the point where the creation and acceptance of the tool, its flexibility and its boundaries, are a more meaningful reflection of culture than the works that they enable.  Some academic musicians have been working in this area for years.  Their art is in creating the tools and environment for an audience to manipulate devices that emit sounds to create works of music.

So where does this leave Hollywood?  Well, there is still a huge audience for good storytelling, good traditional artwork, good looking people, etc.  Hollywood is still very good at identifying talent in these and other areas. 

But now there are potential bus dev and monetization opportunities in feeding these tools with quality creative assets.  Either directly, or thru a secondary market, the output of Hollywood could be sliced and diced to become the story arch templates, character personality design, sets, avatars, soundtracks and sound effects, etc. for these new tools.  One example of this approach from the gaming industry, the secondary market for objects in MMOG and virtual worlds, already has well-established players with profitable business models.  (Note that many of them are fully aware of the importance of protecting intellectual property and have developed effective mechanisms for inhibiting piracy from overwhelming their markets.) 

Hollywood and the music industry have been scratching the surface of this potential monetization opportunity via deals for the distribution of ringtones.  But there are a wealth of opportunities that have yet to be tested, and that could be tested in partnership with the tool developers to everyone’s mutual advantage.

Controlling piracy the consumer-friendly and artist-friendly way

Friday, December 28th, 2007

 A digital watermark is a small amount of data that is embedded in a known manner into digital video, audio, image, text, or other file type.  The mark is embedded in a manner that allows it to be detected, read, or extracted later when the file is accessed.  The more successful watermark technologies embed watermarks that are undetectable to most humans, yet can be still be detected by a digital processor after the file in which is resides has been manipulated and distorted to a point just short of being rendered useless for its original use.  The data in the watermark can be an instruction to do or to not do something.  If a watermark detector is present when the digital file is played or accessed, then the detector will read those instructions and pass the instructions on to the device it resides in.  If a watermark detector is not present when the digital file is played or accessed, then the watermark goes unnoticed.  It effects nothing.  The file is treated as if the watermark is not there at all.

Tools like watermarks and DRM have been demonized in part because they were deployed to trigger restrictions without offering a clear consumer benefit that outweighed the impact of those restrictions.  They were implemented as an antipiracy tool and in some cases also as a means to limit the way the content could be used.  Without a counteracting benefit, all consumers saw was a restriction to be counterbalanced by their own self-selected and self-administered desired benefits; which most often was the ability to move, copy, remix, and share the content.  With that purely negative consumer proposition that the content provider offered, the paying audience had no incentive to not remove the DRM or prevent the watermark application from working properly. 

But the same watermark technology that can trigger an application to not do something can also trigger an application to do something.  A watermark can trigger access to bonus material, admission to an online community, delivery of a discount coupon, and any number of value-added activities that a consumer might want.  If these benefits are valued by the consumer and are regularly updated, then for a measurable number of people the desire to access those benefits will outweigh the desire to disable the same watermark technology because it is triggering other, undesired actions.  If the balance is struck effectively, the audience will seek out the content with the watermark along with the devices that respond to the watermark, helping the value-add content sources and devices attract and retain an audience for traditional and additional monetization opportunities.

Up until recently, watermark technology vendors have been marketing their technology primarily to the antipiracy market because they thought that market was where the revenue opportunities were.  But more recently the broader view of watermark technology described above has begun to be pitched by a number of the leading vendors  and associations .  As content companies explore this value-balancing approach to content management, I predict that the revenue potential of legitimately distributed content will increase, and the battle over content protection will retreat from the forefront of the debate over the future of digital content, fair use, etc. and slide into the background noise of an emerging marketplace.