Archive for October, 2011

iPads in schools: ‘The last generation with backpacks’?

In survey, 16% of school tech directors expect to have 1 tablet per student within 5 years


Whether counting heads at the Apple Store or buttonholing cell phone users at the Mall of America, Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster is the master of the small survey that may or may not be significant.

His latest: A survey of 25 educational technology directors at a conference on integrating technology in the classroom. “While our sample is small,” he writes in a note to clients issued Monday, “so is the population of IT decision makers in the education field in the US.”

And what did he discover? Among his findings:

  • 100% were testing or deploying iPads in their schools. 0% were testing or deploying Android tablets
  • Their schools currently have an average of one computer for every 10 students
  • Nearly half (12) expect to eventually deploy one computer per child; two of their schools already do
  • More than a third (9) expect to deploy one tablet per child; one of them already does

Given the huge problems facing America’s schools, it’s a slender thread on which to base a vision of broad educational reform. (Munster quotes outgoing Apple retail chief Ron Johnson, who has suggested that the current crop of students might be “the last generation with backpacks.”)

But Munster is probably correct that the overwhelming preference for iPads over tablets running Google’s (GOOG) Android reflects the power of Apple’s (AAPL) first mover advantage. He writes:

“We also see a trend in education (which is mirrored in the enterprise) that familiarity with Apple devices among students (or employees) is causing a demand pull within institutions to also provide Apple devices.”

SOURCE:  http://tech.fortune.cnn.com

With Recent Deals, OTT Distributors’ Content Strategies Are Crystallizing

Amid the drama and headlines surrounding OTT distributors (e.g. Netflix price increases and Qwikster decision, on-again/off-again Hulu sale, etc.), these companies’ content strategies actually seem to be crystallizing, with each trying to stake out a somewhat distinct value proposition for their users. True, there is still plenty of blurriness between them, and each appears reluctant to be pigeon-holed, but recent deals suggest how each OTT distributor is positioning itself.

Below is a summary of the content strategies of most of the major OTT distributors (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, Walmart/VUDU, iTunes and Blockbuster) with a catchphrase that best describes their approach:

Netflix - “Rerun-TV, but please don’t call us that” – Earlier this year, when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was asked if he felt pressured by Netflix’s growing array of content deals, he half-jokingly replied, “What used to be called ‘reruns’ on television is now called Netflix.” At the time the comment seemed like it diminished Netflix, but eight months later it is quite accurate (in fact on last week’s earnings call Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said it wasn’t an unfair characterization, though he wouldn’t want to labeled this way). Netflix is increasingly about catalog serialized programs, picking up where traditional syndication left off; recently it obtained the rights to CW programs and today renewed Disney-ABC programs.  When the Starz deal expires in a few months the movies available on Netflix streaming will look even older and more obscure, the Dreamworks’ movies don’t appear until 2013 and originals like “House of Cards” are still a question mark. All that means Netflix’s deep catalog is increasingly going to define the streaming service.

Hulu - “Catch up on broadcast TV programs, no DVR required” – Just when you thought you mastered your DVR’s controls, Hulu is essentially saying “don’t bother.” After obtaining the rights to CW’s current season episodes last Friday, Hulu now has all the broadcast networks except CBS available. And if you want quicker/deeper access, Hulu Plus offers that too. Beyond broadcast, Hulu has also snagged some cable programs (most notably “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”), independent content (with surprising success in anime), and is also showcasing some of its own originals (e.g. Morgan Spurlock’s “A Day in the Life”). Hulu’s owners have decided to hang onto their stakes, rather than bank a short-term gain. Now the question is will Hulu get further resources to break out of its broadcast catch-up positioning?

Amazon - “Fired up to beat Netflix in streaming” – Amazon seems more serious than ever about being a streaming contender, and is employing a Netflix-like strategy for content acquisitions, recently signing up Fox, and today Disney-ABC, in a remarkably similar deal to one Netflix itself announced (so much for exclusivity!). I was critical of Amazon’s decision to include video in its Amazon Prime shipping service which reduced its visibility, but more recently the company’s decision to introduce the Kindle Fire “iPad killer” means that having great content is now a lot more important. Amazon has very deep pockets and could broaden its content acquisitions driving up prices for other OTT players.

YouTube - “Indies-R-Us” – Last Friday, YouTube finally announced the first batch of independently-created original programs, as part of its $100 million investment in higher-quality content. Under Google’s ownership, YouTube had already moved a long way from its UGC roots, but despite incessant rumors that it would become a bidder for Hollywood shows and movies, YouTube is instead trying to nurture its own content that it hopes will be appealing to major advertisers, as well as audiences. That’s not to say Google won’t be opportunistic; it reportedly dangled a $4 billion offer in front of Hulu’s owners in the recent auction, but was rebuffed due to aggressive demands. With more resources than anyone, Google can pursue any strategy it chooses to.

iTunes - “King of the non-subscription world” – Outside of subscriptions, the electronic sell-through (EST) and rental market has remained relatively small (my estimates here), but iTunes is clearly the king. iTunes benefits from its integration and branding with hundreds of millions of Apple devices, and so for the foreseeable future its dominance should remain unchallenged, with Microsoft Zune Video Marketplace and VUDU well behind it. With rumors of an Apple television circulating, it remains an open question whether Apple will at last pursue a subscription model to support this new device.

Walmart/VUDU - “Best access to HD movies and TV shows” – Under Walmart’s ownership, VUDU has stayed consistent, emphasizing 1080p HD movies concurrent with their DVD release and more recently TV shows, through a growing array of connected devices. Just like iTunes, VUDU is exclusively rent or own, with no subscriptions available. VUDU has begun to get leverage from Walmart through promotions like $.99 specials, which broadens its user base. With the subscription field so crowded, it’s hard to see VUDU going beyond its roots; rather it will benefit as DVDs diminish.

Blockbuster - “DVDs and streaming for DISH subscribers” – DISH cautiously introduced its new Blockbuster Movie Pass service, emphasizing DVD availability and some streaming, but making it available solely for DISH subscribers. No doubt it will be untethered soon enough, colliding with Netflix and Amazon, but only if DISH is willing to spend aggressively to gain more content.

Beyond these OTT distributors, it’s also worth noting what’s happening in the traditional pay-TV ecosystem. The premium networks, HBO, Showtime and Starz all seem committed to their pay-TV partners, not allowing their content to leak out onto OTT streaming services (though DVD is OK). HBO has taken the lead with its HBO GO app, which Showtime and Starz are expected to mimic shortly. EPIX, with limited pay-TV distribution has been the only premium network to make an OTT deal, with Netflix. Movie output deals are still important in the premium category, but original series increasingly define their brands.

Last but not least, pay-TV operators themselves continue to roll out VOD services and more recently TV Everywhere. Lacking a robust ad insertion capability, VOD viewing remains strongest for content from premium networks. TV Everywhere continues to be deployed, but faces 5 big challenges as I recently wrote. More broadly, the question remains whether pay-TV services might eventually spend more aggressively and/or demand under their retransmission consent agreements exclusive streaming rights to both broadcast and cable programming, putting the squeeze on all the OTT distributors.

Although the landscape remains very fluid, when you cut through the noise, each OTT distributor appears to be settling on its own content direction.

article by Will Richmond videonuze.com

Walter Murch on the demise of FCP

Chris Portal attended the Boston Supermeet of the Final Cut Pro Users and reports:

Walter Murch, a long time Final Cut Pro user, and editor of Apocalypse Now, The Godfather Part III, The English Patient, Cold Mountain, Tetro, among many other films, headlined the Boston Supermeet on Thursday October 27, 2011. It marked his first public appearance since the launch of Final Cut Pro X.

Hemingway & Gellhorn is his latest project for HBO, and is edited on Final Cut Pro 7. The film is a celebration of the tactility of film, yet a film that wouldn’t have been possible without the digitization of film. It uses archive material existing on a wide variety of film mediums, all with different grain sizes, in which actors are dropped in digitally, while trying to preserve the grain of the original element. The film takes you on a roller coaster ride diving in and out of this world, going into the grain and sprockets, and out into the digital world.

His Final Cut Pro project consisted of 22 video tracks and 50 audio tracks, combining sound elements ranging from 8 tracks of dialogue, to 24 tracks of mono and stereo sound effects with and without low frequency enhancements (LFE)!!

Another piece of the workflow was the integration of Filemaker Pro, which he uses to gain a different insight into his film. Using a dependency diagram of sorts, he associates every shot to a specific scene, what music and effects should belong to it, etc. It’s not a time line in any way, but more a view of all the relationships between your media assets.

As far as other equipment Walter used on the project, he used 2 Arri Alexas, outputting to codex materials. The codex downloaded into a ProRes 1280 LT, DPX “negative” (to do the final color timing), and H.264 with internet via PIX (to share assemblies with HBO). There were 5 editing stations, using an XSAN with 28 TB on XRaid running XServe.

There were 1862 shots in the finished film:

  • 482 visually manipulated
  • 227 visual effects
  • 255 repositioned or blown up

While there used to be a rule of not blowing up an image beyond 120% to avoid introducing noise and grain, with the Alexa footage, he was able to take the film and blow it up 240% without being noticeable.

He used FCP7, which he acknowledged may be the last time he uses Final Cut Pro. He considers many professionals to be at a juncture where we need to come to terms with what the software can do in the time the film is being developed.

Walter was in Cupertino when Final Cut Pro X was first dangled in front of a few editors. It was a beta version, and Apple highlighted things like 64 bit support. After that initial exposure to FCPX, he dove into making a film, and it wasn’t until June when FCPX was published that he revisited it. He quickly looked at it, and said he couldn’t use it, wondering where the “Pro” had gone. It didn’t have XML support which he depended on, the ability to share projects on a raid with people, etc. He was confused and wondered what was happening.

He wrote Apple a letter asking what was behind everything that was happening, especially since they had end-of-lifed the current version, as well as a list of things he needed. Like a report card children often get, without XML, Walter explained to Apple that FCPX “did not play well with others”. The lack of tracks was another killer for him. While he doesn’t really need to work with 50 tracks, he does need to leverage the ability to selectively raise or lower the levels very specifically.

Walter sees there having been a shift at Apple over the last 10 years. They have benefited from the professional market, and we all have made a lot of noise about Apple, but starting with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Apple has broadened out into a mass-market creature, wanting to democratize capabilities even further.

While Walter is encouraged by the updated FCPX version last month, he hasn’t used it on any real work yet, so he is cautiously optimistic (and still traumatized he says). “Do they love us? No…I know they like us….but they keep saying they love us??”

Things wrapped up with a Q&A, mostly comprised of questions attendees had submitted that evening prior to his talk. A few interesting ones were:

Q: When is it time to walk away from the work?

A: ”When you see dailies, that is the only time you are seeing the images for the first time. There will be no other time for a first. It is the closest you can get to experiencing what the audience will experience. It’s a precious moment. I will sit and watch the dailies in the dark, holding a computer where I’ll type anything the image makes me feel or think, in order to preserve that first moment. Doing so will help clear the fog down the road when you’re feeling you’re getting lost.”

Q: How do you know if a scene works or doesn’t?

A: ”A scene may work on its own, but not in the context of the movie. It can be very dangerous to preemptively strike a scene from a film before you’ve seen the entire film. You can say you don’t agree with where the scene is going, but you don’t know if in the larger picture it may still have a shot.”

Q: Is there one piece of advice you can impart to sound designers?

A: ”Always go farther than you think you can go. Try to bend the literalness. Literalness doesn’t light the fire in the audiences mind. Levitate the film. Ignite the imagination.”

Q: Thoughts on 3D?

A: ”In 2D, your eyes focus on the plane of the screen while they converge towards the plan of the screen, but when you have something coming out of the screen in 3D, you not only need to focus on the screen, but you also need to converge on the detail protruding out of the screen. The mind can do it, but we’re not programmed for it. It requires processing many frames before your mind figures it out, and by then you’ve missed information. It’s analogous to the moment when the fan on your computer starts up.”

Q: If you didn’t use FCP, where would you go?

A: “I’ve used Avid in the past, so I know it well. There are some very good things that Avid has, but I’m also curious about Premiere since I’m interested in technology.”

YouTube Announces Channel Lineup

There’s a lot of last-minute scrambling among the channels poised to join Google’s potentially revolutionary initiative featuring professionally produced videos — which kicks off in earnest in just a few weeks. Several execs say they still don’t know exactly what they’ll show, when they’ll debut, and how much promotional help they’ll receive from YouTube. But one thing’s becoming clear: The initial wave of services out of the 96 picked to receive investments from YouTube will be loaded with material either from or about celebrities. That’s not part of a master plan; a lot of Web video producers already focus on pop culture and can gear up new channels in a hurry. The group includes Madonna’s DanceOn, which has been on YouTube since late 2010; it will reintroduce itself in January after it revamps its interface and programming. It plans 10 series including scripted shows, competitions, and tutorials but says it’s still figuring out when each will begin to appear. A different kind of celeb, skateboarder Tony Hawk, also is expected to have his action sports oriented Ride Channel ready next month.

When it comes to services about entertainment, some execs tell me that they’re curious to see what happens with Young Hollywood Network, which launches on January 16. It plans to have five weekly shows featuring interviews with stars and moguls including some conducted at the company’s studio in the Four Seasons Hotel. ENTV from Deadline parent PMC in a partnership with ION will focus on breaking entertainment news with frequent daily updates beginning January 16. The channel also plans a weekly show with TVLine Editor-In-Chief Michael Ausiello, a daily celebrity news chat with Hollywood Life Editor-In-Chief Bonnie Fuller, as well as a show that rounds up some of the day’s best clips from the YouTube channels. Joining the entertainment news sites sometime in late January will be Clevver News, which will have as many as nine original episodes a day including the daily Radar Latinocovering Spanish-language news and celebs. Most programs will only last a few minutes. “That’s been a real challenge: What’s a YouTube viewer willing to watch?” says Clevver Media Co-Founder Michael Palmer. “A lot of people watch YouTube at work or while they’re waiting in line. We’re playing around with time.”

Wonderful things happen when cool technology meets great entertainment. Cable television expanded our viewing possibilities from just a handful of channels to hundreds, and brought us some of the most defining media experiences of the last few decades– think MTV, ESPN and CNN. Today, the web is bringing us entertainment from an even wider range of talented producers, and many of the defining channels of the next generation are being born, and watched, on YouTube.

Today we’re announcing that even more talented creators and original entertainment will soon join YouTube’s existing channel lineup, including channels created by well-known personalities and content producers from the TV, film, music, news, and sports fields, as well as some of the most innovative up-and-coming media companies in the world and some of YouTube’s own existing partners. These channels will have something for everyone, whether you’re a mom, a comedy fan, a sports nut, a music lover or a pop-culture maven.

Our goal with this channels expansion, along with the grants and educational programs we’ve launched in the past year, is to bring an even broader range of entertainment to YouTube, giving you more reasons to keep coming back again and again. And for advertisers, these channels will represent a new way to engage and reach their global consumers.

The first of these new original channels will appear on YouTube starting next month and continuing over the next year. They’ll be available to you on any internet-connected device, anywhere in the world, with all the interactivity and social features of YouTube built right in.

For a sneak peak, check out the list of partners and channels below.

Alchemy Networks, Alchemy Networks
Alli Sports, Alli Sports
Bedrocket Media Ventures, Official Comedy
Bedrocket Media Ventures and Full Picture Productions, Look TV
Bedrocket Media Ventures & Wasserman Media Group, Network A
BermanBraun, theLOGE
BermanBraun & Rodale Inc., Vigor
BermanBraun & Rodale Inc., Taste
Big Frame, BAM
Black Box TV, Black Box TV (Anthony E. Zuiker, Tony E. Valenzuela, and Collective Digital Studio)
Bleacher Report, Bleacher Report
Brady Haran, DeepSkyVideos
Brady Haran, numberphile
CafeMom, CafeMom Studios
Chopra Media/Generate, The Chopra Well
Clevver Media, ClevverStyle
Clevver Media, ClevverNews
Clevver Media, ClevverTeVe
Comedy Shaq Network, The Comedy Shaq Network
Cooking Up a Story, Food Farmer Earth
DanceOn, DanceOn
DECA, KinCommunity
Demand Media, eHow Home
Demand Media, LIVESTRONG
Demand Media, eHow Pets & Animals
Digital Broadcasting Group (DBG), Spaces
East of Center Productions LLC, YOMYOMF
Electus, Pop Culture Channel (name TBD)
Electus NuevOn, Latin Channel
Electus, Food Channel (name TBD)
Emil Rensing International, Auto Channel (name TBD)
EQAL, u look haute!
Everyday Health, Inc., Everyday Health TV
EYEBOOGIE, POP SPOT
FAWN by Michelle Phan
Fine Brothers Productions, MyMusic
Frederator Networks, Channel Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover
FremantleMedia Channel, Pets & Animal (name TBD)
Hearst Magazines, Fashion & Beauty Channel (name TBD)
Hearst Magazines, Car and Driver Television
Iconic, Life and Times
IconicTV, 123UnoDosTres
IconicTV, myISH
IGN Entertainment / Shine Group, START
Intelligent Television, Intelligent Channel
Jon M. Chu, Dance Channel (name TBD)
Katalyst, Thrash Lab
Knights of Good Productions, Geek & Sundry (with Felicia Day)
Lionsgate, Lionsgate Fitness Channel
Machinima, Machinima
Magical Elves and InStyle magazine, Little Black Dress
Maker Studios, The Maker Music Network
Maker Studios, The Moms’ View
Maker Studios, Tutele
Meredith Corporation and Meredith Video Studios, Digs
ModernMom, ModernMom Channel
Mondo Media, New Animators
monotransistor, werevertumorro
My Damn Channel, My Damn Channel: Live
New Nation Networks, New Nation Networks
Pharrell Williams, i am OTHER
Philip Defranco, Sourcefed
Pitchfork, Pitchfork TV
PMC, PMC Entertainment News
Radical Media, Education Channel (name TBD)
Red Bull Media House North America, Red Bull
Roadside Entertainment/BAC, The NOC
SB Nation, SB Nation
Seedwell, American Hipster
Slate, Slate News Channel
Smart Girls at the Party, Smart Girls at the Party
Smosh/Alloy Digital, Smosh Animation
Soccer United Marketing & Bedrocket, KickTV
SoulPancake Productions, SoulPancake
Source Interlink Media, Motor Trend
Steve Spangler Science, The Spangler Effect
TakePart™, TakePart™ TV
TED Conferences, TEDEducation
The Bowery Presents, The Bowery Presents
The Nerdist Channel, The Nerdist Channel
The Onion, Onion Broadcasting Company
The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal
The Young Turks, Town Square
Thomson Reuters, Reuters.com
Tony Hawk’s production company, 900 Films, Inc., RIDE Channel
Uncommon Content Partners, The Conversation Channel
Uncommon Content Partners, Taste & Access
Varsity Pictures, Awesomeness
VICE, VICE
VICE, Noisey
Vlogbrothers, CrashCourse
Vlogbrothers, SciShow
Vuguru & POW! Entertainment, Stan Lee’s World of Heroes
Walter Latham Digital, Walter Latham’s “Kings of Comedy”
WWE, WWE Fan Nation
Young Hollywood, Young Hollywood Network

Veteran Hollywood Camera House Says Goodbye to Film

Birns & Sawyer, the oldest movie camera rental shop in Hollywood, made history last week when it auctioned off its entire remaining inventory of 16- and 35-mm film cameras.

Owner and cinematographer Bill Meurer said he didn’t want to part with the cameras, but had little choice as the entertainment industry has largely gone digital. “People aren’t renting out film cameras in sufficient numbers to justify retaining them,’’ Meurer said in an interview at his North Hollywood warehouse, where he  rents out cameras, lenses, lighting equipment and grip trucks. “Initially, I felt nostalgic, but 95% of our business is digital. We’re responding to the market.”

The auction underscores just how rapidly Hollywood is transitioning to digital. Theater chains are increasingly converting their multiplexes to digital projectors because studios are soon expected to stop releasing film prints altogether. And major camera manufacturers such as Arri and Panavision have for now halted production of new film cameras (although they are still doing upgrades on film equipment).

Today, virtually all television production and about one-third of all feature films are being shot digitally.
The auction at Birns & Sawyer marks another milestone because the shop has been a fixture in Hollywood since its founding in 1954 by Life photographer and war correspondent Jack Birns and fellow Korean War veteran Cliff Sawyer. Within a few years, it began renting equipment used on such movies as “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Easy Rider” and the Steve McQueen classic “Bullitt.”

Meurer, a former cinematographer and gaffer, acquired Birns & Sawyer in 1998, merging it with his lighting and camera rental business.

Like other camera equipment suppliers such as Panavision, Birns was hard hit by the sharp fall off in the demand for film cameras and equipment. The shift to digital accelerated rapidly in 2008 when labor unrest within the Screen Actors Guild prompted a number of producers to sign deals with its sister union, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. AFTRA traditionally represented shows shot on video rather than film.

Company sales have plummeted to $5 million from a peak of about $10 million a year in 2006, Meurer said. To cut costs, Birns & Sawyer consolidated its operations, leaving a second 9,000-square-foot office space it had leased in Hollywood.

Still, unlike other service providers that have fallen by the wayside, Birns & Sawyer has survived by adapting. It was among the first camera rental houses to offer digital video cameras from Sony and Panasonic in 2000. The company also manufactures camera shoulder supports, matte boxes, lens mounts and other products that have helped to diversify its business.

In last week’s auction, Meurer sold 15 film cameras, used on such movies as “Anaconda,” “Silver City” and the original “X-Men,” to other cinematographers and camera houses. The equipment sold for $225,000 — only about a quarter of its original value.

But Meurer said he was happy with the outcome, adding that proceeds will help his company complete its digital transition.

“It was a little bit upsetting for some of the employees with the prestige of losing our film cameras,’’ he said. “But it gives us the ability to buy all these new 35-mm lenses that can be used for digital cameras.”

source: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com

Apple iCloud vs. UltraViolet

Apple is working on a cloud service for movies that is set to launch late this year or in 2012, the LA Times reported.

Apple has been meeting with studio executives and is looking to finalize agreements that would allow consumers to  buy films via Apple’s iTunes and access them on any Apple device via its iCloud online locker, it said.

The news comes after Tuesday’s launch of the UltraViolet cloud service, for which Wall Street has a mixed outlook, with the home entertainment release of Warner Bros.’ Horrible Bosses.

Since Apple is not currently part of the consortium of studios, electronics makers and online distributors that launched UltraViolet, the company is considering allowing consumers who buy UltraViolet-enabled film to watch them more easily on Apple devices via apps, the Times said. BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield has said Apple’s lack of participation is a key hurdle for UltraViolet’s success.

Importantly though, movies bought on iTunes would continue to only work on Apple devices as Apple wants to keep encouraging consumers to buy its devices, the Times highlighted.

source: hollywoodreporter.com

The End of the Line for Film Cameras

While the debate has raged over whether or not film is dead, ARRIPanavision and Aaton have quietly ceased production of film cameras within the last year to focus exclusively on design and manufacture of digital cameras. That’s right: someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.

“The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared,” says ARRI VP of Cameras, Bill Russell, who notes that the company has only built film cameras on demand since 2009. “There are still some markets–not in the U.S.–where film cameras are still sold, but those numbers are far fewer than they used to be. If you talk to the people in camera rentals, the amount of film camera utilization in the overall schedule is probably between 30 to 40 percent.”

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Mary Pickford on the beach about 1916 with film movie camera

At New York City rental house AbelCine, Director of Business Development/Strategic Relationships Moe Shore says the company rents mostly digital cameras at this point. “Film isn’t dead, but it’s becoming less of a choice,” he says. “It’s a number of factors all moving in one direction, an inexorable march of digital progress that may be driven more by cell phones and consumer cameras than the motion picture industry.”

Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala notes why. “Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world?” he says. “We wouldn’t survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera.”

Beauviala believes that that stereoscopic 3D has “accelerated the demise of film.” He says, “It’s a nightmare to synchronize two film cameras.” Three years ago, Aaton introduced a new 35mm film camera, Penelope, but sold only 50 to 60 of them. As a result, Beauviala turned to creating a digital Penelope, which will be on the market by NAB 2012. “It’s a 4K camera and very, very quiet,” he tells us. “We tried to give a digital camera the same ease of handling as the film camera.”

Panavision is also hard at work on a new digital camera, says Phil Radin, Executive VP, Worldwide Marketing, who notes that Panavision built its last 35mm Millennium XL camera in the winter of 2009, although the company continues an “active program of upgrading and retrofitting of our 35mm camera fleet on a ongoing basis.”

“I would have to say that the pulse [of film] was weakened and it’s an appropriate time,” Radin remarks. “We are not making film cameras.” He notes that the creative industry is reveling in the choices available. “I believe people in the industry love the idea of having all these various formats available to them,” he says. “We have shows shooting with RED Epics, ARRI Alexas, Panavision Genesis and even the older Sony F-900 cameras. We also have shows shooting 35mm and a combination of 35mm and 65mm. It’s a potpourri of imaging tools now available that have never existed before, and an exciting time for cinematographers who like the idea of having a lot of tools at their disposal to create different tools and looks.”

Do camera manufacturers believe film will disappear? “Eventually it will,” says ARRI’s Russell. “In two or three years, it could be 85 percent digital and 15 percent film. But the date of the complete disappearance of film? No one knows.”

From Radin’s point of view, the question of when film will die, “Can only be answered by Kodak and Fuji. Film will be around as long as Kodak and Fuji believe they can make money at it,” he says.

FILM PRINTS GO UP IN SMOKE
Neither Kodak nor Fuji have made noises about the end of film stock manufacture, but there are plenty of signs that making film stock has become ever less profitable. The need for film release prints has plummeted in the last year and, in an unprecedented move, Deluxe Entertainment Services Group and Technicolor–both of which have been in the film business for nearly 100 years–essentially divvied up the dwindling business of film printing and distribution.

Couched in legalese of mutual “subcontracting” deals, the bottom line is that Deluxe will now handle all of Technicolor’s 35mm bulk release print distribution business in North America. Technicolor, meanwhile, will handle Deluxe’s 35mm print distribution business in the U.S. and Deluxe’s 35mm/16mm color negative processing business in London, as well as film printing in Thailand. In the wake of these agreements, Technicolor shut its North Hollywood and Montreal film labs and moved its 65mm/70mm print business to its Glendale, California, facility; and Deluxe ended its 35mm/16mm negative processing service at two facilities in the U.K.

“It’s a stunning development,” says International Cinematographer Guild President Steven Poster, ASC. “We’ve been waiting for it as far back as 2001. I think we’ve reached a kind of tipping point on the acquisition side and, now, there’s a tipping point on the exhibition side.”

“From the lab side, obviously film as a distribution medium is changing from the physical print world to file-based delivery and Digital Cinema,” says Deluxe Digital Media Executive VP/General Manager Gray Ainsworth. “The big factories are absolutely in decline. Part of the planning for this has been significant investments and acquisitions to bolster the non-photochemical lab part of our business. We’re developing ourselves to be content stewards, from the beginning with on-set solutions all the way downstream to distribution and archiving.” Deluxe did exactly that with the 2010 purchase of the Ascent Media post production conglomerate.

Technicolor has also been busy expanding into other areas of the motion picture/TV business, with the purchase of Hollywood post house LaserPacific and a franchise licensing agreement with PostWorks New York. Technicolor also acquired Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp., expanding their North America footprint in Digital Cinema connectivity to 90 percent. “We have been planning our transition from film to digital, which is why you see our increased investments and clear growth in visual effects and animation, and 2D-to-3D conversion,” says Technicolor’s Ouri. “We know one day film won’t be around. We continue to invest meaningfully in digital and R&D.”

DIGITAL: AN “OVERNIGHT SUCCESS”
Although recent events–the end of film camera manufacturing and the swan dive of the film distribution business–makes it appear that digital is an overnight success, nothing could be further from the truth. Digital first arrived with the advent of computer-based editing systems more than 20 years ago, and industry people immediately began talking about the death of film. “The first time I heard film was dead was in 1972 at a TV station with videotape,” says Poster, ASC. “He said, give it a year or two.”

Videotape did overtake film in the TV station, but, in the early 1990s, with the first stirrings of High Definition video, the “film is dead” mantra arose again. Laurence Thorpe, who was involved in the early days of HD cameras at Sony, recalls the drumbeat. “In the 1990s, there were a lot of folks saying that digital has come a long way and seems to be unstoppable,” he says.

The portion of the film ecosystem that has managed the most complete transition to digital is post-production.

According to Technicolor Chief Marketing Officer Ouri, over 90 percent of films are finished with digital intermediates.

But the path to digital domination has also taken place in a world of Hollywood politics and economics. A near-strike by Screen Actors Guild actors, the Japanese tsunami and dramatic changes in the business of theater exhibition have all contributed to the ebbing fortunes of film. Under pressure, any weakness or break in the disciplines that form the art and science of film–from film schools to film laboratories–could spell the final demise of a medium that has endured and thrived for over 100 years.

Two Icons of Film above Technicolor’s new Hollywood H.Q. and below Kodak’s Rochester H.Q. built in 1914

THREE STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT?
Until 2008, the bulk of TV productions and all feature films took place under SAG jurisdiction, which covers actors in filmed productions. In the months leading up to the Screen Actor Guild’s 2008 contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, SAG leadership balked on several elements, including the new media provisions of the proposed contract. Negotiations stalemated. Not so with AFTRA, the union that covers actors in videotaped (including HD) productions, which inked its own separate agreement with AMPTP.

“When producers realized they could go with AFTRA contracts, but they now had to record digitally, they switched almost overnight,” recalls Poster. Whereas, in previous seasons, 90 percent of the TV pilots were filmed, and under SAG jurisdiction, in one fell swoop the 2009 pilot season went digital video, capturing 90 percent of the pilots. In a single season, the use of film in primetime TV nearly completely vanished, never to return.

The Japanese tsunami on March 11, 2011, further pushed TV production into the digital realm. Up until then, TV productions were largely mastered to Sony’s high-resolution HD SR tape, but the sole plant that made the tape, located in the northern city of Sendai, was heavily damaged and ceased operation for several months. With only two weeks worth of tape still available, TV producers scrambled to come up with a workaround, leading at least some of them to switch to a tapeless delivery, another step into the future of an all-digital ecosystem.

The third, and perhaps most devastating blow to film, comes from the increased penetration of Digital Cinema. According to Patrick Corcoran, National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) Director of Media & Research/California Operations Chief, at the end of July 2011, “We passed the 50 percent mark in terms of digital screens in the U.S. We’ve been adding screens at a fast clip this year, 700 to 750 a month,” he says.

He notes that the turning point was the creation of the virtual print fee, which allows NATO members to recoup the investment they have to make to upgrade to digital cinema. (Studios, meanwhile, save $1 billion a year for the costs of making and shipping release prints.)

To take advantage of the virtual print fee, theater owners will have to transition screens to digital by the beginning of 2013. “Sometime, in 2013, all the screens will be digital,” says Corcoran. “As the number of digital screens increase, it won’t make economic sense for the studios to make and ship film prints. It’ll be absolutely necessary to switch to Digital Cinema to survive.”

REINVENTING THE FILM LAB

Can the continued production of film stock survive the twin disappearance of film acquisition and distribution? Veteran industry executive Rob Hummel, currently president of Group 47, recalls when, as head of production operations, he was negotiating the Kodak deal for DreamWorks Studios. “At the time, the Kodak representative told me that motion pictures was 6 percent of their worldwide capacity and 7 percent of their revenues,” he recalls. “The rest was snapshots. In 2008 motion pictures was 92 percent of their business and the actual volume hasn’t grown. The other business has just disappeared.”

Eastman Kodak, Chris Johnson, Director of New Business Development, Entertainment Imaging, counters that “I don’t see a time when Kodak stops making film stock,” noting the year-on-year growth in 65mm film and popularity of Super 8mm. “We still make billions of linear feet of film,” he says. “Over the horizon as far as we can see, we’ll be making billions of feet of film.”

Yet, as Johnson’s title indicates, Kodak is hedging its bets by looking for new areas of growth. One focus is on digital asset management via leveraging its Pro-Tek Vaults for digital, says Johnson, and another is investigating “asset protection film,” a less expensive film medium that provides a 50 to 100 year longevity at a lower price point that B&W separation film.

Kodak has also developed a laser-based 3D digital cinema projector. “Our system will give much brighter 3D images because we’re using lasers for the light source,” says Johnson. “And the costs of long-term ownership is much less expensive because the lasers last longer than the light sources for other projectors.”

STORING FOR THE FUTURE

As more than 1 million feet of un-transferred nitrate film worldwide demonstrates, archiving doesn’t get top billing in Hollywood. Although the value of archived material is unarguable, positioned at the end of the life cycle of a production, archivists have unfortunately had a relatively weak voice in the discussion over transitioning from film to digital.

Since the “film is dead” debate began, archivists fought to keep elements on film, the only medium that has proven to last well over 100 years. “Most responsible archivists in the industry still believe today that, if you can at all do it, you should still stick it on celluloid and put it in a cold, dry place, because the last 100 years has been the story of nitrate and celluloid,” says Deluxe’s Ainsworth.

He jokes that if the world’s best physicists brought a gizmo to an archivist that they said would hold film for 100 years, the archivist would say, “Fine, come back in 99 years.” “With the plethora of digital files, formats and technologies–some of which still exist and some of which don’t–we’re running into problems with digital files made only five years ago,” he adds.

At Sony Pictures Entertainment, Grover Crisp, Executive VP of Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering, notes that “Although it’s a new environment and everyone is feeling their way through, what’s important is to not throw out the traditional sensibilities of what preservation is and means.
“We still make B&W separations on our productions, now directly from the data,” he says. “That’s been going on for decades and has not stopped. Eventually it will be all digital, somewhere down the road, but following a strict conservation approach certainly makes sense.”

Crisp pushes for a dual, hybrid approach. “You need to make sure you’re preserving your data as data and your film as film,” he says. “And since there’s a crossover, you need to do both.” LTO tape, currently the digital storage medium of choice, is backwards compatible only two generations, which means that careful migration is a fact of life–for now at least–in a digital age. “The danger of losing media is especially high for documentaries and indie productions,” says Crisp.

Hummel and his partners at Group 47, meanwhile, believe they have the solution. His company bought the patents for a digital archival medium developed by Kodak: Digital Optical Tape System (DOTS). “It’s a metal alloy system that requires no more storage than a book on a shelf,” says Hummel, who reports that Carnegie Mellon University did accelerated life testing to 97 years.

THE DEATH OF FILM REDUX
“Though reports of its imminent death have been exaggerated, more industry observers than before accept the end of film. “In 100 years, yes,” says AbelCine’s Shore. “In ten years, I think we’ll still have film cameras. So somewhere between 10 and 100 years.”

Film camera manufacturers have walked a tightrope, ceasing unprofitable manufacture of film cameras at the same time that they continue to serve the film market by making cameras on demand and upgrading existing ones. But they–as well as film labs and film stock manufacturers–clearly see the future as digital and are acting accordingly.

Will film die? Seen in one way, it never will: our cinematic history exists on celluloid and as long as there are viable film cameras and film, someone will be shooting it. Seen another way, film is already dead…what we see today is the after-life of a medium that has become increasingly marginalized in production and distribution of films and TV. Just as the last film camera was sold without headlines or fireworks, the end of film as a significant production and distribution medium will, one day soon, arrive, without fanfare.

source: CreativeCow.net

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