In his book The
, social scientist Malcolm
Gladwell outlines how a few small and seemingly disconnected changes can work
together to eventually create a huge effect in a marketplace.
believe there is growing evidence that film and television are heading toward a
tipping point of major change that is being fueled by emerging consumer
distribution technologies. Because much of the power associated with content
creation is linked to distribution platforms, changes in these platforms open
avenues for new content creators. Unlike traditional broadcast or theatrical
distribution, these technologies can be adopted by consumers more rapidly and
enable content of higher quality. Specifically, there are three new emerging
areas that producers should begin to explore as they plan for future-proofing
and competitive advantages in the next era of the distribution landscape.
The three emerging areas are:
UHD: Ultra High Definition displays, which have a
resolution of approximately 4K.
HDR: High Dynamic Range, which simultaneously shows
the darkest blacks and brightness levels capable of being 10 times brighter
than previous displays/projection.
WCG: Wide Color Gamut, which shows a significantly
broader array of realistic colors than possible within digital cinema
projection or high definition.
As of today, no distributor
has mandated that you need to master content using all three of those formats.
Some have required one or two, but over the next 36 months, you will see a few
production and distribution leaders that will require mastering in all three of
these specifications. Not only will this improve the future-proof appeal of
these projects, but they will visually appear much more vivid and realistic,
which will contribute to shifting the balance of power away from incumbent
Since UHD is relatively new, and many people
haven’t even seen HDR or WCG material yet, you might be asking yourself just
how significant these specs really are. At Light Iron, we recently conducted a
focus group to show these display technologies to some people who also had
never seen them before. We recorded this focus group and published the video,
which you can view on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/lightiron/focusgroup).
The first thing people
ask when they hear about this test is, "What was the most significant thing you
discovered?” The answer might surprise you!
The most common reaction from the focus group participants was a genuine
expression of joy. You could see how
happy they were by the looks on their faces as they watched UHD/HDR/WCG
content, and you could hear their excitement in the comments afterward. If you
knew that there were three technical improvements you could make to your next
project that would bring that kind of joy to your audience, would you do it?
Obviously, there are many creative factors that
you already balance to engage with audiences: script, director, cast, crew,
production design, etc. But in the same way that producers have to consider
budget and scheduling to maximize all those elements, considering an advanced
form of the mastering and exhibition platforms alongside creative elements can
make a big difference. I call the approach of combining technical superiority
with creativity— "technative.”
For the focus group
experiment, we deliberately recruited film students as our test subjects,
because presumably they will be the content creators of the future. We
hypothesized that if we could determine their preferences toward UHD, HDR, and
WCG, then we could predict how they would be inspired to use these tools to
create tomorrow’s movies and tv shows.
After demonstrating the
same high quality content in HD followed by UHD, we finally showed the same
content on a new OLED display that was capable of UHD, HDR and WCG. Their
reactions were uninhibitedly positive, with comments such as "really amazing,”
"true colors,” "true black,” "more realistic,” and "super bright whites.” One
participant noted this consumer TV meant for the home had a "cinematic quality
where you’re sort of watching the image in a magical way.”
Nearly all participants raised their hands when
asked if they would be willing to pay more for the UHD/HDR/WCG display. This
is, of course, what consumer electronics manufacturers are after each time they
develop next-gen TVs. It’s natural to get frustrated by the way manufacturers’
sales goals affect the content creation industry, like the tail wagging the
dog, but there is a real opportunity to get excited by the way viewers respond
to these new technologies. Why not have their enthusiastic reactions be
experienced while watching the shows you produced?
There’s a sobering truth
that just a few years ago our professional acquisition and mastering tools were
significantly more advanced than the displays on which audiences consumed
content at home. For example, when when we shot exclusively on film, consumers
didn’t have 35mm projectors at home, so the TV experience was a significant
downsample. As optical discs and HD TVs developed, Blu-ray eventually bridged
much of that gap. But now, with UHD and HDR TVs being almost the exclusive
buying options at any given Best Buy, consumers have the opportunity for a
visual experience that is actually better than the specs in which 98% of content is
being mastered or even, in some cases, acquired.
It’s safe to assume that audiences will
continue to become more accustomed to higher quality images in the home and
that tomorrow’s filmmakers will become more accustomed to creating content with
these higher quality specs. Because of this foreseeable pattern, distributors
who recognize how to leverage the benefits of UHD, HDR and WCG have the unique
opportunity for maximum impact. Unfortunately this isn’t easily adopted by
exhibitors with large infrastructure, such as theaters or traditional
broadcasters, which would require massive worldwide hardware upgrades.
In contrast, it’s relatively easy for OTT
companies to upgrade their delivery services without any hardware as bandwidth
increases and compression options improve. This means that Amazon, Netflix,
Google, Hulu, iTunes and related distributers are primed to take over the power
and influence previously held by the major and mini-major distributors.
Michael Cioni has supervised the post
production workflows on hundreds of
productions, including "Gone Girl",
"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", "Transparent"
and "Baskets". Following Light Iron's
Acquisition by Panavision, Michael
led the development of the new 8k
Millenium DCL camera.
Don’t believe me? Let’s go back to Malcolm
Gladwell’s concept of the "tipping point.” Consider the music industry. If you
had asked Sam Goody or Tower Records about their top threat 12 years ago, they
would never have listed Apple. That’s
because the iPod didn’t take over the music sales industry in a vacuum. Apple
leveraged an environment created by the rise of early T1 internet lines at
universities and the Napster-fueled rise in popularity of on-demand access to
single songs to develop and promote a product that spread like wildfire.
Or think about a more recent example. Remember
three years ago when you’d never heard of Über and now everybody uses it? Here in Los
Angeles, people who never took taxis before can’t seem to live without Über. How does something like that happen so fast?
It’s because Über leveraged the rise of smart phones, the
consumer trickle down of military-created GPS technology, cloud-based mapping
technologies and the convenience of app stores to become a nearly overnight
concludes in his book that we are creatures of graduation. That is, we prefer
things to change gradually over time. But technology is governed by a much
faster cadence than most of us are accustomed to. Based on this predictable
cadence, our industry is poised for a dramatic shift over the next three to
five years. As OTT companies leverage audiences’ interest in higher quality
displays, they will become the predominant distribution platforms, further
increasing the demand for UHD/HDR/WCG content—even on mobile devices. As an
informed producer, you have the opportunity to monetize your content well into
the future by not only adopting these technical specs today, but being a
"technative” advocate yourself.