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The Future of All Media Was Written in 1993. Kinda.

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Future of All Media Was Written in 1993. Kinda.
By Mike Halleen

In 1993 Time Magazine published a landmark cover story called "The Info Highway” and got nearly every prediction about the coming information age right. Except they got it all wrong, at least in one crucial aspect: they missed the Internet.

The article, written by Philip Elmer-Dewitt, is fascinating in its prescience and serves as a platinum example for anyone trying to predict the future.

(To his credit, Elmer-Dewitt did end the article with the note that they could have it all wrong and still be surprised, and his follow up work over the next several years tracked the surprises and road bumps that were to come.)

For those of you too young to remember, the early nineties weren’t like today. We had a down economy, a war in Iraq started by a Bush, a young Democratic President following a Bush, and Jay Leno had just taken over The Tonight Show. Ok that was too easy, but really the Cold War had just ended and we didn’t know what was going to follow it. Things were in transition. There was a sense of newness in the air.

I had been promised in the late eighties (yes, personally promised) that someday something called "ISDN” would allow us to balance our checkbooks on our TV screens. That was nice, I thought, but is that the best application anyone can come up with? Actually "Cool!!” was what I thought, but in hindsight… is that the best application anyone can come up with?

The phrase "Interactive Television” started getting thrown around, though no one knew what it meant. The big ideas back then were stories where the audience made decisions for the character (which is contrary to the idea that plot comes from character) or to let the viewer buy the sunglasses off someone’s face or order a pizza during a commercial for a pizza (which is contrary to the idea that I just want to sit and watch TV in peace!). These are still the ideas being thrown around today.

The digital revolution was just beginning to appear on the distant horizon. The "dot com” era had not yet begun. The "home computer” trend of the eighties had been a bust. Cable TV was still delivered using a box that showed the channel number in red LED lights on the front of the actual box, not on screen, let alone showing the name of the channel, the show you were watching, or what was coming up later.

I remember wondering why I couldn’t just pause TV like it was a video tape. (Remember video tape?) When I saw the quality of the first offline Avid systems, I had my answer: Even high end digital video systems at that time were not capable of playing back video with anything approaching acceptable quality.

We didn’t have words like bitrate or streaming, but I knew instinctively that it was just a matter of time until TV would be delivered in ways that would bring about radical time shifting with serious effects on scheduling, advertising, audience measurement and the very basics of broadcasting norms.

I would try to explain to my friends and family, and they would just cock their head sideways and say "interwhat what what?”

When I picked up the April 12, 1993 issue of Time it was a revelation. "YES!” I thought, "This is what I’m talking about! When do I get this? I want this.”

Not only did I want it as a consumer, I wanted to make a career out of it. It was the distillation for me of a turning point in history, a vision for my own future as a professional in "the new media.” An inspiration.

Now it’s seventeen years later and many of the predictions have come forcefully true, while others radically not, at least not yet, so let’s take a step back and have some fun.

Following are quoted excerpts from the 1993 article with my notes and updates.

"Coming Soon to Your TV Screen”

It didn’t come to the TV Screen, it came to the computer first. Some parts of it did end up on TV eventually in the form of video on demand systems from cable companies, and more may still, but the interplay between the ten foot experience and the two foot is still not settled. WebTV, BD-Live, Yahoo Widgets, the Roku, Xbox Live, the Wii-Browser… all are (or were) platforms to provide interactive online services on a TV screen, but do people want them? (DVRs don’t count.)

Plus the first wave of a whole generation of kids are now exiting college where they had free wifi in the dorms and laptops and smart phones with them everywhere they went. This is where they watch "TV”. These kids will be the adults who may never buy a traditional television set in their lives. (and are very morally relaxed regarding piracy, but that’s another topic)

Speaking of WebTV, the recent announcement of Google TV is bringing more focus onto the TV as an interactive medium, but no one’s got it right yet. People don’t want browsers on the TV, they want content.

"Imagine a medium that combines the switching and routing capabilities of phones with the video and information offerings of the most advanced cable systems and data banks.”

Phone + Video + Information

What is being described here is nothing less than the "Triple Play” bundle offered by the big players in the space today.

What they miss here, and the biggest miss of the article is the assumption that it would be the "switching and routing” of the contemporary systems, even those deemed the "most advanced” that would provide the interactivity. The packet based switching of the Internet Protocol (IP) was not even a contender. More on that later.

"Instead of settling for whatever happens to be on at a particular time, you could select any item from an encyclopedic menu of offerings and have it routed directly to your television or computer screen."

Spot on. They even do include the computer screen and not just the TV.

Seems simple now, but this was profound in 1993. Actually it’s still not so simple now.

"A movie? Airline listings? Tomorrow’s newspaper or yesterdays’ episode of Northern Exposure? How about a new magazine or a book? A stroll through the L.L. Bean catalog? A teleconference with your boss? A video phone call with your lover?”

Netflix. Expedia. Hulu. The Kindle. Skype. Sexting.

It’s not just airline listings, but price comparisons, bidding, e-ticketing and paperless boarding passes. It’s not just the LL Bean Catalog, but meta catalogs, affiliate programs, Groupons, Ebay, digital goods, Pay Pal, virtual currencies. Ecommerce on a massive scale with unprecedented consumer access to information.

Who cares about tomorrow’s newspaper or magazines? News is now a constantly updating and rolling cycle of information. New brands emerged like Slate or TMZ that have no print counterpart.

But again other than cable provided VOD and the emerging "over the top” market, very little of this occurs on the TV. For now.

"Already the major cable operators and telephone companies are competing – and collaborating – to bring this communicopia to your neighborhood.”

"The final bottleneck — the "last mile" of wiring that takes information from the digital highway to the home — has been broken, and a blue-chip corporate lineup has launched pilot projects that could be rolled out to most of the country within the next six or seven years.”

"Driving this explosive merger of video, telephones and computers are some rather simple technological advances:
— The ability to translate all audio and video communications into digital information.
— New methods of storing this digitized data and compressing them so they can travel through existing phone and cable lines.
— Fiber-optic wiring that provides a virtually limitless transmission pipeline.*
— New switching techniques and other breakthroughs that make it possible to bring all this to neighborhoods without necessarily rewiring every home.”

We all thought it would be the cable companies or the phone companies making it all happen, but the Internet appeared from out of nowhere and surprised the industry. It would be a few years before cable and telephone would become Internet service providers and get themselves back into the position they wanted to be in.

Ironically, the traditional "switching” systems of cable TV are themselves being replaced in some markets with technology that while not open to the general Internet, uses the IP system of packet switching. Fios from Verizon is such a system although pulling that fiber into "the last mile” was recently halted due to its expense and limited adoption. For now.

*Note how fiber-optic is described as "virtually limitless.” How many times have new technologies carried the promise of being infinite or free, only to find their limit later when the demand rose to fill the supposedly inexhaustible supply? Keep this in mind as gigabytes turn to terabytes. Someday I’ll be complaining I don’t have enough yottabytes to store the latest holographic virtual world in the grain of sand sized device floating under my eyelid.

"Now the only questions are whether the public wants it and how much it is willing to pay.”

Yes we want it, but what will we pay? As Hulu plans a premium service and Apple pushes the "there’s an app for that” model on the iPad hoping to put the "internet=free” genie back in the bottle (See There’s a charge for that?) this is still one of the great unanswered questions at the heart of the business of entertainment.

The downstream effects have caused strikes among the creative unions, brought about the (low cost) reality TV phenomenon, and created new relationships between content companies and technology vendors to enable things like video players that don’t let you skip advertising, the HDCP standard, and Selective Output Control (the ability to disable all but the piracy stopping HDMI outputs from a device, which was just approved by the FCC).

"Next spring Hughes Communications will introduce DirecTv, a satellite system that delivers 150 channels of television through a $700 rooftop dish the size of a large pizza pie.”

"But to focus on the number of channels in a TV system is to miss the point of where the revolution is headed. When the information highway comes to town, channels and nightly schedules will begin to fade away and could eventually disappear. In this postchannel world, more and more of what one wants to see will be delivered on demand by a local supplier (either a cable system, a phone company or a joint venture)…”

This was one of the most exciting things I had ever read, "A postchannel world.” This has partly happened, but not to the fully radical extent I think it still will.

Radical time shifting will eventually mean shows will not be limited to weekly release schedules or thirty minute time slots. (see DVRs Still Suck)

And of course DirecTV now offers hundreds of channels, and the dishes are free.

Note the assumption that again it’s the phone company, cable company or a joint venture that will be driving (not a third party like Netflix or Amazon).

Also how the phone and cable company are referred to as a "local supplier.” These are now national suppliers, there are no more local phone or cable providers.

Finally "channel” is just yesterday’s word for "brand.” You know what you’re going to get from HBO vs. Disney vs. Spike, but you don’t need a channel to access those brands. You only need the appropriate economic relationship with some distribution entity, and perhaps a widget or app carrying that brand. (in the short to medium term, this will likely require a contract with a cable or satellite provider even if delivered via a custom app, the "TV Everywhere” concept)

"As new ways of packaging and delivering these shows emerge, skirmishes over copyrights and program ownership are likely to become increasingly bitter and complex.”

Disclaimer: I do work for Disney, but no proprietary knowledge is necessary to cite the very public conflict between Disney and Starz over Disney’s product being sold on iTunes, then Starz’s subsequent licensing of content to Netflix for instant streaming without having explicitly cleared such use with Disney. There was speculation that Disney would eliminate that loophole in its renegotiated contract with Starz, but as if this writing that has not happened.

Look at the all out war, let alone skirmish, between the cable operators and the networks over affiliate fees. This is the biggest driver behind why the Internet cannot really offer "free” video to your TV. As more and more people use it, it is moving from being a niche loophole for those who could figure it out to a legitimate distribution point that has to carry its weight like the rest and stop giving it away.

"The same switches used to send a TV show to your home can also be used to send a video from your home to any other — paving the way for video phones that will be as ubiquitous and easy to use as TV…”

Skype and iChat have shown demand for personal two-way video, but for some reason the classic "video phone” never took off. LG and Panasonic are now offering Skype on TV sets with cameras attached, so we’ll wait and see how that goes.

I love the assumption that a video phone in your TV would be as easy to use as TV. No interactive service in a TV is anything like using TV. TV is easy to use because you just sit there.

"The same system will allow anybody with a camcorder to distribute videos to the world — a development that could open the floodgates to a wave of new filmmaking talent or a deluge of truly awful home movies."

"Mitch Kapor [of the] Electronic Frontier Foundation, wants the superhighway to do for video what computer bulletin boards did for print — make it easy for everyone to publish ideas to an audience eager to respond in kind. He envisions a nation of leisure-time video broadcasters, each posting his creations on a huge nationwide video bulletin board.”

This is astonishingly right, more than ten years before YouTube, here’s YouTube. Score one for Mitch Kapor.

The term they used to use was "video dial tone”. The idea was that through your cable box you could plug in your camcorder and "upload” (though we didn’t have that word at the time). Of course, the cable companies did not make this happen, this kind of innovation needed the real disruptive power of the Internet. However the mobile phone providers did later enter this fray with phones that became camcorders and can upload directly to YouTube and others.

Video Dial Tone, meet Android. (do phones even have dial tones anymore?)

"It's easy to imagine families exchanging video Christmas cards. Or high school students shopping for a college by exploring each campus [by] interactive video. Or elementary schools making videos of the school play available to every parent who missed it."

Now we just take these things for granted.

"In the era of interactive TV, the lines between advertisements, entertainment and services may grow fuzzy.”

"This is the vision that has the best minds from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley scrambling for position at the starting gate."

The lines between content and advertising were already blurring with product placement and sponsored content that goes back to the golden age of TV. (see Commercial Creep: The Merging of Commercials into Original Programming)

Advertising online has obviously become a major industry, but the really interesting stuff will come when ads on TV can be targeted directly, or consumers can choose the ads they want to watch (and cannot skip them, if that genie will fit back in that bottle).

Google seems to want to lead in this space, but the advertising community hasn’t fully woken up to the idea that the current model is strictly 20th century. This will be fun.

"Meanwhile, TV Guide is racing against InSight, TV Answer and Discovery Communications to design electronic navigators that will tell viewers what's on TV and where to find it.”

Replace "electronic navigators” with portals, search, and recommendations.

Replace "TV Guide, InSight, TV Answer and Discovery” with YouTube, Yahoo, Tivo, StumbleUpon, and again Google.

This has still not been solved and the process of "discovering” content as a consumer has evolved along with everything else.

One of the most critical developments is the growth of social networking as a means to promote and find content through the people you know and trust. A.K.A. Viral Video.

"The Government is the dark horse in the race to the information highway. It got into the business almost by accident: thanks to [Al] Gore's lobbying during the 1980s, it funded the fiber-optic links that form the backbone of Internet, the sprawling computer grid that is for students, scientists and the Pentagon what Prodigy and CompuServe are for ordinary computer users.”

This and the one that follows is the only reference to what we know as "The Internet” in the article. They refer to it simply as "Internet” and all but dismiss it as a non-profit Prodigy and Compuserve used by a few elites outside the mainstream. Prodi-what and Compu-who?

"Internet has grown into the world's largest computer bulletin board and data bank, home to 10 million to 15 million networkers who use it for many of the purposes the information highway might serve: sending and receiving mail, sharing gossip and research results, searching for information in hard-to-reach libraries, playing games with opponents in other cities, even exchanging digitized sounds, photographs and movie clips.”

"Digitized sounds”? You mean music? Hello Music Industry, Napster calling on the Video Phone.

Mail, gossip, research, games against remote opponents, photos, movie clips. Yes all of the above. And then some.

"Purposes the information highway might serve?” Actually it was and became the highway. It’s as if the cowpaths and dirt roads rose up and surrounded the concrete and steel construction project that never took hold.

"If they watch a lot of news, documentaries and special- interest programming, those offerings will expand. If video on demand is a huge money-maker, that is what will grow. If video bulletin boards — or teleconferencing, or interactive Yellow Pages, or electronic town meetings — are hot, those services too will thrive and spread.”

All of the above have succeeded to varying degrees. Full screen on-the-TV-set video on demand is the only one not fully provided by the Internet and still dominated by the traditional TV providers. Will "over the top” products change this, or will the triple play providers overtake the open standards and close the net? Either way, the consumer will still have to pay something.

"Arrays of computer disks can hold hundreds of movies, a week’s worth of TV programming, and a library of information.”

Try tens of thousands of movies, years worth of TV, and all the world’s libraries’ information.

"A converter box in the home will decode the words, sounds, pictures, or movies and send them to your TV, computer, printer, picture telephone, hand-held tele-computer or some as yet unimagined device.”

Replace "converter box” with modem/router.
"Decode and send” with download.
"Hand-held tele-computer” with smart phone. ("hand-held tele-computer”? Priceless)
"As yet unimagined device” with the iPad.

"Get [news] directly from the wire services and the network feeds.”

Wire services and networks as the only source of news? Wow, missed that one. Blogga please!

"Current films. For a price you can order Hollywood’s newest releases.”

Films currently in theaters, not so fast other than a few exceptions for indie experiments and of course pirating. However the windows are shortening and now some VOD is expected to start immediately after the theatrical release and well before the physical disk release. (as long as the "analog hole” is plugged using selective output control)

"Computer companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun want to build the huge file servers that will act as video and information libraries.”

"Such software companies as Microsoft and Apple want to build the operating systems that will serve as the data highway's traffic cops, controlling the flow of information to and from each viewer's screen. "

File servers and operating systems have become commodities. Small fish. What Microsoft, Apple and others want to control is the economic relationship.

"The government is more likely to play a critical role in cutting through the thicket of state and federal regulations that have grown up over the years to keep the local telephone and cable-TV monopolies out of each other's business. "

The communications act of 1996 is a topic for an entire series of articles, but the quick version is that in the 1996 act the "triple play” of television (cable and satellite), telephone, and a loosely defined "other” category were all set up with very different regulations. Today companies under these various designations compete against each other but under different rules so while the monopolies may be much less secure than they once were, the regulation has still not kept up with the technology or the market.

Then there’s the Net Neutrality debate that pits the democratic freedom of what we now think of as the Internet against the simple fact that it is a privately owned and controlled network, not all that unlike the "switched network” originally assumed to be the Info Highway’s foundation.

"The telephone companies, with their switching networks already in place, want to build the superhighway and control what travels over it. The cable-TV companies, with their coaxial systems, think they should own the right-of-way."

Cable companies have become ISPs, and though the Internet began as a government funded system, it’s the primarily Telco companies that ultimately own the crucial pieces.

It may just be that in three years, when I write the "twenty years later” version of this article, we will in fact see the telcos and cable companies taking over the position they were expected to after all.

"Just as likely, it could veer off in surprising directions and take us places we've never imagined.”

Yep. And it continues to.

This article is open for comments at The Hollywood Geek.

Mike Halleen is Senior Product Manager for Emerging Platforms at the Disney Interactive Media Group and blogs about entertainment technology at The Hollywood Geek.

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Going Green

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

PGA Green Outreach Committee ("GO”) collects and shares information about eco-friendly practices in production and is helping to expand the website Committee members Kim Van Hoven and Dan Halperin sat down with PGA producer Fred Baron of 20th Century Fox Studios to hear about the "greening” of his feature The Day the Earth Stood Still.

PGA Green Outreach Committee Co-Chair Fred Baron
Dan: How did the idea originate to pursue sustainability efforts on your film?

It was a corporate idea at FOX, which lined up with the initiatives at our parent company Newscorp. Additionally, it was me saying, "I’m a member of the planet and I want to do my part.” Plus we had actors like Keanu Reeves, who are concerned human beings.

Because of the movie’s theme, it was the perfect vehicle for Fox to initiate its green efforts on the feature side. The theme of the original picture was the Cold War, warning that people had to get together and stop threatening to kill each other with nuclear bombs. While similar, in our remake the plot is more of a Noah’s Ark theme; the aliens are taking two of each species to repopulate the Earth after killing off the human race, and then they’re going to destroy all the remaining humans. They say, "We are an alien race that has lost our planet. You Earthlings know what has to be done to save your planet but you’re not doing it. We know how valuable Earth is and we won’t let you destroy it.”

Kim: Did you have the support of the studio?

From the beginning. We brought in CTP (Change the Picture) Media Consulting and they met with every single department. They were supported by the studio, and Newscorp paid for it, so it didn’t affect the cost of production.

Dan: What are some examples of greening actions that made an impact on the production?

Alternative energy is big in Vancouver, so that helped. We used hybrid automobiles both in front of camera and behind camera. We were green in our set construction and we recycled every possible piece. And we stored sets too so that they could be used on other movies. Every department pitched in.

Vancouver is so far ahead of us. The crews there all had metal water bottles.

They even took them to Starbucks for their coffee. We plan to give those bottles as production gifts instead of T-shirts or hats. FOX donates leftover paint to schools, allowing the schools to mix the colors to fit their needs.

Kim: What was the impact of being green on your budget?

It was really minimal. Maybe $20,000 to $30,000 extra to have a construction crew break down the sets in the proper way so that they could be recycled or stored. It may have cost us a little more in the wrap because it’s easier to bulldoze and dump, but this was a cost we accepted. It’s also a savings in efficiency. PAs don’t print paper call sheets, get in the car, drive to the hotel and throw them under the door of every hotel room. We made sure the crew knew that they were responsible for checking their e-mail for any changes.

Dan: What other ways do you think the film industry can become more eco-friendly?

Everyone’s thinking "solar power.” We’re not quite there yet as far as the amount of wattage we need to run the lights. But the electricity that comes from the power companies … we make sure that it is as green as possible. And post has become greener too, just through advances in technology. The director is getting communication on the set directly from the cutting room, which is in another city; at the same time he/she’s having videoconferences with a visual effects house in Wellington, New Zealand, thousands of miles away on another continent. You don’t have to make a print, drive it to the airport, put it on a plane and ship it in order to screen it. That’s getting green just through technology.

"Unless the producer says, "Do it,” no one on the production is going to take the initiative on their own."

Kim: What do you see as the specific role of producers in achieving sustainability in production?

It’s up to producers to carry the flag and make sure that everybody on their production plays a role in being green. Producers can encourage their departments to take advantage of the resources provided by the Producers Guild, the Green Production Alliance, and EISI. Unless the producer says, "Do it,” no one on the production is going to take the initiative on their own.

The Producers Guild is thrilled to push the green agenda. We’re not going to change the world alone and in one fell swoop, that’s impossible. But the producer’s job is to encourage: encourage our actors to give the best performance, encourage our designers to design the best set, encourage our stunt coordinators to come up with really cool ideas. At the same time, we're encouraging each department to encourage their teams to be green.

The producer is a leader. This isn’t about weekend box office. This is about making a grip, an electrician, a caterer, a production coordinator, a PA, an actor ask, "What can we do to make our production as green as possible from prep to delivery?” Unfortunately, a well-run production does not necessarily make a movie great. But a production that’s run green will be successful in helping make a better environment and a better world.

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Greed Is Good - Mobile Apps Are Better: Production-Related Mobile Apps

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Greed Is Good - Mobile Apps Are Better
Production Related Mobile Apps
By Derek Hildebrandt

Let’s face it, if you are still walking around with a circa-1987 mobile phone, it's time for an upgrade. Mobile devices have come a long way since Gordon Gekko was on the beach with his classic Motorola DynaTec 8000x.

Today's iPhones, Droids, and other smart phones are performing more like mini computers than talking devices. And these technological improvements in handsets have ignited a frenzy in the mobile app development world. It may sound like a cliché, but from the practical to the ridiculous, there really is an app for just about anything. Mobile apps can start your car remotely, allow you to speak like T-Pain, and can even sprinkle toppings on your Pizza order by merely shaking your phone.

According to Flurry, since Apple’s App Store launched in July 2008, 35,000 unique companies have released applications, which translates to 58 new companies launching apps each day. Today, Apple has over 150,000 Apps available. Of course, Apple’s is not the only App store in the market. Others vying for their share in the $25 billion market include Google's Android, Nokia's Ovi Store, RIM's blackberry store, Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace; Palm’s Pre App Catalog; Symbian Horizon; and LG’s Application Store.

Production Related Applications

While a number of apps are pure frivolity, some of them represent true technological advances that provide real world business solutions. Sprint's "What If Film Crews Ran the World" commercial was an effective demonstration on how combining simple GPS and asset management tools can help with productions (wedding related or otherwise).

Producers now use Apps to shoot, edit, and post instantly from their mobile devices. You can watch live dailies, timecode synch, calculate depth of field, determine tape stock usage, and even track down a lost PA.

Producers are also doing deals with mobile companies - look no further than our own PGA member and Heroes producer Tim Kring, who signed a deal with Nokia's Ovi Store in 2009. A variety of creative artists are embracing the mobile experience with open arms. Lady Gaga's applications that were recently launched by Kyte are only one recent example.

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that mobile apps, for lack of a better word, are good. Mobile apps are right, mobile apps work. Find your own mobile apps on the PGA Mobile website dedicated to our members,

As always, we welcome your input or questions., c.818.424.8000.

These links are also found at

  • Screenplay: $7.99 A fully-functional mobile screenwriting application. It allows professionals and hobbyists alike the ability to write complete movie and television screenplays directly on the iPhone or iPod Touch. Tech partner of Final Draft. Find out more...

  • Hitchcock Storyboard Composer: $19.99 Storyboard Composer is the world’s first mobile story boarding application. No need to know how to draw, no complicated programs to learn. Storyboard Composer allows professionals and students to portray their vision to others in an easily controllable and transportable format. Find out more...
  • Reel Director: $4.99 Create and edit movies right on the iPhone 3GS. Includes a drag-and-drop timeline, multiple text watermark styles and 27 pro grade transitions. Find out more...

  • Kyte: FREE Easily record and distribute video and photos directly to multiple online and mobile destinations and devices. Find out more...

  • iVideoCamera: $.99 iVideoCamera lets any iPhone (2G,3G,3GS) record videos. Now with tons of effects, this is best video app not only for older phones, but also for 3GS users. Find out more...
  • pCam: $29.99 Many features for Cinematographers and Still Photographers including depth of field & Hyperfocal distance, splits-aperture finder, field of view and much more. Find out more...

  • MatchLens: $9.99 This calculator computes the equivalent lens focal length to produce the same field of view between two cameras with different aperture/sensor sizes. Find out more...

  • DOFMaster: $1.99 Calculates depth of field for photography and provides best f/stop and lens combination. Find out more...

  • Artemis: $29.99 A digital directors viewfinder for the iPhone Find out more...

  • Squiggles: $4.99 Paint and image app. Take a photo or select an image with your iPhone and doodle on it. Or decorate with many overlay images and special stamp brushes. Or start with a plain background and create art. Find out more...
  • Helios Sun Calculator: $29.99 An iPhone/iPod Touch application that graphically predicts the path of the sun from dusk to dawn, on any given day, in any given place. Find out more...

  • Sunrise Sunset Pro: $1.99 Displays sunrise/set times, dawn, dusk, solar noon, sun positions throughout the day. Find out more...

  • Gel Swatch Library: $9.99 Browse search and compare over 1,000 popular gel color filters. Find out more...
  • 2.1 Film Calculator: $.99 Length and time convertor for film stocks, hard drive storage calculator, script supervisor assistant. Find out more...

  • iSee4k: FREE Does common calculations for Red Camera and other digital cameras. Find out more...
  • iSlate: $2.99 Quick and easy data entry, timecode synch, logins and emailing of slate logs. Find out more...

  • Action Log: $5.99 Action Log is a film and television logging tool, designed for use on location or in a studio with up to 25 recording devices. At the touch of a button the logging system keeps track of all reel names and timecodes for each recorded piece of action. Find out more...

Studio Systems StudioSystem Mobile

StudioSystem mobile offers instant access to contact and representation information from The Studio System, the industry’s most trusted source for film and TV intelligence. All you need is an SMS-enabled device to gain access to over 100,000 film and TV contacts from anywhere, any time. Having access to reliable entertainment contact information - at any time, from anywhere in the U.S. - is essential for thousands of executives, artist representatives, above-the-line and media professionals. Special offer for PGA members: CLICK HERE.

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Commercial Creep

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Commercial Creep
The Merging of Commercials into Original Programming
By Chris Thomes and Kevin Lezak

Did you happen to see the January 1st Honda Crosstour ads running on NBC’s Chuck? It’s where the commercial break starts off like an episode, with Awesome, Ellie and Morgan on some kind of peaceful road trip that bizarrely turns into a cross promotion for NBC's Winter Olympics and the new Honda Crosstour automobile. Was it a part of the show? Was it a commercial? Or was it both?

Integrating ads into original programming is all the rage these days. While considered innovative, this kind of advertising has actually been around since the advent of television in the 1950s, and many programs were sponsored and tied to one specific sponsor, like the early "soap operas". We all remember Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle (I don’t really remember that) or Lawrence Welk’s Tiny Bubble Dodge ads (I don’t remember those either). As advertisers began to shift to thirty-second commercials, the practice began to fade until the late 1990s. Today they have become the way for advertisers to let their messages come across in a "not so commercial" way, e.g. product placement or advertiser-funded programming that feels original and fresh.

According to Wikipedia, branded entertainment is "an entertainment-based vehicle that is funded by and complementary to a brand's marketing strategy. The purpose of a branded entertainment program is to give a brand the opportunity to communicate its image to its target audience in an original way, by creating positive links between the brand and the program.” But simply put, it’s still just a commercial. Advertising agencies don't view them as commercials, though. They view this new kind of content as creative programming and the agencies aren’t just ad "creatives” anymore. Now these guys are entertainment "producers” in the biz.

How did we get here? Well, originally ad agencies went to production companies to solely make TV commercials. It was a simple model. Non-broadcast "films” were called industrials. Specific vendors did those and they were done much cheaper often non-union and with less agency oversight. Then, the Internet changed the rules. Over the last five years, the agencies have concepted and produced non-broadcast ads, casting aside the industrial model in favor of something entirely different that lives online and has the potential to migrate anywhere. It has many names… webisodes, short form, content, web films, viral videos. In short, they are simply hybrid – part original programming, part commercial.

Original programming used to be blue-chip real estate on TV. Producers were reticent to integrate product placement into episodic programming for fear of cheapening the storylines. If products did appear, it was subtle.

As product placements began to gain traction about ten years ago, it mainly appeared in sports telecasts and reality programming. But lately, like the Chuck example demonstrates, it’s appearing in comedies and dramas. The process of this integration doesn’t always work, like in Trust Me, where the advertisers were actually worked into the storylines. It was organic, yes - but distracting.

Now it’s the stories, characters and dialogue being usurped. Jon Stewart may easily shill/snack on bags of Doritos on Comedy Central. Sarah Walker in Chuck might preach TurboTax during the show. And to the audience, it will be clear that the writers and producers are not advancing the storyline or creating an interesting moment, but paying the bills.

Would any of this happen if the economy were faring better, TV networks didn't have so much digital competition, and DVRs weren't showing up in a third of U.S. homes? That’s hard to tell. But networks are certainly not slowing down the trend. It’s now not uncommon to see cast members appearing in ads adjacent to their programs.

At some point, ads and shows might blur to the point that the notion of a "commercial break" becomes a thing of the past. And if hungry creative producers start taking the reins, this pseudo-programming might actually become compelling in its own right; consider the Ford music Video Challenge around American Idol, or the BMW micro film series, or’s The Possibility Shop. Crazier things have happened. Most people forget that soap operas were once invented for advertisers.

Online, many entertainment companies like Yahoo, Disney, Warner Brothers, etc, are dabbling in the world of branded (sometimes called brand-funded) entertainment. Their goal is to evolve their old custom ad production models to include new video content. The hope is that their sales teams can monetize these new content offerings with some acceptable margin. It usually appears in the form of product placement within custom webisodes or interstitials, or thematically adjacent positioning of the client brand on banner advertisements surrounding the video content. A sponsored by or presented by callout is also common. And that’s just the beginning. In order to defray costs, online video content may have to be supplemented with other clever interactive components like printables, casual game integration and promotions like sweepstakes and user generated content contests.

The big question is "can ad deals subsidize the production costs of some, if not all of this new entertainment?” It’s a good question and no one really has the answer yet. As TV advertising slows and DVRs let audiences bypass commercial breaks, advertisers will continue to find new ways to reach audiences and engage them. Branded Entertainment seems sexy because it offers engagement similar to television but at reduced costs. Of course, that is exactly the rub. These projects have one fifth of the budget to deliver three times the amount of content. To eke out any margin and succeed in delivering the quantity of content demanded, the production process should be more reflective of indie film or episodic cable than TV commercials, and the rules should follow.

But the rules change slowly, if at all. Everyone applies the old broadcast model despite the obvious differences.

The problem is that almost every production is some kind of investment, either financial or by cashing in favors with crew or talent to meet the budgets. The margins are just very, very thin. On top of that, many union agreements prohibit most companies or even independents from producing under a certain cost per shoot day, unless it falls under new media or interactive agreements. When traditional media productions do happen under that cost it is in violation, but for the moment, a lot of people turn a blind eye because there is so little money.

It is a difficult situation. Commercials typically have millions in paid media behind them. These new hybrids do not. Commercial money is not making its way into these new deals so agencies end up developing high-volume deliverables with a low profit precedent. Which is a little insane for your bottom line, since producing these initiatives often requires the same or more effort than broadcast commercials. Still, they aren't going away. These projects are more prevalent than ever due to the recession. And if the content itself backfires because the audience feels sold out, everyone loses.

Maybe as the convergence of TV and new media creep closer, technology may solve the very problem it created. Until then the goal is to find a way to serve both masters while maintaining workable margins and still captivating the audience. Let’s hope that savvy producers can help crack that code.

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Water, Water Everywhere

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
By Christopher A. Debiec
Photos by Andrew Wright

"Two ships, four manned submersibles, 40 dives at 10 sites in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans … I like big operations, but this one was off the hook.”

Yeah, tell me about it.

Russian MIR "Cowboy” disconnecting a submersible "umbilical cord.”
That was James Cameron’s quote regarding Aliens of the Deep, one of the four ocean documentaries his company Earthship Productions produced from 2000 to 2005 — you know, the time between Titanic and Avatar. It’s funny how many people asked me during that time, "So, when is Jim going to do another film?” (Hmmm, I thought we were doing two films… Aren’t documentaries for the big screen considered films these days?)

Cameron developed the cameras used for Avatar on these projects. He partnered with underwater 3D camera specialist Vincent Pace to perfect what he envisions as "the holy grail of cameras” — a high-definition rig that is maneuverable, digital, high- resolution, 3D and won’t give viewers a headache.

As his associate producer/production manager for those five years, I had to build a whole new skill set for what lay ahead. Before Ghosts of the Abyss, the only water-based show I had worked on was a really bad German soap opera in the Florida Keys, so when I signed on to work with Earthship, my idea of working on water was about to take a whole new direction.

A MIR launch at sea.

My aqua education began when producer and PGA member Peter Barnett hired me to production manage the BTS footage for Ghosts of the Abyss. I hadn’t been back a week from shooting a film in Cambodia, City of Ghosts with Matt Dillon, when I and six crew guys were put on a flight to St. John’s, Newfoundland. All I knew was that we needed to install about a dozen surveillance cameras on the Russian ship Akademik Keldysh, the same ship used in Titanic. Upon arriving at the ship there was a problem with the local longshoreman. They refused to unload any of the 10 shipping containers and four trucks waiting on the dock until a deal point was resolved. So, without knowing the full situation, my crew and I took the initiative and spent the next several hours unloading the trucks and containers ourselves. That was a huge no-no. When you arrive into a port of call, don’t touch anything until you know what’s going on. You can get into a lot of trouble with the locals if you load even one case without approval from the longshoremen. Luckily for us, Cameron saw it as a big help regardless of the fine they paid.

Another lesson learned: Your crew should be prepared to wear many hats. No matter how big or small your budget, having a smaller, more elite team of multifaceted professionals willing to do anything for success should be a necessary requirement, especially if you happen to be working for a demanding visionary like Cameron. Also remember, when you make crew deals, they’re on a boat, so days off and hours worked should be flexible, if possible. (No one will be heading into town for dinner, if you catch my drift.)


James Cameron (left) with brother and safety officer, John David Cameron.
Just as in any form of production, safety and communications are extremely important, but when working on the water, it can literally mean life or death. Our entire production depended on us coming up with a system that worked. Our Russian ship’s crew that "wrangle” the MIR submersibles surface recovery are nicknamed "cowboys” — when you watch them do their thing, you’ll understand why. One night, the seas were so rough, they had a major problem attaching the "umbilical cord” to one of the MIRs; if it weren’t for the safety officer implementing their marine recovery protocols, the cowboy easily could have drowned. On all our expeditions, we hired a surface and safety coordinator that was also a six-year marine and Iraq war veteran, who just happened to be Jim Cameron’s brother, JD (John David Cameron). Trust me, nepotism had nothing to do with it. Each mobilization was run like a full-blown military campaign and the ocean was our enemy to conquer. JD and Jim drafted a set of safety procedures that contained all "in case of emergency” scenarios we could possibly conceive. Inevitably, it was the one they didn’t think of that sneaked up and bit us in the ass.

On Aliens of the Deep, our A-frame launching crane had a cylinder breakdown and we couldn’t launch our subs in the conventional method. As Jim observed, "We can’t just call ‘Cranes R Us’ and have this thing fixed. We’re 300 miles at sea, for fuck’s sake.” So minutes after the breakdown, Jim, JD and our ship’s captain focused on an alternative solution. Several hours and 40 pages of diagrams later, they devised a way to launch the subs by cutting away one side of the ship and sliding them into the water by using the ship’s smaller crane. Lesson No. 2: Thinking outside of the box will always save your ass out on the high seas. Marine walkies are standard for ship-to-ship communications. Most show walkies should work on board, but it would be a good idea to test them prior to setting sail. The Keldysh had extremely thick steel walls that occasionally interfered with our walkies. As you might imagine, a few crew members blamed the walkies for being crap and thought nothing of hurling them overboard. Lesson No. 3: A hair dryer, cotton swabs and alcohol will never really repair the damage, but can temporarily fool the vendor in thinking it was a manufacturer malfunction. You’ll still have to pay for it in the long run, so make sure you have the proper insurance.

Testing the submersibles in Miami, Florida

One of the many responsibilities I had was to oversee the inventory, packing and shipping of all the equipment used at sea. As Cameron told me, "Bring two of everything, because it’s that one, five-dollar part we miss that can shut us down.” Talk about stress… On Aliens of the Deep I shipped one flat rack, with two submersibles and two 40-foot shipping containers to Miami, Florida, to meet with our sister ship the EDT Ares, and four 40-foot trucks convoying up to Newfoundland to meet with the Keldysh. Once the trucks to Canada left our headquarters, they had to be sealed for customs and security purposes, so at that stage, whatever we forgot was going in our own luggage — and be careful about what you try to stow in your carry-on.


Customs brokers and ship’s agents are your best contacts when working in ports and overseas. At the very least, there’s no one better to have in your corner if you’re being detained in a customs holding area in Marseilles, France. In 2002, Cameron sent me to France on what JD explained as "a black ops mission on a need-to-know basis.” I wasn’t told what I was going to be doing in France until I arrived in Marseilles. It was surreal. My taxi driver couldn’t find the address I had, so I called JD in Malibu explaining where I was; he said, "Sit tight. Jim will be there in five.” All I was thinking was, yeah, right. I’m in a little town in the south of France with no landmarks. How will he find me?

A-frame launching crane with submersible
on the vessel Ares.

Of course, five minutes later a silver van pulled up and there was Cameron and his whole family. Still not knowing what I was doing, Jim, like an excited kid on Christmas, nudged me: "Wait ’til you see, wait ’til you see…” By this time, I was three years into working with Earthship Productions, so nothing surprised me anymore.

We arrived at a nondescript building behind a feed mill. Our French driver got out and started to open the padlocked door; all the time, Jim was nudging me, "wait ’til you see, wait ’til you see…” The door swung open to reveal a giant warehouse filled with every piece of marine expedition equipment you can imagine, including a pair of two-man submersibles weighing six tons each, standing 15 feet high and 12 feet wide. These were the submarines we would use for Aliens of the Deep. Cameron turned to me and asked, "So, how long will it take for you to photograph, inventory, pack and ship all of this to my ranch in Santa Barbara?”

Now mind you, this was the first time I was told why I was in France, so my first thought was to laugh, then cry. Knowing that neither would fly with Jim, I put hand to chin, walked around the warehouse and with Cameron staring intently at me, ultimately blurted out, "Eight weeks.”

"Eight weeks?!” he screamed. "You’re fucking kidding me! You have four.”

About 3½ weeks later — don’t ask me how; some secrets should be taken to the grave — I was at the Marseilles airport, with the operating manuals to the submersibles in my carry- on luggage. It was 2002 and the world still had 9/11 fresh in its collective mind. So when my customs agent asked me what the manuals were for, I responded, "These books tell you how to operate a submarine.”

I guess that was the wrong answer, because they escorted me to a backroom with no windows and started to interrogate. Luckily, I had the business card to my local shipping agent who explained the whole thing; since I wasn’t an authorized shipper of such material, they needed more details from a reliable source. After five hours, I was free, but missed my flight. Several months later, two military intelligence guys showed up at our Malibu office asking for me. JD took care of that one. But the experience left me something else to remember it by: From now on, I always have to go through an extended search whenever I fly. So again… be careful about what you put in your carry-on.

RV Akademik Mstislav Keldysh (Russia), at dock in St. Johns, Newfoundland.

But France was a walk in the park compared to what happened to us Mexico. At the end of our shoot we demobilized in Guaymas, Mexico, and even though we had all the proper paperwork, I was stuck for two weeks while the Mexican customs officials tore through our trucks. Guaymas is generally a mineral and grain port, so when we pulled the 400-foot Russian behemoth to the dock, it might as well been an alien spaceship landing. The customs agents, puzzled, pulled out numerous items and quizzed me every day on them. Not only did we have cameras, lights, and miscellaneous production gear, we also had scientific apparatus from NASA. I didn’t know exactly what every piece of gear was used for, so I had to improvise a description for any item I didn’t know. It was like being on the old game show Liars Club, if that show had been produced by the Mexican government. By the time I was done, I could identify and describe every piece in all four of our trucks, at least, according to my own half-invented account of what they were.


During every expedition, Cameron would write on the white board in our mission control the following statements, which we all tried to live by:


Any type of photography on the water is difficult and expensive. Give yourself enough prep time, always plan for the unexpected, budget 15% more then what you had and above all, have a good attitude, because the ship gets real small, real fast.

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