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The Challenges of a Sustainable Production

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Scott Greenberg, Production Manager of Cooper, discusses the challenges of a sustainable production on our PGA Green website. Stay tuned for more from Scott as he blogs about his experiences managing an environmentally conscious set.


Scott talks about recycling a car crash on the set of Cooper


To learn more about eco-friendly film and television production click here.

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The Ali Paradigm

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Ali Paradigm
by Chase Adams


Ali LeRoi, television producer and writer, is probably best known now as the co-creator and executive producer of the comedy Everybody Hates Chris, but before he’s finished, he just may be known as one of the men who changed the paradigm by which television shows are created and released. Exhibit A: his latest project, the sitcom Are We There Yet? starring Ice Cube and breakout actor Terry Crews. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of 'Produced By' magazine.



Executive Producer/Director Ali Leroi

When we caught up with him in his downtown office, the experiment with his partners — Joe Roth of Revolution and Ice Cube of Cube Vision, whose movie Are We There Yet? serves as the inspiration for the TV show — was in full swing.

"The television world has adopted a lot of what has happened in the film world,” says LeRoi, "most notably, how TV has started to put such an emphasis on how a show opens. It’s just like what you saw happen in film, where suddenly,people who live in Missouri know what a film’s opening numbers are. And films live and die by that opening weekend. We’re seeing that now in TV, where a show has to connect immediately to survive.

”While the emphasis on those opening numbers may be an easy way for networks to gauge how a show is doing and garner some free marketing to boot ("The No. 1 New Show Thursdays at 8!”), LeRoi points to several television classics that took time to build an audience.

"Seinfeld, Cheers, Everybody Loves Raymond, those shows opened low and built on word of mouth. People told other people, ‘This is a good show.’ There’s a reason Chuck Lorre’s shows stay on TV, it’s because people watch once and recommend it to other people.

"Keep in mind that studios and networks are in two different businesses,” LeRoi continues. "Studios are in the distribution business; they want to build a library of content that they can sell today, tomorrow, for the next thousand years. Networks, on the other hand, are in the business of selling advertising. And advertising is something that you’re either selling — or not selling — in the here and now, which puts increased emphasis on those opening numbers. At a certain point, networks are asking, ‘Are we selling advertising on this?’ If the answer is no, well…” LeRoi trails off, leaving that dire fate to the imagination.

"So what you get is what you see on the TV today: a lot of reality programming and fewer traditional multi-camera sitcoms. And reality programs are a good business for the networks to be in; they’re cheap and they deliver eyeballs to sell advertising. But it’s a terrible business for studios to be in, because no one wants to watch reruns of The Biggest Loser in Las Vegas or whatever.”

Within this tightening spiral, where does the studio that’s looking to produce content go? Presently, they are literally taking million-dollar shots on shows that get 22 minutes to connect or be put out to pasture — it’s an expensive gamble.

Here’s where LeRoi and his partners have attempted to change the manner in which new shows are brought to market.

"After the success of House of Payne by Tyler Perry,” he explains, "Debmar-Mercury [the distributors] were looking to replicate that model. Together, we came up with a different way of doing things, a way that I think is better in terms of letting a show develop and giving the studio greater odds that their investment won’t be gone after just one show. It works like this: We brought the financing in to film 10 episodes. We’ll do an on-air test, meaning that they’ll air 10 episodes of Are We There Yet? If it meets a certain predetermined rating, it triggers an automatic pickup of 90 episodes.” For the network, it’s a smart play because they’ll get 10 episodes at a very friendly cost. The financiers will break even with their license fee — and if the show is a go, they’ll get to sell 100 episodes to syndication at a profit. For the executive producer, like LeRoi, the main difference is not receiving fees up front, meaning that he holds a true partnership back-end position.

"We’re not reinventing the wheel with regards to the content of multi-camera sitcoms; we’re reinventing how they’re made.” He summarizes, "Boiling this down to its purest essence: We’re betting on ourselves here.”

UPDATE: We are proud to note – as reported in Variety – that Are We There Yet? has received its 90-episode pickup from TBS. "Getting Are We There Yet? picked up feels like we won,” LeRoi declares. " We put it on the line and it worked. It's like the opposite of what happened to David Caruso when he left NYPD Blue.” Congratulations to Ali LeRoi and his producing team on helping to re-invent the TV business. Keep betting on yourselves, guys.

Obviously, the rewards are high, but so are the risks — if the show doesn’t catch on after 10 episodes, LeRoi gains only the experience. But in his opinion, the potential is worth it.

"The multi-camera sitcom is part of the lifeblood of American television. And they’re gold mines for their syndicators. A hundred years from now, people are still going to be watching Seinfeld. If you look at the environment today,there’s not a lot of them to choose from — it’s all reality this and reality that. So there’s a real space to fill.

"On top of that,” he observes, "you’ve got a generation coming up that's been living in the multi-camera-sitcom world their whole lives— I’m talking about the kids who’ve been weaned,literally, on iCarly, That’s So Raven, The Suite Life,etc. — and so while the idea [of multi-camera sitcoms] might seem retro to us, to them, it’s the world they know and love.”

Changing the business model has changed the creative process as well. LeRoi feels for the better."TBS has been fantastic. They gave us some very easy-to-hit and broad ‘musts,’ and from there on out, for us, it’s really been live by the sword or die by the sword. But which ever way it turns out, it’ll be truly the best sword that we, the creative team, could have produced.”

LeRoi, who also directed all 10 initial episodes, feels that as a true partner in the business of the show, he was given more freedom creatively. "With a network in a typical situation, they give you notes for certain things because they’ve seen those certain things work before.That tends to drown out the singular voice that anything good needs to rise above the mediocre. But if you watch this, you’ll see that we’re not copying what Tyler Perry did. I think my voice really comes through; I think Ice Cube’s voice really comes through. I think these important voices come through on Are We There Yet? because we’ve set things up this way. It’s funny, when we were doing Everybody Hates Chris, Chris Rock used to joke with me that you always get notes from an executive about the character that the executive relates to the most! We didn’t have to deal with things like that on this show.

"Even the way we shot it was different than anything I’ve ever done. One of the prime concerns was shooting the initial 10 episodes as cheaply as possible — but doing it well. Toward that end, we shot in Connecticut to take advantage of the tax credits that they’re offering. A lot of states are offering these, but you can get out there and find that there’s not an established field of talent or crew to put the show together. But when you’re shooting in Connecticut, you’re just a train ride from New York City, which means we had access to all the crew we needed and were able to get really great actors who happened to have some time to swing by between Broadway shows.



Essence Atkins and Terry Crews rehearse during the episode
"The Rat in the House."
"And before shooting these episodes, I met with people that I’ve always looked up to, directors who shot, and a few others, and I asked them what we needed to do to make this show work visually on a budget. Based on those conversations, I built the stage [primarily a large, open living room] so that there are all of these spaces within it to move over and have mini scenes. There’s the entrance way, the couch, the place where the kids play video games — it’s all on one set, which creates both an ability to move around and a change of scene and you don’t get that crampedness that I think some sitcoms fall prey to.

"On Everybody Hates Chris,” he notes, "we were doing eight scenes in 22 minutes; using these mini-areas, we’re at about 16 per show. I think it creates a nice flow.”

All of LeRoi’s preparation has paid off. The show itself does not at all come across as "done on a budget”; the production values are comparable to any other sitcom out there. Terry Crews’ family on Are We There Yet? is African-American, but they feel like any family in America trying to deal with stepchildren, money concerns and relationship issues.



"Like I said,” LeRoi states,"we’re not copying what Tyler Perry has achieved. And back in the late ’90s, there was a big issue about subdividing audiences into white and black. But the problem with subdividing is that eventually you’re carving some pretty thin slices of the pie. If you’re saying someone has this niche of the black audience and we’re going for that niche of the black audience … well, I’d rather make shows about and that appeal to people out there trying to make their mortgage, trying to make their marriage work, trying to raise kids. That’s what’s interesting to me. That’s what I want Are We There Yet? to be about.”

Obviously, when watching a multi-camera show about an African-American family whose problems are more family based than race-based, a comparison to The Cosby Show is inevitable.

"Some people have said that, after watching a little of Are We There Yet?” he confesses. "But for me, even to compare anything to that is almost a sacrilege. Bill Cosby is the greatest family comedian America has ever produced. I think for people to see this and say, ‘Hey, they’re operating in that field,’ that’s fine by me, but you know, when people say that after seeing this show, I’m honored, but like I said, to me, that’s a little too much.”

Are We There Yet? is currently airing on TBS, where it will enjoy a 10-episode run. Initial reviews have been very positive and Terry Crews indeed seems to be an actor on the edge of breaking out. If the show catches on, it seems only logical that more potential series would replicate this model rather than betting everything on a single pilot episode. Here’s wishing Ali LeRoi and his partners the best.

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We Shot Our Network Pilot Like a Web Series

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
We Shot Our Network Pilot Like a Web Series
By Tim Gibbons

I've just finished shooting a comedy pilot for a major network and major studio, and they are nervous. We shot it like a web series. What I mean by that is that we used a variety of formats to shoot on, with some shots involving up to 14 cameras, and none of the cameras are the "traditional" cameras one would use for a primetime comedy show. The basic premise of the show involves a show-within-a-show concept. It was created by Larry Charles ("Borat", "Religulous", "Seinfeld", etc.), whom I've known for years, from working together on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm". It was executive produced by Larry, McG (well-known director/producer, "Charlie's Angels", "Chuck"), Peter Johnson ("Supernatural", "Chuck", who is also the president of McG's Wonderland Sound and Vision company), and myself.

The show we see is the show the characters are making, which is shot by them, and the only video we ever see is material ostensibly shot by them. The idea is that anything we'd see would have been shot by one of the characters, so there could be no traditional camera "coverage”, no studio three shots, no establishing shots, unless it was something one of the characters shot. The main source of the storytelling footage would be the "behind the scenes" documentary one of the characters is making, to document their production, plus the actual footage the characters had shot for their movie. It was shot all on location, no sets or stages.

In today's world of YouTube and Ustream, the video many of us watch all the time is shot with iPhones, Flip cameras, miniDV's and the like, all of which we used in our production.

The quality is not the same as shooting on any "professional" camera system, from the RED camera system to even old-school Sony digibeta, but we felt like we've come a long way in the expectation of what something to look like, especially in the world of fan films and user-generated material, so we decided to go for it and shoot on strictly "non professional" equipment (although, that being said, we did use some prosumer equipment, but that kind of walks the line, wouldn't you say?). And if the characters in our pilot's small town were to actually shoot their own show, to be posted on the Internet, what would it look like anyway? So we tried to match what a low-budget, non-professional team of filmmakers would and could do on a limited budget.

From the moment Larry Charles called me about this project, I was intrigued and excited. The idea of shooting an entire primetime network show with an "alternate" look, on a variety of different camera platforms, was exciting. Could we do it, and would this show fit in with other primetime shows that are shot with big, expensive cameras, full lighting packages and a giant crew? How would we shoot it? What cameras would we use? So we got to work on planning this show, keeping in mind that everything we'd see in the finished product would need to appear as if it were shot by one of the characters. We had to use "available light" (or at least make it look like that) for most of it, and then figure out how it would look and sound. So I got to work with our Director of Photography, Anthony Hardwick, and we came up with a shooting plan that included some really interesting hardware.

We ended up going with our main camera package of: 2 Sony EX3 HDCAM's, which shoot onto cards, not tape. To this we added a Sony EX1 HDCAM, for when we need a third camera. Then, for the main characters to hold (and shoot, with the cameras often seen in the shots), we added 3 Canon HV20 miniDV cameras and 6 Flip UltraHD camcorders. For additional looks (and a few additional characters), along the way we added a Canon 7D still/video SLR, several iPhones, my MacBook Pro laptop, 2 Flip SD camcorders, a Canon GL2 Digital Camcorder, a Motorola phone, and, for one scene, an InfraRed camera, the Sony HDR-HC5.

I should add that I approached Flip (owned by Cisco) about providing us with their cameras, since they'd be seen on screen, with our stars using them, but they declined. They said that we didn't fit in with their marketing strategy. Don't ask me, but it seems like we exactly fit in with their marketing strategy: people taking video into their own hands. And their cameras would be shown on a primetime network show.

Sound was shot both in-camera (on some) and through the more traditional method of wireless mics and a boom, mixed through either a portable field mixer or soundboard on a cart. We figured that an audience might forgive "rough" video (with many different looks), but that bad audio would not be tolerated. The show is an improv comedy show, with several scenes having multiple people talking all at once, so we wanted to have as much flexibility as possible when it came time to mixing the sound.

So, for the shoot, we had a total 19 cameras (and, for one long scene, we used 14 of them), many of which had different recording formats (SD cards/disc, miniDV tape, hard drive, flash memory, etc.), and different frame rates (23.98fps, 24p, 30fps), some of which were HD, some SD. To handle all the downloading of the cards on set, plus log the tapes and transfer iPhone and Macbook Pro material, I hired a data management tech, Jimmy An, whose sole job was to keep track of all the material, download the SD cards, and make sure we had adequate backups of all the material that had been transferred to hard drives. We ended up, on our five-day shoot, with 45 hours of raw material.

Post has been hectic and exhilarating. In addition to getting a plethora of great comedy (with some serious moments as well), we had the logistical challenge of conforming all the material from the different formats and frame rates into something our Final Cut Pro 7 editing system could ingest and work with. For the conversions, we turned to Digital Film Tree, an awesome post house, who had the massive job of making it all work together seamlessly. They did so with style and grace, cranking out "dailies" that we could use for our notes for post -- and that the edit system could actually handle. This all had to be done while keeping the "look" of the various formats, something that was important to us.

We haven't delivered the pilot yet, but to get down to pilot length has been a real challenge. With so many choices, so much footage, so many different looks, this show will be one thing most network primetime pilots are not: a show that looks, sounds, and feels completely different from everything else on network primetime. Can the network handle it? Will the mainstream TV audience (let alone the network!) accept something with so many looks? I'll let you know how it goes!

Article originally appeared on timgibbons.tv.

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New Perceptions: Augmented Reality as Entertainment

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
New Perceptions:
Augmented Reality as Entertainment
By Chris Thomes

Augmented reality (AR) refers to computer displays that add virtual information to a user's sensory perceptions. Most AR research focuses on "see-through" devices, usually worn on the head, which overlay graphics and text on the user's view of his or her surroundings. (Virtual information can also be in other sensory forms, such as sound or touch, but this article will concentrate on visual enhancements.) AR systems track the position and orientation of the user's head so that the overlaid material can be aligned with the user's view of the world. This process is called registration. Thru it, graphics software can place a three-dimensional image of a teacup, for example, on top of a real saucer and keep the teacup fixed in that position as the user moves about the room. AR systems employ similar technologies used in virtual-reality research, but where virtual reality attempts to replace the real world in an encompassing way, augmented reality only supplements it.

For entertainment purposes, AR has been used effectively in PR and marketing initiatives for motion picture, television, and other media promotional campaigns. Typically, these have included printed graphic or real life object recognition where the software identifies a unique symbol via web cam or cell phone camera. The software then activates a graphic overlay, which tracks fixed coordinates within the web cam image. Imagine unlocking a pseudo 3D moustache or hat that appears over your head as though you were wearing it. Or imagine holding out your hand in front of the camera and onscreen a small 3D character appears to suddenly sit in your hand and talk to you. These are examples of mapping objects and experiences onto video imagery, real-time.

Up to now, effects like this have been mainly utilized for the wow factor. Varying platforms and high development costs have limited deeper more immersive experiences. Although, toy manufacturer Mattel, partnering with Total Immersion, created interesting experiences for the Avatar inspired toy line. Each Avatar action figure toy included a little card that is scannable via web cam. The result is an on-screen, augmented reality robot or character. You can see more demos at AvatarItag.com, but an example of it working is here:



So, this may be one way to reach mass audiences – thru retail.

But the real question is, how compelling is the content? Little characters and micro activities are just scratching the surface of what can be done. AR’s applications can reach audiences in entirely new ways. It is fundamental shift in user. This is a compelling notion, especially as users continue to expect lifestyle-based devices like iPad. The more the devices become simple and ergonomic, the more unique user interfaces can become effective methods for allowing interaction with information and entertainment.

Many experiments with AR now allow users to explore locations using mobile devices with graphical overlays that can teach users about historical locations, explore tourist destinations, play games that use AR to place game interfaces directly onto real-life surfaces, or even use AR to teach and warn people about safety conditions or as critical navigation. And that may be where AR is quickly headed. The research and development labs of General Motors have been working closely with several universities, including Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Southern California, to build an augmented reality system that could assist motorists in difficult driving situations.



The new system, called the enhanced vision system, would embed an array of sensors and cameras inside and outside vehicles that could monitor a driver’s eye and head movements and provide relevant additional information to help him deal with current driving conditions. Imagine that in foggy or dark conditions, the system helps define the edges of the road and points to upcoming road signs. With this new technology, the information will be displayed on the car’s windshield, which will be coated with transparent phosphors.

So while people may end up safer on the road, informed on their vacations, and not…lost, how can AR be used for entertainment? The secret to that lies in behavioral design. Because AR can adapt to a variety of environments and has sophisticated tracking capabilities, it is a new brush in the producer’s palate when painting stories. But like good videogame development, a "story” must have interactive elements that benefit from AR’s capabilities. Simply creating stunts with a quick experience that is not repeatable has little ROI, for both the storyteller and the audience. Encouraging re-use behavior is critical to maximizing AR development.

Many marketing departments and agencies have dabbled with AR and, while the initial experience has a wow factor, the audience will simply burn thru it if it is not created carefully. For many marketers, that may not be important since they often are interested in opening weekends or stunts and audience engagement is not needed beyond an initial crescendo. For producers of new media, though, AR can be expensive and justifying costs require a solid business model supported by smart product and content development.

In order to reach mass markets, Producers will want to ride the tech wave extend what audiences already find compelling about their favorite connected experiences and applications. They will also need to re-examine what "storytelling” and entertainment means to audiences on the go. Facebook may be a good place to start looking. Mob Wars and other Facebook game apps have people addicted. Now imagine taking that behavior of interacting with people and places to a new level where you can map a story or information onto any location in the world.

Visiting ancient ruins may become a more active experience with AR. Imagine the Roman Coliseum coming to life right before your eyes. Or imagine a who-done-it happening before visitors at a historic London rowhouse. It will be this layer where AR transcends "consumerization” to become storytelling. And if the experiences can be entertaining enough to "map” pathos into our lives wherever we are, we might pay for it just like a ring tone, a DVD, cable TV or a movie ticket, which would be music to the ears of savvy content producers.

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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. NYTimes.com. Hulu. Time.com. The Kindle. Amazon.com. 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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