Peter Buckingham breaks down the Digital Media Revolution. The difference between having no physical limitation with digital vs having a limited number of films reels you can ship

like limited theaters, limited DVD shelves and limited TV channels. He then explains the power of digital and the long-tail. He also explains we are at a cross road where either we seize this moment for a more democratic system or we let the choice continue to be limited by big media companies.

Ira was a little more practical and Peter Buckingham zooms out and speaks much more generally. In some ways they cover the same ground. The audience was fairly pumped about Peter’s talk.

It’s pretty cool when Peter makes it seem so dumb that the film industry is based on withholding content unless a viewer coughs up money and how DRM just gives the people that do cough up money a difficult time. It’s also cool when he makes fun of the theatrical industry for having such low attendance.

Then there is a pretty lively discussion with the audience. In response to the first question Peter says he disagrees with Ira saying that the DCI vs iCinema standard war is like Beta vs VHS. But of course, that is a kind of stupid concept since the point of digital is that it’s scalable and everyone who has ever touched a video projector knows that you can throw a variety of signals at it playing back whatever quality you happen to have.

Digital Cinema Projection on Sheet

Photo by Jen Chan

But I could understand a distribution network wanting to have quality standards the creators and audience can count on. But more importantly people need to start thinking about the universal publishing standards for feature films and be thinking beyond just theatrical. I spoke to Ira about Peter’s comment and asked him what he normally gets from content owners before he converts into iCinema for his network. He said often tape but sometimes a digital file. I asked him if a 1920 by 1080 24p H.264 file on a server would work and he said yes and that they’ve done that before. So in my mind iCinema and DCI are just other networks out there and I’m sure there will be more. And I think the way to get to those networks is to post your material in full res and let them do the conversion just like any other digital distributor who needs to store a digital clone of your work, monetize it and send back checks to the published payee info on the content.

See in my view, watching on cell phones, your home theater, your local cinema, or a huge premiere at a festival all are kind of blurring in terms of technology and licensing.

Home movie theater

Photo: The above childs playroom was recently transformed into a home theater

Proof of this convergence is that h.264 is the same codec that plays back a YouTube video on your cell phone, the same codec that plays back a TV show on your apple TV and the same codec that plays back in full resolution at your local movie theater using the iCinema standard.

And the cost of all this technology is coming down. A full system for a home theater experience doesn’t cost that much more then a few iPhones. And getting a top of the line home theater system does the job pretty well for a micro-cinema movie theater space. And even the top, top of the line servers and projectors have costs that have dramatically decreased over the past few years.

So what really matters? All of this technology and play back devices? Not really, at the end of the day content is more important. All these platform and playback problems will be solved. Individuals will have devices in their pockets to watch any video that exists, at home people will all have HD home theaters, local neighborhoods and villages in third world countries will all have digital cinemas which have access to any video that exists.

The important thing to remember is that technology is not the value here. The value is the content. Thats what matters. And thats what is threatened if we get too wrapped up in the technology and DRM and create platforms that only have room for the mainstream content.

You never know where a well crafted story with integrity might come from so the important thing is to make technology open and democratic to all content. But even more importantly make the compensation for content that does well be the same compensation system for all levels of production. That way if something sprouts up as a hit from left field. That creator will see proceeds to go make more material with. So in a system like that, when you watch and forward to friends because you like it, you are putting down your vote to see more from that creator. Again, I think theatrical needs to be looked at as having the same dynamics of web video in terms of being able to have something culturally relevant explode.

So to have lots of content with integrity, we need solutions that get creators paid. And thats the discussion to be having. Not the codec or the projector, the incentive for creating the culture that these devices will display.

I’ll get even more specific in future posts on solutions for getting creators compensated.