The Irish Technology Leadership Group launched its Hollywood chapter tonight with an event at Sony Pictures Studios that included a panel discussion among execs from companies such as HBO, Warner Bros and BBC Worldwide. Panelists at Innovation in Entertainment, as the evening was billed, discussed the new ways people consume entertainment, how much they’re willing to pay for it (increasingly, that amount is nothing, one said), and whether they’ve even caught up to all the technology out there. The future is in knowing how to pitch and make the right product at the right time and place, said Jay Roewe, HBO’s SVP West Coast production. “Computer programmers that understand the film biz — that’s the kind of people I want to work with because I know I’m going to adapt to the future in a very big way,” Roewe said. One example of HBO embracing technology is social media integration in its new comedy series Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “The producers said, ‘If you have these ideas you want to do, come to us.’ The core is our programming, but it’s leading us down the road to other content,” Roewe said. The Veep team decided to work Twitter into the show so viewers can follow along at home. Roewe also detailed a cost-cutting measure on HBO’s epic Game of Thrones, which shot in Belfast using a new digital camera instead of film, a risk that technology allowed the team to take.
Robert Nashak, EVP digital entertainment at BBC Worldwide, touted a Torchwood app in conjunction with Starz that features content written by the series’ scribes and voiced by its actors. The app creates alternate story worlds and “reaches users anywhere they happen to be,” Nashak said. Another extra for BBC Worldwide is a massively multiplayer online game for sci-fi series Doctor Who, which would bring gamer data to the network, in addition to its “actionable analytics” — Twitter and Facebook activity that reveals how viewers feel about different parts of the show. “This data will be useful and relied on more and more as time goes on,” Nashak said. The shift in distribution platforms is another growing concern. Warner Bros’ SVP postproduction Bill Daly said he sees the industry eventually providing content directly to the consumer. Because of this, companies are looking to move away from the idea that you “launch it and leave it,” said Nashak. “The community and fanbase need constant nurturing.”
One remaining sticking point in tech innovations is 3D. Daly credited 3D with the proliferation of digital cinema, but Rich Moran, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist on the panel, shot back, “I’m not so sure about 3D.” He then made an example of the evening’s earlier speaker George Bailey, Sony’s chief transformation officer, who had donned a Sony visor at the podium. The U-shaped visor, which the company unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, allows its wearer to watch a movie on the equivalent of a 750-inch TV screen. Moran said there might be great technology in the visor, he just doesn’t know what it is, and said that technology is moving far ahead of what consumers are willing to accept. “Until you get rid of the glasses, it’s not going to happen,” he said of 3D. Moran thinks what shapes the future from the VC point of view is a “glimmer of greatness, like the Sony visor. They know it’s all converging. Any company that can prove they have a big idea, there’s money to invest.” But Moran also made the point that the expectation from consumers is that entertainment is going to be free. “If it isn’t free, they’ll find a way to get it for free,” he said. So on top of doubts about fans of 3D wanting to walk around their home wearing a visor, there’s the price tag of the gadgets and the content itself.
Rovi president and CEO Fred Amoroso sees 3D being used in homes now, and he said as the trend grows, it will be available on more devices. “It’ll have its niches, just like any technology,” Amoroso said. The chief of Rovi, which focuses on digital home entertainment products, said the biggest challenge in entertainment technology is not the next big thing, but the adoption of what’s here now. He said studios shouldn’t feel the need to adapt, but “be willing to take risks and take the opportunity to innovate.”
The ITLG is a four-year-old nonprofit with chapters in Silicon Valley and New York. It aims to help Ireland embrace new technology and to promote Northern Ireland as a contributor to the entertainment world. The night’s panel was moderated by Bloomberg TV senior producer Nora Zimmett.