Category: HDTV

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's keynote at NAB 2010 - Photo Copyright 2010 K. Malicki-Sanchez

April 13th, 2010, Las Vegas —  Speaking at the National Association of Broadcasters Conference in Las Vegas this morning, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, a bright, young man with a seemingly legitimate sense of humor started by sharing how he has been received a little like the villain around some back alleys of the convention. He went on to describe how journalists are reporting on increasingly diverse platforms, often many at once (the new buzz word for this multi-platform broadcasting is “transmedia ” and it is being used liberally at this year’s show).  But this belies the increase in data, much of it wireless being pushed and pulled from millions of devices throughout North America and especially the US.

“We are in the midst of a transformative digital age” but that in a recent study the US broadband infrastructure was recently ranked 40th out of 40 in its rate and capacity for change in order to accommodate increasing demands for broadband space. He noted that today’s typical Smartphone i/o’s 35% more data than ye olde cell phone. A netbook 450%.

“Our country faces a serious issue, and while its not the time to panic, it is the time to plan – [broadband will become] a significant cost to our economy and global competitivenes. In order to deliver the mobile internet future we need new spectrum efficient technologies and spectrum efficient policies.” He invited the broadcasters to a discussion and search for solutions with a disclaimer that not all broadcasters would be exactly excited about the establishment of FCC regulations over broadband to be regulated much like airwaves have been.

The National Association of Broadcasters released a statement in response to the speech delivered by FCC Chairman Genachowski.

NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton released the following statement:

“We welcome an ongoing dialogue with Chairman Genachowski. His remarks on the National Broadband Plan as related to television spectrum reclamation were reassuring, and we will reach back to work with the chairman.

“We also intend to work with the Chairman and his colleagues on the issue of retransmission consent, which we believe is working just as Congress intended. We’re hopeful that policymakers will allow these free market negotiations to continue on behalf of consumers, and not tilt the scales of power in favor of giant cable operators.”

I left the FCC keynote to catch Ray Kurzweil talking about tech and media acceleration in the 21st Century. He was mostly rehashing what he talks about in his books, but after the talk I did ask him what he thought about this concern among the top brass at NAB 2010 over broadband spectrum.

“The spectrum will be there,” Ray responded, smiling calmly. “But it will not just build itself. Someone will have to innovate and create the right technology.” OK at this point I am really just paraphrasing, because even if this is was Ray said, his understanding of the complexity of broadband spectrum and its effects on global markets is likely way over my my own. “It will be a question of what paradigm wins.”

It will be a question of what countries are ready, because they will have a huge market advantage. But it’s not as if broadband spectrum could be exported. The FCC and NAB are talking looming crisis here because everyone is switching to iPads and Androids and there won’t be enough pipe for all the water wanting to rush through. But I don’t know that having to wait for Hulu to buffer will really equate to a national emergency. Am I naive in thinking that things will simply scale with the demand? I mean, billions are already being invested in updating infrastructure by the same companies that are investing in fresh water reserves – they know where the future “gold veins” lay.

One may wonder – if the fiber cable isn’t laid fast enough, can’t we just add massive wireless hubs and relays and use Wi-Fi and 3G / 4G to get all the bandwidth we need? Even as I ask the question, it becomes obvious that this is expressly the issue: there is limited bandwidth in the spectrum and so wireless relays will not be able to be the quick band-aid we might wish for when the far more fragile and tenuous fiber optic infrastructure can’t keep pace with demand.

march_of_the_penguins - Realtime webI remember reading the Premiere magazine article about Mark Gill buying March of the Penguins and wondering, marveling even, at the significance of taking a French documentary and repurposing it for an American audience. This was something of a revelation; understanding that the message, even of a universally adored nature film, isn’t necessarily universal but rather highly targeted; if Miramax’s iteration worked better on a global scale, it may be because an American perspective and sensibility has been so successfully exported internationally.

I recently wrote a paper for a marketing and distribution class at UCLA concerning the outlook shared by Gill and a year later James Stearn on the health of independent cinema and the movie industry as a whole.  Gill offered a sobering reality check having to do with the glut of films that flooded the increasingly frugal marketplace whereas Stearn saw opportunity for improving the quality of the films as the best would rise to the top.  What follows are my reaction to their positions.

While I appreciate Gill’s sober stance on the realities of the industry, one that became even more dire in the subsequent year when EndGame’s James Stearn took his place at the lectern, particularly due to the fact of the perfect storm that was the collapse of the global economy and the indie equivalent of the dot com bubble bursting, I feel Gill’s take on the music industry and why it collapsed is not only smug but fundamentally flawed and somewhat dangerous. It would behoove the movie industry to bear in mind that they had a ten-year grace period due to the fact that bandwidth for showing high quality video was ten times larger than that of music. The “Movie Industry” didn’t get things right where the “Music Industry” got it wrong – they just had more time to sit back and get a sense of what the massively disruptive technology that was the Internet was really going to mean to the bottom line.

Nonetheless, the music industry blew it in that they forgot that they were part of the Entertainment Industry and not singularly the Music Industry. The hubris and competition amongst these industries is often their Achilles heel. Rather than laud Sean Fanning, creator of Napster, as the solution to distribution in the new model, Fanning was sued right and left and ostracized like Alan Turing.

I found it astounding that Mark Gill points out the 5,000 entries to Sundance in 2007 versus the 500 it had fifteen years prior. Then only a year later, James Stearn submits that the number of entries in the subsequent year was closer to 9500. If this is correct, that means the number of entries to Sundance doubled in one year!

Not only are the good people of the world making more movies at home (and this during the economic meltdown) but they are becoming increasingly cognizant of marketing, distribution and monetization opportunities. Of course, this doesn’t mean there is more audience of more money, in fact it creates an even deeper glut of film, but it does mean that not only will quality matter in order to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff, but so will how and where and why things are marketed and distributed as the competition in these areas becomes stiffer and more accessible.

James Stern is correct in highlighting the virtue of the short-form film and responding to the Millennial Boomers with the format. Attention Deficit Disorder is not a function of age but of the times. We are all real-time curators and tastemakers and should be targeted at the micro-niche level. A person I spoke with who works at Live Nation constantly expressed his chagrin at the fact that marketing to a general demographic (for example 18-24) is utterly myopic. Among those 18-24 year-olds are, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s terminology, Tastemakers, Mavericks and Connectors. They need to be isolated and the systems to delineate them must be supported, not battled in court. In fact, doing so openly, like Netflix does, is a far more rewarding effort, than doing it covertly through cookies and trackers and 3rd party data collection apps.

That film, as Gill puts it, allows us to target highly specific demographics in one part. Delivering high quality, thoughtful, engaging and memorable content is second, but making it bite sized and a la carte is paramount. We are waiting for the Kubrick of YouTube to arrive. Where is the Spielberg of Vimeo?

The app store effect is not a function of Apple but rather an effect of the widget economy. We are all master chefs in Kitchen Stadium [a reference to popular Japanese cook show Iron Chef] selecting the finest ingredients to concoct our tasty masterpieces on the fly.

From Netflix and E-Bay account piping into a sandbox aggregator like Squidoo, alongside Facebook’s status updates and Twitterstreams, we are irrevocably moving into the era of the real-time web; it is not the tomato we care about but whom the person will be that uses it most creatively. It is no less a tomato as a result, but it is merely a color with which the master will paint and, we will mash-up, mod and repurpose the content to ultimately render the portrait of our essence, personality, our souls. A portrait, whose real meaning will emerge when we cross our tired eyes slightly and gaze upon it like a magic eye.

NOTE: I originally wrote this draft in October.  At that time, I read a Tweet from Mashable that Google Wave is going live to 100,000 pre-registered users. The realtime web is not a theory or conjecture, it has literally arrived and nothing will ever be the same.

UPDATE 12-07-2009 – It’s a little strange that I am publishing this article after the one I posted earlier this morning about Google’s announcement of Realtime search.  GoogleWave now seems like an ancillary to the central eye-raising explosion of technologies that Google has innovated in bring all content to our eyeballs at near light speed.