Last week, I attended the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat in Rancho Mirage. This informal but educational gathering grew out of the ashes of the old International Teleproduction Society (ITS) and has become a â€œmust attendâ€ for folks engaged in all aspects of media production â€“ and some who arenâ€™t.
The attendance list (over 300 in 2009) is a virtual â€œwhoâ€™s whoâ€ in the broadcasting and motion picture industries. But youâ€™ll also find employees of the federal government, equipment manufacturers, representatives of standards organizations such as SMPTE and EBU, industry associations including the National Association of Broadcasters, and even a few lawyers here and there.
Over the years, there have been numerous cutting-edge technologies that made their debut at the HPA Tech Retreat, such as Panasonicâ€™s HD Varicam and the first 3D live capture rigs. The presentations and papers have covered topics as diverse as latency and active format descriptors for broadcast DTV, watermarking of content, MPEG program splicing, 4K image capture, and stereoscopic acquisition, editing, and projection.
This year, there were quite a few papers of interest, including dynamic range in 4K digital cameras, 300 Hz 1080p frame rate cameras, MPEG4 encoding with a true 50% efficiency factor over MPEG2, and new ways to measure loudness in motion picture theaters. Two half-day sessions covered ATSC digital audio issues and mathematics for HDTV and digital cinema.
There was even an HPA Insight/Foresight Visions Of The Future session, featuring several young media entrepreneurs. The Tech Retreat also features informal breakfast roundtables on two consecutive mornings, allowing interested parties to engage in ad-lib discussions of hot topics â€“ some of which follow presentations from the previous day.
I hosted a pair of roundtables on the future of terrestrial broadcasting (is there any, and what would it look like?), and also moderated a panel discussion on next-generation display technologies for evaluation-grade video monitors â€“ a very timely topic for post houses and studios that are befuddled by all the choices in LCD and plasma monitors, and who are skeptical that theyâ€™ll ever find anything to replace their beloved and trusted BVM-series CRTs.
Late in the evening of the second day, a bunch of us gathered around an outdoor fireplace at the Westin Mission Hills and talked about what trends and technologies the Retreat should focus on during future events. For most of this decade, the film and TV industries have been consumed with the growth and maturation of HDTV, not to mention multichannel digital audio, metadata issues, and new media formats like Blu-ray.
Now that all of those are established, what is â€œthe next big thing?â€ Will it be another technological advance, like 3D in the home? (Quite a few attendees who are Hollywood veterans told me at the Retreat that they didnâ€™t think so.) Will it be 4K imaging? 8K? With the recession forcing studios, networks, and station ownership groups to take a hard look at their bottom lines, could innovation take a back seat to managing budgets and content distribution for the next few years?
Or will â€œthe next big thingâ€ be the Internet? Social networking, file sharing, and YouTube have made it possible for virtually anyone to shot and edit videos and send them anywhere in the world, threatening the normal media distribution structures that have ruled for decades. (The quality of those videos and films is another matter.)
Whatever â€œthe next big thingâ€ turns out to be, weâ€™re already seeing the winds of change picking up. Profits at TV stations and broadcast networks are significantly down from last year. Even sports behemoth ESPN is seeing revenues tail off â€“ not good news when you are bidding over $1B for exclusive rights to the college football Bowl Championship Series.
Movie attendance is up in 2009, but so is illegal file sharing and ripping. DVD sales are way down and rentals are flat. And anecdotal evidence shows that a small but growing number of consumers are downsizing or canceling cable TV subscriptions in favor of Internet video delivery and downloads, supplemented by free terrestrial digital TV.
One thing is for certain: Whatever â€œthe next big thingâ€ turns out to be, you can be sure HPA attendees will already have heard about it, seen it, or taken a test driveâ€¦