DIALING FOR TUNES: The rumored deal between IBM and Blockbuster Entertainment is now fact. Blockbuster bought a company called Soundsational 2 1/2 years ago, and quietly developed its proprietary system that moves it away from CDs and videotape to the digital world.
“It’s the system we have devised that will permit transmission of digitized information across phone lines,” said a Blockbuster exec.
In other words, it can send music and video to the retailers’ 2,000 stores with a phone call. The data would then reside on a large computer hard drive that could hold up to 100,000 titles. From there, customers would select the song and it would be printed out to compact disc, mini disc or cassette. IBM president John Kuehler alluded to such a project last month at the Consumer Electronics Show (Daily Variety, Jan. 11)
It’s the storage drives on which IBM comes in. Reportedly, Blockbusters’ David Lundeen talked with the Boca Raton office, where IBM’s R&D is centered, and found a willing strategic partner.
“IBM is probably not going to be the only partner involved,” said David Baron , an editor of Digital Media. “The only way for this to be successful is to have all the different retailers sign up. For the record labels to go along, it has to not be just one retailer.”
YOW, IT’S A Super Mario Matinee: Toronto’s Cineplex Odeon Corp. is drawing kids into its theaters by putting Nintendo videogames onto its movie screens. It’s a smart move for a theater chain that is half-owned by Matsushita’s MCA Corp.
Audience members will be called onstage by a host to play one of Nintendo’s popular games for about five minutes. Kids get into the theater for $ 3 for the hour and Cineplex gets bodies into its seats before the evening shows. Typically , half the audience gets to play during the hour.
“Some theaters are empty during the day and this will occupy them,” says Howard Lichtman, Cineplex’s executive vice president of marketing. “And Nintendo releases as many titles as films. We’re marketing a new form of entertainment to the same audience we have in the theater.”
Lichtman says he approached Nintendo, the world’s largest videogame company, with the idea last spring and test-marketed it in some out-of-the-way theaters. The game playing requires little retrofitting, but does mean having a complete package for the theater, from the live host to Nintendo merchandise for the winners.
Is this coming to America? “Obviously,” says Lichtman. “If it works, you’ll see it in the States. Two-thirds of our theaters are there.”
KICKIN’ MEDIA: AND Communications has been selected as one of 10 companies by Kalieda Labs Inc. to work with its ScriptX, an authoring language for multimedia titles that will work on Apple and IBM machines. The decision was made in January after AND supposedly wowed Kalieda’s Mountain View office.
Kalieda was created in October 1991 as a joint venture between the two computer makers. Paramount Technologies and Warner New Media are already on board as title developers.
AND is also shopping around a demonstration disc for the World Cup of Soccer, the quadrennial event that draws some 2.3 billion viewers to the tube around the world. The U.S. will be the site for 1994, and sponsors ABC, American Express and others are looking for a kiosk that will offer the 3 million expected visitors a host of services in four languages.
For instance, AND is serving up a way to select seats in the Rose Bowl. With a click on the screen, buyers get to see a snapshot of the field from their seat. The system would also give a history of the game, members of the 180 teams and the game chart.
MORE ON HOLOBYTE: There’s a new addition to Spectrum HoloByte Inc. the videogame company in Alameda. That’s the software-maker that boasts AT&T, venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and possibly even Paramount Technology Group as investors. Spectrum just hired Ron Martinez as executive director for New Entertainment, which he says means “finding new entertainment categories, focusing on new audiences.”
Martinez was co-founder of TransProMedia in New York, a computer game developer.
According to Martinez, he has several tasks. One is develop titles. That also means having a production studio up and running in three months. Then, he must find talent, which also means developing new relationships with writers, directors and agencies.
“Once we get past the technology driving the production, it boils down to talent,” he said. “That means dreaming up new ways to structure deals. ”
WRITERS UNITE: The Writers Guild is taking an active stance on bringing its members up to speed with multimedia. Last December, it formed the Creative Media & Technology Committee out of the old Informational Films committee. The word, according to WGA assistant executive director Jane Nefeldt, is that the new incarnation will focus on how old material is recycled in new technologies. For example, the reuse of theatrical and TV work is covered by the guild agreement.
“We’re concerned that the membership isn’t aware of this,” said Nefeldt, “though the agreements were covered in 1973.”
Well, there wasn’t much threat of so-called new technologies back then, except for early laserdiscs. But the guild was prescient enough to use the following language, “or other device serving similar functions.” Nefeldt said that “should take us into the next century.”