After acknowledging the vast capabilities of interactive technology and its intimidating nature, a group of new-tech experts at a Big Picture panel downplayed the industry’s short-term impact and its long-term goals.

“D.W. Griffith moved the camera and revolutionized film – well, we haven’t even moved the camera yet,” said Red Burns, chair of the interactive telecommunications program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“Audiences are asking what the hell it all means,” added Scott C. Marden, president and CEO of Philips Media. “They’re also asking where they should place their bets. We have to be patient. We need to make the technology virtually invisible to software manufacturers, including the studios, and to consumers.”

The panel discussion “Interactivity: Profits or Promises” was the closer at the Big Picture conference April 4.

Elaborate demo

The panel opened with an elaborate demonstration and primer on interactive technology’s potential for content providers, manufacturers and audiences.

But afterward, five high-tech execs took pains to portray the industry in a user-friendly light, looking far down the road.

“There are no new sources of revenue required to make this business profitable,” said Stuart Johnson, chairman/CEO of Bell Atlantic Video Services. “It’s all a change in (market) share.”

Edward D. Horowitz, chairman/CEO of Viacom Interactive Media, agreed. “When HBO and Showtime were first formed 20 years ago, it was said that broadcast stations would go out of business and theaters would shut down. This is not a shift of economics. It’s bringing back different audiences, or expanding audiences.”

After quarterbacking a demonstration of new Microsoft technology and state-of-the-art computer-generated graphics that are heading for greater use in TV and film production, Microsoft VP of advanced consumer technology Craig Mundie acknowledged, “I believe it will be a decade before we coordinate the efforts of the computer and the film/video industries to make these products truly useful.”

“The fact is,” said Joe Cayre, chairman of GT Interactive Software and president/CEO of Good Times Entertainment, “the consumer likes to go to Blockbuster and interact with the store.

“I believe in the profits of today, not the promises of tomorrow…. In the entertainment business, it’s content that counts.”

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