HDTV in pic future

Berg envisions satellite-delivered exhibition

ANAHEIM — Jeff Berg, chairman and CEO of Intl. Creative Management, predicted that in five years delivery services won’t be wrestling any more with bulky cans of film because the average movie theater will get its theatrical print “via direct downloading by satellite.”

Speaking as a panelist at Thursday’s general session of the Western Cable Show here, Berg said that on most multiplex screens “the quality of the image will be indistinguishable” from a film print shown by a projector because of “heightened video techniques.” The only theaters that might still require the projection of physical reels of film are ones with giant screens like the Ziegfeld in New York, where the satellite-delivered image might lack “the richness, texture and density” of film.

Berg was speaking in the context of directors such as James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola “stepping out of the box” and starting to experiment with shooting film in high-definition TV. But, Berg continued, “I don’t see the studios rushing toward” making movies and TV shows in high-def because TV stations and cable systems still haven’t decided whether to start setting up the delivery system that would transmit these enhanced pictures into people’s living rooms.

But filmmakers are beginning to make movies in the large-screen Imax format, despite the huge expense of the elaborate camera equipment, because more Imax theaters are springing up, responding to consumer demand, he said. By contrast, high-def will be limited, he said, to sports events, feature films and some documentaries, adding, “A sitcom would be inappropriate in high-def.”

For high-def to start gaining a foothold in the marketplace “the economic model will have to change,” panelist and Wink Communications CEO Maggie Wilderotter said. She added that the retail cost of the average TV set is $297, whereas prototype high-def TV sets will cost $6,000.

Bob Pittman, president and CEO of AOL Networks Inc., also on the panel, said another drawback to high-def is that “television viewing is driven by content, by narrative form. These won’t be improved by high-definition TV.”

The importance of content was driven home to Berg, he said, “when the re-release of ‘Star Wars’ earlier this year made almost as much money as it did in 1977 when it first came out. And Nick at Nite has become successful with TV shows made 25 years ago, such as ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ ” Berg also cited the ongoing trend of studios remaking old TV shows as big-budget theatrical movies. “Good product,” he said, “can last for 40, 50 years.”

Berg also emphasized the importance of branding in helping networks like Nickelodeon, Discovery and Lifetime to create an identity in the mind of cable subscribers. But, except for Disney, he said, the giant media companies “don’t do a great job of creating brands. People don’t say to each other on Friday night: I want to go to see the new Paramount movie.”

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