Digital lockers and home 3D pose growth, hurdles

For showbiz, keeping up with innovation means reacting faster than ever before.

As Warner Bros.’ Home Entertainment Group prexy Kevin Tsujihara put it while at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, studios can’t afford not to keep ahead of and harness the latest innovations.

You have to stay in front of the technology,” he says. “If you don’t, consumers will find a way to get what they want” — sometimes illegally.

The coming decade is sure to bring further shakeups in the way studios distribute and monetize entertainment. Based on product at CES, here’s how things are shaping up in 2010 and beyond:

Real-life ‘Minority Report

WHEN IS IT COMING? Later this year. At least the first wave, if not the full vision.

Nintendo got consumers used to standing up and moving their bodies to play vidgames. Now Microsoft will roll out Natal as its answer to the Wii during the holiday shopping season. The innovation: You are the controller. Natal completely takes away the need for a physical controller and recognizes your face and voice.Sony has its own motion-sensing system (but using a Wii-mote-like wand) for its PlayStation 3 set to rollout this year, as well. And other companies like startup PrimeSense want consumers to manipulate their PCs and TVs by waving their hands, “Minority Report”-style with their own motion-control systems.

POTENTIAL HANGUPS: The success of the systems will depend on the quality of the games you play on them, and how the rest of Hollywood adapts will also be key. If the biz doesn’t come up with something worth waving your arms for, the only movement consumers will make is to press the off button.

Storing movies in clouds and chests

WHEN IS IT COMING? Early next year. Sort of. Maybe.

The presumed eventual replacement for DVD and Blu-ray comes in the form of nothing physical at all.

A consortium of studios, retailers and electronics manufacturers in the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem recently agreed on a format that will enable entertainment to be played across multiple platforms and devices.

The promise of digital storage is that studios won’t have to funnel their content through online e-tailers like Apple’s iTunes Store or Amazon, allowing Hollywood to dictate its pricing on its productions.

Digital distribution still represents a small piece of what studio homevideo divisions earn — during the previous quarter, sales of digital content grew nearly 20% to $420 million — but the new initiatives are part of a “Buy Once, Play Anywhere” strategy that essentially uses “cloud computing” to store any file consumers buy in a digital locker and access it remotely from any device, while protecting the files from being pirated.

Disney is developing its own digital storage service, dubbed KeyChest, to distrib its films and TV shows.

POTENTIAL HANGUPS: Educating consumers on how to store their digital libraries could prove difficult. And if everything’s digital anyway, why would auds buy and virtually “own” movies at all when video-on-demand is cheaper and easier?

3D at home

WHEN IS IT COMING? This summer. Really!

After years of touting 3D TVs as the next big thing, electronics manufacturers finally had something to show off at this year’s CES. Eye-popping visuals played on a line of slim new 3D TVs, and 3D-ready Blu-ray players from Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, LG, JVC and other majors are set to roll out as early as June. Jeffrey Katzenberg is a big supporter. DirecTV will launch three 3D channels in June and is creating additional programming with NBC Universal, MTV, HDNet, Fox Sports, CBS, AEG and Turner Broadcasting, among others, to air next year. ESPN will intro its own 3D sports net this summer. Discovery Communications paired up with Sony and Imax to launch its own 3D network next year, encompassing movies, TV shows and other fare. And Sony has opened the doors to its 3D Technology Center, a facility that will not only help Sony produce 3D movies and TV shows but educate the rest of Hollywood on how to work with 3D technology.

POTENTIAL HANGUPS: Don’t expect a boom overnight.

Those 3D TVs won’t come cheap, so buyers — especially those who’ve just taken advantage of holiday discounts to buy flatscreens — will wait for costs to come down before buying a new set.

Hardware makers also need to address the complications of the 3D glasses: they’re still bulky and awkward to wear in any position other than sitting upright. Consumers will need to have enough pairs of glasses on hand for everyone who wants to watch 3D fare at home. TVs that dont require the 3D glasses are in development.

The new wave of web TVs

WHEN IS IT COMING? It’s already here. But no one’s sure what to do with it all.

Get used to your TV looking more like an iPhone screen. The major electronics makers are making sure their newest HDTV sets and Blu-ray players can connect directly to the Internet.

They’ve paired up with everyone from Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, Net-flix, YouTube, Vudu, DivX and Pandora to eBay and Skype to install onscreen widgets that enable viewers to update their status, tweet about what they’re watching, view photos, stream movies and TV shows or radio and shop or make phone calls. Yahoo, newspapers and TV networks are also creating widgets to relay headlines and to promote their programming and offer DVD-like extras at the click of a remote.

Nearly 25% of all HDTVs that ship in 2010 will be able to connect to the web, according to research firm Parks Associates.

POTENTIAL HANGUPS: It’s still unclear just how many people want to interact with their TVs. Other web-TV services have struggled in the past. Although hardware makers can limit which widgets appear on their devices, it’s only a matter of time before someone figures out how stop paying for TV and access Hulu through their sets, dropping the value of the 30-second spot. And too many widgets could eventually clutter TV screens, overwhelming viewers already frustrated with having too many channels and nothing to watch.

E-literacy

WHEN IS IT COMING? It’s already here. Everywhere.

Amazon’s Kindle has built a market for e-Books and e-Readers, and some 40 different types of the devices are expected to be available soon.

The devices have definitely gotten the publishing biz excited over the prospect of selling more books — a digital dollar is still bankable, after all — and Hollywood has embraced the concept for staffers to read scripts and cut back on copying costs. Still, it remains to be seen whether there’s enough consumer demand for text-reading gadgets that cost $260 to $490.

But never underestimate the power of Apple. It’s perfected the art of developing products people didn’t know they wanted but have learned to covet and is gearing up to unveil a tablet device that will essentially be an overgrown iPhone. It could also sell millions more apps while providing studios and networks with a new platform to promote their projects.

POTENTIAL HANGUPS: The devices still come at a steep price. Also, consumers may tire of lugging around multiple devices and stick with just their iPhone, BlackBerry or other smartphone.

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