Variety Entertainment Summit panelists bullish on early EST window

Execs from all the major studios testified to the myriad innovations they’re bringing to film distribution on digital platforms at the Variety Entertainment Summit on Wednesday, the first of a two-day event at the Consumer Electronics Show.

4K emerged as a big topic of discussion among the five studio CTOs assembled for the first panel. Citing all the exhibits on the show floor demonstrating 4K video, 20th Century Fox CTO Hanno Basse predicted that sets with ultra-sharp imagery will make their way into the homes of average Americans once prices come down and enough content is available.

“At some point, people will just expect all their content in 4K,” he said. “It’s going to become the new norm.”

But Lincoln Wallen, CTO at DreamWorks Animation, warned that the massive amounts of data 4K requires will present challenges in an increasingly multi-screen world.

“With all the different screens content is being consumed on now, you’ve got a far, far more complex environment than just the home entertainment TV market to get that information through.”

Another technology that drew the attention of the panel was movies employing a high frame rate, like Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit.” Warner Bros. CTO Darcy Antonellis acknowledged “Hobbit’s” 48 frames per second has polarized audiences, but she speculated that in time high frame rates won’t be an issue.

“I’ll make a comparison to six or seven years ago, the debates over converting to digital cinema projectors,” she said. ” It’s not even discussed today. Maybe five or six years from now we’ll have a different conversation.”

In a separate panel, home video chiefs from Sony and 20th Century Fox talked up the success they’ve found moving up the electronic sell-through window ahead of disc sales for select titles. Fox’s Mike Dunn noted the incredible performance “Taken 2″ racked up at year-end with a HD version sold for under $15. The title blew past one-year sales projections in the first two weeks. “We haven’t seen that since the early DVD days,” he said.

Sony’s David Bishop noted his studio has experimented with early digital sales on titles going back nearly two years and saw minimal cannibalization on the physical side of his business. “Tried and true strategies have to change,” he said. “The content must suit the medium.”

The summit also featured a Q&A with Anthony Bay, vice president of worldwide digital video at Amazon. He acknowledged working closely with studios on a broad range of distribution experiments. “Frankly, we have the ability to do anything our partners are willing to try to make content available to customers.”

Another panel on trendsetters in the film business addressed independent efforts to reshape the film business. Gathr CEO Scott Glosserman called on the theater exhibition business to allocate efforts like his more screen time. “Alternative content has to be the biggest growth area in theatrical distribution.”

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