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Bizzers think cloud will work, eventually

Studio execs talk film distrib'n at Variety Entertainment Summit

The challenge of moving film distribution to the cloud hasn’t darkened Hollywood’s sunny disposition toward the technology, according to some of the studios’ leading execs at CES on Wednesday.

The early efforts involved in launching UltraViolet was topic A for those assembled for the “Masters of Film & Technology Breakthroughs” panel at the Variety Entertainment Summit. Ultraviolet has become important because the whole point of the system is to drive ownership of films at a time when rental, which has far lower profit margins, is growing tremendously.

Ira Rubenstein, executive VP of digital marketing at 20th Century Fox, noted the iterative nature of even the most successful digital content platforms including iTunes, which has evolved rapidly.

“For cloud services, we’re just seeing the beginning and they’re working hard to make it better,” Rubenstein said. “And as they make it better, there will be a faster adoption.”

Even though Disney hasn’t thrown its lot in with UltraViolet, the conglom is pursuing its own cloud-based solution via Disney Studio All Access. Lori MacPherson, executive VP of global product management at Walt Disney Studios, emphasized that simplicity is the key to any cloud-based solution’s success.

“The exciting thing for content in the cloud is any consumer who has used an ATM machine should intuitively understand what it is now,” she said.

Thomas Gewecke, president of digital distribution at Warner Bros., noted that consumer adoption of the cloud changes their relationship with the studios who will be able to better market content to them.

“We see a future where if you bring DVD collections into clouds and keep a copy of what they buy going forward, you have a situation where you look at a consumer’s library and notice they have ‘Lord of the Rings’ DVDs, and now you can tell them, ‘Don’t forget ‘The Hobbit’ is coming out tomorrow,'” he said. “Consumers get targeted messaging.”

Earlier this week at CES, Rovi Corp announced a new system in coordination with UltraViolet that allows DVD owners to get digital copies of titles they already own on disc.

A social media platform like Facebook might not seem like an obvious partner for UltraViolet, but the company’s head of market development, Matt Jacobson, said there’s a link: “As long as they’re frictionless and you’re able to deduce what your friends want, new tools make it really powerful for people to find things,” he said. John Calkins, exec VP of global digital and commercial innovation at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, also sees cloud-based distribution as the place to supplement movies with enhanced features that allow for deeper engagement. “The viewing experience is changing with these digital two-way connected platforms,” he said.

But all the innovation going on in film distribution can be something of a double-edged sword, cautioned John August, a screenwriter whose credits include “Big Fish” and “Corpse Bride.” “Every time you try to differentiate yourself, you move away from a common standard that my mom can understand,” he said. “You want standardization and differentiation at the same time, and those are conflicting forces.”

The panel was moderated by Richard Whittington, SVP Media & Entertainment Industry, SAP.