Hollywood Technology Execs Gather at Annual ETC Dinner

The Entertainment Technology Center @ the University of Southern California (ETC) held its 8th annual Studio Technology Leaders Dinner this week, which coincided with the 26th anniversary of ETC’s founding. Executive director & CEO Ken Williams noted that the event, which was underwritten by supporting sponsor Equinix and contributing sponsor WekaIO, would honor industry leader Leon Silverman with the Bob Lambert Technology Leadership Award and feature a panel to examine some of the industry’s most pressing issues in “Media Fundamentals in Flex: Conflict, Chaos or Collaboration.”

Williams (below) reported on ETC’s recent work to tackle the industry’s “most interesting and vexing problems,” including the state of adaptive production, cloud-based post production, blockchain technology for the media and entertainment industry, VR/AR, big data and analytics, machine learning/AI, smart cities, and the media and commerce opportunities of IoT.

“Based on the interest level, we will launch another track on 5G enablement in the next year,” said Williams, who advised attendees that ETC will publish white papers this summer and fall addressing critical issues. Williams also introduced the incoming chairman of ETC’s executive board of directors, Michael Wise of Universal.

Equinix chief executive Charles Meyers welcomed attendees, describing how “the challenges facing digital media in the early days of the Internet catalyzed the foundation of Equinix as the steward of digital media.” He enumerated the various changes wrought by “devices in our pockets” and how “a wave of transformation [is] changing every industry on the planet.”

“The architecture of choice is emerging and it has a logical home — the digital edge,” he said. “Our value proposition is our global reach to 24 countries and 52 markets, and we’re proud to work with many of you. You make us better at what we do.”

Williams introduced Netflix director of post production operations and creative services Leon Silverman (below), a 40+ year industry veteran who previously held important roles at Disney, LaserPacific, Eastman Kodak and Compact Video. He has been a leader of HPA, which honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award; he has also won two Emmys and holds five patents. Paramount Pictures’ alum Garrett Smith, Disney/ABC Television Group’s Vince Roberts and HPA president Seth Hallen lauded Silverman, who called himself “uncharacteristically speechless.”

“Thanks to all the people in this room and so many other people in my life who have mentored me, taught me, challenged me, supported me, especially my wife Suzanne, my partner and rock,” he said, also acknowledging Dean Elizabeth Daley’s “visionary guidance, Ken [Williams’] leadership of the ETC and the continuity and smiling face of ETC, Edie Meadows.”

The event’s panel about industry issues included the following guests: Sony Pictures Entertainment senior vice president of technology Bill Baggelaar; Technicolor chief technology officer Bob Eicholz; Paramount Pictures executive vice president worldwide, technical operations Tony Guarino; Warner Bros. executive vice president, digital product, platform & strategy Justin Herz; Cisco chief technology officer, NDS, Hugo Latapie; Microsoft senior director, Azure M&D Mark Miller; Walt Disney Studios chief technology officer Jamie Voris; and Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chief technology officer Michael Wise.

Among the trends discussed was the growing impact of massive amounts of data. “That’s our biggest pain point,” said one panelist. “The amount of data generated from the set, VFX and all facets of production is staggering.” Another panelist agreed that, although massive bandwidth has become ubiquitous, it’s still not enough. Another noted that clients are asking for “better, cheaper, faster.” “The old adage of pick two is no longer true,” he said. “We have to do all three.” The cloud “represents a transformative technology that can empower workflows and innovations,” agreed panelists.

The use of game engines and virtual production were also cited as significant. “How films are getting made is a radical transformation,” said one panelist, who noted that, “the impact of work practices that come from the animation world have been incredibly positive.” Although the major studios are embracing these new technologies, “story is still the driving narrative for our content and if the technology can help, then the creative will embrace it.”

Panelists agreed that they can play a role in demystifying the technology to spark greater adoption.

Williams reported that, “there are a number of serious initiatives to see how to migrate from traditional distribution models into new ones, be it advertising supported or subscription OTT.”

“With so many platforms out there, it’s never been a better time to be a content producer,” he concluded. “There’s a new level of creativity and activity in our industry. I have a lot of hope in this rising generation of content creators and new types of distribution. Don’t forget you can try things in a university setting and fail without consequences. I encourage you to spend time with ETC — we can chip away at some of these problems together.”