HPA Tech Retreat: ETC Details Its Executive Coffee Program

During the HPA Tech Retreat, ETC Immersive Media Initiative program lead Phil Lelyveld presented highlights from the Entertainment Technology Center’s “Executive Coffee With…” program, a series of discussions between ETC industry members and USC students on a range of topics related to the future of entertainment. To date, executives from Verizon, Universal, Fox, Equinix, Vubiquity and Dolby have posed questions to the USC students, on topics from production during COVID-19 to the future of the theater experience.

USC students described their experiences producing content during the pandemic, with several enthused about the opportunities to collaborate with people all over the country and the globe. “Editors, production designers — we’re all getting real-time input and that creates full-time collaboration,” said one. “That takes your film to a new level.”

With regard to game production, several students were excited over new toolsets in both Unity and Unreal Engine, which they said improved collaboration. Another student, who is a teaching assistant, described a new “DIY attitude” among students. “We have to take ownership of our own education,” he said.

As to the future of the movie theater experience, one student said she and her friends still “love” that experience, and another pointed out that, in some parts of the U.S., moviegoing is one of the few forms of entertainment available. Another, however, believes that exhibitors need a “higher value proposition,” such as IMAX. One student reported that she was happy to pay $90 for a “Stranger Things” event with a “drive-in theater vibe.”

Examining the impact of analytics, one respondent said that, “analytics will be incredibly more relevant with the direct-to-consumer model.” “Those that finance a film can see it in real-time and have impact earlier,” he said. Another student, however, pointed out the risk with such a model. “How will that impact the creatives?” he asked. “Will it devalue taking risks?”

With regard to content distribution, one student said she subscribes to “at least eight different streaming platforms.” “I am moving to ad-supported streaming services and I see that shift with my friends,” she said.

Another student noted that limited bandwidth brings users “closer and closer to the red line.” Others complained about limited bandwidth when streaming sports games. “It keeps stalling and crashing,” she said. “On ABC or NBC, it plays just fine.” Although she doesn’t see herself as “going back to cable.” Another noted that cable is “the security blanket we keep holding onto because there are glitches with streaming apps.”

In a discussion on diversity, students noted that it would be ideal to have a pipeline from a studio’s program to jobs at that studio. Another noted that when a studio pays the first year’s salary of an intern on a TV show, the show will let that person go when it has to pay for the salary. “It’s a huge problem,” she said. “They don’t retain people of color and women.”

The full “Executive Coffee With…” videos can be seen here. Another round of executives’ discussions with USC students will be conducted in the spring.