Media Execs Gather at HITS 2014: Hollywood’s Digital Makeover

The Hollywood IT Society (HITS) — a community of IT professionals representing the studios of the MPAA and supporting information tech partners — hosted its annual day-long Hollywood IT Summit at the Hyatt Regency in Century City this week. Adapting to rapidly changing expectations for IT-related content production and distribution was the running theme at the April 22 event, where execs and creatives gathered to discuss network connectivity, cloud resources, big data, analytics, content management and more.

Steve Lapinski, CIO Film & West Coast Television for NBCUniversal, noted that the consumerization of IT has changed expectations of what an enterprise IT organization has become.

Alex Grimwade, SVP Television Production InfoTech for Twentieth Century Fox Television, added that the explosion of production volume can’t be managed without a systematic and rigorous approach to data. Standalone apps are easy, she said, but data integration is the missing link and the critical next step.

During ETC CEO Ken Williams’ CTO panel, Greg Gewickey, VP Digital Distribution Technologies at Warner Bros. Entertainment, said that three current focus areas for his team are: 1) creating better picture and audio, 2) advancing efforts in technical standards bodies, and 3) monitoring consumer trends worldwide. Creatives can drive tech adoption within the industry, he added.

Hanno Basse, CTO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, echoed Gewickey’s comments. It is important to create better picture and sound for both the home and theatrical experience, he said, as well as evolve the product for the younger audience. In five years, Fox’s product will need to be more than a 90 minute narrative.

Eddie Drake, VP Technology at Walt Disney Studios, spoke rhapsodically about the passion that people who created their own videos based on “Frozen,” and especially the song “Let It Go,” have shown. Disney worked with YouTube to monetize and support those consumer-generated efforts.

DreamWorks Animation CTO Lincoln Wallen added that activity on YouTube is an indication of how consumers want to interact. DreamWorks is more than a movie company, he said. It creates a world of characters. That enables the studio to engage the audience over many stories. He noted that consumers are looking for very different experiences than they did 20 years ago.

Gewickey mentioned that Media Camp, the Warner Bros. entrepreneurial media technology accelerator initiative, has produced results that “challenge our ideas” of where entertainment is heading and what consumers want.

Regarding the move toward even higher resolution content, Marvel Studios CTO Sean Flynn told the audience that the upcoming “Spider-Man” sequel, which is a 4K production, generated a “crushing” data load. They look to commodity boxes to economically manage the data.

“Every pixel costs us money,” Wallen added, “so we ask ‘how can we not do that and get the same quality level?’” He gave the example of varying the resolution of VFX elements. Basse also pointed out that the picture needs to look good at 5-inches and at 60-feet.

In a wide-ranging discussion of workflows and cloud resources, Flynn said that he is intrigued by the movement of data in live productions. He posited that the lessons learned in live productions will drive the simplification of technologies and processes used on-set for non-live productions as well.

Basse summed up many conversational threads by saying: “At the end of the day, you can’t BS your way out of it. The stuff either works or it doesn’t.”