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IR Interview: Jeffrey Katzenberg For “Quibi”

Sirk TV Print Feature: QUIBI (CES Highlights) [Las Vegas, Nevada]

The transformative power of consumer electronics and what they have to offer is always reflected in what the consumer wants but what is the next step in evolution. One would think going in that it would be reflected in the elements of the streaming revolution since the dirge of content only seems to be making the choices more dynamic but also more complicated for consumers. How does one piece through all the material. Only one company seemingly brought this ideal to CES.  The new structure of the show has the presentations spread out further across the city of Las Vegas with private demos becoming more the norm. Quibi hosted their presentation inside the Park MGM Theater, home to Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas residency.

Quibi was the most eye opening in a trade show mostly based on people having established resources but trying to make them their own. Here Quibi is taking the actual idea of the phone as a content resource and building an entire ecosystem around it. Many have been hearing about Quibi and the many intrinsic content deals it has been making with big name filmmakers and talent across town. The question became “How does it work”. David Katzenberg, best known from his animation days at the Walt Disney Company and as co-founder of Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg, could have rested on his laurels but is putting his name per se on the line. The result is a interesting library of material as he interrelated in his remarks, all original. To explain the content element, he used the comparison to Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code” book which used small chapters to entice the reader into continuing on. But the chapters were short enough that they were effective morsels to engage the reader on. Katzenberg believes the same is true of mobile content. The key is making movies and TV content into miniature episodes that make up a bigger movie or story. For example a movie could be broke down into 20 episodes of 6-7 minutes each. This opens the door to many creative possibilities for the creators. Sam Raimi, Paul Feig, Steve Spielberg and Guillermo Del Toro are among the vast numbers of people creating new stories in this way for this company. Katzenberg even related that Spielberg was one of the first people to sign on asking if he could only make his content so people could watch it after the sun went down wherever they were. This became the show “After Dark”.

Another aspect of this entire creative process needs to reflect in the technical. Meg Whitman (who used to run Ebay) is David’s partner in the venture. She describes herself as very analytical while Katzenberg can reflect what the creatives want. But it is about creating the tools of the platform with the creative in mind. The first step on tackling this process was the on-the-go viewing capability and how that would undeniably work. The ratio couldn’t just switch from portrait to landscape or use a pan and scan method that many filmmakers have used for years. Quibi had to change the way they told and filmed their stories. Some take it to a literal point while others make it a different editing process all together. In essence what each filmmaker/creator does in all of the projects is build two complete edits and cuts of the material so that at any point the material can shift from portrait to landscape depending on the way the user is holding it. This is called Turnstyle and it is not just in the aspect of seeing it in the presentation. After the keynote, attendees went to a private ballroom in the Park MGM to physically hold a phone and see how it works. These were only test clips and not live on the service but it gave one the perception.

But bringing tech and creative partners on stage made this clearer. Even though some of the presentation was clunky, others were inspiring and seeing practical application makes a difference. Actor Tye Sheridan who had worked with Steven Spielberg on “Ready Player One” stars in “Wireless” which is a short form series taking place in a car during a blizzard or at least part of it. The director, who is already shooting another series for Quibi, showed the camera rig they used see for some of the portrait in-camera material which both records the screen, the forward camera and the rear facing camera. It looks like a giant oversized cell phone but with all new technology it is taking these first steps forward. The landscape pieces are shot more traditionally like normal film but in seeing the cuts back and forth, one again gets a sense of what the technology is trying to do.

The last part of the long ranging but undeniably comprehensive approach to Quibi was advertising integration. What Quibi has done is quite remarkable but again it is approach ingthe creatives, even on an advertising level, from the ground up. Again without large names like Whitman and Katzenberg as well as creators like Spielberg and Del Toro, this wouldn’t be possible. Whitman explained that they had already sold out their fist year of advertising for 150 million. The actual cost of the service in terms of the content outlay is not known but thought to be in the billions possibly. But the price point at launch, which is set to be April 6th is $7.99 Ad Free and $4.99 without ads, is an interesting gamble. Whitman brought out a high level executive from Pepsi Co who also has Mountain Dew, Doritos and Gatorade under their build. And, as shown with their outside-the-box thinking with filmmakers during Super Bowl over the last couple years, this seems the perfect company. The exec showed two ads. One interrelated with the portrait/landscape play of Turnstyle which perfectly encapsulates the Pepsi Brand and can be done in many different ways. The other was actually built into the identity of a driving show using one of the cars and Mountain Dew. Being brought in at the beginning and at such a high level is inspired. And the ad loads per hour of programming is 2.5 minutes which is unheard of and not random at all. Other advertisers including Anheuser Busch, Proctor & Gamble, Taco Bell and T-Mobile.

T-Mobile is the last part of the puzzle but an important part. Whitman last brought the new incoming CEO of T-Mobile onstage who I’ll be bundling Quibi in with their new plans, especially since they (increased by their merger with Sptint) are heading the pace into 5G. With a partner like this who is also an advertiser, the groundswell is stacked in Quibi’s favor. The gamble is the embrace of the technology and the storytelling but also the intuitive nature of what is new without getting lost. The learning technology sees what you watch. The amount of material approximately and growing with be 175 shows and 6500 episodes with 5 episodes of different shows every day, every week for the whole year. Quibi also has different tiers of programming including the movie/tv storytelling, episodic and docs and a third tier with news, talk shows and round ups including NBC, TMZ and BBC. Quibi seems to have spared no expense and is covering all the angles. Now just comes the launch. An exciting prospect for sure.

By Tim Wassberg

3D Innoventions & IP Revolutions: The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show – Feature

The stagnancy of the consumer electronics business can be referenced to a recessed economy globally for sure. But the key becomes an aspect of freshness. The 2010 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas tends to prove that. Three years ago, the angle of 3D was being played with (albeit in a smaller way by Texas Instruments through their DLP brand). With the hype and now the overwhelming success of James Cameron’s “Avatar”, everyone is form is rushing to get on the boat and put some real money behind it. This was to avail most at Sony’s press day conference with one of its heavy hitters as revealed by Sir Howard Stringer, head of Sony Corporation globally.

Innoventions Before the press interaction begins prior to the first day of the show, the Innoventions reception is supposed to be able to highlight those new items that will intensify the presence of mind. What was available did not stand out despite a necessity of presence with both storage and 3D lingering in the background. Sensio was pushing their element of 3D with Vizio which was reflected in their apps store which was later eclipsed by Samsung’s announcement of similar outlay. The SD Association was showing their perceptions of the next couple years within the ability of SD cards to reach capacities of 1TB within 5 years but with no true accessibility yet to back it up. Pop Box also seen is just one of the many set top boxes attempting to bring new content into the home. However the universality of the apps process will have to come to play because not every manufacturer can create their own content pipeline.

OnStar w/Volt Recruited by girls in white shirts after the martinis of Innoventions had permeated flowed the wanton traveler into a nearby room hued in blue. There, Onstar proceeded to highlight their new technology for the Chevy Volt, a fully electric car. What the company was presenting was the ability of their new app on the Droid phone to control every facet of the car including watching where the charge is from a nearby angle, unlocking the door and otherwise controlling many amenities of the vehicle’s use.

Pioneer Starting off the essence of the ensuing press day within the Sands Expo on the cusp of The Venetian, Pioneer (formerly regarded as a leading consumer front facing home entertainment manufacturer) is now entrenched more fully within the automotive high-end industry with a focus on audio. The introspection of MusicSphere, one of their new technologies, takes the angle with a touch screen using “its own facets to control itself”. Their Pandora system will be interlinking MusicSphere with the other car systems but lacks full interactive application. Another interim of this UI is based within the use of Pioneer’s new Eco Tracking device which allows people to see the efficiency and impact of their vehicle. However, Karen Rubin, Director Of Product Planning at Pioneer, says that that the system does not retain or transmit back GPS locations in an effort to maintain the privacy of the customer. Voice recognition is also built into the touch screen functionality optimizing Bluetooth but such intents where not readily made until questioning.

Casio The smaller electronics manufacturer, specifically known for its watches (among other things) highlighted its propensity for high burst camera functionality which was touched on by founder Kazuo Kashio in his opening remarks. John Homlish, EVP of Sales & Marketing, then proceeded to focus on the Elixim line of cameras which allows (within a point and shoot [the EX-FH100 model] high speed photo bursts as well as high speed movie recording within 10x optical zoom. Another new product within the sect is their new digital picture frames which allows, with the use of both Wi-Fi and SD Connectivity, the ability to alter photos (especially using the high burst functionality) within artistic styles like gothic, oil painting or Faustian. It accomplishes this using a snapshot-to-painting conversion technology optimizing Adobe Flash playback to keep the file size down. On the digital projector front, Frank Romeo, director of that division, introduced a high brightness mercury free projector (Green Slim) that can illuminate over 20,000 hours without a bulb change or even a dim reduction.

Samsung Within a packed house, Samsung showed its leadership within the digital space introducing new 3D ready LED and LCD HDTVs. The LED 9000 is only .3 inches thick which is the thickness of a pencil with the LCD only .1 inches thicker. The metal sheen allows it to reflect light in an organic way. CEO Tim Baxter announced the initial play forward in terms of intent with Samsung Apps intending to make the interacting of Wi-Fi and internet plausible (although there was no intention of full internet interactivity – more just within the function of apps [which essentially act like widgets]). However this announcement was further verified by the revealing of a co-branding deal between Samsung, Technicolor and Dreamworks Animation. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO Of Dreamworks Animation, who has been a major proponent of 3D technology, came out in a show of support, saying that all Dreamworks’ animated movies will be authored in 3D. This process confirmed the essence of Samsung being the best to optimize this element. Katzenberg seemed quite impressed by the LED set that was less than 1/2 an inch thick marvelling at its briskness. Fredric Rose, CEO Of Technicolor, was also there delivering the first Blu Ray 3D disc of “Monsters Vs. Aliens” to Baxter. The Blu Ray Association only adopted the standard for the 3D discs a month ago so this prototype was straight off the line. The first abilities of these new discs should be seen entering into the marketplace next fall. In an additional arena, the Samsung E Paper Book Reader announced a deal with Google Books adding full access to their public domain book structure that numbers over 1 million.

Sony As the bustle of the convention center was bracing itself together, Sony waited to sally forth its wares. Sony recently, instead assuming the role of an electronics manufacturer, has been relating more to content integration although its professional Red Camera has been making a distinctive leap among filmmakers. Sir Howard Stringer, with his jovial and sardonic way (which makes him a fresh voice among his competitors) emphasized the extreme importance of 3D among the Sony brand. A heavy looking jib crane was perched alongside the audience with nare a thought to its actual functionaity. Sir Howard had people place on their 3D glasses through which they saw some projected concert footage of Jimi Hendrix. Stringer said that Sony had just made a deal with the Hendrix estate to optimize alot of his material in 3D including never-before-released footage. The next surprise Stringer introduced was Grammy award winning artist Taylor Swift, who is arguably one of the hottest tickets around. Swift confirmed that she is working with Sony Electronics within its 3D optimization to expand her empire and theirs. She states that she “always got cameras with me and laptops” and that this technology “lets me take everything I get to see” adding that “fans are always cutting edge”. She then proceeded to perform a song with her band that was being shot by the requisite jib camera (which turned out to be 3D) that broadcast live behind her as she was playing demonstrating a fully practical application of the technology in the real world. After the interlay of this performer, who needed to jet because she was attending The People’s Choice Awards that night, Sir Howard stood onstage with his trademark grin joking “maybe you’ll call us cool again…who knows?” He then went on to discuss the advent of Sony’s new deal with Discovery and IMAX to create a fully 3D network to optimize the possibility of what these enterprises have been able to capture, mostly within their wild and natural life divisions. Sir Howard also relayed that they will be doing a concert with Kenny Chensey called “Summer In 3D” to be shot exclusively with Sony 3D cameras. In addition, they will be opening a 3D technology center at the Sony compound in Culver City, California which will also be integrating live action technology. In even more advancements, they are also co-opting with CBS in the first 3D research outlay headed by David Poltrak and headquartered at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. After all this, Sir Howard then brought out George Bodenheimer of ESPN to announce that they are working closely with them in also creating the ESPN 3D Network. Sony is sponsoring this venture, which is very interesting considering that ESPN is owned by Disney which is Sony’s main competitor and also is owned in part by Apple. Interesting. In terms of upcoming sporting events that Sony will be integrating in 3D include shooting the FIFA World Cup in South Africa (and producing a concurrent 3D Blu Ray) as well as the Sony Open on Oahu in Hawaii. The PS3 is also adhering to the 3d space with Sir Howard announcing that the firmware on the console will be 3D upgradable to play 3D movies and games (although one will need a TV optimized with 3D hardware in order to view it).

Stan Glasgow, CEO of Sony Electronics, began introducing some of the new hardware additions bringing some of the focus back to actual engineering highlighting Sony’s new “Monolithic” designs permeated by the NX 800 which uses LED backlighting technology. The design has basis but, in all actuality, it is not as engaging as Samsung’s comparative TVs in their functionality. In terms of Blu Ray outlay, the Vaio continues with its proliferation of Blu Ray drives but it was the 400 disc Blu Ray changer that was unveiled that seemed the workhorse though few seemingly would be able to afford it. On the personal front. Glasgow also introduced the Dash which is a personal internet viewer you can use by your bed. Despite this, emphasizing the ability to update your Facebook status using widgets from your bed distinctly sounds like overkill. Sony also finally decided to embrace the SD card format in addition to their Memory Stick Duo Technology indicating that future Cybershot and Handycams will be interactive with SD elements in the future. This builds on the additional announcement of 17 new models of camcorders including a prosumer model with progressive scan which are optimized by Sony’s R Cemos sensors. The new digital cameras also have the capability for Transfer Jet which is a high speed data transfer technology between cameras which simply strikes as a faster form of infrared from years ago. The pocket introduction is Sony’s answer to the popular Flip cam called “Bloggie” which is a small personal video camera that can instantly update to a blog. Adding on this point, with every manufacturer pushing their pliability of being green, the Vaio Eco Edition Network has a body made out of recycled DVDs and CDs and a carrying case made from recycled plastic bottles and includes only a digital users manual.

Wrapping up the extension of Sony within the networked world highlighted by the PS3, Kazui Harai, the President of Sony Networked Products, spoke on the essence of the expansion of the Playstation Network to over 2700 film titles and 16,000 TV Episodes in the current year but with no intention to its optimization. Harai also announced the formation of Sony Network Entertainment, headed by Tim Shaff, former replaced head of Sony Connect & Sony Media Software, who will report directly to him.

Show Floor Possibilities One of the most striking interims on the floor was the revealing of Panasonic 3D Prosumer Video Cam which uses odjulating lenses to line the images together in terms of the multiple layers. The real world demo in full view in Panasonic’s booth shows the first step in making this technology mainstream by allowing filmmakers to use it without the weighing price of something like the Red. This model, due to launch next September, will have a retail price of $21,000. LCD TVs, many of them 3D, as evidenced by LG, are getting representative of thinner progression while every system seems to function with its own app program with Samsung in all actuality leading the charge. HD Radio, the progressive cousin of satellite radio, warrants adoption but without an intent for its inclusion in terms of amenities and possibilities its adherence in the marketplace seems moot.

DivX TV Launch – Moon @ The Palms With the advent of companies such as Vizio and Samsung using the set top hardware to push their apps baseline into different directions, it would make sense that the reverse would be true. DivX which has been on the forefront of encoding mechanisms from the very beginning would be a natural applet beyond something like Quicktime to tackle this aspect of content in a visible strain. While a very good idea, the motivation of the idea will be decided ultimately by hardware in the Internet TV revolution and not software. The smoothness of the video and the variety of content in the beta shows promise but it all becomes about the gateway with multiple possibilities available. DivX might be able to overcome obstacles in this way without a major cooperative deal. The launch party held atop the Palms Fantasy Tower with spins by Danny Masterson was an elegant and fun persistence of time with multiple running demos and exceptional music which really made the groove. The party was the way a good launch should be where the material speaks for itself but is not overwhelmed by the function itself.

MPEG Industry Forum This inside panel discussion on the expansion and possibility of video signal brought forth new progressions in transmission technology. Different forays of companies speak to different strengths and weakness. The first approached was AT&T’s U-Verse technology which has been intending itself since the advent of IPTV in 2005 and was represented by Paul Whitehead, executive director of video planning. Just this year, AT&T added 24 Megabit data service which is available in 116 markets in 22 states with enabled remote video access via iPhone which itself has gotten over 250,000 downloads of the app. New aspects of the service include sports multi-view. Whitehead says that AT&T looks at 3D as an exciting advancement especially with the possibility of a true UI on a set top box. The big question becomes aspects of specified structure like emergency alert systems in addition to the add-ons, closed captioning and ad insertion problems. One way to assess the challenges of integration which AT&T is currently doing is adaptive streaming which will be limited to certain points of customer need. In the future, adaptive streaming, Whitehead said, will change based on what is happening with the network since with adaptive, there has to be multiple encodes of everything which dictates that there is still a role for managed networks.

On a different view, Jim Kutzner, chief engineer for the Public Broadcasting Service, takes a more statistics based stance. PBS with 169 member licenses is working on a next generation interconnection system. Right now they are operating on a MPEG 2 video signal with a AC3 audio feed. They hope to enhance their output to MP4 but funding is locked though they see the progression in the next 6 years to a new standard. In terms of 3D, Kutzner says PBS sees 3D as discussions within the organization in the future although there are no current plans. The overall intent within the structure right now is planning original productions and then worrying about delivery as a case of problem solving.

As a matter of circumspect, Ajay Luthra, Sr. Director at Motorola, has a more practical view of the overall situation. He was one of the founders of the m.264 standard. He explains that success requires working business models but that standards certainly help. The key issue is interoperatability. The negative side of standards comes about when too many people are working on any given problem. The ultimate deal breaker, he says, is the money part of intellectual property rights. The expectation in terms of expansion this year is to address the aspect of adaptive and net streaming which is a tough nut to track in terms of mp4 licenses. As far as his perspective of 3D TV, he cautions that what we are seeing in the current market is low-res meaning that it is a stacked image using an mp4 AVC. The non-standard version comes in how you re-stack these images. He says that Motorola expects the final to be MBC based with full resolution. The next progression would be each eye seeing full HD which requires translation into the 1080 system. In terms of input, HDMI will solve the problem in terms of integrating this to set top boxes. The trick is that AVC is based on the integration of half horizontal and half vertical lines. Ultimately with 3D, the setback is that all UIs have never been standard thus commercial insertion of 3D might be a long time coming based possibly within a PPV system. The second incarnation to follow then will most likely include MPEG 2. The question will become ‘Do you want to do real time on-the-fly transcoding’ which will require immediate scaling of the image.

To balance these statements, Yuval Fisher, CTO of RGB Networks, says that digital program insertion is working in broadcast standards but PC delivery is still non-existent. 3D TV, he says, is heaven and hell for vendors at the same time. In terms of the problems of ad insertion as mentioned by Whitehead of AT&T, Fisher cites EBIF (enhanced tv binary interchange format) which is available on millions of current set top boxes that will allow for local insertion.

Bringing the aspect of a major distributor perspective in Microsoft, Christine Heckart, General Manager of Marketing and Business Development Of Entertainment, cites Microsoft Media Room as the comparative to AT&T’s U-Verse App. Her perspective is the necessity of “bucketing the future” in terms of distribution and consumption. The reality, she says, is that TV will be distributed over IP…”no question”. The first web pages we saw 10 years ago were “like brochures”. The new inlays are like TV in 1951. The truth, according to Heckart, is that shows on television don’t take advantage of the fact that they are on IP which is a two-way network meaning, in her estimation, that the “experience is unexplored and untapped”. She introduces the perspective of “The Cloud” DVR. Using this term, which Microsoft coined, you can download content through “the cloud” to your phone. This fact is what, she says, will change consumption dramatically. The TV will become all about layers. The Apps that are now being introduced are the “tip of the iceberg”. What developers are starting to realize is that advertising takes the consumer out of the experience. The standard should be the ads at the beginning while everything else is product placement. There needs to be what she calls an overall “shotgun approach” because the outward audience is fragmented. The key to making this work is open developers environment (which sounds kind of interesting considering Microsoft’s stance on this point vs. Mac). The reality is that all these evolutions are about money and what can motivate it. This is what causes change in the value plain. She admits that Microsoft has alot of different things it has to get done under “different wrappers” and that they “don’t always know what to bet on at the time” because of “meet-the-market requirements”.

To offer balance, George Huang of Huawei Corp. suggests that the relevance of all involved incorporates some of the trends which are becoming more consistent. The access here is contemplated in terms of wireless while consumption is decidedly based on demand. Operators are vindicated by the idea of being completely video centric but the reality (Huang cites Dubai as a truism) is that all the focus is purely on the business model. The question is how do you get media partners to work more directly with each other. The challenge becomes how to shorten the time from idea to market while keeping the cost down. The ultimate key is how to be mindful of the three “clouds”: internet, living room and digital.

Integrating the thoughts into conclusion, Theirry Fautier, Sr. Director of Convergence at Harmonic, explains that the first step of IP was getting it done. Now the idea is “how to compete”. The beauty, he says, of an IP network now is that you can publish to a device without knowing what it is or where it’s going. The reality is that the more you load a network, the more you have to invest in it.

CES this year was bombasted with the possibilities of 3D and the consumer implications, both in console and set top box application. The reality rests in the fact that there are intersections and kinks to be navigated on the way to enlightenment.

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