Content creation, distribution and ownership are having more sway than ever on the world of communications and that influence is likely to accelerate as the next generation of mobile networks is constructed and consumed.
As this is happening, it does help to find out what the people at the major intersection points of technology, communications and content are thinking, and how they’re planning to take advantage of the capabilities that are just around the corner.
To that end, Light Reading took a tour of the new Disney’s new StudioLAB to see what kinds of projects are in the works and how the company’s work with Cisco and other technology partners will help it become a new kind of service provider — one creating content experiences for mobile devices and public spaces alike.
Check out this interview with Ben Havey, VP of the Technology Innovation Group at The Walt Disney Studios, and just imagine what’s ahead. Once you’re done reading this interview, please have a look at our quick video recapping the StudioLAB tour and my blog with some additional reporting and analysis.
Phil Harvey: We’re in a space called StudioLAB. Is it more of a studio or more of a lab?
Ben Havey: I think it’s the best of both worlds, because it’s actually a lab on the historic studio lot and so I think both words really have a lot of power, and when you bring them together I think it really describes who we are and what we do.
PH: One thing that Disney’s talking about a lot lately is the direct-to-consumer relationship and how it can be part of consumers’ lives. How does the StudioLAB facilitate that?
BH: I’m super excited about our direct-to-consumer efforts and where we’re going with streaming. I think our role here in the lab will be to help our creatives and executives be more efficient in how they create content, so one of the things that we’re being asked to do is make more movies, and make different types of content experiences, and we think we can play an important role in helping make that happen.
PH: Inside the StudioLAB there are all kinds of technologies being used… Does any of this hint that you’re in a serious content development phase for direct-to-consumer streaming?
BH: I mean I think I wouldn’t necessarily focus specifically on streaming. I mean we are thinking about content creation across a bunch of different dimensions, certainly streaming’s part of it.
In fact, here at the StudioLAB, because of the fact that we’re embedded within our theatrical business, we’re actually focusing a lot on exhibition technology. We think that access to content is super important, but there’s something about this creation of value and awareness that happens during the release of a film that we think is so important, and so absolutely looking across a bunch of different dimensions.
A lot of what you see here in the lab is about that collective experience of media. When you’re going out, seeing a movie, maybe you’re doing it a new way. Doing it with friends, doing it in a different context, or perhaps having a different perspective on what you’re seeing, so that’s a big focus for us.
PH: Okay, in those event-based consumer experiences, like going to a movie, what’s the StudioLAB looking at in the short term?
BH: I think there’s both short term and medium term technologies that are coming that are going to change a lot of things, so I think in the short-term OLED displays and really vivid projection can really change the way we experience things. Some of the stuff that we show here as a next generation movie poster that’s OLED based that I think is really dynamic, or projection mapping, leveraging some of our parks technology to bring new life to ordinary spaces. Imagine theater lobbies that come alive and that are connected to the movie you’re about to see.
In the medium term, we think that technologies like augmented reality… in fact, phone-based AR is already here and we think that’s very powerful, and then looking forward to when it becomes more immersive. We think that is such an amazing opportunity, especially for us because we are in the business of building worlds. Our movies are worlds, and we think that these technologies are just new ways of bringing users into those worlds.
PH: One thing about the Studio Team here is that obviously the whole space is set up to enable collaboration. How important is collaboration here and how is that changing with the technology you’ve put to use?
BH: Excellent question. And I think what we have discovered in creating this place is that we’ve unlocked, and we’ve satisfied, a need that we didn’t know was there before. Technology can be somewhat ephemeral, so I think having all of the different ideas, or the different concepts that we’re developing in one place, really helps with strategy and education, but also, it makes it much easier to integrate [teams of creative workers].
One of the things we’re really excited about, especially with our partner, Cisco, is how do we take the different pieces of collaboration and make that into something that’s super streamlined and super easy? The first eight to ten minutes of every meeting in the world is lost to trying to figure out how to connect, and if we can not only make that process seamless, but also have the right content pop up and provide the right security, and then also make that collaboration experience work in a number of dimensions.
Seeing other people’s reactions is super important, but we also want to be able to have super high-quality video review, annotation, white boards — really making it as if you were in the same room together, but maybe you’re in New Zealand and somebody else is in London, and there’s somebody else here in Los Angeles.
It’s super important to our business, because we’re asking our creatives and executives to make these really intense decisions based on the information that we have, so anything we can do to help make ideas more vivid or to communicate reactions better is only going to enhance our business, and we think Cisco is absolutely the right partner to help make that happen.
PH: Let’s talk about 5G networks. They’re on the way. With 5G networks right around the corner, there’s obviously a push to use technology in different ways. What technologies are most important here at the StudioLAB?
BH: There are four technologies that we think are super important to this lab, and the way that we think about this lab is in two-fold. One, we want to try to take studio problems that we were trying to solve and accelerate those with great partners, like what we’re doing with collaboration. Two, we want to tap into new businesses or new opportunities that weren’t there before, and so some of the things that we’ve talked publicly like the the a partnership with Oculus have been really interesting.
We think the things that are driving us forward here are — and I’ll come to 5G as the last one — real time graphics and game engine technology; augmented reality and virtual reality projection, vivid screen, new visual systems; artificial intelligence and machine learning.
But the one that I think is actually the most important and the most exciting is actually the 5G rollout. The reason why is that with 5G, not only are you going to get super-fast downstream, so that’s going to make the ability to consume big experiences [possible]. You think video is a bandwidth hog? The kind of experiences we’re talking about are game-engine quality or better, so just the ability to deliver these experiences on to consumers, but also the low latency. That participatory aspect of this future vision that we have means that people are in the world and they’re talking to other people and they’re communicating in real time, and the low latency nature of 5G, I think will really help.
That’s more on the consumer side. On the production side, I think there’re profound implications. Imagine you’re in the field and you’re trying to show somebody something, what if you could stream 4K over 5G, and be like, “No, we’re talking about this. This, this right here. That costume right here.”
Or, even a step further. Think about a 5G connected camera that could potentially shoot right to the cloud. These are all things that I think are coming, and will only help our business.
H: Where do you see this going in terms of movie making and maybe the consumer experience in general, say in the next two to three years?
BH: I think that’s another really important role for the lab is it’s not just about technology, it’s also about using that technology to create content, because in order for our studio leadership and creatives to absorb this, it’s not just about [technical] capability. They want to see the experience, so we have a small experimental content program here where we’re working with our best and brightest creatives, and new technology, to produce short experiences that either solve specific technical problems, or articulate new ways of storytelling, and this is a way to eliminate the risk.
If we can use [new technology] in a small way to tell a story, or to create or convey some sort of new experience, then it can find it’s way into production. The good news is there’s so many different types of content creation that happens here. In some cases we’ll start with marketing content and then as the fidelity gets better and we work out the workflow it finds its way into the hands of film makers.
That is the ultimate goal, to get tools into the hands of film makers and I, for one, am so overjoyed with the reaction that we’ve had. We’ve had so many folks come through and there’s just such an appetite for new ways of doing things, for new approaches, and every single creative or executive leader that’s come through here has just been, ‘Yeah, this is such a great time to be in the business that we’re in.’
PH: What’s your favorite thing about how the creative workflow is changing — either with collaborative tools, networks or just new technology in general?
BH: I think what is so exciting is… offering our creatives more iteration — and more opportunity to refine. The more that we can do that, and the more we can drive iteration earlier in the process, the better the final result is, so that’s been really great. I think that production is this really complex process that involves lots of moving pieces and — to whatever degree — if we can provide technology that allows groups to work together in a more harmonious way, in a more collaborative way, we’re creating value for the company.