USC’s Entertainment Technology Center has a history of being in the right place at the right time. Created as a consortium funded by the major content, technology, CE and service companies, ETC’s stated goal is “to understand next-gen consumers and explore new opportunities for reaching them with digital content. ” ETC was the main player, for many years, in the efforts to arrive at a standard for Digital Cinema. With that task behind the organization, ETC and its CEO/Executive Director David Wertheimer have now turned their attentions to the Anytime/Anywhere Content Laboratory (AACL).
Anywhere/Anytime Content Lab
MobilizedTV had an opportunity to speak with Wertheimer about the lab and how it might help vendors to improve the state-of-the-art of mobile TV/video. Here’s what he had to say:
“We’ve been working on the lab for several months now but it’s just now coming to fruition as a place where we can gather people and have a critical mass of state-of-the art devices to show how content moves across platforms through the home and to consumers on the go. it gives us a real opportunity to provide context for the industry-shaping discussions we have at the ETC between content providers, systems operators, technology and consumer electronics companies.
The technology is changing every day. And so we and, importantly, our member companies came to the conclusion that it would be great to have a place where we could not only know that we could follow the state-of-the-art and see content as consumers would see it, perhaps before they’d see it in many cases, but use it as a opportunity to talk about where things are headed and how we can work together to make sure that consumer experiences are as good as we want them to be.
The AACL builds on the model and the success of the Digial Cinema Lab where people from multiple industries were able to come together and hash out how Digital Cinema could work and come into existence.
For the AACL, our executive sponsors include major content partners from Disney, Warner Bros. to Fox, Sony Pictures and Lucasfilm to companies like Sharp Electronics, Volkswagen of America, Cisco, and Alcatel- Lucent. Project sponsors include Dolby, SanDisk and LG Electronics. In addition to that, we have lots of companies that have donated hardware and software to the lab, to be represented there.
One of the things we’re doing in August and into September is building out the 3D home part of the lab. We’re largely looking at the technologies that either encode, decode or display 3D video. That said, we have a working group looking at 3D end-to-end.
We’re just beginning to build out the relationships and technologies from the mobile side. Alcatel-Lucent was the first board member to join us and they and we are interested in bringing in companies from the wireless service provider space to be a part of the discussions we have. We’ve talked quite a bit about the state of the market, what’s working and what’s not and what we can do better in terms of making things better.
With regard to mobile, we’re looking at questions such as, Are there opportunities for us to build towards more common formats, since there are hundreds of video formats required to service the various handsets? How can we help drive a movement towards sanity? I think this is an opportune time to be doing this. People have seen some excitement about mobile but cost is going to be important in the mobile space. So doing things efficiently both for the service provider and content provider are going to be really important. People weren’t focused on that when they were just excited to get content on the mobile device. How, now, will we encourage the right things to happen so we don’t have to produce 200 versions of a movie or TV show, but a much smaller number and make sure they look good?
In the lab, we have lots of portable devices, from Apple iPods to iPhones to LG Voyagers, which Verizon is an affiliate sponsor of. I think a lot of these guys are headed in the right direction. This game is far from over. If you look at where the iPhone is, it’s got a lot of people excited about video on portable devices which is good. But the field is still wide open. I think that if people are smart about creating devices that are easy to use and really good at providing a quality user experience, I think there is still a lot of room for people to make inroads.
In the lab, our goal is to see how consumers are consuming on the leading edge and how that changes how major content producers and those who have to build the big systems to enable it are going to do what they do. Trending is important to us, but we don’t need lots and lots of people sitting around the table with us to fully understand that. The reason we bring smaller companies together with our larger partners is it is important to have that dialogue. The next big distribution company might be a name we don’t know today. We need to continue to be out there looking for how things are changing technologically and from a consumer behavior point of view, and what that means for content and consumer electronics.
Currently, our lab is not open to the public. The use of our lab is one of the sponsor benefits of being part of our organization. We are exploring right now how to involve smaller companies. Traditionally, ETC has been a non-profit organization funded by very large industry-shaping organizations, because it’s been frankly the power of those organizations that have been able to move the needle. That said, in today’s world, where smaller companies can have more and more influence, we are constantly and are currently evaluating how we open it up for those kinds of companies to be involved.
We do several events such as Tech First Look where we invite start-up companies to make a presentations and have a dialogue with the member companies and other industry analysts and so forth. We do those events a couple of times a year. So we have ways to get those companies in front of our member organizations, but we don’t currently have a way for them to join.