Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Digital Biscuit Review

There are two distinct elements to the digital revoluton. The first is in the the creation of content and the second is in distribution. The first has been a huge enabler, making it cheaper and easier than previously to make quality films. But the second is one of the biggest threats the industry has ever seen.

There are more films being made each year than ever before. Supply and demand suggests that the value of those films will be decreased by the wealth of content available to distributors (and audiences) and the fact that it is so easy now to pirate that material has left the film community in a seemingly constant state of worry in recent times. Movies are in trouble.

Enter Digital Biscuit, a timely annual event presented by the Screen Director’s Guild of Ireland featuring equipment workshops, panel discussions and inspiring talks with creators like Chris Nee (Angela Anaconda, Blues Clues, Deadliest Catch), David Yates (Harry Potter), Jim Sheridan (In The Name of The Father) and Richard Baneham (Avator). Alongside the seminars was a Kinoplay area, a room that allowed attendees to get hands-on with the latest digital equipment.

Sometimes these kinds of events can descend into so-called experts lazily telling the audience things they already know and generally despairing for a doomed industry while uncovincingly arguing that there will always be a market for content. Thankfully, Digital Biscuit, by contrast, was refreshingly energetic and all of the speakers had at least a couple of relevant nuggets that those in attendance could take away from it.

Deftly hosted by celebrated director Dearbhla Walsh, the day benefited from the fact that each presentation was restricted to 30-minutes with each speaker essentially invited to offer the ‘greatest hits’ of their experiences with digital filmmaking and distribution.

The event launched with a Thursday night screeening of Side By Side, a film about the science, art and impact of digital cinema before settling into the main event on Friday morning with a series of short seminars. Over the course of the day I, for one, picked up a lot of new information.

The point was made by Neil Leydon from the International Digital Services Centre that with video content in all its forms moving online, huge new opportunities are created and that Ireland,  much like we did in financial services, can create a similar ecosystem for large companies to deliver media content to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

To do that, it’s important to understand the changing landscape and Phillipe Brodeur of AerTV gave a quite fascinating overview of the digital world. Amongst his most interesting observations was that, despite the overriding feeling that everything is moving online, most people still watch TV when it’s broadcast, so in our rush to panic about the online world we mustn’t forget the large audience still watching on television.

He contends that content makers, pipe owners and screen makers have the greatest opportunity in the digital age. They are all necessary parts of the process and middlemen might well be squeezed out. That perhaps explains Netflix beginning to create their own shows.

Brodeur went on to point out, that 70-85%of data traffic to mobile phones will be video by 2017. Anyone creating video content needs to be thinking about what form that will take. Former Apple worker and all around digital genius Anton Nelson confirmed that we’re going mobile. And to prove his point, he reported that Intel is winding down the division that manufactures motherboards within the next three years.

The Online Distribution Panel, hosted by the dashing Patrick O’Neill of the IFB extolled the future virtues of VOD as a money-making platform and antidote to piracy. But, said the experts, it will only work if you have an audience. A short called Sea Wall by a pair of unknowns did much better online than a Guardian-backed Terry Gilliam short film because the filmmakers engaged their audience. One of the biggest changes we face is that the digital universe is a two way conversation.

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