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Hollywood’s Digital Future

Hollywood is embracing streaming and other modes of digital media delivery. That’s right. Despite a well-founded, Napster-fed fear of plunder by pirates in the consumer space, big movie studios, and production and post-production houses, are building digital media distribution into their business plans at an accelerating rate.

But don’t go searching for the latest blockbuster feature films online. Hollywood is realizing the benefits of digital media delivery, but not in the MP3.com kind of way — not yet, anyway. Film is a hugely collaborative medium — the long-rolling closing credits of an animated or effects-driven Hollywood feature testify to the creative interaction that drives such a production. The hundreds of credited artists, technicians and staff involved in a feature film typically have worked together on the project for up to a year or more, often in geographically distant facilities. This, however, presents fiscal and creative difficulties of its own. The answer is being found in efficient, cost-effective methods of digital media distribution.

Hollywood’s accelerated adoption of streaming and other forms of digital media delivery are being fueled by a number of factors. For example, attracted by tax breaks and other incentives, much of film and television production has fled to Canada, while production executives remain in Los Angeles. The value of timesaving efficiencies rises along with escalating production costs. And in a nod to globalization, filmmakers want to hire and collaborate with the best talent and facilities, no matter where they might be located.

Until recently, the media delivery method of choice was sneaker.net — VHS or Beta cassettes were distributed via courier or Federal Express. But Hollywood studios, television networks, and independent production and post houses are finding better — and cheaper — alternatives, and are beginning to employ streaming and digital downloads in virtually every phase of the production process. Likewise, providers of digital media services are betting that the key to Hollywood’s digital heart lies in applications customized for the film and television production workflow.

The Cast

The implementation of streaming technologies in the production studio workflow begins with casting. NBC, for example, uses the Telestream ClipExpress appliance to deliver MPEG-1 files at 1.5Mbps between its casting offices on both coasts. Previously, auditions videotaped in New York were sent via FedEx to NBC’s casting headquarters in Burbank. That meant some risk taking: While tapes were en route, NBC was vulnerable to losing talent to other projects with conflicting schedules.

"[Digital auditions] allow us to make decisions on the talent quicker and provide a competitive advantage," says Dan Hergott, director of IT at NBC. "They have also enabled us to avoid the expense of bringing [some actors] out to the West Coast to do auditions."

With Telestream, NBC can now make long-distance casting decisions in 20 to 30 minutes. The vision for the near future is to conduct real-time streaming auditions in New York, with direction from casting executives in Burbank. Upon completion of the casting process, the MPEG-1 audition clips are archived for future reference in the NBC casting database of more than 1,000 actors.

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