A Whole New Lexicon: David Caruso Launches Online Video Company
"The coming generation isn’t interested in traditional entertainment," Caruso says. "I’ve been pretty clear about that and shared my thoughts with CSI creators and CBS that in order to begin the preparation for the coming generation, interactivity has to be the basis and the foundation." Examples of what he has in mind include adding live webcasts of rehearsals and scene shootings (with that footage later available on demand for viewers to mash up as they desire), allowing the audience to cast guest stars, and—most radically—giving viewers access to the entirety of CSI, broken up into individual shots, soundtrack elements, and images, and allowing users to create what is essentially their own version of the show. For instance, one might create an entire season of 24 shot only from the point of view of Kiefer Sutherland’s character, and with an emphasis on action rather than exposition.
"If viewers were able to do that, would they not then be more likely to show up on a Monday evening in a way that they wouldn’t now be interested in?" Caruso says. And, from a monetization standpoint, he sees value in each of those individual elements. "A signature Horatio Caine shot has a different monetary value than a more pedestrian shot, a more mundane shot."
Caruso acknowledges that viewers are already creating mashups and radical re-edits of TV shows and movies, but he sees value in established entertainment brands providing viewers with many more options than they have now in exchange for a subscription fee.
Caruso and Lahr say that CBS, and particularly CEO Les Moonves, has been supportive of the move toward interactivity but that changes aren’t going to happen overnight. "It’s one thing to say ‘interactivity is important,’ but they’re still making millions off of the old format," Caruso says. "So we have to take things very slowly before they’re going to change anything. We’re not scaring everyone by saying we’re going to have the Google Earth version of the show next Monday night."
Caruso met Nein via a mutual acquaintance, and the two started talking about the future. "Within 15 minutes I couldn’t see him as a television star," Nein says. "I could only see him as an entrepeneur. I asked him how much control he wanted, and he said was interested in controlling a company and talked about patents and trademarks. I said he had to have a top engineer as a CTO, and that’s what brought us to Nils."
Breaking the Rules
So what, exactly, is Lexicon Digital’s value proposition? If you look at the company description on its website (www.lexicondigital.tv), you’re not likely to come away with any clear answer, as it’s a litany of technologies and media, from IPTV to mobile media to teleconferencing, from object-oriented streaming media to "real-time postproduction, layering, redirection, and editing."
Because the company is still in stealth mode, Lahr can only get slightly more specific. "We don’t believe that any amount of technology surrounding linear content on the internet will be competitive," Lahr says. "As soon as you say ‘frames per second,’ you’ve boxed your world; you’re living in a bubble that says all you can do is frames per second. And those frames themselves live in their own world, and don’t interact with anything else."
Lexicon is working closely with Tom Honeybone and the rest of the Silverlight business development team at Microsoft; it’s already a licensed Silverlight vendor. "Silverlight is one of the first times I’ve been reinvigorated with what they’ve been doing since I left there 8 years ago," he says. "No other company is better positioned to take advantage of where the market is going than Microsoft."
But he also says that too much emphasis has been put on formats, which he describes as a way to "monopolize the next generation. All formats do is let them hold the keys, and right now the only companies that hold the streaming keys are Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe. They’re wrongly using the format and the monopoly and holding back the experience."
Clearly, one of Lexicon’s primary goals is to make the postproduction process more streamlined and economical. He says it takes about $4 million to create an episode of CSI, and that includes an immense amount of video that never actually makes it into the TV show. "If you were to create another two or three or eight mini-episodes using that footage, you’d incur another $2 to $3 million in production costs," Lahr says, claiming that Lexicon has created a digital workflow that allows for that to be done for 10% of the current costs. Pressed for more specifics, he says that part of the solution involves the ability to perform two-way digital editing of high-definition footage over a 1MB connection. "If you take postproduction and match it with Lexicon’s technology, you put postproduction after distribution."