The healthcare industry talks about silent killers: diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. These are dreaded diseases that creep up on one, subversive in nature, manifesting in people who once thought they were healthy. The digital motion picture industry has its health issues, too. The silent killer that is becoming more apparent by the release, however, is the multiple versions of content that must be distributed, and the KDMs that accompany it. What was once intended to be very simple has become incredibly complex. Both Technicolor and Deluxe now talk about having to manage staggering numbers, upwards of 250-300 versions of a movie per major release.
The massive number of versions is driven by numerous features:
- 2D and 3D
- 3D color timings for 4 ft-L, 6 ft-L, and others
- 5.1 / 7.1 / Atmos / Auro 3D sound
- Subtitles and Open Captions in multiple languages
- Various censorship and marketing edits per country
If taking only the first four bullet points above, and producing 2D and 3D versions of a movie in three subtitled languages, and one spoken language, the movie will require 72 versions. If one wonders why all the fuss over multiple sound formats, simply do the math. If only one sound format were to be supported, the number of versions would reduce to 18.
Each version of content requires a unique KDM to the cinema. Which leads to lots and lots of KDMs, and the problems associated with generating exactly the right KDMs for each screen. Accuracy of KDMs requires an accurate Trusted Device List (TDL). Generation of the TDL has received lots of attention, the most recent effort being from MovieLabs, a technology group jointly funded by the six major studios. While the fact that the studios funded the study shows their concern, it turns out that, in the end, the MovieLabs proposal was too expensive for studio tastes. Which leaves the door open for other ways to manage the TDL, should anyone reading this be so motivated.
The concern for inefficiency is growing. And solutions have not been forthcoming. The current attempt to minimize the number of audio distributions through standardization is perhaps the most visible effort in progress. Even that, however, is unlikely to have much impact until many more years go by.
Normally, such opportunities bring rewards for those who can improve the situation. But when it comes to handling content, it is inefficiency that brings the reward. Like a page out of Clayton Christensen, Technicolor and Deluxe are more motivated to continue the problem because, without efficient competition, they can charge for their inefficiencies. For these companies, efficiency equates to a loss of revenue. Technicolor and Deluxe do not complain when having to create 250-300 versions for a major release, as a result. Instead, they seem to thrive on it.
The problem of reducing the number of movie versions is complex. There are many different areas where improvements can be created, but fixing them is no guarantee that another breed of content evolves requiring more versions yet. Perhaps the way out for the studios is for disruptive competition to emerge. Little shoots of software are starting to appear, as innovative programmers begin to develop and market products that take the cost out of digital cinema content distribution. More than likely, it will be this sort of entrepreneurial operation that will find better ways to manage TDLs, simply because they’ll need it to survive. Cinecert is one such company that is refocusing on software development for handling content with its <em>Koloa</em> product. But others are starting to appear. Disruptive companies don’t grow into threats overnight. But Technicolor and Deluxe could one day find themselves in Kodak’s shadow.