DCI’s power to shape the market is dwindling. The organization was hugely successful in establishing the baseline for cinema technology during the rollout period. It’s compliance test program provided the basis for ensuring that standards were followed – with major exceptions – and that security systems behaved correctly. DCI’s power was derived from the perception that its members would control access to content based on its specification, and the backup it provided banks when evaluating the risks associated with resale value of new technology. But perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate DCI’s hold on the market.
The first point to evaluate is the resolve of DCI members to control access to content based on the DCI specification. Unwittingly, studios have been releasing content in Interop DCP format since the initial rollout of VPF-backed equipment, while the DCI spec requires compliance to SMPTE DCP. While ISDCF has been encouraged to correct the situation by evaluating the readiness of the exhibition industry to receive SMPTE DCP content, it has hit a brick wall. SMPTE itself has complicated the matter through numerous revisions to the SMPTE DCP standards, even though no one is using them. The latest such effort is to add 3D subtitling capability through text files – a much needed feature. But not all systems will be able to read SMPTE DCP 3D subtitle text files, which begs the question as to why distributors would rely on the format.
This underscores one of several problems faced by DCI. Distributors control access to content, not technologists. While technologists seek to improve existing standards, technologists have no power to roll out those standards. It is the distributors who are charged with the generation of revenue and control of costs, and if more profit is realized by ignoring standards, then that becomes the path of least resistance.
DCI also suffers from lack of engagement with the broader industry. It is up to individual members to investigate issues and discuss with experts and users. DCI has no public presence other than to issue occasional changes to its specification, or to issue letters on its web site proposing changes. When the funding of equipment was tied to DCI’s thinking, there was no shortage of attention paid to its specification. But DCI is rapidly losing effectiveness. This was evident in the recent reaction heard in an ISDCF meeting regarding a web statement from DCI on June 26, where a new key type was introduced for inclusion in the KDM to manage dual projectors. In the ISDCF meeting, it was blatantly described by one participant as “an unfunded request.” Participants in the meeting went on to point out how disruptive the change would be with existing software and operations, and that there were smarter ways to solve the problem of dual projectors. E.g., no one was interested in following this new directive, and people whose opinion matters thought DCI was dumb for even suggesting it. The telling part was that DCI members of three studios were present, and none took responsibility for the change, nor was eager to engage in a discussion. The inability of DCI members to engage with experts, even when sitting in front of them, is of great concern.
Even if it has limited power to instigate change, DCI can hope. In a web statement issued July 9, DCI wrote with regard to immersive audio:
“DCI expects industry adherence to the upcoming SMPTE common OBAE format standard when published.”
The word “expects” says it all. Whether anyone will actually follow a new audio standard is not a result that can be determined by DCI. For example, does DCI expect Dolby to change all of its Atmos-capable units in the field to accommodate a new standard? If so, at whose expense? In a private discussion with one DCI member, the lack of power to change the market was evident.
While DCI may appear powerless, it is not to the industry’s advantage for it to be so. SMPTE could help. Instead of allowing endless changes to be made to the SMPTE DCP standards, for example, it should implement a numbering system that differentiates between standards released to market, and standards that have passed the balloting process but are waiting for release to market. This would give time for manufacturers to catch up, and give distributors confidence to release content by following the standard in an incremental fashion. DCI could also help itself by spending less time listening to its lawyers, and more time listening to industry experts. There is no substitute for dialog.