Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) was formed in 2002 by Hollywood studios to plan for the replacement of film projectors with digital projectors. It’s mission was a success. The output of that period was the DCI specification, which continues to be maintained behind closed doors by Hollywood studios. But outside of that, everything else has changed. The DCI spec continues to serve the industry well. But it’s time to broaden its maintenance and management and take it out beyond the closed doors of Hollywood.
Market power is changing. When the DCI specification was first introduced in 2005, the top-grossing movies in the world all came from Hollywood. European box office was on par with the US, and China had yet to reach the billion dollar mark in box office. Today, China box office is on track to match or exceed the US. In addition, Hollywood is not responsible for generating 65% of that box office. At CinemaCon, Fox’s Tomas Jegeus, President of International Productions, underscored this fact.
There’s more going on under the hood, too. While Screening Room may have dominated the hate list at CinemaCon this year, the one aspect of its proposal that didn’t seem to faze was day-and-date delivery of movies to a $150 Internet-connected “secure” box in the living room. One cannot possibly sell a DCI-compliant box for $150, which makes it the elephant in the room. Some studios expressed concern for piracy through video recording off screen. But no one seemed to mind the box. It was a reminder that Universal did indeed put profit over security with its “Fast and Furious 7” release on e-cinema systems in India last year.
The picture being painted is that the foundation that supported DCI compliance testing during the digital rollout is changing. Market power is beginning to shift away from Hollywood. Hollywood’s intense focus on security during the digital cinema rollout may be changing. In addition, there is rumor that international attitudes towards DCI compliance are also changing, with talk of establishing other DCI-like agencies. All of which signals that its time to make some changes before it’s too late.
Below are some suggestions.
First on the list is that management of the DCI specification should be handed to an independent entity. There is no longer a reason for its management and maintenance to be limited to only Hollywood studios. The limitation made sense when the studios were committing to billions of dollars of subsidies in the form of virtual print fees (VPFs). But those days are gone.
Second, place the responsibility for equipment compliance into the hands of the manufacturers. This may appear to be a radical idea, but in fact, it’s simply recognition of how compliance really works. Compliance testing is a rite of passage that tells content owners that the manufacturer can be trusted. Accordingly, then perhaps its time to also trust the manufacturer to self-test.
In fact, manufacturers already self-test their products. In digital cinema, compliance testing is based on a test suite developed and licensed from Cinecert, the same entity that wrote the DCI Compliance Test Plan. Manufacturers license the test suite for self testing, so it can evaluate its work in-progress. Test results can be filed with the specification body, as a statement that tests were run and were successfully passed The only reason to bring a test lab into play is if there’s question over the validity of a product’s compliance. The goal of self-testing is to speed up the product development cycle and reduce costs. Presumably, manufacturers would also be part of the specification body, providing an opportunity for feedback.
The idea of self-testing is not new. It’s a technique long employed by The Open Group to manage compliance to a specification. After signing an agreement, manufacturers associate a compliance mark specific to the compliance specification with its product. If the product is found to be non-compliant, through a 3rd party or customer test, then the manufacturer will be in violation of its agreement, leveraging pressure to fix the problem. It might surprise readers that UNIX compliance is so managed by The Open Group.
With around 141,000 screens now digital around the world (quoting David Hancock of IHS Technology at CinemaCon), a mechanism for international management and maintenance of the specification is needed if it is to continue to thrive. Opening up the management of the DCI specification is the first step and the right idea for taking the spec into the future.