Bob Dowling was editor-in-chief and publisher of The Hollywood Reporter for 17 years, through 2007, and president of the VNU Business Media Film and Performing Arts Group. During Dowling's tenure, The Reporter launched the HollywoodReporter.com website, e-mail edition, weekly edition, THR East, Literary Hollywood, Festival de Cannes dailies and the Oscar Screening Guide, as well as the Women in Entertainment Power 100 stand-alone issue and its related breakfast event, the Next Generation ranking of prominent young executives, the Film and TV Music Conference and the reorganized Key Art Awards.
Dowling is currently president of his own information and consulting firm, the Bob Dowling Group, focused on the converging worlds of entertainment and technology. Along with Unicomm, he is co-producer of the five-year-old 3D Entertainment Summit,
in association with Variety as well as the inaugural Multi-Screen Summit, held in Hollywood September 19th - 20th, 2012. Dowling speaks to Creative COW about how technology is impacting the film/TV industry.
Prior to coming to The Hollywood Reporter
in 1988, I published High-Tech Marketing
, which gave me a window into multiple industries and insight into how technology was changing everything. When I arrived at The Hollywood Reporter
, I saw how technology wasn't as pervasive in entertainment, but I determined that THR would focus on the application of technology on entertainment.
When I left THR, I looked around at technologies are on the horizon that would have an impact on entertainment, and 3D loomed large. At that time, in 2007, 3D was in its embryonic stages. At DreamWorks Animation
, Jeffrey Katzenberg had just announced he would only be producing product in 3D, for example. Disney
's Chicken Little
got attention when it came out in 3D in 2005, the first Disney film in 3D since its 1953 Melody.
And Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
had 20 minutes of footage converted to 3D for the IMAX 3D version. But we were still two years away from Avatar.
But I saw that the confluence of technology and creativity made it an ideal time for 3D to grow and prosper. To encourage that, I started 3D Entertainment Summit
, in conjunction with Unicomm
and in association with Variety
. People wanted to know if 3D was going to be a real player in the industry, and were fearful that it would prove to be a gimmick as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.
My response to those naysayers was that the situation was completely different than what took place in those long-ago decades. In the 1950s, the studios latched onto 3D because they thought TV would be a threat to theatre attendance, and in the 1980s, their fears centered on home video. They developed 3D movies as a unique selling proposition.
Despite the growth in technology to support 3D production and post, many in the industry continued to be leery of 3D. All eyes were on how Avatar
would do. I still believe if Avatar
had been a complete bust, 3D may lost momentum and failed. Instead, Avatar
broke all box office records and drove consumers to the 3D screen. It became the catalyst to an explosion in 3D production. Add in the commitment of such noted industry players as James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Disney's decision to go mostly 3D, and suddenly 3D had credibility credibility and the question of gimmickry went away.
Two more problems came up after that: the age-old problem of glasses and the question as to whether the A-list directors would pick it up and use it. The second question was answered pretty quickly: Spielberg did, with The Adventures of Tintin
; Scorsese did, with Hugo
; and Jackson did with The Hobbit
. Stereoscopic 3D rapidly evolved into a creative tool to apply to storytelling, a way to draw audiences more closely into the action. Hugo
was a great example of 3D storytelling. The glasses remain as an issue that eventually needs to be resolved. So far, however, it hasn't been an obstacle to people opting to pay a slight premium to watch a movie in 3D instead of 2D.
The HTC EVO 3D from Sprint is one of several glasses-free 3D options for mobile viewing.
Although 3D for animated and live action is now firmly embedded in the theatrical market, the question still on everyone's mind is, what about the home TV market? This has gotten off to a rocky start. The TV display manufacturers jumped in thinking everyone would buy one, but they didn't. The problem was that there was not enough product. The consumer electronics manufacturers went way too fast. Now they've all backed away, realizing that 3D is coming but not as fast as they thought. They're putting it into the set, as 3D-enabled, but not as the only reason to buy a TV set. Now, thousands of people own 3D-enabled TV sets, but they're not watching 3D content.
What will then drive the creation of 3D product for the home viewing audiences? Of course, there are 3D movies, but there are never enough movies. Sports are a likely source of great 3D programming in the not-so-distant future. BSkyB
have all jumped in, showing everything from golf and boxing to tennis and the Olympics. And audiences have responded enthusiastically to sports in 3D on TV. Sports are clearly one way that 3D on TV is going to grow in popularity. As content starts to proliferate, people will start asking for it more and buy 3D-enabled TV sets. It's going to be an evolution.
I'm enthusiastic about the prospects for 3D, in movie theatres and at home, but I'm equally excited about something else that's happening: the new multi-screen environment. With phones, tablets, computers, everybody is now fully 'screened'. We carry a screen wherever we go. Although it may not be a 60-inch TV set, we do carry our TV sets with us and watch them at Starbucks and in line at the DMV. The beauty of multi-screens for consumers is that they're never without a device to engage in. Boredom is gone.
This is a huge opportunity for content creators and distributors but we actually know very little about how people are using these devices. We do know that they're looking for specific, utilitarian information, which by the way, can be monetized by whoever has that information. Secondly, and closer to the heart of our industry, people want to be entertained. People can be entertained in the few seconds or minutes they have, whether it's waiting at the doctor's office or pumping gas. And increasingly, they want to be entertained.
This multi-screen viewing is no threat to home viewing. When people have more time, they sit in front of their large-screen TV. As they have less time, they work their way down to a smaller screen.
But the kind of content that works on the smaller screens is still unclear. The traditional TV business is predicated on time frames: There's a 30 second commercial, a 48-minute hour, a 119-minute movie on a screen. Those are time frames that have been around for decades.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Peter Jackson will take viewers on an exhilarating Stereoscopic 3D and High Frame Rate adventure.
For smaller screens, there are no pre-determined time frames because each person determines the time frame -- how many seconds or minutes they have to watch. I see a huge opportunity for programmers to provide product for people and those variations of time for where they are, on these multiple screens. With smaller mobile phone screens, you can get provided 3D content without glasses and the iPad/tablet size is working towards auto-stereoscopic 3D, something I doubt we'll see any time in the near future in the movie theater.
The problem with multiple screens is that people aren't talking about specifics. I haven't heard anyone talk about changing content based on the screen size and the location of the consumer. How does the car commercial change for a tablet user based on the preponderance of tablet use? What's the message that would make it worthwhile to get a car message? Those are the kinds of questions we need to be asking and, right now, no one is doing that work.
Media has always been push: here's a TV program, here's when it's on. Now the whole paradigm has reversed itself. Like every consumer product, the consumer pulls it, on the basis of what he or she is doing. We need the message to become consistent with the activity.
I believe the leaders in this field will come out of the garages, not unlike Steve Jobs. A handful of major companies have done a masterful job of taking control of everything on the Internet, from content to display and distribution. Often big companies own all the parts of the food-chain delivering content to the Internet.
What excites me is the thought of college students coming up with a good concept about how P&G can sell more products through multiple screens. I think that's where the invention and innovation is going to come from. In the meantime, we need to research how people are using their phones and what kind of content they're consuming.
The Life of Pi: Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker must rely on each other to survive an epic journey. Once we've fallen in love with the stories after having seen them in large format, we are thrilled to carry them around on our smartphones and tablets to catch a glimpse of our favorite movies as we have a spare moment. Photo by Rhythm & Hues
Author image picon: HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Bob Dowling onstage during day two of the 3D Entertainment Summit held at Hollywood & Highland Center on September 20, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)
From The Life of Pi: Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker must rely on each other to survive an epic journey. Photo: Rhythm & Hues. ™ and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
From The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, (L-R) RICHARD ARMITAGE as Thorin Oakenshield, HUGO WEAVING as Elrond, IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf, MARTIN FREEMAN as Bilbo Baggins and KEN STOTT as Balin in New Line Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure "THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. ©2012 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES INC.