The Virtual Living Room

March 18, 2008
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Although the title of iHollywood’s conference this week was, the Digital Living Room, The Virtual Living Room would have an equally good description. A common theme throughout the show was the idea of portability and that consumers want to be able to consume entertainment on their own terms; wherever they are and whatever time it is.  OK, so this thought has become almost trite, but what was significant was the caliber of speakers who were echoing this theme. 

Jim Wuthrich, SVP Electronic Sell Through & Interactive Marketing of Warner Brothers Digital Distribution, pointed to the studios’ efforts to stay at the forefront of business model changes when he indicated that now it is, “Time for experimentation and try to figure out how to make content more accessible in the form they [consumers] want.”  Wuthrich went on to say that, the challenge for the studios is how to make the various models co-exist.   

He pointed out that theatrical release window is a very important part of the marketing for particular properties. He agreed, to a degree, with panel moderator, Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal, and her assertion that, at some point, producers could effectively bypass the studio system and go directly to the consumer via the Internet. He didn’t think it would necessarily happen with the bigger producers, like a Lucas, but that it would probably happen with smaller producers.    

Warner is working with many channels to get their content to the consumer, especially via the Internet. He suggested that consumers do not want to be locked into one service and there has not been a good solution for getting content from the Internet to the TV. He believes the ultimate solution will integrate broadband video directly into the television, eliminating the set-top. He emphasized the only way to unlock the value of the studios’ content is to make it easy for the consumer to discover and consume.

He stated that, “people are running out of time.” The studios are competing with so many ways to spend time that never used to exist; from gaming to social networking, that extending beyond the living room is important. Thus, portability and mobility is important to Warner Brothers going forward. 

Dan Simpkins, CEO of Hillcrest Laboratories, made a suggestion for a new kind of cross between mobility and video, when he envisions the possibility of using a cell phone as a television remote. Hillcrest has been thinking of this that the integration of their motion sensing navigation technology (think Wii) into cell phone is possible and would not affect form factors. When coupled with an iPhone-like user interface, the cell phone could serve as a search tool, meta-data screen and remote control, while the television does what it does best. 

A virtual living room may ultimately reside in a virtual computer; the so-called cloud computer. Ron Ferguson, SVP and GM of North America of Archos, thinks it is a matter of time before people rely on cloud computing, but for the time being it will be on a hard-drive. Archos finds that they cannot keep up with demand for storage; people want more and more storage on their personal media devices. Bryan Burch, Director of HP’s Managed Home Business unit, thought that consumers will always want to have some level of tangible ownership of content, so some of it may always be stored in the home. 

If Pandora, with 11 million registered users, is an indication of the direction of media, then the virtual living room is already here. Pandora knows the kind of music you like. It allows you to play your music in the living room, pause it and continue it on your cell phone. It streams through the Internet. Jessica Steel, VP, Business Development, says that their goal is, “to beat Clear Channel.” If that comes to pass, repercussions will go well beyond the living room. 

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