Category Archives: People

And the Oscar Goes to… Digital Cinema! (Specifically TI)

AMPAS Sci-Tec announcement

Last year the Motion Picture Academy’s Science and Technology branch effectively closed the book on film as a distribution medium for motion pictures by awarding the Academy Award of Merit (Oscar Statuette) to every single film processing lab in the world. So it is perhaps fitting and symmetrical that this year’s recognition would go to the technology that replaced it, i.e., digital cinema, or more specifically Texas Instruments’s team of engineers (and one from Dolby, more on which later).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or AMPAS (to give the Oscar Academy, or just ‘the Academy’ its full name) is staying true to the latter part of its name (‘Science’) by each year recognising those people behind the scenes that have contributed to the advancement of motion picture technology, and thus storytelling, by handing out the Scientific and Technical Awards at a ceremony prior to the red carpet Oscars. As AMPAS puts it:

The Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards honor the men, women and companies whose discoveries and innovations have contributed in significant and lasting ways to motion pictures. Honorees are celebrated at a formal dinner held two weeks prior to the Oscar ceremony. The Sci-Tech Awards presentation has become a highlight of the Academy Awards season.

It is important to remember that these are not awarded to companies but to people, though individuals given the awards have often made their achievements working for companies that have often also given the name to the technology being recognised. While it honors the technologies, it is the people behind them that are being feted.

There are furthermore three levels of recognition: the Technical Achievement Awards (which entails an Academy Certificate), the Scientific and Engineering Awards (gets you an Academy Plaque), the Academy Award of Commendation (Special Plaque), and finally the Award of Merit (an actual Oscar statuette). What is remarkable is that this year Texas Instruments was selected in not one but all three of the main categories, putting a big AMPAS seal of approval on the digital cinema technology that has defined the cinema business.

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Howard Kiedaisch Departs Arts Alliance On His Own Terms

Howard Kiedaisch

Howard Kiedaisch

Late last night (or early this morning) before finally closing my laptop and logging off, I sent Howard Kiedaisch a hasty email to see if he wanted to have a quick conversation to catch up before CineEurope. When I had spoken with the CEO of Arts Alliance Media at the end of May he had told me the company would be making a few announcements on the run up to the conference. Though he provided a heads up about AAM’s plans for alternative content (more on that in a moment), Kiedaisch confessed he wasn’t ready to talk about one or two developments that were in the midst of being finalized.

Due to the time difference between London, where Kiedaisch and AAM are based, and Los Angeles, and knowing his replies to email are often swift, the first thing I did this morning was grab my phone check if he had gotten back to me. Indeed, there most certainly was an email from Kiedaisch, the contents of which shook off any remnants of sleep and jolted me awake. To be sure I wasn’t still dreaming however, I reread the press release Kiedaisch had pasted into his email. The one announcing after nine years as CEO of AAM, he would be stepping down from his position on July 7th of this year and will be succeeded by John Aalbers, the former CEO of Volubill, a telecom industry software developer.

Oh, and yes, the release also went on to detail the merger of AAM’s event cinema distribution division with Mr. Wolf, a content production and finance company that, like AAM, was founded by Thomas Høegh. The combined outfit will operate as Arts Alliance Limited and focus its commercial efforts on financing, producing, distributing and marketing event cinema (a.k.a. alternative content).

The integrated company makes perfect sense and combines the production and marketing expertise of Mr. Wolf with the distribution and cinema background offered by AAM’s event cinema division. There are natural synergies between the two companies which offered slightly overlapping services. Additional news and information about the new venture is likely to come out of CineEurope next week.

In hindsight, Kiedaisch stepping down is also completely logical. That’s why he thought of it five months ago and spent the intervening time orchestrating his departure in a way that would set AAM up for success. He explained to AAM’s board at the end of last that the company would have to decide which of its five businesses it truly wanted to support; digital cinema financing and management, network operations, software services, content services and/or alternative content. Kiedaisch rightly felt that the marketplace for some of these businesses was becoming overcrowded and by working in so many areas AAM may giving each short shrift.

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Why We’ll Miss Nikki Rocco When She Retires As Universal’s Head of Distribution

Nikki Rocco

Nikki Rocco, President, of Domestic Distribution, Universal Pictures

Arriving at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for my return flight from CinemaCon last month I was greeted at the gate by a potpourri of industry professionals, as was to be expected. There were engineers and sales reps from manufactures such as QSC and Volfoni, studio distribution executives from the likes of Twentieth Century Fox and film buyers from exhibition chains both large and small.

Among this assemblage was Nikki Rocco, the president of domestic distribution at Universal Pictures, who at the time was using an iPad to work on something I could only assume must be very important. Earlier today Universal announced Rocco will retire at the end of 2014 after spending 47 years with the company, the last 18 as the first woman ever to head up distribution at a major studio.

Just three days before I watched Rocco walk CinemaCon attendees through Universal’s summer slate during the studio’s annual presentation of its upcoming releases. As I listened to Rocco skillfully introduce titles such as the raunchy comedy, “Neighbors”, Seth MacFarlane‘s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” and the James Brown biopic “Get On Up”, I was once again reminded just how talented and special she is as a person and an executive.

If spending nearly five decades at a single company wasn’t evidence enough to demonstrate just how special Rocco is, consider for a moment that the company at which she has spent her entire professional career is a movie studio. How many studio executives in senior management roles make it past the decade mark at just one company? Not very many. Especially ones that joined their studios as paid interns in 1967.

On top of that, Rocco has been able to survive as the head of distribution during several ownership and leadership changes at Universal. Seagrams purchased the studio the year before Rocco was named the head of distribution in 1996. This was after five trying years under the ownership of Matsushita Electric. In 2000 Universal was sold to Vivendi, a french water utility, transforming into Vivendi Universal. By 2004 Universal was sold again, this time to GE, which already owned NBC, the broadcast television network, thus creating NBCUniversal. Cable operator Comcast then bought a controlling share of NBCUniversal in 2011 and acquired the company outright in 2013.

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Fathom Events New CEO John Rubey Provides Both Experience and Leadership

John Rubey

John Rubey, CEO of Fathom Events

When National CineMedia (NCM) spun off its alternative content division, NCM Fathom Events, into a completely separate business entity at the end of 2013, it did not identify a chief executive officer for the newly formed company. Kurt Hall, the chairman and CEO of NCM, stayed with the cinema advertising network, and Fathom went off to find a suitable senior executive to fill its open leadership position. Their search came to an end earlier this month when it was announced John Rubey would become the stand-alone Fathom Events first CEO.

If Rubey’s name sounds vaguely familiar there’s a good reason why. Rubey comes to Fathom after spending the last 14 years as the President of AEG Network Live, the concert promoter’s in-house multimedia production company. While with AEG he helped produce some of the earliest noteworthy events in the nascent alternative content industry by beaming concerts into cinemas from the likes of Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band, Garth Brooks and Phish.

This is a great hire for Fathom as Rubey brings a lot to the table. He’s got more than two decades of experience working in one form or another on content and marketing for big-ticket entertainment events. Before signing on with AEG, Rubey founded and owned Spring Communications which specialized in pay-per-view events. He has a working knowledge and practical experience in multiple forms of media production, entertainment marketing, alternative content and working with exhibitors. His relationships and ties to key players in the concert and entertainment industries run deep.

The whole purpose of AEG Networks Live is to “eventize” a concert, a tour, an arena or sports, generating marketing opportunities and actual revenue. These goals are identical or complimentary to most alternative content releases. To help him achieve these objectives during his tenure at AEG, Rubey worked with content aggregators and distributors such as Hulu, MySpace, Vevo and YouTube. Thus, he’s no stranger to digital content distribution and its many intricacies.

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Ted Schilowitz and Barco Set To Announce New Secret Project at CinemaCon

Ted Schilowitz

Ted Schilowitz, Barco’s New CinemaVangelist

Ask Ted Schilowitz whether he works in either technology or motion picture production or computer hardware or high resolution imaging or marketing, and the answer you’re most likely to receive is, “Yes”. The technologist was recently tapped by Barco, the cinema technology company, to become their CinemaVangelist and help the firm launch its CinemaBarco suite of products.

That’s not the first non-traditional title Schilowitz has had. He’s also a consultant at Twentieth Century Fox where he holds the title of Futurist. Under the arrangement, which began at the end of last year, Schilowitz works with the studio’s President of Physical Production, Joe Hartwick, and President of Feature Post Production, Ted Gagliano, to identify and figure out what kind of technologies and storytelling tools and strategies a big movie company needs to pay attention to, you know, to make sure they don’t miss something really big.

Schilowitz’s title at Fox is almost tame compared to the ominous one he held at Red Digital Cinema; Leader of the Rebellion. Along with James Jannard, Schilowitz helped co-found one of the leading manufacturers of digital cinematography equipment as the company’s first employee. He remained with Red until September of last year.

With those kinds of credentials, it almost seems pointless to mention his role in founding G-Tech, a manufacturer of media storage devices which was purchased by Hitachi. Nor that he helped develop the video cards for AJA Video Systems in collaboration with a little company called Apple.

You can probably see why it might be difficult for someone with Schilowitz’s resume to provide a direct answer about the definition of his profession. Even so, during a recent phone conversation with Schilowitz as he drove to Las Vegas for CinemaCon, I figured its was at least worth asking him how he landed his most recent title with Barco and exactly what he’d be helping the company with.

The transcript of our conversation is a perfect example of how good Schilowitz is at building excitement around the technology used in modern motion pictures and television. What’s even more amazing is that he can manage to do this without divulging the details of a big new product Barco is announcing at CinemaCon, only managing to further build the suspense over just what it might be.

Celluloid Junkie: Okay, I’ve got to start with title. What’s the deal with the CinemaVangelist title?

Ted Schilowitz: My logic about titles in the modern world of business is that titles mean a lot less than they used to. It’s really what people do versus what they’re called that matters. When I started talking with Barco about what my title should be in this new role there were a bunch of very traditional titles that made me sound very self important. None of that really worked for me. It needs to be more fun. We’re in the entertaimnet business, we’re in the movie business, we’re in the fun business. I want this to be a kind of watershed moment for Barco in terms of the kind of environment that we’re creating and what I’ve been brought in to help spearhead is this new level of showmanship and this realization that technology doesn’t need to be boring, but that technology needs to be integrated with the wonder of storytelling and that’s where things get exciting. So we came up with like five or six different names and then the Barco execs said “We like CinemaVangilist we think that defines your role and it defines Barco and why we’re both very excited.” I’m thrilled to be a part of Barco and Barco is very motivated to have me helping that effort. It’s very bidirectional. It’s essentially evangelizing the art, the science and the fun of cinema, in all its form and functions. It doesn’t really have a hard definition.

CJ: What led you to Barco and what will you be doing for them?

TS: Well, at the same time as I’m doing this crazy gig for Fox, in the background, in secret, I’m working on this very interesting piece of technology and storytelling for Barco, which is an amazing company in so many ways. Not a lot of people know about Barco. They know Barco, they just don’t realize they know Barco, because every time they go to a cinema they see a Barco projector. They have the leading market share out of all the three or four big companies. They are in my opinion best of breed when it comes to this number one in terms of the technology and number one also in terms of servicing their clients and really making sure that they get maximum value out of the technology. So we’ve been working on this secret thing and Fox is involved in it along with one other big movie studio, but I’m not sure I have clearance to talk about them. It’s going to be launching on March 25th.

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Hal Douglas and the Evolving Art Form of Movie Trailer Voice-Overs

YouTube Preview Image

It’s been a week since we learned about the passing of voice-over legend Hal Douglas at the age of 89. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, then you probably don’t work in the marketing department of a film or television company.

Over the course of four decades Douglas provided the voice-over narration for hundreds, if not thousands, of movie trailers and promotional television spots. His list of credits is far to vast to list in total, but included movies like “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs”, “Con Air”, “Die Hard”, “Forrest Gump”, “Four Feathers”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Meet the Parents”, “Men In Black”, and “Philadelphia” to name but a few.

Since Douglas’ death was announced I’ve heard it suggested repeatedly both in the media and in various conversations with industry professionals, that Douglas helped establish and was a part of a “golden age” of voice-over. Joining him in this unofficial category are the likes of Don LaFontaine, credited with creating the trailer catch phrase “in a world”, and Don Morrow, whose credits include “Fistful of Dollars”, “Saving Private Ryan” and “Titanic”. Up until five years ago, and dating back to the mid-1970s, Hollywood studios and television networks relied upon this troika of talent so much that their deep bass busting style has become standard to the point of almost being cliché.

Douglas made light of his own omnipresent narration by appearing in a trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s 2002 documentary “Comedian” as a voice-over artist who only speaks in movie trailer colloquialisms.

With the passing of LaFontaine in 2008 and now Douglas, the argument being made is that an era of voice-over artistry has ended with them, and henceforth, all we’ll get is a string of artists trying to imitate these masters. While there is no disputing the talent of Douglas, LaFontaine, Morrow and their thunder throated contemporaries, when it comes to voice-over narration I must disagree with the notion that the timeframe in which they worked was anymore golden than those that came before, after or have yet to occur.

Like just about everything in life, and especially the arts, voice-over narration evolves from one set of overlapping characteristics to the next. Just as modernism spawned postmodernism or as the work’s of Picasso, the renown painter, transitioned from a monochromatic blue-green between 1901 and 1904 into cubist works by 1909, the time period in which Douglas was so prolific is defined by a style of voice-over that he helped establish.

Put another way, it’s not that Douglas was simply good at delivering “Voice of God” (VoG) narration, he actually created the style (along with others such as LaFontaine). With his passing, the style will shift slightly to match the taste of current audiences and the characteristics of whoever the next big voice-over talent is. Given the natural progression of marketing, design and popular culture, this new style will, in all likelihood, be close, though not identical, to that of Douglas and his peers.

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Discourse On The State of Movies Is a Hot New Trend

 Every few years a notable film critic will take a step back and assess where motion pictures finds themselves in the changing nexus of art, technology and commerce. Notable recent ones are New York Press critic’s Godfrey Cheshire’s “The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema“ (1999), a prescient look at the coming future-shock that digital projection would bring. A decade later there was The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane examination of the rise of 3D, “Third Way – The Rise of 3D“.

Adding to this canon are two new entrants. The first from The New York Time’s A.O. Scott (right) who looks at whether television dramas have unseated films as the source of quality drama in his piece “The Big Picture Strikes Back“. Surveying the “post-film, platform-agnostic, digital-everything era,” he asks “what the art of cinema might be” in this era. It is a think-piece that anyone involved in, or who cares about, film and media should read and reflect upon. The second is a piece titled “Film Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Misused” and is written by Kenneth Turan, chief film critic at the Los Angeles Times. He diligently assures readers that “nothing can envelop viewers like a movie,” but that “the emphasis at movie studios on profits has hurt content”

The publication of these two latest editorials, so close together, seemed like the perfect opportunity for Celluloid Junkie’s own thought provokers to discuss their own views on the subject. The following is transcript of their conversation:

J. Sperling Reich: Much in the way Hollywood studios will all jump on a hot new trend like 3D or paranormal stories, this really seems to be a year in which everyone is piling on the film business. I’m not sure if it stems from the public finally growing bored with the onslaught of mediocre tentpole releases that soak up so much public mindshare or if the fact that filmmakers themselves have started bemoaning the state of the artform. First we had Steven Soderbergh’s talk at the San Francisco International Film Festival earlier this year about the dire state of cinema, then almost immediately we had Steven Spielberg and George Lucas echoing the sentiment. I suppose that’s what prompted A.O. Scott’s piece. What do you think? In your travels have you noticed that ragging on current movies and the industry itself have become almost trendy?

Patrick von Sychowski: It’s definitely hip to be down on films. However, movies and the industry that spawns them regularly go through bouts of soul searching and anxiety, with the Golden Era of the 40s and 50s or the studio ‘auteur’ era of the 70s giving way to the elephantine Cinerama spectacles of the 60s (think Cleopatra) and multiplex and VHS fodder of the 80s (think Police Academy III). The difference this time is that the ragging comes in the shadow of what Wired Magazine dubbed the ‘Platinum Age’ of television, with the growth of screen sizes in people’s homes matched by a rise in quality of what’s shown on them. Cinema may not face the existential threat that is staring newspapers and magazines in the face – a quick look at the MPAA numbers confirm that, particularly given the growth in non-US markets – but films have lost the elite cultural cache that was once the their exclusive preserve. The Coppolas, Scoceses, Ashbys, Friedkins and Spielbergs of the 70s are today the Chases, Gilligans, Weiners, Huruwitzes and Harmons. So isn’t the “decline” of movies simply the ascendancy of HBO and Netflix?

J. Sperling Reich: I’m not sure if it’s HBO, Netflix or a specific source of content. I think a flood of media from 500 cable networks, to multi-player video games, to mobile apps, iPods, the Internet and more, has shifted the attention of an entire generation of younger consumers and focused it on a range of mediums some of which they have control over. The kinds of visual effects that used to be achievable only in feature films can now be seen in the latest blockbuster video game release. So now you have Hollywood studios wanting to up the ante by producing these huge tentpole releases that cost a fortune. One of the issues Spielberg and Lucas were highlighting earlier this year is that the stakes are so high with so many films now that studios are trying to lower the risk by casting big movie stars and backing them with expensive marketing campaigns. This has meant fewer medium sized titles or “art” films get made leaving a ton of talented creatives on the sideline.

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Future Cinema: How to Get 100,000 People to Pay £35 ($50) to Watch an Old Film

You wouldn’t expect UK’s most successful cinema innovator to have a tag-line of ‘Tell no-one’, keep audiences in the dark about which film they will get to see and then charge them double what a ticket costs in Leicester square to show them an old film readily available on DVD.

Appropriately enough I met Future Cinema’s founder Fabian Rigell at a BSAC sponsored keynote by Twitter’s UK head, because Future Cinema is both a reaction against the on-line disintermediation of film consumption, as well enabled by the technologies of social media and digital projection (they claim to have an on-line community of 2.8m on Twitter, Facebook, etc.). We discussed how to build audiences for old and niche film, me for a small Swedish cult label and him for over 100,000 people at events across London alone last year. He is an unassuming PT Barnum of exhibition without a cinema of his own; the world is truly his screen.

Although he was already the subject of a major profile in UK’s Wired magazine last year and the events have steadily been growing in popularity in London and beyond, it seems that 2014 will be the breakthrough year for Future Cinema and its sister operation Secret Cinema.

Put simply, FC/SC do not arrange film screenings, they stage events around films in which the audience become participants. It has become a must-attend fixture for film lovers in London, but has been a long time coming from a small but telling start. It began, as noted by Wired, when:

Riggall wanted to find out how to turn [a film festival] into something more social and reach audiences beyond the film-festival circuit, but he wanted to go further than just screenings. “How can we create a film experience that’s more like a nightclub? There’s music and there’s performance and there’s art and you dress up.” He launched Future Cinema in 2005 as “live cinema”; 1,000 people attended a screening of Dreams Money Can Buy, an experimental film from 1947. Riggall put on gypsy and flamenco bands; audio-visual group The Light Surgeons created an installation.

This has since led to showings of The Shawshank Redemption in a Hackney school converted to a prison, with audience members having to dress up as inmates; a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest event held at the Princess Louise Hospital where audience members were admitted and “treated”; and as Screen noted, “More than 25,000 audience members attended the last Secret Cinema run of Brazil, which ran from May 2 to June 9. The production saw screenings of the 1985 film staged across a 13-floor office block in West Croydon, with music provided by Imogen Heap, Atoms for Peace and The Knife, among others.”
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Oscar Recognition For Film Lab Technicians – Every Single One of Them

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or AMPAS (Oscar academy) has just announced this year’s 19 scientific and technical achievement awards, who unlike the Best Film, Best Actor, etc are named and honoured prior to Oscar night, mainly to allow for more telecast time for the Angelinas of the red carpet business. These are typically individuals, often working for a specific company, whose technology has made a significant difference to the film industry, be it a new Kodak film stock, an Arri camera, a Dolby sound processor or a technical development like the Lowry film restoration process. They typically get a plaque or a medal, rather than an Oscar statuette, but it is no less of a recognition for those honoured. This year the Scientific and Technical Awards presentation ceremony on Saturday 15 February will be special in that it could see the stage swamped with hundreds of un-employed or soon-to-be unemployed film lab technicians getting a recognition for their work, just as their industry is about to die.

The list of 19 awards is a good illustration of how the motion picture (not ‘film’) industry has shifted. Two individuals, VFX supervisor and DoP Peter W. Anderson and post-production veteran Tad Marburg, are singled out for a special gong each. No less than 15 of the 19 recognition go to computer and software-related tools and developments, be it VFX, animation, rendering, color correction, digital modeling, or the likes. Two award go for separate helicopter camera systems and one of the 19 goes to the three people that designed ‘the Pneumatic Car Flipper’ that can send stunt cars flying through the air. So the scorecard is Digital: 15, Analogue: 3.

But the 19th award seeks to redress the digital-analogue imbalance by recognising an entire industry that is about to be no more: analogue film labs. Here is the commendation is full:

To all those who built and operated film laboratories, for over a century of service to the motion picture industry.
Lab employees have contributed extraordinary efforts to achieve filmmakers’ artistic expectations for special film processing and the production of billions of feet of release prints per year. This work has allowed an expanded motion picture audience and unequaled worldwide cinema experience.

With all the lab employees out of work with the shutting of the film labs of Deluxe, Technicolor and others around the world, it could thus get crowded on stage. However, it is a worthy and dignified tribute to the countless of unsung heroes whose work over the last century with lights and chemicals is what produced that thin strip of film that was the only thing that both separated and connected audiences and film makers. In my view, everyone who ever worked for a film lab should get to keep the Oscar statuette for one day before passing it along to a colleague.

Is The Motion Picture Industry Discouraging The Next Ray Dolby?

Much has been written over the last several days about Ray Dolby, audio pioneer and inventor, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 80. Rather than add to the din of career-spanning obituaries of Dr. Dolby, instead let’s use his life and cinematic contributions to explore what the future of the motion picture industry might look like for those wanting to follow in his giant footsteps.

For those like me, born after the 1965 founding of Dolby Laboratories, the best explanation of who Ray Dolby was, the one that resonates the most, comes from Ioan Allen. Now a Senior Vice President at Dolby, Allen has worked with the company since 1969. In a video tribute which played before Dr. Dolby was was honored with the Charles S. Swartz Award at the Hollywood Post Alliance’s annual HPA Awards, Allen stated:

“The public doesn’t really know about Ray Dolby. He’s out there somewhere, but they’re aware of the fact that a cassette labeled Dolby sounds good. Dolby Surround sounds good…. And they’re kind of aware of the fact that Dolby on a theatre marquee sounds good. But all those things are possible because of Ray Dolby’s inventions which are at the heart of the whole process.”

This sentiment captures how I grew to know and appreciate Dr. Dolby’s achievements. As an adolescent growing up on a steady diet of “Star Wars” and Spielberg movies, Dolby was simply the logo on the marquee or newspaper advertisement that enticed me to patronize one cinema over another when both were showing the same film. Dolby was the button on the side of a Sony Walkman I would press because it dampened the hiss of analog cassette tapes. It wasn’t until I attended film school, and then afterwards, that I was properly introduced to Dolby Laboratories as a company, and more specifically, the groundbreaking work of its founder.

What Dr. Dolby’s death makes me think about most, more than any of the Oscars, Emmys and numerous awards he justly received for his innovations, is who will be the next trailblazer to make such contributions. Not just at Dolby Laboratories or in the entertainment industry at large, but more specifically in advancing the art form of motion pictures through scientific engineering and new technology.

My concern is not for film production; there will always be a Vince Pace to create next generation cameras or a Bill Warner to figure out a more efficient way to edit content. Home entertainment is also unlikely to suffer a lack of ingenuity, as some new company will always be coming up with smaller, faster and better versions of ever-evolving content mediums and distribution technologies. Motion picture exhibition, on the other hand, may be in for a dearth of innovation.

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