Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 165 / JUNE 1994 / PAGE 65

Multimedia goes Hollywood. (first annual Digital Hollywood conference) (Multimedia PC)
by David English

If I had a crystal ball, I could see what software would look like in five or ten years. Since I couldn't use a crystal ball, I did the next best thing--I attended the first annual Digital Hollywood conference in Beverly Hills, California.

After four days of tutorials, panel discussions, and exhibits, I came away with the clear impression that computer software is about to go Hollywood in a big way. I also learned that the information highway has the potential to completely change software as we know it.

The Hollywood invasion has already started. The first session of the conference was sponsored by the Writer's Guild, which announced it would accept members who write exclusively for interactive media. Another session featured Hollywood agents, who pitched their Hollywood talent (writers, directors, actors, producers, and executives) and argued that they should also represent the current players in the growing interactive industry. Companies such as SoftImage, Alias, and Caligari claimed that software developers could save money by employing the same computer-animation technologies used in Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and many recent television commercials.

This warm reception from the Hollywood crowd reflects the new maturity of CD-ROM as a creative medium. Actors such as Margot Kidder, Donald Sutherland, and Howie Mandel are appearing in multi-media titles (Under a Killing Moon, Conspiracy, and Tuneland, respectively). Software developers are hiring Hollywood screenwriters and routinely spending $1-$2 million on their major titles. One panelist at the conference revealed that an upcoming project is being produced as both a film and a CD-ROM, with the usual fourmonth shooting schedule extended to five months to allow extra material for the interactive version.

The recording industry is also moving to CD-ROM. David Bowie's Jump lets you create a rock video using five different edit channels. Freak Show, from The Residents, is an eerie journey through a darkly lit carnival produced with state-of-the-art rendered graphics. And Peter Gabriel's Xplora 1 includes a wealth of background material about his album, Us, and features one of the best-looking interfaces around.

With conference participants evenly divided between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, a number of questions came up related to how each side will influence the other. How will ever-increasing budgets change the nature of multimedia titles? What kind of material is best suited for linear media (such as books, movies, and television), and what kind of material is best suited for interactive media (such as CD-ROM)? After working all day in the office at the computer, do we really want to be interactive with our TV, or would we rather just zone out with a good movie? Do people even have the extra time and money to give broad support to interactive media?

Finally, there was a lot of discussion about the 500-channel information highway. It appears we're moving beyond a multichannel system to a single channel that you program yourself. Already, several video-on-demand systems are being test-marketed throughout the country; these will provide movies, information, and games whenever a viewer requests them. Oracle has announced an alliance with 20 companies, including Apple Computer and Sega, that will use Oracle's Media Server software to act as a video jukebox on a phone or cable system. If these systems ae succesful, televisions and computers could become indistinguishable.

This new video-on-demand technology has the potential to radically change the computer industry, letting a user call up a software program from the network whenever the program is needed. You might pay for the software in message units or as a pay-perview. You might even own the rights to use a program wherever you are--a sort of virtual ownership--so when you travel, you would always have access to the program.

While it was clear from the conference that high-quality software can be delivered over a fiber-optic network, no one knows whether people will actually want to receive their software this way. On the other hand, if each home is willing to spend just $20 a month for this new form of interactive media, we could see a new $20 billion industry. With that kind of money, it's easy to get Hollywood's attention.