Outlook 2018: The new era of entertainment as software
Maurice Patel
Issue: December 1, 2017

Outlook 2018: The new era of entertainment as software

The history of the media industry has been shaped by the technology it uses to distribute content — print, film, broadcast, satellite, cable — the “medium” the content is conveyed to the consumer. Today’s media companies were built on their ability to provide the capital needed to build those distribution infrastructures. Occasionally, a technological disruption occurs. We are at the tipping point of disruption now — driven by fast, ubiquitous Internet access, the growth in large-scale data centers and connected consumer devices displaying high-quality graphics.

This is creating a new breed of media company: “Silicon Valley” companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, Hulu and Netflix. These are IT companies, familiar with software development processes and using expertise to create differentiated user experiences. These are the companies shaping the new era of “entertainment as software,” where the user experience is as important, if not more than the medium itself — the Internet.

IT is also characterized by rapid change, as new generations of hardware appear and disappear every few years; software is constantly updated and technology is less standardized and less regulated. This places stress on media companies to keep their pace. In IT, new technologies and formats (like 4K HDR) tend to be implemented and adopted more quickly than is feasible in traditional media distribution (i.e., HDTV took decades to implement). This provides a distinct competitive advantage to the new “software” media companies.

This disruption is also impacting the content creation industry. 2017 was a dynamic year, as streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu poured money into developing original content — from Stranger Things to The Handmaid’s Tale. The competition for viewers has brought production spending to an all-time high; however, succeeding in this new boom is not always obvious.

Traditional business models are facing pressure from new subscription models. This is affecting areas of production, such as commercial production, while fueling growth in areas like animation. Content production is becoming more sophisticated and complex and raising questions about how to build efficient, profitable businesses. Creating a film or TV show today requires more resources than it did 10 years ago, and neither consumers nor distributors are willing to pay. The onus is on content creators, forcing the industry to be more strategic.

For studios and facilities, taking on more work with lower margins and without improving processes is unsustainable. Any creative rethinking and/or indecision in the production process becomes costly and disruptive, so there is a sense of urgency to gain more predictability and control in creative pipelines. The challenge lies in the constrictive production process. 

Reducing menial tasks that tie up cycles through automation offers to improve operational efficiency; however, this technology is still emerging.
Autodesk is working to improve the production process for creatives in this new era. Our aim is to help people make more sophisticated content with smaller budgets. To do that, we are investing in new creative capabilities of 3ds Max, Arnold, Flame and Maya, and also improving production management and analytics with products like Shotgun.

Maurice Patel is the M&E Strategy Lead for Autodesk, Inc. (autodesk.com), based in San Rafael, CA.