HPA 2020 Tech Retreat, Part 1

Every February, some of the smartest minds in the content creation world come together and engage in presentations, discussions and debates about wide-ranging topics. They call it the Hollywood Professional Association Tech Retreat.

I try to make time every year to travel to Palm Springs so I can absorb the unvarnished content that attracts current and future leaders of our industry. This year’s 2020 Tech Retreat didn’t disappoint.

Although some of the dialogs really don’t apply to my day-to-day work, I love learning about the industry as a whole. The Tech Retreat showcases the generosity of the industry in sharing information. While it would be impossible to summarize everything I learned, here are a few things I walked away with.

For large broadcast facilities, the realm of coax cable is disappearing. It’s being replaced by IP (Internet Protocol) signal flow—think ethernet—but on fiber. But what’s interesting is that video black—like what you use for genlocking cameras—is still part of the equation, for now.

In the equation of sports broadcasting, it’s becoming harder to ignore betting. Legal gambling in the professional sports arena (pardon the pun) is a big business.

There was debate as to whether gambler-specific game broadcasts would be a thing. For example, would there be different play-by-plays and color commentaries that call out individual player performances for fantasy players? The thought was that serious/professional gamblers are making their bets before the game, but amateurs might be attracted to in-game proposition betting: “Will they make a first down?”

An interesting surprise to me was that professional tennis is the second biggest betting sport in the world.

Speaking of betting, studios prefer to produce movies that have good odds of making money. So, there was discussion on audience research. One presentation talked about measuring carbon dioxide (CO2) in a test viewing room. The CO2 created by audience members’ exhaling seems to indicate their emotion.

Research wasn’t limited to audiences, however. Another talk showcased data mining a database of existing films to determine the “emotional tonality of every single character and every single line in the script.” Couple that with the ability to determine, by every zip code in America, the dislikes and likes of TV shows, and you can see that machine learning is becoming capable of being used to predict success.

For me, the HPA Tech Retreat is all about stopping what you’re doing so you can think about the future. Some of the talk on audience research caused me to stop and think. I’m a little concerned that we’re creating technologies that are amazing but that might also have the unintended consequence of changing us from storytellers to manufacturers. Rather than telling the stories we want to tell, will we—or someone who has power over a project—use market research simply to create experiences that sell?

On the other hand, the Tech Retreat is truly a sharing of information and dialog. There were conversations about the double-edged sword of this type of research. I’m not the only one concerned. Even some of those presenting admitted that they were cognizant of this issue.

That was just the first day at the HPA Tech Retreat. Next time, day 2—I get to be in a movie.

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