DCC in review: The “dive to the bottom” in 2011

January 2011 finds us in the middle of “a long massive shakeout” in Digital Content Creation, says Kathleen Maher.

By Kathleen Maher

Rendering is doing gangbusters now and will only do better in 2011, as improved software tools and faster GPUs come to market. (Image courtesy NASA)

Times have been tough for creative people and for the people who sell them tools. That’s true in almost every single segment—from consumer to professional, from print to special effects. However, at the end of 2010, there were clear signs that the clouds are breaking and new opportunity is opening up.

A pattern is starting to emerge: what we’ve been going through is a long, massive, shakeout and we’re through with that in most areas of Digital Content Creation (DCC). And yes, there’s still some nasty bits to come.

The consumer market for content creation products is evolving. That’s a comforting way of saying the dive to the bottom continues. Consumers are giving the cold shoulder to suites of products that aren’t very productive, but they are rewarding low-cost-point products that get the job done. One of the biggest players, Sonic, has been sold to Rovi, which is more interested in content distribution. We think the competition is going to scramble to do things differently.

Better creation tools

There are increasing platforms for content and we’re expecting—make that hoping—to see better tools emerge for content creation right on the target devices. The iPad, even with a relatively small processor, can be a great platform for video editing. After all, one of the things we’re learning from customers is all they really want to do is trim, slap on a few titles, and get that video of the new kitty online as soon as possible. Phones are getting better cameras, bigger screens, more powerful processors. Tablets are going to be flooding the market, and raw content is going to be exploding. In other words, if you can make money selling tools for $14.99 at most and ideally at $1.99 this is just a swell time. (See the section Publishing thrives, below)

Movie industry bifurcation

The movie industry—where to start. The bifurcation we have talked about in our DCC reports in TechWatch continues. There are big budget special effects extravaganzas that make money for the big screens and there are smaller, personal movies that make pretty good margins and have nice long legs in home distribution. That continues. We’re also seeing the slow decline of the American era of cinematic hegemony in favor of regional cinemas. Bollywood has been a strong reminder that people like to see actors that look like themselves in movies, but we’re also seeing grassroots movie-making growing worldwide thanks to the availability of low-cost equipment and professional editing tools. This opens the door wider to desktop editing tools.

3D of the masses, by the masses, for the masses just might take off in 2011. (Image courtesy Captain Distance via Wikimedia Commons)

Okay, this is maybe just personal, but the 3D movie thing is going to run out of gas; limited it seems to silly animations and sci-fi/fantasy films. It really has to, as more crummy movies are shoved into 3D with the hope that people wearing 3D glasses are less able to discern crap from good content. In addition, the move of 3D content into the home is going very very slowly—people really don’t want to wear those stupid glasses and we just honestly do not believe in the auto-stereoscopic technologies we’ve seen so far. The technologies using multi-viewpoint projections that require viewers to jockey for sweet spots are not practical for home but we think it’s totally great stuff for signage. What this means to DCC is that traditional methods of content creation will continue alongside stereoscopic content creation.

3D movie growth

3D is not going to die. It’s going to grow in specific areas: theatrical movies, big events in theaters like sports and performances—theater, symphony, and opera. It’s also going to continue to grow in certain areas of gaming, which brings me to the next point.

Bigger game consoles

Consoles are going to get larger at the expense of big, heavy PC-based gaming. I’m sorry boys, but people are having a lot more fun with the Wii, the PS3, and Xbox 360 and interactive forms of input. The games are trending towards more casual games with interactivity.

Mobile gaming uptick

DCC content of all types will find a ready market on mobile devices in 2011.

Which brings us back to mobile. Gaming is shaping up to be a nice market on mobile and tablet. New opportunities for game development are going to open up as developers get more creative about using new types of interfaces—specifically touch and motion. The big war between Adobe and Apple is not going to matter too much in 2011 because the proliferation of Android phones means Flash and Adobe Air are going to be put to work on a wide range of titles. We also think it’s going to become meaningless because HTML 5.0 is going to mature, eventually, and Adobe is going to have tools that do a bang up job of creating HTML 5.0 content. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Apple did as well? Microsoft has already admitted defeat of a sort by saying plug-ins are not in the future for any interactive technology—including Silverlight. The browser will be the primary means of distribution.

Apps are us

Apps are so popular because in general they are free or very inexpensive and nine times out of 10 they do the job they’re supposed to do. The few that get bad ratings will quietly go away. It’s all leading to point products that are good at one or two things for not too much money. Many of them will reside in the cloud.

Publishing thrives

Now here’s what I really want to talk about. Publishing thrives and so do trees. Adobe, Amazon, and Apple have shown the way. Electronic devices are as portable as books, newspapers, and magazines and they can carry room-loads of content. Why in the world shouldn’t we publish to these devices? Because they’re too expensive? Yes, that’s true, and so paper will continue on of course, but the Kindle is already down to $139. We’ll get to a point that book stores will provide readers to customers instead of loyalty cards. Newspaper and/or magazine subscriptions will come with a device. We’re not so sure that people will make money selling devices. They’ll make more money selling content for those devices. (Sound familiar?) Digital publishing and distribution enables interactivity along with printed content and advertising that can be monitored and tracked with precision. Once again, publishers will make money, and when you guys do that, please remember to re-hire all those great writers and journalists you fired.

Rendering at hyperspeed

I did not say one thing about rendering in either the CAD section or yet in this article, and that’s a mistake. It just didn’t fit easily into the other things I was talking about. Rendering, especially ray tracing, is getting jet propelled by processors. We’re seeing easier (I didn’t say easy) tools for creating 3D content as exemplified by SketchUp. We also admire Luxology, StudioGPU, Rhino, and Alibre for what they’re doing for 3D content creation (and yes, Autodesk we know you’re cooking up cool stuff, too.) Renderers are proliferating and so will gorgeous content.

Where is it all going to go? Into all those digital publications, better games and more games, and user generated content including home design, fantasy environments, maybe online chat rooms—I’m not real convinced yet of that one.

Kathleen Maher is Editor-in-Chief of GraphicSpeak and Vice President of Jon Peddie Research.