The Digital Guy: Bruce Nazarian Delivers His State of the Industry Address

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Despite justly being known as a digital jack-of-all-trades (aka Mr. Digital Guy), Bruce Nazarian thoroughly enjoys his vinyl collection, including many records he personally produced early in his rich and varied career. Much of his work has involved pushing the outer boundaries of creativity in the digital media realm – from pioneering achievements in direct-to-disk recording to evangelizing the potential and use of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Currently, Bruce is serving as president of the non-profit International Digital Media Alliance (IDMA), while authoring books on DVD and Blu-ray production, teaching a new generation how to innovate with the latest technology, and traveling around the world as a consultant and speaker at conferences and tradeshows.

Blu-ray Licensing Requirements Reduced Substantially
When Bruce Nazarian’s observations last graced these web pages in November 2008, the steep licensing fees associated with Blu-ray disc production were a stumbling block to more widespread acceptance. Today, thanks in part to the efforts of the IDMA, an organization that Bruce heads, fees are down across the board and are waived entirely for certain types of productions.

What is the current situation with Blu-ray licensing?
Here are the two most interesting developments about Blu-ray that directly affect the non-Hollywood creative producers out there. This includes those who in the past have dabbled with or actually produced and published on DVD, but up until a while ago found Blu-ray to be an incredibly hostile environment to try to navigate and outrageously expensive and impossible to use.

Number one: the IDMA has for over two years lobbied the AACS and the Blu-ray Disc Association to lower the licensing fees for the mandatory AACS content protection license. In June of last year, they announced a significant reduction. The fees used to be $4,300 to license your very first production on Blu-ray and about $1,500 or so for every subsequent production (meaning every subsequent disc that you would author and create).

We got the fees reduced from $4,300 to a total of $1,000 ($500 a year to license and $500 per project), which is a significantly more affordable. Nobody in the independent production community could afford to spend $4,300 before they’d even author and manufacture the disc. You were looking at $10,000 or more for your first Blu-ray project.

So that was the first major development – the reduction of the AACS license fee.

The second most important development: we have actively been demonstrating and showing people that it is possible to create legitimate Blu-ray projects using DVD recordable media. When you make Blu-ray on recordable discs you are not obligated to pay any AACS fee because it is not required.

You can make a Blu-ray disc and you can burn it to Blu-ray (if you are blessed to have a Blu-ray recorder and Blu-ray media). Or, if you have a short project (30 to 60 minutes in length), you can make a Blu-ray disc and you can burn it on DVD-R and it will play in a Blu-ray player as high-definition video in the Blu-ray format.

Do you see prospective business applications for this development in particular?
Oh, sure. I know a lot of people who are independent filmmakers who have short films. They are thrilled to death about the fact that they could manufacture and fulfill using DVD-Rs to make a high-def movie without having to go through replication.

Have there been any other advances related to Blu-ray?
Affordable software has come around that allows people on both Mac and PC platforms to be able to author in the Blu-ray format. Case in point: [Apple’s] Final Cut 7 added the “share” function, which gets you to a Blu-ray disc. Obviously, it is designed to just make a screener out of whatever is currently in your timeline, but you can do that. If you have chapters in that movie, Final Cut will create a chapter venue and it will create a main menu for you. It is simple Blu-ray authoring, but it is Blu-ray authoring.

And, it will burn either to Blu-ray or to DVD media on a DVD burner, depending upon what is attached to your system. It is pretty flexible. If we go back a couple of years and look at the products from Roxio, we will find Toast 9 from a couple years ago was the first product that would do Blu-ray authoring on a Mac and Toast 10 is even better – even more sophisticated. And, it makes a nice-looking product with nice menu functionality. Is it going to be like the menus from Star Wars? Well, no, but if you are working with a $99 program, I don’t think that you are looking to do menus from Star Wars.

Likewise, for the PC platform, Roxio has a program called Creator 2010 that does the same thing: it allows you to author a simple Blu-ray disc on the PC platform and burn it, either to Blu-ray media or to DVD recordable media. I call these getting-in-the-door applications. You literally can spend $100 or $120, whatever it takes to buy the application and the Blu-ray plug-in, and be making a Blu-ray disc that you could watch at home that night.

Has it gotten any easier for Mac users to master a Blu-ray disc?
If you authored a project on a Macintosh – using, perhaps, Adobe Encore – and wanted to replicate that project, there was no way to create a Blu-ray CMF file set (BDCMF) master until last year. At NAB, the IDMA took great pleasure in presenting Larry Applegate live on stage debuting his new software program called BluStreak Premaster. BluStreak Premaster is a Mac OSX application that takes a BDMV folder (the end result of a desktop authoring for Blu-ray) from either Toast or Adobe Encore and converts it magically in just a few minutes into a BDCMF that can be transferred to a hard drive and then delivered to a replicator. And, it works. We have had successful stories of replication for projects created on a Mac, converted to BDCMF using BluStreak Premaster, and then replicated by the thousands.

That wasn’t an issue on the PC platform, because authoring programs on the PC platform already had a way to output a BDCMF. But, the folks on the Mac were stuck in recordable mode until Larry plugged that gap with this cool bridge technology.

You recently returned from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Did you see anything exciting at the show?
Part of what was interesting at CES this year was a boatload of 3D. And, some of the 3D was actually quite impressive – unlike in years gone by where you had to wear red and blue glasses. Now, you can wear polarizing lenses and the visual experience was quite impressive, all things considered.

I checked out the Panasonic theater. It is not just stuff that was repurposed from two dimensions (using electronic trickery to create three dimensions). A lot of what we see today is material that is being shot in 3D. What made the Panasonic display even more impressive is that they have a camera that will be available and announced at the upcoming NAB later this year that actually shoots in 3D – live.

There is an entire post-production ecosystem that exists to process that content. We are about to take a giant step from 2D acquisition and distribution to practical 3D acquisition and distribution within this coming year.

Some people are saying that within 3 to 5 years we may not even be seeing many non-3D films of any sort. Do you there is that much momentum behind 3D at this point?
There is a lot of momentum, and I am not sure whether it is because Hollywood thinks that 3D is going to be the big saving grace – to break Blu-ray wide open – or if it is just that we are poised at the cusp of technology, where the possibility of what the technology can do and the cost-effectiveness of what it can do are at a point where it becomes practical to develop this and deploy it and make it an honest-to-goodness consumer format that can be purchased.

At $21,000, this Panasonic camera is not going to be on the shelf at your local Best Buy, but for professionals who are looking to acquire and publish in 3D, it sure is a whole lot more affordable than previous 3D scenarios that were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Do you see this kind of technology being embraced by independents over the next few years?
Every high-end technology eventually filters down. I mean, that is why we have the desktop audio recording today that we have. Don’t forget that audio recording fifty years ago was a boatload of very expensive, very bulky, and very tube-driven gear in acoustically isolated spaces that were tuned for the best results. Today, you can walk around the world with a laptop and Logic Pro and a great microphone and a preamp and record just about anybody just about anywhere.

I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect a certain amount of that same… the word that I use to describe it is democratization, which is when the technology becomes affordable enough that pretty much anybody who is creative can afford to get into the act. And, I think that democratization of the creative arts is a wonderful development every time.

Where are you based these days?
I’m based out of Las Vegas, but I like to say that I’m a citizen of the world. Wherever my laptop lands is where I call home.

So, travel is a big part of your career?
Yes. Interestingly enough, I have dueling careers. I not only still have a creative career and after many years in post-production, I have actually come back into music as of about late 2005 and mid-2006. Now, I am back into producing music with a vengeance.

But, I travel a lot. I may go to a different studio to do a session in a different city. I also run a non-profit association. It used to be called the DVD Association; it is now called the International Digital Media Alliance and I travel a lot as part of my gig with the IDMA. As President of the IDMA, I get around to lots of parts of the world. So, it’s fun.

I suspect you’re in an excellent position to give a high-level view of where the industry is going. Would you care to give your take – something of a State of the Industry report – on where the optical disc industry is heading?
Here is my thought on the whole question of packaged media versus virtual media (all the downloadable stuff) or as I like to call it, electrons versus molecules. There is a case to be made for selling molecules, packaged media, for people who like to collect things. That is all well and good, because there is still going to be a market for people who are collectors, for whom the physical joy of touching and reading and having something – owning something – is still a tangible part of their enjoyment experience of whatever that media is. Whether that media is music on CDs or spoken word on CDs or visual stuff on DVD or Blu-ray, there are a number of people who are still going to consume media in a molecular form.

For a growing number of people, however, the consumption experience is more efficiently done using electrons – for those people the straight path from desire to consume to electronic download and consumption is becoming more and more the desired path for them. I think some of it is convenience. Some of it is certainly efficiency of the movement of media. And some of it is just plain… some people are just geeked by the whole new technology. I know I am one of those. Although I am still a very avid consumer of molecular forms of entertainment, both CDs and DVDs and Blu-ray discs. I am by no means immune from going to the iTunes store and surfing around and listening to some new music and going, “Oh, I would really like to have that.” And then I buy that and download it and, bing, it is in the library.

Just an off-the-wall question: do you have any vinyl in your musical collection?
Oh, yeah. Don’t forget. I’m an interesting sort of dinosaur in the sense that while I may not be obsolete yet, I go back far enough in the industry to analog recording, prior to when there was digital.

And, some of the first things that I worked on (in fact, a number of the records that I worked on) were in fact that: they were records. They were vinyl records that were pressed and distributed. And a number of the productions that I have produced back in the day were released either on full-length LPs or as 12-inch vinyl records. I have a fair number of records (not only the ones that I have played on and not only the ones that I have produced, but the ones that I enjoyed). I have a tremendous number of vinyl LPs in my collection.

Little by little, though, they are making their way on to my USB turntable and becoming digital. You know, cracks and scratches and pops and all. Luckily there is software to clean up the noise. It is cool.

The Digital Guy site:
Roxio Creator 2010:
Apple Final Cut Pro:
International Digital Media Alliance:
BluStreak Premaster:

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