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Brown Deer, Wis.
Anil Gupte plans to refine the niche of independent, foreign films as the U.S. improves its broadband service.
He forsees a new wave of media through broadband Internet access, which reached a majority of U.S. homes mid-2004, according to a survey by NetRatings, and serves a larger per-capita market in Korea, Japan and Singapore. Given a push, that network could wash over global film distribution channels and dissolve some of the structure that exists today.
"This is a level of media serving the next generation," Gupte said. "It's delivered over Internet instead of through the cable TV aggregate"
A competitor in this year's Governor's Business Plan Contest
, Gupte envisions a frictionless, pirate-proof way to distribute high-quality movies between foreign and U.S. markets. He sees this as a way for families to share a better media experience when some members are thousands of miles removed. This has been his own desire since he moved to the U.S. from India in 1983.
If a lifelong appreciation of 3D animation along with a background in film study and professional architecture training in the U.S. formed Gupte's motivation, then his lifestyle provided his niche. In 1997, Gupte found himself living in Milwaukee with little access to international or independent film. And even if he had a choice among his favorite movies, he had no time. Married with kids, he called two hours undisturbed movie-watching time a luxury and needed to find a way to get better entertainment.
"As a technically oriented person, I naturally went into problem-solving mode. I hit upon the idea of a video-on-demand service delivered over the Internet. I had just begun to realize the power of the Internet, as had many others," Gupte said.
Gupte immediately set up a site called iCinema.com, the "i" representing the internet, international and independent niche he longed to develop. The company would soon fail; broadband was just not a common feature in the U.S. household of the late 90s. Gupte held on to the idea, however, and soon returned to it after a brief hiatus starting a consulting network.
A frictionless movie market, as he describes it, would reduce bulk film shipment and other kinds of resistance among customers who don't yet prefer to download movies.
Many have been tinkering with this kind of media distribution known as IPTV television programs developed over the channels used by the Internet. Industry figures such as Dan Rayburn say IPTV could take a few years to really catch on. Rayburn, executive vice president for Streaming Media Inc.
, co-founded one of the early streaming-media web-casting production companies two years after starting a career in multimedia web delivery at Apple in 1995.
He works as a consultant and developer for media outlets like Microsoft and Twentieth Century Fox, companies Gupte said would crush him if his niche were not so specific. Even if the technology is flawless and an obvious improvement, the consumer has to want the media delivered that way, according to Rayburn.
"Just because it's new, doesn't mean it's adopted," he said.
A focus on foreign, independent films sets Gupte's business plan apart in a fast-paced, highly-competitive industry. His concentration on India's media right now, for instance, builds an outlet that he and millions of others hope will satisfy their needs.
"Immigrants assimilate but we maintain a link to our culture," he said. "You'd be surprised how much [media] we consume from our culture. There is a lot of flow and a desire to maintain that link"
His idea is as simple as a little black box and profound as putting each movie viewer into the role of the film's vendor. To develop the idea Gupte relies on the movie pirate's mind work to fill the box with smart software.
Today's international movie vendors, he said, often sit in theatres and record new releases from the screen before copying them onto multiple tapes and sending them abroad as a low-quality, high-demand, fresh product.
"Someone can stick a camera in front of screen and record it, make it different and charge a reasonable fee and people are still willing to buy it," he said.
Gupte hopes his black box of broadband trafficking software will move clients out of reach and starve the pirating industry. His approach would be gentle, because the box technology preserves the traditional familiar movie setting by connecting the computer to television. The result is a home-movie environment with the convenience of downloading media instantly through broadband, he said.
This simple masking of the technology with television addresses the biggest challenge in technology today, adoption by the client. Refreshing program designs could stream high-quality digital traffic, boost market control and cut costs to the client, he said.
"With our service, you could zap the movie all over the world and get it for three bucks without the questionable quality," Gupte said. "Essentially what we do is, instead of fighting pirates, we do what pirates do only better."
Going one step further, Gupte said movie markets flow more freely when the downloader becomes the vendor and the price evades the impulse to pirate. For instance, software designed at precise points of purchase would make it possible for a client to buy a movie, add subtitles and sell it as an enhanced download so they may keep a profit and send an established profit share all the way back to the films producer, Gupte said.
He said his service could even promote free movie downloads. Customers would register the box by zip code so the marketing precision invites commercial interest, which, by Gupte's design, cuts costs proportionately: If a client chooses not to pay for the movie at all, the software could weigh downloaded commercials with movie cost until the movie becomes free, paid for by target marketing through zip codes.
"Commercials are downloaded just like you download content, local to you and by interest," Gupte said.
Right now, the box is in the pilot stage. Gupte said he plans to send 100 customers the product to try. It will take a year and a half to develop each new feature as the consumers respond. He said the box's software would make rating and subtitles just two of the many options available to the user.
For now a big challenge is securing movie accounts as stock for distribution. Because they spend so much to produce the films, he says it's tricky to convince movie producers that his distribution system will pay more in the long run as payment flows back from the multiple downloading vendors. Still, his international approach - he says he's focusing on the Indian market to start and suspects China would follow a similar course - delivers double benefits when producers agree to his idea. He said movie viewers in India would recommend movies to relatives in the U.S. and vice versa.
"We're leveraging the same content twice, as difficult to get as it is," he said.