Warners Embraces High Tech: But Can Studio Culture Really Change?

A Sept. 9th, 2012 LA Times article by Ben Fritz describes how Warner Brothers is currently leading the major studios in encouraging digital innovations. (Students of film history will remember that Warners also pioneered another new technology - the talking picture - in 1927 with The Jazz Singer).

The latest initiatives at Warner Brothers, which include Warner's technical operations unit ("Tech Ops") and WBHive (an online platform that offers employees the opportunity to answer questions posed by management), are unique in an industry that in recent years has been known for its rigidly hierarchical structure, fiefs and secrets (even within one studio), and a resistance to new technology. But word has come down "from Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes at parent company Time Warner Inc. to focus online [and] the entire studio is seeking ways to digitize their operations."

In response to a corporate culture that (for now) is supportive of experimentation and new work methods (e.g., agile scrum), Warners has been ahead of its competition with new ideas: "No studio has been more aggressive in developing digital media than Warner Bros. It was the first to rent films on Facebook and led the way in launching UltraViolet, a multi-company initiative to sell movies online in a post-DVD world... The studio is [also] one of the few companies in Hollywood that hosts Silicon Valley-style "hackathons" for employees to create innovative new projects."

Encouraging low-level staffers to innovate is standard practice "in Silicon Valley, where companies pride themselves on meritocratic decision-making and open work environments. But at hierarchical Hollywood studios, where status, protocol and territory are everything, enabling ideas to bubble up from the bottom ranks could be a small revolution."

Thanks to Hollywood visionary Nick DeMartino for the link.

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