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MTBS Interviews Bob Dowling, Former Publisher of The Hollywood Reporter

By November 25, 2008March 24th, 2020Interviews

By Neil Schneider

Meant to be Seen is very honored to be joined by Mr. Bob Dowling. Mr. Dowling is the former Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, the industry’s premier daily trade publication. He is also the former Execuitve Vice-President of VNU. VNU is the world’s largest network of entertainment-related publications and services (e.g. Billboard, Musician, Music & Media, Adweek, and more).

Bob Dowling is the founder of The 3D Entertainment Summit. He is going to shed some light on what we can expect at next week’s conference, talk a bit about his exciting career, and share some important pioneering wisdom our industry should walk away with.

1. “Insiders and industry leaders alike consider Bob Dowling the most reliable, informed and knowledgeable executive in Hollywood”. That is very high praise. Before we talk about 3D, I’d like to talk a little bit about your fascinating career. Perhaps your biggest credit is being the former publisher and editor of the Hollywood Reporter – and we will get to that. First, I’d like to hear about your early career. How did Bob Dowling cut his teeth in the media business?

I began my career in publishing in 1964. I sold advertising in a health care tabloid magazine and ultimately became its publisher. From that point on I continued in the B to B publishing world in many different industries, namely nursing, drug store retailing, international business, men’s fashion, sportswear, technology and sports marketing. These were all before I moved to California to publish the reporter in 1988.

2. Would you say this first decade in your thirty plus year career defined your method of working? Did these years define you somehow? Please elaborate.

These several publications completely defined how and what I published. They gave me the axiom that the product is the editorial and the customer is the reader. If you deliver a respected editorial product the reader will participate and the advertiser can then exploit the relationship the editor has developed with the reader.

3. When BPI Communications purchased the Hollywood Reporter in 1988, it wasn’t what it is today. Can you describe the company you first joined, and the core ideals and priorities you implemented to make it the success it is today?

When I joined the reporter it was a family owned business. It had advertising but did not have the editorial respect its competitor “Variety” had. My mission was to get it that product respect. We did that by understanding the essence of the business we covered, and delivered the information relevant to that industry every day. I also saw the coming technology and marketing influences in the business and we began covering both subjects well in advance of anyone else, and we earned a reputation in those arenas. These three steps went a long way to securing our success.

4. You are credited as being a journalist as well. For me, there are some stories that I found personally exciting to have been involved with. Looking back at your career, what stories were most memorable for yourself?

The most significant story in my career at the reporter was the paper we delivered on the 12th of September, 2001. On the 11th, we tore up the paper, canceled all our advertising, and covered the trade center collapse from every single territory in the world. It was a paper that defined us as a journalistic enterprise, and gave our staff a level of pride in our mission as trade journalists. It was a great day for the paper.

5. You have a history of introducing or transitioning traditional media to new media venues. Which work are you most proud of and why?

I was the first to launch the THR web site. Being a daily newspaper, our only shortcoming was our inability to be so on an international level. It was impossible to get a print product to the world every day. With the advent of the Internet we could deliver news everyday. In fact we began delivering news as it occurred which changed our entire enterprise. This was something that gave me a sense of pride.

6. In 2000, you were the first publisher ever to receive the Foundation of Motion Picture Pioneer’s prestigious Pioneer of the Year award in 2000. That must have been very exciting for you. When you started your career, did you envision yourself becoming a pioneer? Why or why not?

I was honored to be given the pioneer award as it had never been given to a publisher before. I never thought of myself as a pioneer but I did believe the technical changes that revolutionized the entertainment and the publishing business sure gave me the opportunity to be seen as one.

7. A dear mentor of mine once explained that being the pioneer is the most dangerous of career paths because it is much harder to survive. 3D is going through some pioneering years. What pioneer survival lesson can you share with the 3D industry?

The key to pioneering is believing. Are you sure of the path you are on, are you constantly listening to others – both those who agree and those who don’t – and are you willing to stay with your vision until it is seen by everyone else? 3D is there now and it will take vision from people like Jeffery Katzenberg to manifest it in the public.

8. The 3D Entertainment Summit. What is it and why did you launch it?

The 3D summit is a conference that is focused on 3D as an entertainment initiative for everyone other than the technical people. If it is to be the revolution many are calling it, then it will have an impact on all disciplines in the entertainment business. Games, film, television and advertising will all be affected. I want all those non-technical people to attend and answer the question, “what’s in it for me?”

9. Can you share some names that are involved?

Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Hill of FOX sports, Jim Cameron of AVATAR, Erick Brevig, director of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, Vince Pace of Pace and Sandy Climan of 3ality.

10. Clearly, you are having a lot of leading names involved with this from nearly all aspects of the 3D cinema and gaming worlds. It’s not every day that you have these market leaders in the same place at the same time. What would you like to see happening beyond the high profile presentations? When all is said and done, what would you like to see accomplished when the conference is over?

As I said above I want the attendees to come away with the sense that 3D is for real, it will transform the business and everyone in it will have to learn how it will affect their role in the business. If they get direction, answers and a few contacts that will allow them to go back to their offices with a new sense of who to call and what to do, it will be a big success for them and for me.

11. Digital cinema has been around for some time. Do you think 3D is the real benefit driver for this technology? Please elaborate.

Digital is the answer to everything. It is the transformational dynamic that will revolutionize every single aspect of entertainment. It has already done so in many instances and is only at the very early stages of its complete metamorphosis. The actual look of a screen to the viewer will not change due to digital so for the consumer experience digital will have virtually no affect.

When 3D is added to digital, it completely changes the consumer experience. Results to date suggest more revenue and greater length of time in a theater when a film is released in 3D.

12. Last week, Jeffrey Katzenberg remarked that he expects all movies to be made in 3D within 5 to 7 years. Do you think this is a “reach for 100 to get 80” remark, or do you think it is a realistic expectation? Why?

There is no reason why all entertainment should not be in 3D. It is how we live so why should it not be how we enjoy our entertainment? I suspect he is 100% correct but maybe it will take a little longer than he suggests.

13. There has been a lot of media resistance to the idea of 3D film and video games. “D- for 3D” according to Roger Ebert, “3D is a gimmick, most associated with those stupid glasses designed to fit Blockheads from Venus” according to Gizmodo, etc. Do you think this backlash is unique to 3D? Why or why not?

When anything is introduced there are always naysayers. That is part of the nature of new. Not everyone will agree. But technology is inexorable. When it gets introduced, it becomes reality if it serves a purpose. 3D does. It makes the experience of seeing a film much more fun and much more enjoyable. When truly gifted directors and producers learn how to create with a 3D palette there will be a far greater acceptance level for it than we have now. That is only a matter of time.

IBM said there would only be a need for three computers in the world and Microsoft said there was no reason to have a computer in the home. Were they correct?

14. I can see how the 3D movie industry can easily take off. With the exception of equipping theaters with 3D projector solutions and having content ready, most of the battle is won. I think the consumer market is far more difficult because it’s a one to one sale. One display per customer versus one theater per 200 customers per showing. Would you agree that consumer 3D is a different ballgame, and how do you think it needs to be played?

3D is an experience. How one sees the film. Whatever device is used, 3D will change it. On a movie screen, a computer, PDA or cell phone – the advent of 3D will only make the consumer experience more attractive. So the number of viewers does not mean anything. It is about the experience.

15. I like to ask this question a lot: one of the challenges with the consumer S-3D market is the old chicken and the egg argument. Content makers (e.g. game developers) say “I won’t budge until there are X million units in homes.” Manufacturers say “I’m not going to budge until there are thousands of movies and games waiting for my hardware.” I say “you’re all nuts! Implement support and the industry will find a way to benefit you outside this stalemate.” What do you say? How do you justify participating with this technology at the ground level?

This question has already been answered. There are 3D enabled theaters; 3D enabled television sets and 3D enabled game consoles. There are 3D animated films available as well as a few live action films. 3D has been tested on television with the NFL, NBA boxing and several other sports. The broadcasting industry has access to live 3D broadcast technology and have used it already. So now it is a matter of scale. Every year more sets will be sold, theaters outfitted and programs available. It is just like all other consumer technology. When it hits the tipping point it will be off to the races.

16. I hope you will forgive the pun that 3D is meant to be seen. People don’t quite grasp its benefit until they witness it first hand. How would you describe 3D in a way that would get customers to bang down Best Buy’s door to buy the latest 3D display? How can we best express the benefits of 3D without actually showing it?

Not quite possible. It must be seen. How does one describe a rose, the beauty of a sunset, and the feel of silk? Can’t be done with precision. See it, experience it and everyone will want more.

17. As an advocate, I think there is a risk that 3D can be over hyped – especially if the technology overshadows the story. In fact, this problem may have already begun! Take this DishNetwork commercial for example:

Do you agree with this assessment, and as a media professional, do you have ideas on ways to avoid this problem?

In entertainment the story is everything. Nothing can alter that fact. Technology often hypes itself on what it is rather than what it does. It is simply a tool. When in the hands of a gifted artist, tools can change lives. In entertainment the creative professionals will embrace 3D as a tool and use it to express themselves as never before. The audience will be the beneficiary. I am not sure I get the point of the Dish ad, but when they have 3D available, their story in their advertising will change.

18. Your entire conference is filled with exciting speakers. Which presentations are you looking forward to most and why? Are you anticipating some news making announcements?

I am not sure news will be made but listening to the likes of David Hill on the broadcast of sports in 3D, Jim Cameron on his take on Avatar, and Jeffery who is the visionary for the entire 3D initiative will all be exciting. Of course, we are also looking forward to MTBS’ U-DECIDE Initiative results.

I hope to learn a great deal more than I know now, and will be thrilled if others feel the same way.

19. While 3D cinema has taken off in a big way, it’s game developers that have all the advantages – PC developers in particular. Video games are already rendered in volumetric 3D, gamers are early adopters, and sales continue to increase year over year. MTBS works with game developers in a non-proprietary way, and we certify and promote games that we deem S-3D compatible at no expense to the developer. With modern S-3D drivers (e.g. iZ3D and NVIDIA), most games can be run without special programming! However, despite all these advantages, game developers are very shy and hesitant about this technology. So much so, that most are scared to even publicly acknowledge it. As an experienced and successful pioneer, and having worked with the industry’s best throughout your career, what message do you have for these game developers?

I would recommend that game developers look into 3D seriously because we live in a sound bite world. Attention spans are decreasing with every generation. Those who do not innovate will fall by the wayside.

3D is a new tool for telling a story. The first ones who figure out how to use it most effectively and creatively will prosper. For any business there is a threshold where it begins to wane. If game developers are looking for “new and more exciting”, how lucky for the industry that 3D has come along to fill this creative gap. So get going!

20. What final words of wisdom can you share with MTBS’ community of S-3D advocates and enthusiasts?

Starting anything new is challenging, especially when nothing is in place to support your efforts. In fact, much is set up to thwart your efforts.

The key to success is to never give up. If you believe in yourself and what it is you are creating, then don’t take no for an answer. In the end, it will be your own personal passion that will endure and will make the sale.

3D has many supporters. Listen to them, position yourself off them, and engage them. They are your support system and are struggling just like you. Treat the industry like a fraternity. It will be your own and MTBS’ collective energies that will make 3D a household word.

Thank you for joining us, Mr. Dowling! It was an honor! MTBS members, please feel free to share your thoughts in our forums.

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