Connecting with Bill Sobel

Tell Marty Shindler about digital anything and you'll probably make him smile. As he told CMSWire, "I chuckle when I hear the word 'digital' to describe a process." 

Everything is digital now, he explained. 

Shindler — who describes himself as a consultant, thought leader, forward thinking executive and sought after speaker — should know. For more than 30 years, he's been a consultant to creative, technology and emerging companies on business, economic, strategic, organizational and operational matters. 

From 1993 to 1996, after stints as an accountant, controller and vice president of finance at various companies, he landed a job as vice president of sales and marketing at Kodak’s digital start-up, Cinesite — largely because of his knowledge of the digital process for production, post production and visual effects. 

It was during this time that Shindler said he saw a market opportunity with the many emerging digital start-up facilities in the entertainment industry. So in 1996, along with his wife, he founded, The Shindler Perspective, an Encino, Calif.-based consultancy focused on companies in the entertainment and entertainment technology industries.

Keeping Pace with Technology

2014-13-November-Marty-Shindler-2.jpg

Shindler has provided insight on numerous projects in visual effects, camera technology and in recent years, the nascent 3D stereoscopic industry and cloud computing and storage technologies.

He's gained a following as a speaker at such industry conferences as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Digital Hollywood, Creative Storage, Storage Visions, The Previs Society and others, and has participated in numerous sessions on the topic of 3D for such industry organizations as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Directors Guild (DGA), the Entertainment Technology Center of USC, Variety’s 3D Entertainment Summit and Digital Hollywood.

He sat down recently with CMSWire to discuss his career, his perspectives, and his conviction that all successful companies require a balance of creativity and technology, rooted on a business base.

Sobel: You began your career as an accountant at Coopers & Lybrand (now PriceWaterhouseCoopers). Then you moved to Fox Studios as director of finance and eventually became director of finance at Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), an Academy Award-winning motion picture visual effects company founded in 1975 by George Lucas. Can you fill us in on your journey?

Shindler: It was early 1979 when Lucasfilm hired someone from Fox to be their CFO. The ensuing chain of events resulted in an opening for which I was hired. In late 1987, I returned to Coopers & Lybrand's entertainment practice in a quasi-audit and consulting role. In 1988, we competed for the Lucasfilm account for audit and consulting services, and we won against three other of the Big 8 firms.

Shortly after C&L was selected, I got deeply involved in a study of ILM business practices. The company had won seven Academy Awards and four Technical Achievement Awards, but needed to get its business act together. The following year ILM recruited me to join the company as director of finance to oversee the implementation of the C&L recommendations.

Those recommendations served to build an infrastructure that enabled rapid growth. It was particularly important as we were spending heavily to transition from analog to digital. As they say, the rest is history for ILM and The Shindler Perspective.

Sobel: In a recent column in DMW (Digital Media Wire) you said voice and gesture technologies are going to continue to grow as the world moves closer to a ubiquitous Internet of Things. Eyewear with built-in features that enable all manner of interactions with the world is on the horizon for broader consumer use. Can you explain?

Shindler: All sorts of digital tools are cool. In particular, I'm thinking about several kinds of eyewear, from Google Glass that is working its way through the ecosystem to various manufacturers that have devices for tracking eye movements for health and medical diagnostic purposes and to measure where and for how long people gaze at various objects, a methodology that has positive business implications.

Google Glass enables the user to do all manner of functions that could occur with a smartphone or tablet, but can be done hands free. This includes such basics as search, of course, all camera functions, email, etc. — all hands free with voice control and operable as well with gestures in the frames.

Tobii, a smart company from Sweden, manufactures glasses that track eye movement for both medical and gaze analysis, the latter of which can be used for retail and product packaging analysis as well as for advertising purposes. In one interesting test, they had several groups wear the Tobii glasses to track eye movement at a Cleveland Indians baseball game, tracking the frequency and length of gaze at various billboards and scoreboard.

Some of this is very reminiscent of the movie Minority Report. Don't be surprised if there is an opt-in feature on future TVs that enables Nielsen or other ratings measurement companies to be able to report back to advertisers the effectiveness of their ads.

Sobel: You recently noted, “The overall digital ‘revolution’ is over. Digital is now the norm. Companies are coming to market with products and services that in many cases build upon what has been developed in the past. Many are quite unique, often drawing upon an entrepreneurial spirit of innovation. Some are replays of what was attempted in the past, but for various reasons did not make it then to the proverbial prime time.” Can you tell us more?

Shindler: The list is extensive, but one that comes to mind is some work we did circa 1997 for two Canadian telcos that were funding a distance collaborative work process for the entertainment industry. Great concept, but too early in the technology development cycle.

One editor could be in Los Angeles and the other in New York or Montreal and each could have the same image on their computer screen simultaneously. They could comment, annotate and otherwise work together. The problem was that to do so, a line needed to be provisioned in advance from the “telephone company,” which also required crossing multiple jurisdictions to connect the points. Today, that is easy with the ubiquity of cloud computing.

As for other matters, I chuckle sometimes when I see the word digital as an adjective to describe a process. It is often a phrase that started in the analog transition phase that is now “phased out” as the term alone without the word digital would suffice.

Sobel: At the recent Creative Storage Conference, you hosted a keynote discussion with Steve Canepa, general manager of Global Media and Entertainment for IBM. Can you share a bit about that conversation?

Shindler: As you might imagine, IBM is a factor at many points on the value chain, so Steve and his management team must look at a wide variety of business trends. We covered such varied topics as how IBM has reinvented itself many times over the years amidst intense competition to the current upheaval that is occurring in technology and the rush for consolidation with such pending mergers as Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV.

A particularly interesting part of our conversation involved IBM’s Watson Group and Watson’s ability to “transform industries” with its cognitive computing apps and technologies.

We also spoke about the annual IBM 5 in 5, something I have been keeping my eye on for several years. The IBM 5 in 5 lists 5 technologies that will impact our lives in five years. As IBM noted in its press release back in December 2013 the five are “driven by a new era of cognitive systems where machines will learn, reason and engage with us in a more natural and personalized way.” Translated, that says in the future everything will learn.

Sobel: Back in 2005 you wrote “I strongly believe that a successful business must have a balance of creativity and technology on a business base. This is equally important to a start up as to an existing organization, large, medium or small. Think of the industry companies that are no longer in business and ask yourself if they are out of business due to a lack of creativity, technology or business and administrative skills.” How much have things changed in nine years?

Shindler: Things have not changed much. And it was not necessarily a revelation to me, at least when that was written. That said, it was something that I think was not readily apparent to some of the companies that we considered clients or more importantly, prospective clients.

Too many companies still think their creative skills will suffice. They will not. It must be a balanced organization.

I read a study many years ago that analyzed start-ups and early stage businesses across many industry lines. They found that the two business functions most commonly lacking were marketing and finance skills. It would be interesting to learn if your readers agree or disagree.

Sobel: You and your wife Roberta founded The Shindler Perspective in 1996 after many years on the inside of some very large companies: You in the media entertainment industry and Roberta in banking and finance. Can you share with our readers some advice?

Shindler: In one of the articles I published not long after starting our independent consulting practice — 10 Steps to a More Profitable Company — I cited “Understanding what it takes to get the job done” as step No. 1.

Any one of the ten might have been a valid No. 1, but I chose this after considerable thought because it seems to be lacking in many organizations. It's all about planning and execution and then paying attention to the basics. With the basics handled effectively, the more complex matters are more easily managed.

While this is not intended to be entirely self serving, companies of all sizes would be better off if they had knowledgeable but independent advisers whose daily paycheck is not dependent on saying “yes” to the boss. We have been very successful through the years in working with entrepreneurs on these very topics, including mapping out growth strategies that can help to pave the way.