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Q&A: DEG Chief Amy Jo Smith Reflects on the Trade Group’s Quarter Century

As president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, Amy Jo Smith heads the leading trade group for the home entertainment industry, representing the interests of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies, consumer electronics manufacturers, platform providers and technology companies.

A former White House communications advisor, Smith since 1997 has led the industry-funded group’s efforts to enhance and promote home entertainment during its evolution from videocassettes to DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and today’s digital age.

Under Smith’s leadership, the DEG is credited with helping to make DVD the fastest-growing consumer electronics product in industry history. In 2019, the DEG launched the D2C Alliance Council as a working community within the DEG to represent the global direct-to-consumer media industry and support its members to help create a robust marketplace to lead the new era of content consumption.

Media Play News asked Smith about the achievements, continuing work and aims of the DEG.

MPN: On the eve of the association’s 25th anniversary, tell us about DEG’s mission and how it has evolved with the industry.

Smith: The DEG’s first mission was to support the product launch of the DVD format. At the time, we were focused on attracting industry support and consumer adoption of the format. Many credit the DEG’s efforts with being a catalyst for DVD’s success as the fastest-growing product in consumer electronics history.   

As consumer interest for physical and digital entertainment has evolved, so has the DEG. We are here to serve the industry in helping to improve the consumer experience with the various ways they consume entertainment content in 2022 and beyond.   

MPN: What do you consider the group’s three major accomplishments? 

Smith: The DEG aims to create a unique, collaborative environment to enable leading content, delivery, device and technology companies to work together to grow the category. Our goal is to help leading media and entertainment companies make informed decisions to grow their businesses. Here are just a few of these:

  • The DEG spearheaded the industry’s efforts for a unified approach in designing and displaying new packaged media and consumer messaging, as witnessed by 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Digital Copy and Digital Download.
  • The DEG has led numerous consumer research projects to help demystify the benefits associated with new digital experiences. Some examples include the industry’s first research on the prospects for home 3D, digital collecting and, most recently, the study commissioned by the DEG’s D2C Alliance Targeted Services committee from SmithGeiger to inform on streaming user behavior related to targeted SVOD and AVOD services.
  • More than two decades ago, the DEG was established to support the launch of DVD. This helped to unify a number of fragmented marketing efforts into a single, powerful voice and was largely responsible for the format becoming arguably the most successful entertainment platform in history.

 

But the DEG’s proudest accomplishment is its ability to adjust to the changing dynamics of the industry to support member companies in their efforts to grow the industry and improve content delivery to fans. 
 
MPN: How has the pandemic changed the way DEG relates to and serves its members?   

Smith: With members unable to travel and commute to business meetings, we’ve been able to assemble executives more quickly. This has allowed us to move projects and activities faster. The DEG was quick to launch its virtual Expos, curated video sessions highlighting relevant topics. The Expos were received so favorably, attended by nearly 200 executives representing 50 companies on average in 2021, encouraging staff to produce these events about every six weeks. Our Expo on localization even resulted in the formation of our Advanced Content Delivery Alliance (ACDA) localization committee, which is now focusing on the need for a standard definition of quality across the localization industry.  

The DEG has always been a high-touch organization, providing customized customer care to meet varying needs. We brought this to the forefront of what we do during the pandemic. Members have told us how much this meant to them, to be able to count on us to bring pressing issues into committees, surging trends to Expos and to make introductions to enable networking in a WFH environment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Marcy Magiera, Andi Elliott and Jean Levicki on our team, who have been key to our success here. Everyone has worked tirelessly while navigating their own pandemic challenges.  

MPN: There are now two major “Alliances” within the DEG — the Direct-to-Consumer Alliance (D2CA) and the Advanced Content Delivery Alliance (ACDA). How are these different from one another? How do they serve the members differently than the core DEG? 

Smith: The D2C Alliance was established nearly three years ago to put a focus on companies with a direct-to-consumer offering. We wanted to shift the conversation away from the “streaming wars” and emphasize the burgeoning business opportunities available and exciting ways for consumers to get their TV, filmed, news, sports and specialty content. 

About a year ago, we analyzed our membership. Originally a content owner-based organization, we had a surge of member companies with products and services that help bring the content to market. We brought their voices to the forefront with the creation of the Advanced Content Delivery Alliance. In ACDA, members explore new ways to improve delivery of content. We are incredibly excited about the enthusiastic and worthwhile discussions and projects taking place in the Alliance. Through its Supply Chain Efficiency and Security committee, for example, the Alliance seeks to address obstructions within workflows due to the narrowing of windows, additional post work required for the home entertainment window, security challenges, and the threat landscape brought on by pirates.   

These Alliances allow the DEG to put a spotlight on pressing issues that members are focused on. We’re pleased with the support and participation we’ve received from members who are joining committees and giving input on agenda items we can tackle as an industry.

MPN: There was no annual DEG reception at CES in Las Vegas this year. When can the industry look forward to that event again? 

 Smith: There is going to be a DEG annual reception! Our annual reception will take place May 3 in Los Angeles at Skirball Cultural Center as part of our inaugural EnTech Fest. Members have been asking us for years to move the annual reception to Los Angeles so that it’s more accessible to L.A.-based folks.
  
Our EnTech Fest is a B2B event on May 3 and 4 built around what’s new and what’s next in content distribution and display technology. This forum will allow companies with products and services that enable distribution of content to showcase their latest offerings. EnTech will be different from other events in that we are focusing specifically on products for entertainment distribution.   

EnTech Fest will also have a special section dedicated to start-ups. Start Up Alley, as we’re calling it, will allow embryonic companies the chance to get in front of leading entertainment and technology companies.   

We’re excited that companies including Blu Digital Group, Dolby, DTS, Google TV, Intel, Looper Insights, NBCUniversal, NPD Group, Paramount, Synamedia and WarnerMedia are already supporting EnTech and, in some cases, Start Up Alley specifically. 

And, yes, EnTech will also be special because our annual reception will be held at that time!

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MPN: And now tell us the Amy Jo story — how did you get involved in the DEG, and why? 

Smith: Prior to DVD’s format launch, I was introduced to Warren Lieberfarb, the “father of DVD.” Warren tapped me to lead the consortium to support the global launch of the disc format for two to three years. As Warren described it, if we’re successful, there won’t be a need for the DEG any longer. And, if we’re not successful, there won’t be a need for the DEG, either.    

The way in which we’ve been able to constantly adjust our agenda to best meet the needs of the industry is what I’m most proud of. There are many DEG board leaders who have been instrumental in this. Our hats off to Bob Chapek, Ron Sanders, Mike Dunn, Mike Fasulo and Eddie Cunningham, to name a few. And our current board directors who have been instrumental in steering the DEG during the pandemic, including Jim Wuthrich, Dan Cohen, Matt Strauss, Andrea Downing, Rick Hack and Bob Buchi.  

The DEG is only as good as the people who participate in it to make it so. The organization is strong because of all the smart, forward-thinking executives who lean into the DEG. We are happy to know they rely on the DEG to be their organization to support the many emerging ways to deliver content.  I’m proud to be part of the DEG family. Our thanks to the many collaborative partnerships we have in the industry, including MPN.

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