In early February Sonic Solutions finalized an $8.8 million cash deal to acquire InterActual Technologies, the company that brought Web interactivity to Hollywood titles including The Matrix Reloaded, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In addition to integrating InterActual's Internet-enabled DVD playback capability into its CinePlayer software, Sonic will add the technology to its AuthorScript DVD creation engine in bundles with DVD Producer and Scenarist.
"We've been fans of InterActual for some time, and last year we began talking to them about getting together on a more meaningful basis," says Sonic CEO and president Bob Doris. Sonic made a small investment in InterActual in 2000, and already licenses the software for use in its high-end authoring systems. "It helps us go further in two directions we've been moving at once: Continuing with our Hollywood-centric DVD authoring business, and getting more involved with consumer authoring and playback software."
While Doris said that embedding InterActual technology in CinePlayer was a natural fit, he admitted that it's "not necessarily conceivable" that consumers are interested in doing InterActual-based DVD authoring, at least not yet. Sonic's not the only DVD software heavyweight to enter into a partnership with InterActual; InterVideo has licensed InterActual's technology, which is available as an add-on pack for download by users of WinDVD Gold and Platinum 5. Doris describes Sonic's relationship with InterVideo as one of "friendly competition."
Most DVD-ROM features on Hollywood titles are already InterActual-enhanced, says InterActual president Todd Collart, who joined Sonic's staff as a member of the advanced technologies group. All of InterActual's staff is joining Sonic, most on the professional products team, says Doris.
InterActual's technology is designed to let users maximize what they get out of a Hollywood DVD title by "making a better movie experience, not replacing the movie experience," Collart says. He points to the director's commentary feature as one that he feels works better with InterActual than without. "It's tough to sit and watch an entire movie from start to finish just to get 15 minutes of good director's comments," he says. "When InterActual-enabled titles run the commentary, they only run the commentary that's relevant. We script the DVD playback so that it only runs these portions." To do that on a set-top, Collart says, would require a completely separate re-authoring.
Recently, InterActual worked with Paul McCartney, who Collart says described InterActual's approach as "organic." "He wanted people who saw him on his last tour to have a keepsake," Collart says. "It was their backstage pass, if you will, to get access to things they weren't able to see at the actual show, with a combination of cool features on the DVD itself and content that was only available online via the disc's Web connectivity."
Doris said that, in addition to building InterActual's technology into DVD Producer and Scenarist, Sonic has plans to integrate it with other products in the future, though he wasn't able to disclose the specifics just yet. "Both Producer and Scenarist are starting to carry more weighty InterActual-enabling software," Doris says. "Obviously, the real elegant treatments of InterActual-enabled discs will be done by the service group that Todd and his guys have built."
"The real beauty of this deal," Collart adds, "is combining our technology with the authoring systems that are actually producing those DVD assets." Collart adds that, while InterActual has traditionally taken aim exclusively at the Hollywood market, the partnership with Sonic opens up the possibility of bringing the capability to prosumer authoring software. "We get requests daily from videographers for our capabilities," he says, adding that wedding and other event video are perfect candidates for InterActual-enabled DVDs. "As a company, we haven't been set up structurally to deal with that level. Sonic has that structure, with its toolsets. We're more of a platform than a toolset."