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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Controlling video content

I'm at the "Building Blocks" conference in San Jose this morning, put on by Digital Hollywood, and Scott Roesch of Atom Entertainment (just acquired by MTV/Viacom) related a great anecdote about how it isn't just big media companies that are trying to control the way video is shared on the Internet, but individual creators, too.

One of the dynamics of there being more than 100 video-sharing sites on the Net is that individual videos get posted to multiple sites -- often, not by their creators.

Roesch said that Ahree Lee's short film `Me' has been a popular clip on Atom; every day for three years, Lee took digital snapshots of her face, and then strung them together. (Note: This blog entry was corrected, after I heard from Lee via e-mail.)

When creators like Lee license their films to Atom, they get a share of the advertising revenue generated when people watch. But Lee's movie also got posted without her permission to YouTube and other video-sharing sites, where she wasn't making money. Lee liked the exposure, but she also wanted to earn money from her work.

When Lee asked YouTube to take the video down, they complied. But she wanted to replace the illegal version with a kind of promotional trailer for the short film, to drive viewers to the version on Atom's site. The catch: Lee hoped to retain the traffic numbers that the illegal version had generated (the reason for this is that once a video has been viewed many times on YouTube, it tends to attract more views by virtue of its popularity...the snowball effect.)

So last week, Lee showed up at YouTube's Silicon Valley offices, and made the request in person, Michael Moore-style. But, she tells me via e-mail, they told her they couldn't keep the viewing stats that the illegal version had generated. Lee sounds a bit disappointed about that outcome, but she writes, at least "now I am in control of how my film is presented on YouTube."

After the panel, Scott Roesch told me that Atom has a team of four acquisitions people who go to film festivals and film schools looking for short movies like `Me.' They also get e-mails from filmmakers. Most of what they see, they reject, Roesch said. "We're not a personal media site" like YouTube, he said. Instead, they're trying to provide a kind of quality filter for Internet videos.