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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Videos from Digimart, `The International Digital Cinema Market'

Hey cool! Digimart has posted streaming video of the entire 2006 conference, held earlier this month in Montreal.

The agenda is here, so you can see who spoke during which sessions. The list of sessions follow (I've starred the two that I moderated):


Monday, October 30, 2006

From CNET: Among Tech Enthusiasts, Skepticism on Next-Gen DVD Formats

From CNET (full press release here)...

    CNET Survey Finds 81 Percent of Tech Enthusiasts Remain Skeptical About Which Next-Generation DVD Technology will be the Market Standard

    SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Oct. 30, 2006--The overwhelming majority (81 percent) of tech enthusiasts remain skeptical about which next-generation DVD technology will be the market standard, according to a recent survey by CNET (Nasdaq:CNET)( and the Consumer Electronics Association. The study, CEA / CNET Tech First Panel: Next-Generation DVD, gained information about early technology adopters awareness of, and interest in, high-definition capable DVD players as manufacturers prepare to release several players that run on varying formats.

    Although awareness of the new technology is high at 85 percent, a number of issues are contributing to early adopters' desire to own the new high-definition players. These include:

    The Format Wars - The overwhelming majority (81 percent) say they are unsure of which of the available technologies will be the market standard

    Price - Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) are concerned about the cost of next-generation DVD players; 62 percent worry about the cost of next-generation DVD movies

Monday news: HD `cascading effect,' Cuban, Digital Cinematography Tiff in the Phillipines, Brightcove, and Metacafe

- In my Sunday Boston Globe column, I wrote about what one TiVo executive called the high-definition "cascading effect" -- once you buy an HD TV, suddenly you need an HD cable or satellite box, an HD TiVo, an HD camcorder, an HD game console, an HD DVD or Blu-ray player, and discs to play on them.

- Mark Cuban has a blog post that asks, `Is the Internet a long tail ghetto?' Worth a read.

- In the Phillipines, there's a debate about whether digital cinematography will be good or bad for the film world there. A critic has written an essay called `The Downside of Digital.' From the Phillipine Daily Inquirer's coverage:

    The [German media critic Tilman Baumgärtel], who is also a professor at the UP Film Institute, said among other things that digital films “just don’t look as good as 35-millimeter.” He warned that the technology “encourages sloppiness” and “breeds its own mannerisms.” He warned that this could “lower the audience’s audio-visual standards.”

    In the long run, Baumgärtel argued, digital films would “make Philippine movies less competitive internationally.” He proceeded to point out lapses and errors in some of the digital films he had watched.

Sound familiar? We heard the same debate here in the late 1990s -- and it isn't entirely resolved among H'wood cinematographers.

- The Internet video distribution company Brightcove is rolling out new features and services today, according to The Wall Street Journal:

    The Brightcove Network has been in test mode for months and already is being used by media and entertainment companies such as Reuters Group PLC, Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks, and Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Until now, only content owners selected by Brightcove could use the network. Now any media company or professional video-content owner will be able to launch a Web video channel at Brightcove. Web sites looking for video can then see what is available at the Brightcove marketplace. The content owner, Brightcove and the Web sites would then share revenue generated from ad sales and sales of the videos.

Brightcove also just launched a site for consumers, which includes a list of 100 videos that are generating buzz, based not on how many times they've been seen in total, but how rapidly they're being shared, and how often they've been watching recently. Cool idea.

- The video-sharing site Metacafe is now letting video creators earn money from their work, according to the Reel Pop blog. (They're already listed on my chart of Web video sites that pay producers for their content.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

More ShowEast News ... WSJ on `The Onyx Project' ... YouTube pulls Comedy Central Clips

- At ShowEast in Orlando this past week, sounds like there was a cool demo of 3-D cameras and projection systems. Steve Schklair was showing how 3-D digital cameras can be used to beam live events into a cinema, and some clips from `The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D' were shown. Sony was also showing off a new 4K digital camera. And there's a bit more info about a new 4K projector in development by Panorama Labs of Australia, which could be ready in prototype form by the end of 2007.

- Joe Morganstern of the Wall Street Journal writes about `The Onyx Project', a movie starring David Strathairn that doesn't have a conventional narrative through-line. Played in a computer's DVD player, you can set the scenes to shuffle, and try to make sense of what emerges. (I posted about the movie early this month, and you can buy the DVD for $23.95 here.) Morganstern writes:

    As a movie, "The Onyx Project," written and directed by Larry Atlas and shot on what must have been a miniscule budget (Editor's Note: under $200,000, according to the NY Times), has a few virtues and some severe limitations. The main attraction is David Strathairn's austere performance as a U.S. Army special-forces officer named Robert Henderson. This world-weary colonel is a one-man show, sitting alone in a bleak motel room and talking straight to a digital camera as he takes stock of his life after the catastrophic failure of a secret mission -- code-named Onyx -- in Afghanistan. Though the film was made before the recent publication of Bob Woodward's "State of Denial," many of Henderson's ruminations -- about the roots of American policy and the conflict between politics and military strategy -- might have been ripped from the book's pages.

    That said, the film isn't much more than a one-man show. The events and individuals to which Henderson refers are either dramatized minimally or represented fleetingly by clips and still photos. While a narrative of sorts does emerge from the almost five hours of material, organized in hundreds of snippets and chat-room-like threads, that material remains essentially a meditation, and meditations, by their very nature, involve shuffled thoughts.

- Not a surprise: big media companies are starting to assert control over their clips online, or at least try. Comedy Central asked YouTube to pull down the `Daily Show' and `Colbert Report' clips that had been uploaded to YouTube by fans. The error message that pops up where the clips once were: "This video has been removed due to copyright infringement."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Paramount chairman Brad Grey on technology

I wrote a bit about Paramount chairman Brad Grey's Tuesday night talk at the Forbes MEET conference in this Variety piece, but they didn't use a couple of the juiciest tech-related quotes.

Brett Pulley of Forbes asked Grey how Paramount is approaching new technologies. (Historically, Paramount has been the tech-laggard among the of the last, for instance, to distribute movies to theaters digitally.)

Grey asserted that Paramount is “embracing technology in a robust way,” but “trying not to fracture our business by doing it.” In particular, Grey said he wanted to expand access to Paramount’s movies in digital form, without losing revenues “from the physical DVD business that we now enjoy.” That's gonna be a tough balancing act for every studio. "We want to experiment, learn, and we wat to be profitable," he said.

Grey said he foresees “exponential growth” of digital revenues over the coming two-to-three years, and that his regime was trying to learn about as much as possible about new technologies, and to “make adjustments” to traditional business practices like release windows as necessary.

Earlier this week, Paramount signed up with AOL to make its movies and TV shows available as digital downloads (but not rentals) on AOL’s video portal.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

From ShoWest: What's the True Failure Rate of Digital Cinema Shows?

Great coverage by Gregg Goldstein of a d-cinema roundtable yesterday at ShowEast, in The Hollywood Reporter. The panel was called "Digital Cinema: Where Are We Today, And What Direction Are We Going?" Goldstein writes:

    Technicolor president of theatrical services Joe Berchtold, who is launching a beta digital program in theaters, parried with competitor Chuck Goldwater, president of digital theater provider AccessIT Media Services Group, over the failure rate of current digital projection.

    "Up to 5% of digital screens have problems where you miss one or more show a day," said Berchtold, though Goldwater and others disputed that number.

    20th Century Fox senior vp and general sales manager Chris Aronson said his company had a 99.5% success rate, and Rave Motion Pictures CEO Tom Stephenson cited a 1% failure rate.

ClickStar, Morgan Freeman, and Lori McCreary at Forbes MEET Conf

The big news from the Morgan Freeman/Lori McCreary session yesterday evening at the Forbes MEET conference was that McCreary has done a deal with Landmark Theatres for the theatrical release of “10 Items or Less” on December 1st.

Other exhibitors have been reluctant to book “10 Items,” which stars Freeman and Paz Vega, because it’ll be released just two weeks later (December 15th) on the ClickStar Web site for digital purchase or rental. McCreary said that she did the deal directly with Landmark co-owner Todd Wagner, promising him a slice of the download revenues. “If we win big on the broadband distribution business,” McCreary said, “Landmark gets a piece.” McCreary thinks that Internet sales and rentals won’t hurt theatrical box office or DVD sales, but instead “will be additive.”

McCreary also said that she thinks the current digital rental experience doesn’t work – once you start watching a movie, a clock starts ticking, and you must finish watching it within 24 hours before the file becomes unviewable. On ClickStar, she said, the window would be 72 hours.

McCreary’s mantra is a good one: “make films easier to buy than to pirate.” We’ll see, though, how good the ClickStar experience is; iTunes is obviously the game to beat, as far as ease-of-use. McCreary said that ClickStar would launch with between 400-600 titles.

“People are going to be downloading their entertainment,” Freeman said. “It’s a no-brainer. When a movie comes out, you can access it within two or three weeks of the theatrical release, store it on your entertainment PC, and watch it on your big flatscreen.” Freeman said he thought ClickStar’s Windows DRM technology would be an improvement on DVD encryption (such as it is).

Freeman said studios and exhibitors were too quick to regard new technology and new business models as a threat. “Nothing has put them out of business, and we think that nothing is going to put them out of business,” he said. “The movie experience is going to go on and on.”

Freeman also said that as more films came on to the market, priced (perhaps) more cheaply than today's DVDs and theater tix, and new options for viewing them cropped up, “the cost of making them has to go down, too.”

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Forbes MEET Conference in LA: Michael Eisner, Barry Diller, JibJab, YouTube, and more...

Here are some rough notes from today’s Forbes MEET conference in Beverly Hills. (The acronym stands for “Media, Electronic Entertainment, and Technology.”) I wrote a short piece on the conference that is now up on the Variety Web site, and will run in the paper tomorrow.

Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard opened the conference, noting that when he and VC Roger McNamee began planning it two years ago, YouTube didn’t exist.

He went on to contrast the fortunes of “old” media with new. The same week that Google bought YouTube, Karlgaard said, NBC announced lay-offs. Google’s stock is near it’s high; the NY Times’ stock is at a five-year low.

Dennis Kneale, the managing editor of Forbes, picked up the thread.

“The tech world and Hollywood don’t trust each other,” Kneale said, recalling that Hollywood studios sued Sony over Betamax, and then took Grokster to the Supreme Court, too. Kneale observed that many tech entrepreneurs feel that copyright no longer has any reason to exist. The MEET conference “is here to bring [Hollywood and Silicon Valley] together, because their futures are intertwined like never before.”

Kneale said he didn’t think digital media (YouTube’s $1.6 billion price tag, with no profits) represented the new Internet bubble. He said there are “fundamental differences” between this bubble and the last one, but didn’t elaborate.

Then, on to the afternoon’s main event: a conversation between Michael Eisner and Barry Diller, with Kneale serving as “facilitator” (he mostly sat there and watched as Eisner interviewed Diller.)

Eisner began by asking Diller, “Will major media companies absorb most of the new media companies – the track that Rupert is on, and Disney, to a lesser extent?”

Diller says that being a media company, in the old sense of the word, meant being a distributor. And distributors controlled scarce resources, like a national chain of theaters or TV stations. “They were the ones who originally owned the radio licenses, which then begat the television licenses, which then had those groups take over or be taken over by old-line movie companies,” Diller said. “They were all scarcity distribution systems.”

But now, the Internet enables self-publishing, Diller continued, “which means that the distribution leverage – the chokepoints – is going to evaporate.”

The result of this, Diller said, is that “it doesn’t matter who buys what – new audience is going to be created somewhere, by somebody, that you can’t buy.”

“I don’t believe that just aggregating these [new media companies], without some central through-line, makes any sense,” Diller said.

And consolidation causes problems. As media companies get more diversified, “they get less well-managed,” Diller said. It’s hard for them to even continue doing what they used to do well, “much less master this new form of plenty, rather than scarcity.”

Traditional media companies, Diller said, “were based on being dictatorial, and telling people how they’ll do business with them, and exercising every point of leverage at all points in the process.”

Diller tossed a compliment to Rupert Murdoch for his “remarkable grasp” of new media, but said, “I don’t think [Rupert’s approach] is replicable by all the people who are paid executives at all these very large, diversified media companies.”

Eisner asked Diller who wins the copyright squabble – the media companies who want to protect the value of copyright, or the tech types who think that copyright is an outmoded idea.

“Anybody who says there is not copyright – to me – it is a mad concept,” Diller said. It is an unappealing notion “if you don’t have the ability to say, ‘Well, if you’re going to use this in some form, I’ve created this, and I’m going to be paid for it.” If there isn’t some sort of copright protection, he said, “then all of these [content creators] are going to have to get day jobs in restaurants.”

Diller said he didn’t think Google’s purchase of YouTube was as big a deal as the mediaa made it out to be. “YouTube is valuable because they created a place everyone went,” he said. “Google didn’t pay anything. It was a tiny slice of their stock value. That part of the dilution of their company is infinitesimal. If you have that kind of paper [Google’s stock], you can buy almost anything until they take your paper away”

Eisner observed that Diller’s company, InterActive Corp., owned sixty brands, but no one knew it’s name. “It’s always ‘Barry Diller’s this’ or ‘Barry Diller’s that.’” Eisner teased him, saying he could’ve been worth more if he’d focused on one thing, and built, say, YouTube, for example.

“We are an inter-related conglomerate, and we like that,” Diller said.

Eisner asked a question about whether Diller would rather buy NBC or YouTube, and Diller dodged it. Eisner said he was interested because, “I’m looking. I want your advice [on what to buy].” A joke?

Diller said he thought local television stations would have enduring value, but “if you asked me whether a broadcast network has enduring value – I’m not so sure.”

“In a world of not only plenty,” he continued, “but the eventual time-shifting – everything will be time-shifted – you’ll be the editor and the master of your own stuff. The single channel, general entertainment approach [isn’t valuable].”

Eisner then turned to user-generated content, asking Diller whether he thought the user-generated world was going to continue to “escalate,” or will Web video get more professional? Will we have editors, instead of computers, deciding what’s best? (I’d argue that humans are already selecting what shows up on the YouTube homepage.)

Diller said that IAC is already involved in user-generated content – though not yet for video., he pointed out, already has 60 million registered users who post content.

“If you’re talking about narrative form,” Diller said, “I believe that there is value in editorship – the more plenty you have, the more editorship.” Sites and channels will be narrow and well-defined. That’s not the case with TV networks today, Diller said – but it was when he launched Fox. “It was edgy and young,” Diller said.

Diller repeated his belief that “there aren’t that many talented people” who go undiscovered by the current network/studio/record label system. (He hit this same note at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco last fall.)

“But the Internet has opened it up,” Eisner said.

Diller said he though “it’s perfectly rational to think that this talent pool – capable of producing content that will resonate with a lot of people – is finite. And it’s found through an editorial process, some kind of process.”

Diller said he thought that content produced in a garage “isn’t going to continue to be as big a slice of where people spend their time.”

Eisner countered that talent agencies have been spotting and signing content on the Net.

“I believe talent does out – somehow, somewhere,” Diller said. “I don’t think there are great singers, musicians, writers – in garrets somewhere – doing great work that no one finds. I just don’t believe that.”

Eisner changed the subject, talking about linking the Internet to the television: “Steve Jobs is out on his next mission – to connect the laptop to the television set,” he said.

“He ain’t alone,” Diller answered.

“No, but he wants to be first,” Eisner said.

“I don’t know if it’ll happen in two years, and I don’t know if Steve Jobs will do it, but there’s no question that there will be a system in the home that receives all this data coming in on the pipe – a wired or unwired pipe – that will throw what comes in to any form-factor in your house: a small screen, or a big plasma screen. It’ll be easy to use, and of course will have a remote – an execute button. You’ll push it, and it’ll make the transaction do whatever you want it to do. That really is the final convergence,” Diller said.

They then both agreed that Net neutrality is something that ought to be preserved. “We have lucked into a system that is currently neutral,” Diller said

They ended by talking about IAC’s new headquarters in Manhattan, designed by architect Frank Gehry. Diller said it wasn’t going to cost them much more than “as it costs us to be in midtown now… it’s relative cost neutral.” Besides, “what is wrong with building something that has some hopefulness in it? We’re a young company in the capital of the world…let’s build something that is as new as we are, and as aspirational as we are.”

I didn’t take notes on the panel on “Next Generation Video,” mostly because I didn’t feel the panelists covered much ground that was new. But there were some good tidbits in the panel on “User-Generated Content,” where the panelists included Roger McNamee of Elevation Partners, Ross Levinsohn of Fox Interactive Media, Gregg Spiridellis of JibJab Media, and Joel Hyatt of Current TV.

McNamee: The vast majority of people on MySpace don’t care how many people are in their audience. They’re just majing a point.” Posting to MySpace is a better use of their time than playing a videogame or watching a movie. “User-generated content is mostly people who don’t value their time highly,” he said, not meaning it as a put-down – but just an observation.

Spiridellis: “The audience is your distribution network. If you can leverage your audience, they can do great things for you.” JibJab had a list of over 100,000 people, he said, when they launched their first viral animated clips in 2004.

“I think user-generated content, in a lot of ways, is a commodity product,” Spiridellis said, when you can find the same video on lots of different sites.

Hyatt: “We think of Current as the television homepage of the Internet generation.” Unfortunately, no one else does.

McNamee said his current investing is focused on people 35-plus: “They have a lot of money, and no time” – unlike teens.

Levinsohn: “Network television is still the greatest reach medium in the country today.”

The future, he continued is “not all about professionally-producted content. It’s about how we bring user-generated and professionally-produced content together [when appropriate.]”

Hyatt talked a bit about the potential of viewer-created advertising, which Current is exploring through a program called VCAM.

Levinsohn closed the panel with a quote that echoed William Goldman's famous Hollywood maxim that "Nobody knows anything": “Nothing makes sense. Either you embrace that, or you reject it.”

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dear Michael Eisner: Update Your Web Site

So apparently Michael Eisner believes that, by virtue of his pan-global celebrity, people will somehow know exactly when his CNBC show is on, and who's on it. As a result, that means he doesn't need to have a regularly-updated Web site. (The last update was in August, apparently.) He's also not listed on CNBC's TV schedule.

In case you are not totally telepathic when it comes to all things Eisner, I will let you know that he has a trifecta of great guests on his show tonight: Mark Cuban, Sumner Redstone, and Ted Turner. I think it airs at 8 pm and 11 pm.

Now, if Eisner would also just stop talking long enough for his guests to answer a question...

New Digital Cinema Projector on the Way ... Meatloaf for Halloween ... And 3 From the LA Times

- Frank Stirling, formerly of Breakpoint Digital and Boeing Digital Cinema, has just hitched up with Panorama Labs. Panorama is an Australian company that is developing a new "microphotonics" technology, and one application will be in 4K digital cinema projectors.

Panorama has also hired Harry Mathias as its vice president of R&D; Mathias had previously been director of technology for NEC's Digital Cinema Division.

The most intriguing thing about the company: it's claim that it'll be able to produce projectors with "greater than 4K resolution," which could lead to "digital 70 mm" and "digital IMAX" projection. They'll apparently be at ShowEast this week, though it's unclear whether they'll have a working projector with them.

- Why do we need digital cinema? So that Meatloaf can perform a Halloween concert. Here's the trailer and list of theaters. (The last time I saw Meatloaf in a movie theater, it was the old "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" music video they used to show before "Rocky Horror Picture Show" at the Grove Art Cinema in Coconut Grove. Well before the advent of digital cinema...)

- From the LA Times: `AOL video site to sell Paramount movies and TV shows.' The deal:

    Classics such as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Chinatown" and newer releases such as "Mission: Impossible III" will be sold for $9.99 to $19.99 each, comparable to fees at online services CinemaNow, MovieLink and Guba as well as sites operated by MySpace owner News Corp.

    Consumers will own the movies and can transfer them to as many as three other computers or portable devices that support Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player technology.

- Also from the LA Times: `YouTube users keep dialogue running.' Chris Gaither and Dawn Chmielewski write that YouTube's community -- and the video `conversations' that take place within it -- is part of what has made the site so successful. They write:

    To Google, that community is worth potentially far more than the bootlegged video clips and amateur movies that built YouTube's audience of 63 million. Among fickle online audiences, loyalty is prized.

    "What's so unique about YouTube is that most of the content on the site is this conversation between people," said Fred Stutzman, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill who has studied social networks. "The interesting thing is that the conversations are happening in videos."

    Charlene Li, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., called that the "secret sauce" that could help YouTube fend off competition from the rash of other video-sharing services.

- Finally, Gaither writes about an interesting Yahoo experiment that is a kind of hybrid between professionally-generated and user-generated video: "The 9." Gaither writes:

    Together, "The 9" (not to be confused with the ABC series "The Nine") and "Talent Show" reveal Braun's emerging vision for Yahoo's role in online entertainment: Blend show-business packaging with homemade-video creativity to bring cult hits into the Web mainstream.

    "In a world where there's such a proliferation of this user-generated content all over the place, there is a need for that programming element that is still, to a very large extent, an underutilized discipline on the Internet," said Braun, a former chairman of ABC television. "I think that's where our company is going to be able to distinguish itself."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Exhibitors: `We don't know how to market digital cinema'

(OK, imagine this entry being read by the sonorous Coming Attraction Voice.)

In a world where...

...Consumers are snapping up high-definition TVs

...TiVo just introduced a high-definition digital video recorder

...Sirius, XM, and HD Radio lure drivers to buy new equipment and pay for monthly subscriptions so they can get better sound in their car

...Home video makers are starting to purchase high-def camcorders

...Somehow, the owners of America's movie theaters can't figure out how to market digital cinema. This, at a moment when consumers are upgrading every other aspect of their entertainment experience.

That's the vibe that I got at ShoWest this past March, and it still seems to be the vibe on the verge of ShowEast, according to this piece by Andreas Fuchs in Variety.

One of the rare exhibitors doing a good job explaining to ticket-buyers that digital cinema is a premium experience: UltraStar, the first chain to install digital projectors in 100 percent of their auditoriums.

HDTV: Technicolor redux?

Back in the 1930s, many top actresses were reluctant to appear in the first Technicolor movies.

"...[C]olor goes a little screwy at times and I'm not just sure I want to make a Technicolor picture," said Carole Lombard. Bette Davis declined to appear in Warner Bros.' first movie using the three-strip Technicolor process.

Now, actresses like Vanessa Williams and Blythe Danner seem to feel the same way about appearing on HDTV sets.

Two ideas from Digimart: the Audience Database and Jukebox Programming

Two of the ideas that popped up at Digimart earlier this week in Montreal struck me as interesting -- and potentially important. One relates to filmmakers, the other to exhibitors.

- The Audience Database

It seems that one of the most important assets for a filmmaker in the 21st century isn't going to be a camera, a great casting director, a well-connected producing partner, or a relationship with a distributor. (Though all those things are nice to have.) It's going to be the audience database: a collection of the e-mail addresses and ZIP codes of the people who've seen your previous movies, purchased them on DVD or as a download, or expressed interest in your work.

Arin Crumley and Susan Buice, the filmmakers behind `Four Eyed Monsters,' are already converts. By accumulating enough e-mail addresses and ZIP codes of people who wanted to see their movie this year, they were able to arrange 24 theatrical screenings of `Monsters' in September, which netted $13,000 in combined box office. "We have this audience base," Crumley said, "and we know how to communicate with them." (Check out their interactive heart map here.)

Documentarian Robert Greenwald does the same thing -- and he even used his e-mail list to raise money for his latest project, `Iraq for Sale.' (Greenwald brought in $220,000 in small donations of $25 or $50. Everyone who donated got a producer credit on the finished film.)

I expect that filmmakers will use their audience database to generate interest in upcoming projects, to raise money, to get help ("Anyone know of a barn where we can shoot for two days in December?"), to persuade theaters to show their finished work, and to sell DVDs and digital downloads. And yes, size will matter: bigger databases of committed fans will likely support bigger-budget, more ambitious projects.

- Jukebox Programming

Kees Ryninks, who runs a network of digital cinemas in Europe, used the term "jukebox programming" to describe what happens when a theater hands over a few screenings a week to the community, allowing them to choose what plays at the neighborhood cinema. (He said they're doing it already in Holland, but I didn't get a chance to ask him for more details.)

I'd love to see more cinemas experimenting with that approach, especially as digital cinema gives them more flexibility in what they show. What if your neighborhood theater devoted three or four screenings a week to a movie that was chosen by the community, based on Web voting? Put up five trailers on the theater Web site, along with descriptions of the movie, any critical reviews, and a cast list. Then let the populace pick. (And let them vote on what days/times would be most convenient for them to see it.)

Would filmmakers game the system, posting hundreds of votes for their movie? They'd try. But one way to deal with that would be to charge a voter $5 or $7 the first time he or she registered to vote. After that first vote was cast, the voter would get a printable coupon which would be good for one admission to the movie they'd voted for. That way, you'd get voters committed to actually seeing the movie they voted for -- and you'd dissuade people from trying to game the system.

I suspect this kind of empowered audience would turn out to be a theater's most devoted patrons... the movie world's version of a book club.

- At Digimart, an executive from Withoutabox, David Straus, mentioned that the company is working on a feature that will blend these two ideas, the Audience Database and Jukebox Programming. He says his company has patented, and will soon roll out, a concept called "Critical Mass Ticketing." If a filmmaker (like Crumley and Buice) can get 100 of his fans, for example, to request a showing at a particular theater, that theater would agree to show the movie. Withoutabox plans to get a number of theaters around the country signed up to participate.

How would it work? Everyone who voted to have the movie shown would enter his or her credit card number online. If enough people voted for a showing, everybody's card would get charged for the price of a ticket, and presumably you'd have a nice-sized audience. And if the magic number wasn't reached, nobody's card would get charged.

- And as an update...after I posted this entry, Jim Gilliam from Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films got in touch, and pointed me to this new site: Brave New Theaters. It's essentially a Web-based system for filmmakers to allow their movie to be shown (on DVD) at house parties and community screenings. Well worth checking out ... and totally free to use.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Update to List of Sites that Pay for Web Video

Since I posted my list of sites that pay for Web video on Monday, I've gotten lots of good feedback and suggestions. As a result, I've added two supplemental charts to the page.

One of them lists sites that plan to make it possible for video producers to earn money from their work, but haven't yet launched that feature. Included in that chart are Veoh, CustomFlix/Amazon, VideoEgg, and WOW TV.

The other chart is a list of the three DVD-burning services that enable you to make good, old-fashioned, shiny DVDs of your work available for sale on the Web. Those services are CustomFlix/Amazon, IndieFlix, and

The updated page is here. Please let me know if I've left anyone out...

A few links: Web video impact on star salaries... Residuals debate... Labels cash in on YouTube/Google deal... Lucas and Colbert duel

- From sharp-guy economist Hal Varian: `Why Old Media and Tom Cruise Should Worry About Cheaper Technology'. Varian writes:

    From the viewpoint of the media executive, Mr. Cruise’s salary was definitely a cost: it was the stars’ salaries that contributed to making movies expensive. So what if software for editing video has been getting a lot cheaper? That’s a trivial part of production costs.

    But amateur filmmakers don’t pay star salaries. From their point of view, cheaper editing software and cheaper broadband means that it is much easier to produce “garage video.”

    So as technology advances and costs go down, a lot more amateur video will be produced. Economic rent comes from scarcity. It is true that there is only one Tom Cruise, but it is equally true that there are only 24 hours in a day. The more time young people spend watching Lonelygirl15, the less time they will have to watch Mr. Cruise.

    I don’t think that the age of the megastar is over. Quite the contrary, there will still be big-budget movies, and stars with drawing power will still command high salaries.

    But, at the same time, I believe that there will be a flowering of creative, inexpensive and compelling semiprofessional content available via the Internet. This content will occupy more and more of people’s attention, particularly young people.

- Writers and actors want to make sure they get their fare share of payments from digital downloads, according to this LA Times piece.

- The NY Times reports that three music companies -- Universal, Warner, and Sony BMG -- all got a small chunk of equity in YouTube as part of the music licensing deals they struck with YouTube in the weeks before Google acquired the video-sharing site. The three labels collectively could receive about $50 million in Google stock as a result. Can you say `buying your friends'?

- Worth watching: George Lucas' appearance on `The Colbert Report' from last week:

Variety (and a Frog) on Just-Wrapped Digimart conference

Crazy travel day for me, flying back to San Francisco from Montreal, and trying to file a wrap-up of the Digimart conference on the way.

Nearly missed my flight, as the panel I was moderating at Digimart ran over (one of the panelists over-slept, so we got a 1/2 hour late start.) But Phillipe did an amazing job getting me to the airport; they drive faaaast in Montreal.

I wrote the piece on the plane from Montreal to bogged down at the Toronto airport trying to retrieve my bag and clear US Customs...had about five minutes of time before my flight departed to open my laptop, and discover the airport's miraculous free WiFi network, and send in my story to my editor at Variety. By the time I got home to San Francisco, it was up online (and mentioned on Digg).

The headline is `D-cinema confab eyes Web' and the subhed is `Digimart warns H'wood to speed up digital progress.'

I'm planning to post a few more notes from the conference, either tonight or tomorrow AM.

There's also a great English/French blog called "A Frog in the Valley" that has some great commentary and summaries of the sessions.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Universal Music Group sues Grouper and Bolt: Let's set some legal precedent

Universal Music Group is suing the video sites Grouper and Bolt, alleging that their businesses have built their businesses "on the backs" of Universal artists, allowing music videos and songs to be posted without permission or compensation.

Here's the LA Times coverage...Wall Street Journal...NYTimes/Reuters. From that last piece:

    Universal, with artists like U2, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey, said it was seeking damages of as much as $150,000 for each incident of copyright infringement, plus costs. It estimated that thousands of videos were being viewed on both sites.

My quick take: video-sharing sites believe they are protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed by Congress in 1998. This, in essence, says that a copyright holder needs to notify a hosting site (like a Grouper, Bolt, or YouTube) that they've got illegal content up. As long as the site removes it (and meets some other criteria, too), the DMCA is supposed to protect the site from lawsuits.

Of course, real life is not like `Survivor': there is no such thing as total immunity from lawsuits. This one will establish whether the DMCA really does protect video sharing sites.

What would be the implications if Universal won? It could force video sites to have a human review every piece of content that they receive (YouTube says it receives 65,000 videos a day), or develop software (which does not exist today) to automatically identify copyright-infringing images and audio. And that added expense could cause sites to conclude that hosting user-posted content isn't worth the trouble and expense of reviewing it. (If a site didn't review even one video uploaded by a user, it could potentially be liable for $150,000 if it turns out to be NBC's "Lazy Sunday" sketch from SNL rather than a clip of someone's cat playing the piano.)

One other thought: the legal system moves slowly. By virtue of this lawsuit having been filed, video sharing sites are going to start doing a much better job of policing copyrighted content. By the time the court decides anything, I expect the problem will have diminished significantly.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Netflix Faces "The Innovator's Dilemma"

At Digimart yesterday, Peter Broderick interviewed Ted Sarandos, the Chief Content Officer at Netflix. The big news from the discussion was that Sarandos said that Netflix will "announce where we're going with electronic distribution" in early 2007. (I can't tell if that means they'll simply announce what their plans are, or unveil a download service.)

But Sarandos' big news raised a big question for me: why hasn't Netflix already introduced a digital download service?

During the conversation with Peter (and in a short conversation with me afterward), Sarandos said that he and others Netflix have been inspired by the book `The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail' as they built the company. `The Innovator's Dilemma,' as far as I'm concerned, is one of the best books ever written about technological revolutions -- why some companies take advantage of them and establish new markets, and why other companies (often the incumbents) stumble.

The author, Clay Christensen (a Harvard Business School prof), defines two kinds of companies in the book: entrant firms, the newcomers in a market, who don't have a large business to protect, and established firms, who tend to be more conservative. Christensen's thesis is that it's much harder for established firms -- who often have been innovators in the past -- to catch the next important wave in technology.

Sarandos made the case (and I agree) that Netflix, as an entrant firm in the late 1990s, saw an opportunity to create a subscription DVD-by-mail business when established firms, like Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, didn't.

But now, I think Netflix has become an established firm itself. The company is publicly-traded. Revenues for 2005 were $682 million. They have five million paying customers. (I'm one of them -- and I love the service.) Their motivation is to keep those subscribers happy, and attract more subscribers in a cost-effective way.

Now, ever since I first interviewed Reed Hastings in 2001, he has been talking about eventually shifting the company to digital delivery; they don't expect the DVD to always be the most convenient delivery channel for movies. (Here's a CinemaTech interview with Reed from last year.) Netflix boasts that it invests one to two percent of its revenues in R&D, building a system for eventual electronic delivery of movies.

But the company has sat on the sidelines as Movielink, CinemaNow, Vongo,, Apple, GreenCine, EZTakes,, and a few others have launched their digital movie download services. (Even Wal-Mart, which tried and failed to copy Netflix's rental-by-mail business, will likely launch a download service before Netflix does.)

Sarandos, speaking at Digimart, was critical of this first generation of services. The quality isn't as good as a DVD. Not many consumers want to buy movies in digital form right now. The download process can be flukey. Electronic delivery, he said, is "a very interesting new space." But, he continued, "DVD has a very long life."

Sarandos is, of course, correct in his criticisms. But `The Innovator's Dilemma' points out that every important new technology doesn't work well at first. It doesn't satisfy the highest-end users (IE, cinephiles who want DVDs or even high-def DVDs.) The market is small, and revenues insignificant.

The problem is that when a new market (like digital downloads of movies) takes off, it's hard to catch up; it's far easier to get on a train while it's stopped in the station, or even when it has just started pulling out, than when it is tearing across the countryside at top speed. Even though Sarandos freely admits that it took Netflx a year or two of being in business before the company discovered the subscription DVD delivery model that works, for some odd reason, Netflix isn't interested in getting into digital delivery early, and learning the do's and don'ts.

One impediment to Netflix is that the studios may not want to license their movies to the company for digital rental or electronic sell-through (also called download-to-own). Studios may worry about Netflix dominating digital rental and sale the way they've come to dominate DVD rental.

But I'd still make the case that the company should be building a digital download service with any content that it can license -- indie movies, old TV shows, classic sporting events, whatever -- simply for the opportunity to make some early mistakes, and learn how to do it right. (GreenCine, EZTakes, and others are already taking this tack.)

Instead, Netflix, once a hard-charging entrant into the traditional video rental business, is now the establishment, unable to make a risky leap to the next technology.

Netflix's only hope for overcoming its `Innovator's Dilemma' situation is that it can throw a "Hail Mary" pass, and beat all of the other players already offering downloadable movies. I am not betting on this.

But the company does have two things going for it: its ability to design an easy-to-use online service, and its intelligent recommendation software, which has a sophisticated understanding of each user's taste in movies. Problem is, both Apple and Amazon do those things well, too.

Sometimes, there is a situation where a company can catch the technological train once it has left the station. Apple's a good example; dozens of companies made MP3 players before Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, and now it is the industry-leading product, with nearly 80 percent market share.

Can Netflix do the same? I'm interested in hearing your take.

Getting Paid: Sites That Help Video Producers Make Money

As part of a panel I'm moderating today at Digimart, I wanted to post a link to a document that's still a work-in-progress: a list of sites that enable video producers to earn money from their work.

Some of these will be familiar to you (Revver, Atom Entertainment), others less so (I hadn't previously heard of Panjea). Some are geared to short-form content, and others will support selling a full-length feature. Some generate revenue through advertising, and others through paid rentals or downloads. I've tried to explain which sites demand exclusive rights to your content; all the rest are looser, allowing you to sell your stuff in multiple marketplaces. YouTube, though wildly popular, isn't on the list, since it's more of a platform for gaining exposure than making money.

My goal was to help media-makers consider their options for earning a return from their work online. I welcome your feedback, in comments here or via e-mail. This chart is part of an eBook I'm assembling about Web video that'll be available by the end of this month. (Update: the eBook is now available, and you can learn more about it here.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Google Video: Actually, Indies Can't Charge for their Work

I've tweaked Apple repeatedly for making it nearly impossible for independent media-makers to upload content to its iTunes Music Store and charge for it; Apple seems to think that while Disney movies are worth $14.99 and Justin Timberlake songs are worth 99 cents, something made by a lesser-known filmmaker or band (and not marketed by a major studio or label) ought to be given away for free, as audio or video podcasts.

Now, it seems like Google is following the same path.

In January, Google co-founder Larry Page introduced Google Video at the Consumer Electronics Show, telling the audience, "It lets anyone sell video. The content producers can decide what to charge."

Ten months later, Google is still only allowing major content owners -- those with 1,000 hours or more of video -- to charge for their content.

I haven't seen this reported anywhere... but here's a post from a Google employee on the topic:

    It's true -- we have decided to postpone the purchase feature to the general public indefinitely. As you all know, we've been testing this feature with select content providers for some months. We know that many people were looking
    forward to the purchase price feature, but we believe that the direction we're moving now will prove to be better for everyone in the long run. Our apologies for what must seem like a switch, but please remember that Google Video is a very young product, and we are seeing new developments and uses every day as the service grows.

    Even without a purchase option, Google Video is still a way to reach millions of people around the world...

I wonder, given the purchase of YouTube last week, whether Google's attention will ever return to this issue.

dotSUB: Free translation for films and videos

Coolest idea I've encountered so far at Digimart: dotSUB, a Web site that allows you to upload a video, and then have a community of people help translate it and add subtitles. They support 200 languages. Company is just getting started -- and the service is still in beta -- but it's worth a look for the concept alone.

Their model isn't to pay translators directly for their work (the co-founder, Michael Smolens, likens the site to Wikipedia, where people agree to share their knowledge pro bono.) But Smolens says that translators will get credit at the end of the resulting video, and according to the site, "Translators/checkers providing accepted translations will share in any future revenue streams directly attributable to the newly created subtitled film in a manner to be finalized after the beta test."

Filmmakers need to supply not only their film/video, but also a time-stamped transcript of the dialogue in its original language.

Monday links: `10 Items,' 3-D `Nightmare,' Mo-cap news & more

- Morgan Freeman's new movie `10 Items or Less' will debut online only two weeks after it shows up in theaters, via Clickstar, a joint venture of Intel and Freeman's Revelations Entertainment. Big question now is how many theaters will be willing to show `10 Items' as a result of the short theatrical window.

- From Broadcast Newsroom, an interview with producer Don Hahn about the conversion of Tim Burton's `Nightmare Before Christmas' from 2-D into 3-D. The re-release happens October 20th; the industrious Michael Coate has compiled a list of theaters in the US and Canada that will be showing `Nightmare' in 3-D.

- The NY Times reported yesterday on some new motion capture technology from Image Metrics that doesn't require dots/markers on an actor's face. (This on the heel's of July's mo-cap breakthrough from Mova.)

- This cheap camcorder looks like it'd be fun, and it makes uploading clips to a Web site simple.

- The New Yorker has finally discovered YouTube. But I couldn't resist linking to their piece, because it includes the actor Crispin Glover -- and it was well-timed, running in the magazine the week that YouTube was snapped up by Google.

- Now, I'm heading over to the Digimart conference here in Montreal...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Film financing in the NY Times ... YouTube removing 1,000 clips a month from NBC alone

- Laura Holson of the NY Times reports today on some of the financing deals that producers like Joel Silver and Ivan Reitman are cutting directly with deep-pocketed investors. She writes:

    Joel Silver, the producer of the “Lethal Weapon” and “The Matrix” movies, is the latest and most important Hollywood figure to cut a big deal with Wall Street.

    He has just joined forces with a consortium of financiers who have agreed to provide $220 million to produce 15 films over the next six years. Mr. Silver will not only have creative control, he will own the movies outright.

    “I’ve spent 20 years working for studios,” Mr. Silver said in a recent interview beside an L-shaped azure swimming pool at his Brentwood mansion, a home he referred to as the house ‘The Matrix’ built. “It was always their call.”

    To his new partners, Mr. Silver seems like a good bet. In more than two decades as a producer on the Warner Brothers lot, he has produced 46 movies, which have generated $5.6 billion in global ticket sales.

    Ivan Reitman, the director of “Animal House” and “Ghostbusters,” struck a $200 million deal with Merrill Lynch in August to produce 10 low-cost films. Tom Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, after splitting with Paramount Pictures over the summer, are in discussions with potential investors, as are several other producers.

- The Journal reports on some legal "saber-rattling" the major media conglomerates, including News Corp., Viacom, and NBC Universal are doing with regard to YouTube. They're threatening to seek damages of $150,000 for every copyrighted video posted, apparently in an attempt to pressure the site into offering them more favorable revenue-sharing deals. But most legal experts think the suits won't have much merit because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

From the piece:

    YouTube has been negotiating with content owners throughout the year as it tries to reach licensing pacts with them and head off any copyright lawsuits. So far, YouTube has struck deals with TV companies NBC Universal, CBS Corp. and with most of the major music companies, including Warner Music Group Corp., Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group and Sony Corp.'s and Bertelsmann AG's joint venture. YouTube is building a system that would help automate identification of videos containing copyright material on its site, and allow the content owners to get a portion of any related ad revenue.

    The negotiations leading up to those pacts have sometimes included public criticism of the video-sharing site. Universal Music CEO Doug Morris told investors last month that YouTube violated copyright laws by allowing users to post music videos and other content. Universal Music had considered taking legal action against YouTube over that issue prior to announcing its pact with the video site Monday, say people familiar with the matter.

    The media companies now contemplating legal action have generally turned a blind eye to YouTube's use of their video. One reason for such tolerance is that the site guarantees their programs a degree of exposure hard to find elsewhere on the Web.

    In June, NBC inked a deal with YouTube to make available promotional video clips for some of its popular programs, including "The Office" and "The Tonight Show." But NBC has had repeated run-ins with YouTube over its use of videos the company hasn't approved. It has been asking the site to take down as many as 1,000 clips a month, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sony's forthcoming video Walkman

The great thing about the original Sony Walkman was that it created a new market and a new consumer behavior: a way to listen to recorded music on the go.

The not-so-great thing about Sony's plans to develop a video Walkman is that they are desperately chasing a market that Apple and others have created. Looks like they'll even trail Microsoft (and a zillion other companies that were at CES this past January) in bringing a portable video player to market.

And knowing Sony, the video Walkman will only play video files in some fantastic new proprietary Sony format: Beta.max?

In Depth: Copyright Issues Facing YouTube/Google

The Wall Street Journal has published a fairly length conversation between legal expert John Palfrey and economist Stan Liebowitz about the potential copyright issues facing YouTube. (It's available free - you don't have to be a subscriber.)

A section of Palfrey's comments:

    ...Whether or not Google makes money on the [YouTube video] content is not, and should not be, the issue at stake here. The issue is whether or not Google takes its job seriously in responding to genuine demands to take down copyrighted materials from the YouTube service. To date, YouTube has been a model citizen in this regard: they've gone out of their way to license content from big content owners, they've been working on fingerprinting solutions to help content owners track their copyrighted materials, and they've sought to make it easy, expedited process for submitting a complaint about copyright violations. They've even made room for Diddy to have a channel, to which the artist has uploaded BadBoyRecords material to YouTube. Google needs to be accountable to copyright holders. If they are, they should be in the clear for the YouTube service. It's about creating an accountable Internet.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

My move to Variety ... Snafus With Movie Downloads ... Evolution of Web Viewership Stats

- At a recent breakfast here in San Francisco with Variety editor Peter Bart, we started chatting about the paper's coverage of the San Francisco/Silicon Valley tech scene -- particularly the friction between the fast-moving, creative tech companies up here and the media companies down south that actually produce and own all the content. A little while later, Peter asked if I'd start filing stories for Variety. It was a tough decision, since I've been writing for about a year for The Hollywood Reporter, Variety's main rival, and having fun doing it. But my first Variety piece, `Standards not so straight for Web pix' ran last Monday. The gist:

    If the Motion Picture Assn. of America can sometimes be hazy about its reasons for doling out an NC-17 instead of an R, and the line between TV-PG and TV-14 can be difficult to discern on network television, in the world of Web video, content ratings don't yet exist -- which means each site adheres to its own "I'll know it when I see it" policy about what is acceptable.

My second piece, on YouTube's copyright challenges, ran yesterday. I'd love to hear your ideas about other topics/issues that deserve more (or better) coverage:

- The Wall Street Journal reports on some of the problems that users of Amazon's Unbox and Apple's iTunes have been encountering in downloading movies. Jessica Vascellaro and Sarah McBride write: Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. recently launched highly anticipated movie downloading services, heralded as the juice that would make downloading and watching movies on a computer screen a new consumer habit. A month later, however, the services are off to a rocky start., of Seattle, has had to placate consumers with refunds after some couldn't get the service to work. Customers of both services are reporting problems downloading the software on their machines and complaining of seemingly interminable download times, sometimes in excess of several hours. Picture quality and equipment requirements also are stumbling blocks.

- The Journal also asks, `Who's Watching Those Webisodes?' Emily Steel writes:

    Figuring out how many people are watching TV shows isn't as simple as it used to be. While Nielsen Media Research long has dominated TV ratings, traffic to Web sites is measured by several different firms, each of which uses slightly different techniques. What's more, these firms haven't yet perfected measurement of video streaming.

    And the variety of media venues airing TV programming is growing -- including cellphones, video-on-demand services on cable TV, as well as Web and traditional TV -- but there's no standard way of tracking audiences for most of these broadcasts.

    As a result, with the volume of TV prime-time programming offered on the Web and other venues steadily rising -- highlighted by Google's agreement this week to buy video-sharing Web site YouTube -- it has never been more important to devise a means of accurate tracking.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

George Lucas: More movies, less money

A worthy read from Variety: `Lucas tilts at studio tentpoles.' From David S. Cohen's piece:

    The creator of "Star Wars," which stamped the template for the franchise-tentpole film, says many small films and Web distribution are the future.

    And in case anyone doubts he means it, Lucasfilm is getting out of the movie biz.

    "We don't want to make movies. We're about to get into television. As far as Lucasfilm is concerned, we've moved away from the feature film thing because it's too expensive and it's too risky.

    "I think the secret to the future is quantity," Lucas said.

True2Life: This Saturday in SF

Looks like a fun event from the Bay Area Video Coalition this Saturday: True2Life, focused on young media-makers. From the site:

    Why True2Life? True2Life is a unique gathering of industry and government leaders, educators, community service providers and young people. This one-day, special event has been crafted to showcase youth as cultural producers and the Bay Area as a model in linking youth to community and industry change.

    Who's coming? Digital industry gurus, educators, government, youth, community organizations, artists, animation pioneers, musicians, funders, and futurists. Be part of the discussion—the entire day will be documented by youth production crews and podcasted to 24 million viewers by PodShow!

Execs from PodShow, YouTube, AOL, and Grouper will be there to panelize.

Google's Purchase of YouTube: The Challenges Ahead

So by now, you may have heard that Google has bought YouTube for $1.6 billion.

I don't think the purchase was a mistake, but it will be extremely hard for Google to turn this into a successful acquisition. The worst case scenario is that in five years, people say, `Remember YouTube? What ever happened to them?' (Earlier examples: GeoCities,, Infoseek.)

Here are the four biggest challenges facing Google and YouTube in the aftermath of the deal:

1. Justifying the $1.6 billion valuation. Google and YouTube both have a light touch when it comes to advertising -- they don't like to slather ads all over the page, and to date, YouTube has resisted playing ads either before or after its videos. But I have a feeling that to justify paying such a high price for YouTube, pre-roll or post-roll ads will be introduced -- something YouTube should have done long ago. Now, managing the inevitable user backlash will be tricky.

2. Continuing to invest in innovation and product improvement at YouTube. I'm blogging this morning using software called Blogger, which Google bought in 2003. Almost nothing has been improved or added since then -- to the point where Blogger is now lagging almost every other blogging tool. Google has a tendency to buy companies and then forget that Net businesses are like sharks -- they need to keep swimming forward.

3. Integrating YouTube and Google Video. Google says this isn't part of the plan, but it just doesn't make sense for some videos (paid downloads of TV shows or movies) to be found at Google Video, and other videos (free uploads of user-generated content) to be found at YouTube.

4. Managing copyright. YouTube has begun to set a precedent that it will share revenues with record labels whose music is used in videos posted to YouTube. Developing systems to identify when a record company's music pops up on the site -- or even harder, a snippet of video owned by someone else -- and then compensating the owner will be phenomenally complex. (I don't think it can be done with human employees.) Furthermore, since YouTube will be sharing revenues, its incentive will be to pump up its advertising revenues (see item #1).

Your thoughts?

For kicks, you might enjoy this message from YouTube founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley. (They seem to be standing out in front of the TGI Friday's in San Mateo.) Clearly, their PR people were not present when this was made... which makes it kinda cool.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

`Mavericks at Work': A Quick Plug

Two friends (and mentors) of mine, Bill Taylor and Polly LaBarre, have a new book out this week: `Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.'

It's a fun and enlightening read...and relevant to CinemaTech, three of the companies they cite as mavericks are Pixar, Netflix, and HBO. A list of their live appearances is here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Red Digital Cinema: Corporate Espionage or Run-of-the-Mill Theft?

The Orange County offices of Red Digital Cinema were broken into on September 24th; among the things taken was a prototype of Red's first digital cinema camera, expected to hit the market in 2007. The OC Register has the story:

    The list price for RED ONE cameras is $17,500, compared with $100,000 for competitors' models. Initial production of the camera is scheduled for early 2007, according to the company's Web site.

    A Red Digital employee arrived at work shortly after noon Sept. 24 to find the office's front window smashed and hundreds of thousands of dollars in camera and computer equipment missing, [a sheriff's spokesman] said.

    A prototype for RED ONE, computer files relating to the camera's imaging sensor and four other pocket camera prototypes were among the missing items, Amormino said. A 50-inch plasma television, a 30-inch monitor, an Agenieux camera lens, an HBX 200 camera and several laptops were also stolen.

    The total property loss was $332,200.

    Sheriff's investigators are trying to determine whether Red Digital was the victim of industrial espionage or run-of-the-mill thieves. Several other neighborhood businesses have had their windows smashed and property stolen in recent weeks, investigators said...

My bet is that this was your standard break-in... but the possibility that it may have been a rival trying to spy on Red has more PR value, of course.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Two quick links: NY Times on CG Animation ... WSJ on Web `Pre-roll' Advertising

- It's official. The NY Times says that the glut of CG-animated films in 2006 is producing "viewer fatigue worthy of Sleeping Beauty." Laura Holson writes:

    Over the last five years, almost every major film studio has sought to make or acquire the type of movies pioneered by Pixar, which was recently acquired by Disney. At the same time, independently financed animators have ratcheted up production.

    But while animation continues to be popular with families, audiences complain it is suffering from too much sameness, with movie plots and characters looking increasingly alike.

    Computer animation is not the novelty it was when introduced a decade ago. Now even actors are animation-savvy. Aside from Mr. Hanks, the popular actor Will Smith has plans to produce an animated film in India. With all the choices, moviegoers are being forced to sift through an increasingly crowded marketplace where quality and brand-name recognition will ultimately reign supreme.

    “I think audiences are saying, ‘I’ve seen a lot of computer animation and it’s not so special anymore,’ ” said Julia Pistor, an executive producer of the recent “Barnyard,” which was a modest performer, bringing in $69 million domestically. “In that case it’s a lot harder for a movie to break through.”

- And in the Journal, a debate about placing `pre-roll' ads before Web videos. Brian Steinberg writes:

    "Over time, users might choose to go to sites which don't have these kinds of ads," says Gokul Rajaram, a director of product management at Google. The search giant decided to eschew pre-rolls after discussions with advertisers and online publishers about the potential for pre-roll ads to drive viewers elsewhere, he says. Google doesn't yet sell video ads on Google Video, but it has tested "post-roll" spots that run at the end of a video.

    ...What makes pre-rolls attractive to advertisers -- but off-putting to viewers -- is that they don't allow fast-forwarding. That is a contrast to the television world where the rise of digital-video recorders makes it easy to speed through commercial breaks. But while most people still don't have DVRs and have to sit through TV ads, Internet users are accustomed to having more control over their Web experience. "They don't have a channel flipper or a mute button, but they do have the ability to just completely ignore it and go to someplace else," says Dorian Sweet, an executive creative director at Omnicom Group's Tribal DDB, an agency specializing in Web advertising.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Morning news: Interactive DVD movie ... Decent Opening for `Open Season' ... Netflix Bounty ... TV/Web Synergy

- The NY Times writes about a straight-to-DVD movie, starring David Strathairn and made for under $200,000, with an interesting twist: two viewers may see the movie unfold in the same way, yet its basic facts, characters and message will permeate the experience.

    The DVD features nearly 400 scenes of up to a few minutes in length, adding up to five hours of film in total. A late-model Windows computer is needed for viewing (plus, presumably, some sort of rigging for simultaneously handling a mouse and snacks).

    Available today as a DVD priced at $23.95 at, the disc and movie are meant to use fairly straightforward software concepts to take storytelling beyond such interactive stalwarts as video-gaming and bonus features on DVD’s.

- Sony Pictures Imagework's first feature, `Open Season,' won the box office sweepstakes this past weekend, earning $23 million. The animators and execs in Culver City are breathing a giant sigh of relief this morning; there has been a glut of talking animal buddy pics this year, and they've got two other projects in the pipeline. The performance of `Open Season,' if it holds up over the next few weekends, will put the wind at SPI's back -- even though it earned about one-third what Pixar's `Cars' did in June and just over half what DreamWorks Animation's `Over the Hedge' did in May.

- Netflix is offering a $1 million prize to the tech whiz that can help improve the company's movie recommendation software by at least 10 percent. Already, I think it's pretty good.

- Finally, from yesterday's NY Times, a piece about the pressure TV shows now feel to produce content for the Web and cell phones. Lorne Manly writes:

    Podcasts, blogs, cellphone episodes, Web-only content, DVD extras: they all mean more work for already harried show runners. But many of them wouldn’t have it any other way.

    The offshoots provide an escape from some constraints of commercial television. “The Office,” NBC’s mockumentary about the Dunder-Mifflin paper company, concocted 10 short Web-only episodes, or Webisodes, that focused on some of the show’s secondary characters. “If we had more room on the show,” said Greg Daniels, the “Office” show runner, “I’d love to do more with them.” Webisodes allow for that, he said, and give the writers license to be a little zanier.

    For Webisodes of “Battlestar Galactica” the writers tailored their storytelling to the medium, eschewing special effects and emphasizing close-ups for the small window of a computer. They too focused on supporting characters. “Ultimately it wasn’t a story we were going to do on the show,” said Ronald D. Moore, an executive producer and co-show runner.

    Greg Garcia, the creator of NBC’s “My Name Is Earl,” developed an alternate pilot, to be included in the DVD set of the show’s first season, in which Earl embarks on a spree of revenge rather than repentance. The producers of “Heroes,” NBC’s new drama about ordinary people with supernatural powers, are creating online comics to accompany the television show.

    Exploring the storytelling possibilities in these nontraditional forms is an intellectual and creative challenge. But that isn’t the only reason that show runners are so interested. “There are also business opportunities that are going to arise,” Mr. Cuse said.