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Friday, December 29, 2006

Encryption Cracked on High-Def DVDs?

Reuters runs this piece today suggesting that the anti-copying code for Blu-ray and HD DVDs has been cracked. Gina Keating writes:

    The vulnerability could pose a threat to movie studios looking for ways to boost revenue as sales of standard-format DVDs flatten. In 2005, U.S. DVD sales generated some $24 billion for the movie industry.

    If the encryption code has been cracked, then any high-definition DVD released up to now can be illegally copied using the Muslix64 "key," according to technology experts.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Ten Pivotal Events of 2006, from the Intersection of Entertainment and Technology

I’m getting ready to head off on vacation Friday afternoon, so from then until January 2nd, posting here will be (hopefully) light.

But before I leave, I wanted to list what I think have been the ten most important events of the year, at least from a CinemaTech perspective. Here’s how I’d frame the list: as the worlds of technology and entertainment increasingly overlap, what were the most significant happenings of 2006? And what sort of future do they point toward?

1. “The Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments.”

It wasn’t the Web’s most-viewed video of 2006, but by virtue of generating more than $30,000 in advertising revenue for its creators, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, the array of Bellagio-like soda fountains was the year’s most significant snippet of “user-generated content.” It proved that creative unknowns (in rural Maine, no less) can earn a return from video on the Internet – not to mention get booked on “Letterman,” NPR, and “The Today Show.” (Video of Fritz Grobe talking about the video is here.)

The Future: More opportunities for creative people to make money from viral video content on the Web, and to stretch the boundaries of what networks and studios have traditionally considered entertainment.

2. “Bubble” and “10 Items or Less”

Released in January and December, the two low-budget films from directors Steven Soderbergh and Brad Silberling were attempts to change the established practice of maintaining separate “release windows” for movies: first theaters, then DVD, pay-per-view, premium cable, and free TV. Neither experiment was a resounding success, but they were only the first creaks in a tectonic shift that will likely eliminate the aggravating lag between the time that movies leave theaters and when they show up on home video. (And help studios cut down on their marketing spending, since they won’t have to remind us about the movie when it finally appears on DVD.)

The Future: A shorter window of theatrical exclusivity (one week to one month), after which point a movie will be available in any form a consumer might want to consume it – from a giant-screen, high-definition LCD display to an iPod screen. This would preserve the option of seeing movies in a theater, which ensures that theaters will survive – they’ll just be cycling through more movies each year than they do today.

3. AccessIT Digitizes 1000 Movie Screens, and UltraStar is the First Chain to Go 100 Percent Digital

The digital cinema revolution, heralded many times since the late 1990s, finally gained real momentum in 2006, with AccessIT installing 1000 digital cinema systems in the U.S., and the southern California chain UltraStar announcing in February that it was the first to have put digital projectors in all 102 of its projection booths. Technicolor Digital Cinema also got into gear in 2006, though National CineMedia, responsible for setting the digital cinema strategy for the majority of screens in the U.S., still seems to be in neutral.

The Future: The smarter chains, like UltraStar, will start marketing digital cinema as a premium experience, pulling patrons from theaters that are still unspooling scratched-up celluloid. That’ll force others to upgrade, and the digital cinema conversion process will gain speed in 2007 and 2008. Some of the sharper exhibitors will take advantage of digital cinema to be more flexible in their programming, giving their patrons more choice about what they can see at the neighborhood Cineplex – and perhaps even permitting them to program it themselves on occasion.

4. Robert Greenwald Uses the Web to Raise $220,000 in Funding for "Iraq for Sale"

When the documentarian Robert Greenwald realized he needed more funding to get his movie about alleged war profiteering in Iraq finished before the 2006 elections, he turned to the Web. Of the 3,000 people who gave money via his Brave New Films Web site, most plinked in just $25 or $50, Greenwald told me. Everyone who contributed got a producer’s credit. And the amount raised was a significant chunk of the movie’s $775,000 budget.

The Future: Other filmmakers might tap into interest groups or fans of their prior work to help cover the costs of future projects, perhaps by pre-purchasing DVDs or digital downloads of the finished product, or by buying a producer credit that might entitle them to a small share of any eventual profits. Want to see a sequel made? Pony up.

5. Mash-Ups and Remixes

Warner Bros. invited Internet users to re-edit the trailer for the Richard Linklater film “A Scanner Darkly,” offering prizes to those who cut the best versions, including a trip to the movie’s premiere. This was a tentative first step toward allowing audiences to play with the raw materials of a movie, and Warner Bros., for the price of creating one trailer, sparked the creation of hundreds of trailers that circulated around the Web.

The Future: Some filmmakers may allow audiences to have access to all of the footage shot for a feature, producing their own alternative cuts – shorter, longer, with different narrative structures. Eventually, studios might sell (or allow the “volunteer editors” to sell) these different versions of the movie, as long as there was a revenue split deemed equitable to both sides. Why not have multiple products in the market – and the chance to sell a few different versions of a movie to its fans – rather than just one? (Oh, yes – directorial vision. That’s right.)

6. Web sites including iTunes, Amazon, Vongo, and Guba offer full-length downloadable features, joining CinemaNow and Movielink

2006 was the first year you could purchase a digital version of a movie to own (rather than just rent one), and the first year that some sites allowed you to burn a downloaded movie onto a DVD. The process is still too complicated, and the pricing isn't enough of a discount from the DVD price. (That's thanks, in part, to pressure exerted on the studios by big retailers like Wal-Mart.) Best pricing offer so far: Vongo’s all-you-can watch for $9.99 a month.

The Future: Movies get easier to download to PCs and laptops, and also easier to "beam" directly to boxes that sit atop the television set, like an Akimbo or a TiVo. That, along with more reasonable pricing, will usher in a world where truly any movie is available on demand. I also think we'll eventually see studios offering to give us access to fragments of movies, perhaps supported by advertising, or sold for small change... allowing a blogger to incorporate a short sequence from the original "King Kong" into a review of the Peter Jackson 2005 version, or allowing a movie fan to create a site dedicated to the best car chases of all time, and embed each one in the site. Why force people to buy the whole thing, when you can generate additional revenue monetizing movies by the slice?

7. Google buys YouTube

The $1.65 billion deal happened in October, and I suspect execs at the two companies are still trying to figure out the best ways to work together, new ways to partner with media companies rather than responding to lawsuits, and new ways to monetize all of those minutes of video being watched on YouTube. Even if YouTube eventually fades away (someone is going to introduce a way to watch video online that doesn’t make you feel like you’re viewing it through a Vaseline-smeared window, and it may not be YouTube), the site was the first to make it simple to publish, view, and comment on video clips – and that’s a big deal. YouTube also pioneered video-as-conversation, where one user would post a short video, and others in the community would respond with videos of their own.

The Future: I’m not sure we’ll need a central repository of video like YouTube. Video players will be embedded everywhere – and clips we want to watch will come to us through subscriptions, feeds, and sites that we visit regularly, rather than requiring that we go to a site like YouTube and look for what we want. With that model, there’s not much benefit that accrues to the site hosting the video – unless that site inserts advertising into the clip, or can somehow persuade me to visit that site when I’m done watching.

8. Disney buys Pixar

Since the release of “Toy Story” in 1995, Pixar had become Disney’s most reliable supplier of hit movies. The lesson here: be consistently great at what you do, and unrelentingly creative, and before long you’ll become indispensable. Disney couldn’t afford not to buy Pixar, especially if some other studio did. The price tag: $7.4 billion. Disney also handed over the reins to its entire animation operation to Pixar execs Ed Catmull and John Lasseter.

The Future: The barriers to making a good-looking computer-animated movie continue to drop. You no longer need an established studio; “Happy Feet” director George Miller built one from scratch just for his penguin pic. Lower barriers and lots of new competitors mean the business of making CG features is going to get insanely competitive for everybody… including Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky, the troika that have owned the market for the past decade. One way Disney/Pixar will respond to the competition: returning to making the occasional old-school, 2-D animated movie. One, "The Frog Princess," is already in development.

9. Digital Cinematography Creeps into the Mainstream

This was the first year that a significant number of big-budget movies were shot using digital cameras (mostly the Panavision Genesis). The list included “Apocalypto,” “Flyboys,” “Superman Returns,” “Miami Vice,” “Click,” and “Scary Movie 4.” Panavision CEO Bob Beitcher told me the company doesn’t plan to develop any new film cameras. Meanwhile, Red Digital Cinema was working on a high-end digital camera with a low-end price, and Vincent Pace, Jim Cameron, and Sony Electronics were beginning to market the Fusion digital camera for shooting 3-D features. This year, it was used in Canada on the set of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

The Future: 2006 will be seen as a tipping point for the acceptance of digital cinematography in Hollywood, and in five years, film will be used on movie sets predominantly as an aesthetic choice, rather than the default. 3-D films will increasingly be shot that way, rather than converted to 3-D after principal photography is completed (as was the case with a 3-D version of “Superman Returns,” shot in 2-D with the Genesis.)

10. Blu-ray and HD DVD debut; consumers yawn

Introducing two competing, incompatible formats for high-definition DVDs was a lose-lose proposition. For the manufacturers, sales have been slow as consumers wait to see which format will win out. And the consumers who have waded in early risk being stuck with a collection of obsolete discs if it turns out they’ve chosen the wrong format. This was corporate idiocy at its worst.

The Future: I wish I were enough of an optimist to predict that pointless standards wars would cease… but in digital media, we’re already seeing the emergence of incompatible standards. Just try playing a TV show or movie purchased from iTunes on a device other than an iPod.

    That’s my list. Any quibbles? Anything to add? Would you rank them differently? Please post a comment… and enjoy the holidays.

Friday links: Can a Joint Venture Take on YouTube? ... Dick Van Dyke on VFX ... Venice Project ... Revver Re-Org

- Ben Fritz and I have a piece in Variety this morning that asks whether a joint venture of several big media companies can unite to take on Google/YouTube. From the piece:

    Insiders insist they're serious about trying to build their own site, but there's no denying that saying so is also a smart negotiating tactic. Now that it has bought YouTube for $1.65 billion, Google has been talking to big media companies about deals to license their content.

    Media congloms could be in a better negotiating position if they were setting up, or can at least threaten that they will set up, a vid site of their own.

    They would then have more leverage in "setting the right kinds of terms and pricing for licensing deals with other sites," said Nicholas Butterworth, founder of Diversion Media and former CEO of the MTVi Group. "That would be a smart strategy: setting a financial model that others, like Google, would have to play by."

- Great Sheigh Crabtree piece in the LA Times today about Dick Van Dyke's affection for visual effects, which dates back to 'Mary Poppins' and 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' in the 1960s. She writes:

    Recognizing a fellow visual effects enthusiast on the "Museum" set, Rhythm & Hues visual effects supervisor Dan DeLeeuw had Van Dyke come into the effects studio for a cyberscan. They gave Van Dyke a digital 3-D model of himself to work with on his home system.

    And he had a lot of new tricks he wanted to try at home after studying the complex effects-laden shots on "[Night at the] Museum," about a night watchman (Ben Stiller) at a natural history museum who is shocked to find the exhibits coming to life.

    "We had the best visual effects team in the world on 'Night at the Museum,' so I came home [after the shoot in Canada] all fired up," says Van Dyke, who also plays a night watchman. "I have a number of figures that are caricatures of me with an extra-big nose and a longer chin, and I do a lot of animations with myself dancing. But the tough stuff is really smoke, water and fog. I'm forever working on my water effects."

- Not a big surprise that GigaOm is all hopped up about The Venice Project, the latest Web site that is trying to reinvent television. (Didn't Veoh try that last year?) Yes, I believe that someone needs to build a Web site that delivers higher video quality than YouTube, with great content. But will it be something like The Venice Project, which requires you to download special software, and own a Windows computer? YouTube took off in part because it didn't require you to install software, and it worked on nearly every platform. At least Om acknowledges that The Venice Project will need to somehow attract a lot of content to its site -- also no small feat at a time when media companies have prospective partners knocking on their door day and night, and their radar is much more attuned to illegal content posting than it was a year or two ago.

- Two of Revver's co-founders are leaving, according to AdAge, and the one who remains, CEO Steven Starr, is bringing in three execs with marketing, Internet, and advertising experience.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 10 Film Tech Bloopers

Jakob Nielsen is one of the gurus of user-interface design, and his latest article looks at ten of the "most egregious mistakes made by moviemakers."

From Variety: `Advertising's future on the Internet'

Variety is running one of my interviews from The Future of Web Video, which deals with viral advertising. It's a conversation with Jamie Tedford, SVP of marketing and media innovation at Arnold Worldwide, a Boston ad agency that works with clients like Volkswagen, Timberland, and RadioShack. Tedford says:

    Advertisers think, `We'll just put our existing TV spot up, and it'll become viral.' A lot of marketers are learning quickly that the rules for what makes something viral are a totally different set of rules.

    Video also gets passed on because it's surprising, funny, new, comical, sexy, or provocative. People want the currency of having found something first.

    Many clients have a more traditional view: `Here's the product message I want to come through, and if you can get some entertainment in there, great.' Now, you're asking someone to discover this on their own, and figuring out what would make a consumer forward it to a friend.

Also worth a look are Jamie's picks of three interesting Internet video ads, at the end of the piece.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Video Webcast from MIT Venture Capital Conference: Digital Media Panel, Social Networking, and More

Panels and keynotes from the MIT Venture Capital Conference are now available online (you'll need RealPlayer to watch.) I ran a session called "The Future of Digital Media: Are Companies Overpriced and Overhyped?", and there were plenty of other great sessions on topics like Web 2.0 and social networking.

To get an idea of who was talking about what, have a look at the agenda.

WSJ on Mobile Video ... Analyst Will Richmond on Broadband Video Trends for 2007

- In the Wall Street Journal today, Lee Gomes' column is headlined `Filmmakers Face Some Big Challenges On Tiny Cellphones.' He writes:

    ...[F]ilm schools at Boston University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and others are giving classes in producing videos for mobile devices -- some even shot entirely with cellphones. Robert Redford has gotten into the act. In November, his Sundance Institute, along with GSM Association, a mobile-phone trade group, commissioned five films by independent directors for cellphones.

    But don't expect a new art form. At a news conference announcing the mobile initiative, Mr. Redford said he hoped cellphones would help revive the short film. But filmmakers experimenting with the medium, point to its shortcomings -- in shooting and in viewing. Night shots look terrible. Wide angle shots don't work. Detail is lost. "There's not a lot of room for subtlety," says filmmaker Valerie Faris, who with her husband, Jonathan Dayton are making one of the Sundance films.

    And it's still uncertain whether mobile video is a viable business, despite Hollywood's new focus on the small screen and the billions of dollars invested by wireless companies to make such advanced services possible.

    At this point, the outlook isn't cheery. Millions of video-capable cellphones are flooding the market, but only 2.5% of subscribers watch it at least once a month, according to a Yankee Group estimate.

    To expand viewership, the wireless industry must solve two problems: one financial, the other creative...

- Analyst Will Richmond of Broadband Directions lays out what he sees as seven important video trends for 2007.

Among his trends:

"Apple's iTV box will likely succeed (but only if more than just iTunes video is easily accessible)." (I don't see more than iTunes video being accessible from Apple.)

"...Google is the company best-positioned for success in a broadband video world."

Community-building around video will gain in importance. "The intense viral nature of compelling video launched more than one unknown amateur video producer into the stratosphere this past year," Richmond writes. "This interactive/viral phenomenon has been noticed by mainstream media companies, who are just beginning to incorporate interactive features and functionality around video offered on their own sites."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

From CustomFlix: Filmmakers Can Now Sell Movies on Amazon's Unbox

Good news for indie filmmakers who want to make their work available as a digital download, alongside studio content: CustomFlix (a division of Amazon) now makes it possible to sell movies on's Unbox download service. Previously, CustomFlix mostly made movies available in DVD form. Filmmakers earn a 50 percent royalty when their movies are sold or rented as digital downloads; Amazon sets the price.

From the press release:

    CustomFlix Labs, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of, Inc., (NASDAQ: AMZN - News) today announced its support for's video download service, Amazon Unbox, by adding video downloads to its current DVD and CD on Demand services. This new CustomFlix service now enables independent filmmakers and other DVD content owners to make their content available as video downloads to tens of millions of customers through Unbox.

    "Filmmakers and content owners are always looking for new ways to make their titles available in different formats and to a broader audience," said Dana LoPiccolo-Giles, co-founder and managing director of CustomFlix. "Adding the Unbox video download service to our current Disc on Demand physical delivery option gives independent filmmakers the choice to offer their works whether on DVD, as a video download, or both."

    For no additional cost, new and current CustomFlix members can now add a digital download option to DVD titles available for sale on CustomFlix content will first become available to Unbox customers early next year. "We're excited to be the first CustomFlix Member to offer our independent film through the Unbox video download service," said Linda Nelson, Producer of Shifted from Nelson Madison Films. "With the introduction of video download services like Unbox, audiences have grown to expect a variety of viewing options, and we're excited to be at the forefront of this new distribution channel."

(I've just updated my list of sites that pay video producers and filmmakers for content, listing CustomFlix/Amazon at #5.)

Joe Barbera and Computer-Assisted Animation at Hanna-Barbera

Joe Barbera died on Monday, at age 95. (That's Barbera on the left, Hanna on the right.) From the WSJ obit:

    "From the Stone Age to the Space Age and from primetime to Saturday mornings, syndication and cable, the characters he created with his late partner, William Hanna, are not only animated superstars, but also a very beloved part of American pop culture. While he will be missed by his family and friends, Joe will live on through his work," Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer said Monday.

Little-known fact: Hanna-Barbera was one of the pioneers of computer-assisted animation.... using it before Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks to keep production costs down. Very little info exists on the Net about their approach. But Mark Levoy of Stanford was involved. Here's a bit more.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Monday links: MeTooTube to Launch Soon...Sony Tries Again with PSP... Collaborative Filmmaking ...And More

- The NY Times says that the networks are close to announcing a joint venture video site that would compete with YouTube, using their content. (I've been calling it "MeTooTube.") Close to announcing, I would point out, is not the same thing as close to launching -- and time is of the essence here. If they don't launch a site by January/February, I think there is no way they can succeed. From the Times piece, by Richard Siklos and Bill Carter:

    Executives from the companies have been in intense negotiations over the ownership and management structure of the new entity — which is as yet unnamed — and the talks could continue until the end of the year or fall apart entirely.

    “They really want to do it,” one executive briefed on the talks said of the partners involved. However, this executive predicted, doubting the ability of the competitors to play well together: “Ten minutes after they do it they’ll want to kill themselves.”

    None of the companies involved would comment for the record, and several executives familiar with the discussions, citing their sensitivity, spoke on condition of anonymity. The site would be supported by advertising and feature shows and clips from each of the participating companies, and encourage viewers to contribute their own videos and other material.

Once this site launches, the networks will sic the lawyers on YouTube, I predict, demanding that significantly long clips of their content (say, more than a minute or two) be removed. That will make MeTooTube the definitive site for viewing network content. (Of course, the networks would be smart to let people embed their content in other sites, especially if it included advertising or promotional material.)

- Sony's PlayStation Portable has always been a great little device for viewing video... but Sony muffed its first shot on goal, by introducing movies on the UMD disc format (shiny proprietary discs about the size of a silver dollar), and making it difficult to move content from a PC to the PSP. According to the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, there's a new initiative to bring video to the PSP. From the Journal:

    The new service has been in the works for about a year and will likely be introduced in the first part of 2007, according to one person. Movies from Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Japanese electronics company's Hollywood studio, will be available, and executives expect to widen the selection to offerings from other studios as well. News of the service was reported last night on the Web site of the Financial Times.

    Also in the works, according to one person with knowledge of the matter: a video-downloading service that would allow consumers to bypass their personal computers and send new video content directly to their hand-held devices. The time frame on that offering isn't yet clear.

The new Sony services may provide access to movies from Amazon, CinemaNow, and Movielink, but not (no big surprise) Apple.

Interestingly, the Financial Times refers to Apple's iTunes Store as "the dominant film download platform." Does the data back that up, I wonder?

- Three interesting collaborative filmmaking projects that have come to my attention recently:

I'll be eager to see the results.

- Comcast is experimenting with making VOD movies available the same day a DVD is release, according to the NY Times. Ordinarily, there's a 30 to 45 day delay. “I don’t expect it to cannibalize sales on DVD," Andrew Mellett, vice president for the video-on-demand division of Warner Digital Distribution, tells the Times. "What we are really interested in seeing is whether this increases the buy rates [of DVDs].” Mellet trerms VOD a "sampling mechanism" for would-be DVD purchasers.

- I hadn't been aware previously of TestTube, YouTube's lab for new features. (via ReelPop.)

- iFilm has compiled a few "ten best" lists for 2006: movie trailers, viral videos, and ads.

- David Lynch talks a bit about digital cinematography in this NPR piece, which aired on Sunday.

- Cool idea for a web-based film festival where Internet users do the picking. We'll see the results in February 2007.

- `Four Eyed Monsters' earns more kudos, winning $100,000 from the Sundance Channel's Audience Award. That should show other filmmakers the power of building an online fan base.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Time's Person of the Year: You

From the December 25th issue of Time:

    ...for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

    Sure, it's a mistake to romanticize all this any more than is strictly necessary. Web 2.0 harnesses the stupidity of crowds as well as its wisdom. Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.

    But that's what makes all this interesting. Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment, and like any experiment worth trying, it could fail...

There is, of course, also the obligatory profile of YouTube's Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, and a piece profiling some of the users who've been churning out all that user-generated content.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sponsoring Web video series ... Sundance Screens Online ... Capturing Performance ... Brightcove CEO on TV's Future

- The PuppetVision blog has a great piece on supporting Web video series with sponsorship, an idea I talk about glancingly in "The Future of Web Video." Andrew writes:

    Some puppetry artists feel that using their work to sell products and services is too crass and commercial. I respect that point of view, but puppets pitching products was a common practice in early television...and it was often really entertaining too! It's how the Muppets paid most of their bills in the 1950s and 1960s. I don't see why it can't work for web video. Actually, I know that it can from my own experience.

    Back in 2000 a few puppetry friends and I did some experimenting with a directly-sponsored web series called The Marshall and Buck Show. Looking back now the show itself was very crude, but the business model did work. Although it didn't last long enough to turn a profit (our sponsor was wiped out when the dotcom stock market bubble burst about four episodes in), it did pay enough to cover the rent on a small studio and take care of small production-related expenses. If the online advertising market hadn't imploded who knows what might have happened?

- The Sundance Channel is launching an online screening room within the videogame realm of Second Life. The first film to screen? `Four Eyed Monsters' by Arin Buice and Susan Crumley.

- Also from Variety: a look at the increasingly close relationship between visual effects technology and acting, mostly focusing on 'Dead Man's Chest.'

- Here's a video clip from Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire's address at the fall 2006 Video on the Net conference in Boston.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gotuit introduces Scenemaker ... The AP on Online Movie Stores

- Gotuit Media just introduced a new service that allows video creators or viewers to index, tag, and describe Web video. Here's the Boston Globe piece. Hiawatha Bray writes:

    The service currently works with videos hosted on two popular websites -- YouTube and MetaCafe -- with more video sites to come. Users who want to tag, or personally label, a video can click a button on a browser-based toolbar supplied by Gotuit. This automatically loads the video into the SceneMaker website. The site's software lets the user cut each video into a series of short clips. For instance, a YouTube video of a space shuttle launch can be edited into smaller clips showing engine ignition, liftoff, or the booster rockets falling away.

    Each clip can be tagged with keywords, so that a Gotuit user can look up only the part of a video he wants to see. Instead of watching the entire shuttle launch video, a user can jump directly to, say, the booster separation. Links to these clips can also be e-mailed to friends.

    SceneMaker doesn't modify the original video. All the tagging data reside on Gotuit's own servers. And anybody can tag a video -- their own or someone else's. Someone who publishes YouTube videos can include scene-by-scene tags. But any YouTube fan could create his own tags for his favorite video moments.

You can play around with the service here. And here's a how-to video from Gotuit.

Unfortunately, it isn't easy to figure out how to share the video you've just tagged, or what happens to it once you've tagged it. I spent ten minutes tagging a video -- very easy to do -- but the site simply makes the video vanish once you're done.

- The Associated Press looks at online movie purchasing options.

AMC Entertainment files to go public (again)

The second-biggest US theater chain, AMC, is filing to go public. In December 2004, the company went private, and then in 2005 acquired Loews Cineplex Entertainment. Why go public again? The private equity investors who control AMC must think the markets offer the opportunity to make a profit on the deal.

From the Kansas City Star:

    Jon Braatz, an analyst with Kansas City Capital Associates, noted that the box office year-to-date is a bit better than last year. He added that whether the deals involve an initial public offering or going private, the capital markets have been relatively active this year.

    “They’re probably looking to go public to pay off their debt, but it all depends on how well they’re doing and how well the box office is doing,” Braatz said.

And from the Hollywood Reporter:

    According to AMC's S-1 form filed with the SEC, the company considers its proactive efforts to close older, underperforming theaters as "a major factor that further differentiates us from our competitors and has contributed to our overall theater portfolio quality." The document says that AMC has identified 52 multiplex theaters with 418 screens that it might close during the next one to three years.

And here's the LA Times coverage.

AMC is the company that helped pioneer the multiplex. (AMC stands for American Multi-Cinema.) The company opened the first two-screen multiplex, the Roxy, in 1963 in Kansas City.

Monday, December 11, 2006

`Couch crashers' in Variety ... the iProjector ... Data on HD versus Blu-ray

- Variety has a piece of mine on the race to link the Net with the television set, `Couch crashers.' Here's the opener:

    If this was the year that Web video sites like YouTube encroached on TV programmers' turf, 2007 may mark the year the Internet finally invades the living room.

- This product, a projector designed for use with an iPod, looks cool. I'll be eager to see how good the image is at CES next month.

- Some interesting data on sales of HD DVDs versus Blu-ray discs, based on Amazon sales info.

Monday news: Imax going digital, User-gen content, Disney history, and YouTube

- The LA Times has a great piece on the problems facing Imax -- among them, how to navigate the transition to digital projection. Lorena Muñoz writes:

    For Imax, reels of its film are one of the biggest costs, an especially burdensome cost in an era of digital technology that doesn't require them. Imax's 70-millimeter prints — which run wave-like through projectors at 24 frames a second to produce razor-sharp images — cost about $22,000 each and nearly twice that, $43,000, when they are in 3D. Standard 35-millimeter prints cost just $1,200.

The company is working with Sony to develop a digital projector that will fill Imax screens by late 2008. That's a long ways away...

- Jon Pareles of the NY Times had a piece yesterday about the impact of user-generated content -- he prefers to call it "self-expression." It was headlined, `2006, Brought to You by You'. He writes:

    While some small percentage of the user-generated outpouring is a first glimpse of real talent, much of it is fledgling bands unveiling a song recorded last Thursday in a friend’s basement, or would-be directors showing the world their demo reels. There’s deadpan video vérité, raw club recordings, “gotcha” moments (like Michael Richards’s stand-up meltdown) and wiseguy edits, along with considerably more polished productions. And users generate all sorts of recombinant art: parodies, alternate video clips, mash-ups, juxtapositions, “Star Trek” scenes accompanied by U2 songs, George W. Bush rapping.

    User-generated content — turning the audience into the auteur — isn’t exactly an online innovation. It’s as old as “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” or letters to the editor, or community sings, or Talmudic commentary, or graffiti. The difference is that in past eras most self-expression stayed close to home. Users generated traditional cultures and honed regional styles, concentrated by geographical isolation.

- Want to see one of Disney's earliest experiments with computer-generated animation? It's great fun to imagine what Disney's traditional animators thought about this back in the 1980s...

- Steve Bryant says what I was thinking about YouTube's decision to allow CBS to take viewer comments of the main pages of each of its videos. One of the things that made YouTube successful was it turned video into a conversation -- you could type a response, or post a video of your own. But clearly, traditional media companies are more comfortable with one-way communication. Lecture, not conversation.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

From the WSJ: More on a New YouTube Rival

The Wall Street Journal has more on the talks between major media companies to possibly create an alternative to YouTube, where their content would be housed. Julia Angwing and Matthew Karnitschnig write:

    The companies, owners of most of the major TV networks, envision a jointly owned site that would be the primary Web source for video content from their networks, allowing them to cash in on fast-growing Web video advertising. They also have discussed building a Web video player that could play video clips from across the Web. A deal to create a competitor remains far off, however.

Disney-ABC isn't participating, according to the Journal, which says:

    The talks are driven by media companies' belief that the fast-growing YouTube has built a huge business off their video content. Although many of the videos on YouTube are homemade videos uploaded by users, some of its most popular clips are pirated copies of television shows. ...

Unfortunately, it sounds like these talks have been going on for quite a while, without much action. According to the Journal: "Some of the media companies have been discussing creating a YouTube competitor since the beginning of the year."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Conversation with Lance Weiler about `The Future of Web Video'

Last month, I spoke with filmmaker Lance Weiler about `The Future of Web Video' for his excellent new Web site, The Workbook Project. You can listen to the interview here.

We talked about short-form versus long-form, amateur versus professional, fiction versus non-fiction content, changing production budgets, economic models for Internet-based video, online viewing habits, marketing, building an online fan base, and more.

Lance is thinking really deeply about all this stuff, and that made for a really meaty interview. The whole thing runs about 40 minutes.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Al Gore Organizes House Parties for `An Inconvenient Truth'

Al Gore and are inviting people to hold house parties on Saturday, December 16th, to screen the DVD of `An Inconvenient Truth' and then participate in a live conference call with the former Veep.

`Apocalypto,' Dean Semler, and the Panavision Genesis digital camera

Mel Gibson's `Apocalypto,' out tomorrrow, is the latest high-profile movie to have been shot with a digital camera.

The good news for digital camera makers is that there have been a decent number of movies shot digitally in 2006: `Superman Returns,' `Click,' `Miami Vice,' `Flyboys,' and `Apocalypto' among them. (All were shot with the Panavision Genesis, except for `Vice,' which used the Viper FilmStream Camera from Grass Valley.)

But the bad news is that many of these productions (especially `Apocalypto,' `Superman Returns,' and `Vice') exceeded their original shooting schedule, and overran their original budgets. That means they're not a great advertisment -- yet -- for others who may be considering a switch to digital cinematography.

But the early word about the look of `Apocalypto' is very positive.

In Variety, critic Todd McCarthy has good things to say about the movie in general, with a special shout-out for the digital cinematography. McCarthy writes:

    Dean Semler's camera moves relentlessly through the densest of foliage and over the roughest of terrain on locations near Veracruz and in the rainforests of Catemaco, with some additional shooting done in Costa Rica and the U.K.; Gibson clearly knew the impact the lenser of the second and third "Mad Max" films could deliver. More remarkable still is that pic was shot on the new high definition Genesis camera system. Without a doubt, "Apocalypto" is the best-looking big-budget film yet shot digitally; one can't tell it wasn't shot on film.

Earlier this year, I wrote about digital cinematography in The Hollywood Reporter and the New York Times, and also posted some interview notes here on CinemaTech from a conversation with Semler.

Semler told me, "It's not the same as film, and it's not better than film, but it's a fabulous image. I'm so excited about it. I feel like a Chuck Yeager, with what we've done with this in the field."

(Semler said that one limitation with the Genesis is still frame rate. After the `Apocalypto' shoot began, Panavision delivered a few new camera bodies capable of shooting 50 frames per second... but they still relied on an ARRI 435 film camera for sequences that required a higher frame rate. But he also boasted about being able to adjust the camera's iris during a shot, using a remote control he had in his viewing tent, which Semler calls "the Batcave"... and being able to watch that day's footage at dailies.)

Some additional coverage on digital cinematography in `Apocalypto':

> Movieweb has director Mel Gibson talking about the Genesis
> The LA Times has a piece on a "reinvigorated" Panavision
> Sheigh Crabtree in the LA Times: "Filming took twice as long as scheduled and using high-tech digital cameras in the jungle was no easy matter."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From Release Print: Cinema's Future Belongs to Indies (As Does Its Past)

Earlier this fall, Michael Read, the editor of Release Print, a bi-monthly magazine put out by San Francisco's Film Arts Foundation, asked me to write a piece on new technologies for the November/December issue of the magazine, which marks the 30th anniversary of Film Arts.

The piece isn't yet on the Film Arts site -- but with Michael's permission, I'm posting it here. (If you can get your hands on the printed version of the magazine, though, it's well worth it. Margarita Landazuri has a wonderful piece on the history of movie studios in the Bay Area, and Christian Bruno writes about the lost movie palaces of San Francisco, accompanied by great historic photos.)

Cinema’s Future Belongs to Indies (As Does Its Past)

- Scott Kirsner

From its very start, the movie industry in America has been tilted against the independent filmmaker, and designed to exclude the entrepreneur. Yet almost every important cinematic innovation of the past century – from sound to color to 3-D to the widescreen Cinerama process to computer animation, digital projection, and digital cinematography – has been nudged into the mainstream by indies and outsiders.

So even as change accelerates and the art form of cinema mutates in our own technologically-fueled Century of the Short Attention Span, it’d be silly to expect the most interesting experiments and innovations to spring from the established studios. As always, the future won’t spread from the center out; it’ll permeate from the edges in.

A Little History

For much of the 20th century, the technology required to make a movie was inaccessible; building a car from scratch would’ve been an easier project.

In 1908, with projected movies still in their infancy, Thomas Edison, Kodak founder George Eastman, and nine other titans of the young industry formed the Motion Picture Patents Company, which prevented anyone else from making or distributing movies without paying fealty to the MPPC. Independents couldn’t even buy film from Kodak; they had to cultivate suppliers on the black market for both film and equipment.

But it was the entrepreneurs who flouted the system – like William Fox, Carl Laemmle, and Adolph Zukor – who helped to stretch and shape the fledgling art form, introducing new stories, performers, genres, and formats. D.W. Griffith had cranked out hundreds of short silent movies for Biograph, one of the members of the MPPC, but in order to realize his goal of making full-length features, which were seen as economically unviable, he had to strike out on his own. Working outside the MPPC, Griffith made the controversial hit “Birth of a Nation”; Fox, Laemmle, and Zukor formed 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Paramount Pictures, respectively.

Sound. In the 1920s, the brothers Warner were running one of the less-established movie studios. But they were the only people interested in licensing a new technology called Vitaphone from AT&T. After Warner Bros. introduced talkies to the public with “The Jazz Singer” and Vitaphone in 1927, the movies became a truly mass medium; attendance nearly doubled from 50 million in 1926 to 90 million in 1930.

Color. With the advent of color, it was again outsiders who played a pivotal role. The first iteration of Technicolor, in the 1920s, had been a disaster; the more times a film was run through the projector, the further it veered out of focus. No one would touch Technicolor’s new-and-improved second iteration in the 1930s…except for a small animation company called Walt Disney Productions. (Disney’s distributor at the time, United Artists, was skeptical about Technicolor, and required Disney to cover the extra expenses of making the animated short “Flowers and Trees” in color.)

The Hollywood establishment concluded that color was a nice addition to cartoons, but didn’t have a place in live action pictures. It took a novice producer, the wealthy playboy Jock Whitney, to finance the first live action short and live action feature using the new Technicolor process, “La Cucaracha” and “Becky Sharp.” (Whitney went on to option a novel about the Civil War, and help finance the resulting film, “Gone With the Wind,” which earned more money at the box office than any movie before it, and won the 1939 Oscar for Best Picture.)

3-D. The studios sniffed at Natural Vision, a process which required new cameras on the set and additional projectors in the booth. Arch Oboler, an independent screenwriter, producer, and director, used Natural Vision to make “Bwana Devil,” the first 3-D movie in color. (The ads promised, “A lion in your lap!”) Oboler’s movie sparked the 3-D boom of the 1950s, with Warner Bros. scrambling to follow the success of “Bwana Devil” with the Vincent Price film “House of Wax.”

Widescreen. Independent producer Michael Todd helped widen the screen, stretching it from the nearly-square “Academy ratio” (4:3) into a panoramic expanse of 2.6:1, with Cinerama. Cinerama also introduced multi-track surround sound to theaters. The first movie in Cinerama, 1952’s “This is Cinerama,” played for more than two years in Manhattan, grossing more than $20 million. Todd’s son, Michael Todd, Jr., followed in his father’s trail-blazing footsteps, producing the first (and sadly, only) movie in Smell-O-Vision, “Scent of Mystery.”

Home video. When home video arrived, studios were reluctant to get into the business of putting their movies on tape (or, in the case of Sony’s VCR, they sued the manufacturer), while independent directors and producers quickly made their product available. “When videotape arrived, the studios were totally hostile to it,” says Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of Troma Entertainment, a prolific producer of B-movies and the author of “Make Your Own Damn Movie.” “So we had two or three years in the clear, where we could sell our product without much competition. And we were probably the first non-porno studio to get into DVD, because the fans were telling us how great it was.”

Other innovations. It was an independent animation company, Pixar, that made the first computer-animated feature film, not Disney or Warner Bros., the two studios that dominated the business of hand-drawn animation. Digital video cameras were adopted by indies first, for movies like “Julia & Julia” (1987), well before big-name directors like George Lucas and Michael Mann switched to digital cinematography. One of the first times the general public could experience a digitally-projected movie, in 1998, was at the County Theater in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The movie, “The Last Broadcast,” had been made for less than $1000, and the filmmakers, age 28 and 30, had met at Bucks County Community College.

Unfortunately, “The Last Broadcast,” about a documentary crew that gets lost in the wilds of New Jersey, was overshadowed by another independent film released the following year, about a documentary crew lost in the woods of Maryland. “The Blair Witch Project” was one of the first movies to take advantage of the Web to generate buzz; made for $25,000, it went on to earn over $140 million in the U.S.

Throughout cinema’s first century, the studios used their financial might to hire the best-known stars and directors, build the most lavish sets and generate the most elaborate special effects, and advertise their movies so heavily that it is impossible for a living human to be unaware of a tent-pole summer release like “Superman Returns” or the forthcoming “Spider-man 3.” The studios also enjoyed a tight relationship with the largest theater chains. Still, despite the odds stacked against them, it was indies and outsiders who first tried and tamed many of the technologies that changed the way movies were made and experienced in the 20th century – occasionally leading to great financial and artistic success.

The Future

That same dynamic will likely continue into cinema’s second century, even as the pace of change quickens, with new tools becoming available to filmmakers and consumers watching movies on new devices, from cell phones to 3-D television sets to video displays integrated into eyeglasses (currently being made by several companies). Already, indies and outsiders are experimenting with some of the concepts that will catapult movie-making and movie consumption in new directions.

New distribution options. Independent filmmakers like Ben Rekhi (“Waterborne”) were among the first to experiment with selling downloadable feature films on Google Video, which allows them to set a price for each download and share the revenues with Google. Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz (“Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments”) reportedly earned more than $30,000 by allowing the Web site Revver to show ads at the end of their short video, which plays like an homage to Blue Man Group.

New distribution channels will make it possible for consumers to watch a much wider selection of digital movies – or segments of movies – than are available to them today, on portable devices, PCs, and the trusty old television set. Some of these channels will charge for downloads, others, like Revver, may be ad-supported, and still others (YouTube, for example), might simply provide a way for filmmakers to build a reputation, or promote their work.

The emerging network of digital cinemas, being built by companies like AccessIT and Technicolor Digital Cinema, will also make it easier, and potentially cheaper, for independent filmmakers to get their work seen in theaters. Distributing a movie on a hard drive, a set of DVDs, or as a satellite download is potentially more efficient than striking celluloid prints. But salesmanship and marketing savvy will still be essential. Can a multiplex owner in Nashville be persuaded to show a feature that includes cameos by some well-known local musicians? Might an exhibitor in San Jose be willing to show a documentary about eBay during the week of a convention for eBay buyers and sellers?

Promotion and marketing. Indie filmmakers like Susan Buice and Arin Crumley (“Four Eyed Monsters”) and David Lowery (“Deadroom”) and have shown great creativity in using podcasts and blogs to market their finished movies. Leone Marucci (“The Power of Few”) has relied on novel marketing strategies to get attention for a movie in pre-production, by offering a bit part to the best actor or actress who uploads an audition clip via the Net.

To compete with studios wielding multi-million dollar marketing budgets, indies and outsiders will have to be inventive. Will it be an independent filmmaker who starts sending advance screeners of a new movie to influential bloggers, hoping for a review or mention? Or who offers tickets to a festival screening to the artist who designs the best ad or movie poster?

Sharing movies. New social behaviors are already emerging around the sharing of short video clips online, with Internet users recommending them to friends via e-mail or blog entries. New portable media players, like the Zune from Microsoft, will make it possible to share media wirelessly from one device to another. One user will be able to “beam” a song to a friend, who could then listen to it a few times before deciding to purchase it.

While movie studios might initially be reluctant to allow a user to beam the first ten minutes of a movie to a friend, fearing that it might discourage the recipient from buying the movie, independent filmmakers will most likely view that sort of sharing as a welcome variation on word-of-mouth marketing. “Frequent beamers” might even earn a kickback of a nickel or a quarter every time their referral resulted in a paid download of the full-length film.

Remixes and Mash-ups. Letting the audience tinker with the finished product is anathema to most Hollywood executives and directors. “The DGA exists to prevent exactly that -- people who edit our movies without our approval,” one DGA member told me.

Indie filmmakers will likely be more comfortable with the idea that their finished product may only be one of many versions. Movies may be evolving into a collection of “assets” that can be endlessly rearranged; a teenager in Taiwan may produce a tighter, more compelling 80-minute edit of your 120-minute magnum opus, and systems will emerge to make sure that both parties get rewarded for their work if that abridged version is consumed widely.

Already, directors like Richard Linklater (“A Scanner Darkly”) have invited Internet users to cut together different versions of a movie trailer, acknowledging the best ones with prizes. British filmmaker Michela Ledwidge has been exploring the concept of posting all of her raw footage on the Web for a feature called “Sanctuary,” and allowing anyone to produce his own derivative work.

3-D. Entrepreneur and filmmaker Steve Schkair has been developing a digital 3-D camera, called the Cobalt 3Ality System; director James Cameron and camera-maker Vince Pace have been collaborating with Sony Electronics on a competing 3-D camera rig. All of them hope to make digital 3-D cinematography more accessible for low- and moderate-budget projects.

And consumers have once again been gravitating to the 3-D experience, which now offers crisper images and fewer headaches than it did in the 1950s; the 3-D releases of Disney’s “Chicken Little” and Sony’s “Monster House” both performed better than the 2-D versions.

Theatrical 3-D releases, as well as 3-D projects intended for home or mobile viewing (I recently saw an iPod that had been modified to display 3-D imagery), will open new creative possibilities for filmmakers.

Cultivating a fan base. In the past, the relationship between a filmmaker and the audience has been mediated by the distributor; they’ve handled the marketing, letting fans know that “the latest movie from acclaimed director so-and-so will be in theaters this fall.”

Successful directors will increasingly take over the responsibility for that relationship, building up a database of fans and communicating with them in between projects. Directors like Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith have been pioneers in this regard, but other filmmakers may take it further, circulating scenes from their shooting script among fans, or posting selected dailies from the set. The fan community will be considered an important asset, helping to build buzz for upcoming projects (and perhaps financing them, too), whether that community is organized using MySpace or another tool.

Finance. Much as the Internet has provided politicians with a new tool for raising campaign funds, it may present a new way for filmmakers to finance their projects. Documentarian Robert Greenwald raised $220,000 earlier this year on the Web to help produce “Iraq for Sale,” from fans of his previous movies and political activists eager to help Greenwald indict several big companies he considers war profiteers. Other filmmakers could tap into interest groups or fans of their prior work to help cover the costs of future projects, perhaps by pre-purchasing DVDs or digital downloads of the finished product. Want to see a sequel made? Pony up.

Cheaper hardware and software. Cheap cameras and editing software have already made it more affordable to make a live-action feature or a documentary. (And today, building a car from scratch is certainly the more daunting proposition.) Cheaper software for pre-visualization will make it easier for indie filmmakers to pitch more complicated projects. “I’ve heard of of genre filmmakers, making low-budget horror movies, who are using this FrameForge [3D] Studio [software] to storyboard every scene,” says Stuart Maschwitz, a co-founder of The Orphanage, a San Francisco visual effects firm. “They’re using it as part of trying to get funding. You show it to the executives, and it takes a big part of their risk aversion away.”

Cheaper software for animation and visual effects, from companies like Adobe, Avid, Apple, and Autodesk, will also make it easier to produce high-quality computer animation and effects sequences without spending millions.

Preservation vs. Innovation

Since the days of Edison and Eastman, established movie studios and big-name filmmakers have tended to focus on preserving their reputations, their status, and their revenue streams, not on innovating. As director Robert Greenwald puts it, “Throughout history, it has always been the individuals – the mavericks – who make the changes.”

In other words, to track the future trajectory of cinema, keep the camera trained on the indies and outsiders.

Wednesday: YouTube Killer in the Works? ... InDplay Licensing Market ... Final Cut Pro Meeting in January

Flying back today from Boston to San Francisco after a really fun productive four-day stay there... And it was just my luck that a Forrester analyst I needed to interview for a piece, Josh Bernoff, happened to be scheduled on my flight -- so we did an interview in the rear galley, until the flight attendants evicted us for getting in their way.

Some recent stories worth reading:

- Great piece by BusinessWeek's Jon Fine about YouTube's licensing talks with big media companies. (Via Reel Pop.) This is the first I've heard mention of media companies working together to create a `YouTube killer.' It's a great idea -- if the media companies could get it up and running by, say, January -- and if it was as easy to use as YouTube. Those are two big ifs for any consortium of large companies. Fine writes:

    "The theory is that if you were to aggregate enough exclusive content in one place, you could actually change viewing patterns," says an executive familiar with the cross-company talks. Perhaps anticipating my jumping all over the fallacy of "exclusive" in an open online ecosystem, he concedes "it's really tough," though not impossible.

- Another piece in BusinessWeek, by Elizabeth Woyke, looks at InDplay, a nascent rights marketplace for film and video. (There's a brief quote from me in it.) She writes:

    Despite early interest from buyers at broadcast, cable, and Internet companies, inDplay faces the challenge of pioneering a new type of online marketplace. Its vitality will turn on whether it can enlist quality buyers, sellers, and merchandise. The site currently boasts around 30 buyers, several hundred sellers, and 300 video properties. A recent deal with Allied Artists Corp. will add thousands more titles, and inDplay hopes to close deals with three other film libraries soon. After opening the service to buyers two months ago, inDplay has closed several sales, including those for documentaries on Timothy Leary and Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

I'm surprised that InDPlay takes "about an 8% commission, equivalent to a traditional sales agent's fee," in each deal, according to Woyke. Didn't eBay succeed, in part, because its commission structure was much lower than an old-school auction house?

- Michael Horton of the LA Final Cut Pro User Group sends word of the upcoming January 10th meeting, in San Francisco, and it looks like a good one. (It's being held alongside Macworld, which Apple has stupidly and arrogantly scheduled this year to conflict with the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas.) From Michael:

    Scheduled to appear on the agenda will be Associate Editor Sean Cullen who
    is currently working with legendary film editor Walter Murch on Francis
    Coppola's new film, "Youth without Youth."

    This movie, (edited using FCP) is being filmed using the Sony HDC F950 HD
    Cam, and marks the first time both Walter Murch and Francis Coppola are going
    "filmless." Sean will discuss the digital workflow they have developed.

    Also scheduled to appear will be film editor Angus Wall, who just completed
    “Zodiac” for director David Fincher. Angus will discuss the all tapeless
    workflow they developed for Zodiac. The film, (edited using FCP) was shot
    using the Grass Valley Viper Film Stream camera and Angus will be joined on
    stage by tech consultant, Andreas Wacker.

Tix are $10, and the event is usually a sell-out.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Netflix on `60 Minutes'

I'm told there was a good segment about Netflix on `60 Minutes' this past Sunday.

I didn't catch it, but checked first for it on YouTube, where CBS has been distributing some of its content.

Wasn't there.

Next, I went to, where I found it -- but not without plenty of headaches

First, I had to download a new version of RealPlayer. Then I had to switch browsers, since RealPlayer doesn't seem to work with Safari. Then, I had to try to make the file play. That took a few tries. Then "buffering." Then, the file seemed to stop before the segment ended. (Or perhaps CBS doesn't post the full segment, and just neglected to indicate that on the Web site.) I tried to watch the video a second time to see if there was, in fact more, and noticed that there was no fast-forward button on RealPlayer.

All of which makes two important points -- often neglected -- about why YouTube has attracted such a big audience: they use Macromedia Flash for video, which works well in almost all browsers, and they made it fast and easy to actually get a given video to play.

Viral Video-Makers Hit Vegas

Fun piece from the LA Times last Sunday: They conquered the 'Net in two original minutes: HBO's "Viral Videos Live" brings Internet acts worth millions and millions of hits together in Las Vegas.

From Richard Rushfield's story:

    In December 2004, before the dawn of YouTube, the then-18-year-old [Gary] Brolsma sat in front of his computer in his parents' home in Saddlebrook, N.J., and whiled a few moments by performing an energetic lip-sync into his webcam to an obscure song by the Romanian pop band O-Zone. He then posted the video to a user-generated site called Newgrounds so he could share his creation with a few friends. Two weeks later, his grandmother awoke him one morning saying there was a TV news crew at the front door and his answering machine was filled with messages from reporters demanding interviews. What followed was one of the first viral video explosions in Web history, as the "Numa Numa Dance" video was forwarded, linked to, imitated and parodied.

    And nearly two years later, he found himself at Caesars Palace, flown in by HBO's TheComedy Festival for "Viral Videos Live," a night of onstage video reenactments of the groundbreaking works of the new medium. Assembled together on one stage in a rejiggered conference room would be the stars of the new era, headlined by the young man who just a week later was to be awarded a lifetime achievement award at age 20, Mr. Numa Numa Dance himself. About 200 people were in the audience.

Monday, December 04, 2006

From NPR's `Talk of the Nation': YouTube's Amateur Video Revolution May Be Over

Through a really unexpected chain of events, I was asked to be a guest on NPR's `Talk of the Nation' this afternoon to discuss the piece I wrote for yesterday's San Jose Mercury News, `As online viewing booms, the amateurs give way to big media.' Twenty minutes, as usual, went by in a flash, and host Neil Conan was kind enough to mention CinemaTech and my book, `The Future of Web Video' (more than once.) We also took a few calls.

NPR has the audio here. And here's their description of the segment:

    Web sites like YouTube turned any wanna-be director with a video camera and an internet connection into a full-fledged broadcaster and has left most of main stream media struggling to keep up. But author Scott Kirsner argues in his op-ed in Sunday's San Jose Mercury News that the online video pendulum is swinging from quirky home videos back to professional grade quality.

'Apocalypto' and Panavision Genesis ... Show Jumps from Cell Phones to Comedy Central ... Shari Redstone and National Amusements

- The LA Times has a great piece by Sheigh Crabtree about the filming of Mel Gibson's `Apocalypto,' which should have been headlined `Apocalypto Now,' given how many snafus and delays the production encountered. Much of the story focuses on the use of the Panavision Genesis camera, also used this year for `Flyboys' and `Superman Returns.'

- The animated political series 'Lil Bush' will jump from cell phone screens to the television, according to the Wall Street Journal. But the creator isn't some teen working on a PC in his bedroom...Donick Cary is a former writer on `The Simpsons' and 'Late Show With David Letterman.' Li Yuan writes:

    Comedy Central, part of MTV Networks, has bought the TV and digital rights to the animated series, "Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States," and will co-produce it with Amp'd Mobile and the show's creator Donick Cary, a TV writer who has written for "Late Show with David Letterman" and "The Simpsons." Comedy Central plans to air the half-hour show weekly beginning next summer during the popular 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot, possibly right after "South Park" and before "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

    The Comedy Central deal raises to a new level the nascent business of developing TV shows for cellphones, demonstrating that it has potential to become a breeding ground for TV content. It's the latest case of cross-pollination between technologies, with other examples being videogames morphing into movies, like "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and Internet videos winding up on cable networks like Current.

- The Journal has another piece today on Shari Redstone, the Sumner spawn who heads the National Amusements theater chain. Pops actually has good things to say about Shari in the piece. And there's a bit about a new venture Shari is running, a video-gaming arena called CyGamZ. From Matthew Kartitschnig's piece:

    ...Seeing the competition the [movie exhibition] industry faced from other entertainment outlets, Ms. Redstone decided to go upmarket by building luxury theaters, a concept she calls "Cinema de Lux."

    So far, National, which also has operations in Russia and South America and is the No. 5 theater operator in the U.S., has built 13 of the Cinema de Lux movie houses and has plans for many more. Ms. Redstone's goal is to eventually convert most of the chain's 81 U.S. theaters.

    The Cinema de Lux venues have baby grand pianos in the lobby, lounge areas and reserved seating. Ms. Redstone is particularly proud of "Chatters," a chain of bars and grills housed in the theaters that serve everything from beer-battered tilapia to chocolate martinis. The company is also introducing in-seat dining during films at some locations. The Cinema de Lux strategy has boosted attendance 20% and per-customer profit 40%, Ms. Redstone says.

    Her biggest gambit so far is CyGamZ. The first phase involves building half a dozen venues, beginning with the one that just opened in Ann Arbor, Mich. The concept isn't entirely new. In 1996, Steven Spielberg formed a partnership with Sega Enterprises and MCA to open a chain of gaming venues. But the business never really took off, and GameWorks filed for bankruptcy. Last year Sega Corp. acquired the assets out of bankruptcy and relaunched the business.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Weekend News: Movie Piracy, SNL Rehearsals, Disney Lay-Offs, D-Cinema, and Web Video

- A movie pirate named Johnny Ray Gasca got sentenced to seven years in prison. (Who do all the criminals use their middle names, one of them always Ray?) He got caught with a camcorder in theaters three times in 2002 and 2003. From the Wall Street Journal's piece:

    Mr. Gasca often enlisted friends to sit beside and in front of him at movies, so no one would stand up and interrupt his filming. He often snuck into pre-release screenings. When caught taping "Anger Management" in 2003, he dumped his tape into his friend's popcorn and escaped, but was later caught. In early 2004, he told his lawyer he needed to buy cold medicine and then escaped from a drug store. It took federal agents more than a year to track him down in a Florida motel, where he was found with stacks of movies and copying equipment.

- From Reel Pop...NBC is considering making 'Saturday Night Live' rehearsals available on the Web. That'd be cool, since lots of sketches get cut or changed before the broadcast, and it'd be fun to see how the show evolves.

- Disney is cutting 160 jobs at its animation studio in the wake of the Pixar acquisition, according to the WSJ. No job cuts at Pixar, just Walt Disney Feature Animation -- where about 20 percent of the staff will get pink slips.

- An article about digital cinema in Cincinnati, from the Cincinnati Enquirer. AccessIT is doing the installation. Lots of talk about alternative content -- but still not many examples.

- I've got two articles in newspapers today... In the Boston Globe, I look at how sites like Netflix are trying to improve the quality of their recommendations.

And in the San Jose Mercury News, there's a piece about professional versus amateur video on the Web, headlined, `As online viewing booms, the amateurs give way to big media.' Here's the opening:

    Whenever a new technology makes personal expression easier -- from desktop publishing in the 1980s to video sharing in 2006 -- denizens of Silicon Valley leap to the same conclusion: Finally, amateurs will triumph over those self-satisfied professionals, kicking aside the titans of the publishing industry/music industry/movie industry/TV industry.

    The latest wave of innovation involves Web sites that simplify the process of editing and uploading video, making it globally accessible. Suddenly, anyone can become a broadcaster for free -- and no FCC license is required. YouTube, which now shows 100 million videos a day, has been at the forefront of this wave and was recently acquired by Google for $1.65 billion. But there are dozens of others, most of them headquartered in the Bay Area, and most of them less than two years old. (YouTube didn't launch until May 2005.)

    Since the video publishing revolution began last year, much of the content that has been published and viewed on the Internet has been produced by amateurs: Chinese teens lip-syncing to the Backstreet Boys, motivational speaker Judson Laipply dancing to a medley of pop songs, an angry senior citizen scolding a fellow passenger on a Hong Kong bus, skateboard tricks gone awry, and kitties doing adorable things -- like prancing across a piano keyboard.

    But as movie studios, advertisers and television networks make more of their content available online, viewers' habits may be starting to shift. If Web video was dominated by citizens with camcorders in 2005 and 2006, the pendulum in the coming year will likely swing toward professional content producers and big media companies.

Friday, December 01, 2006

What to Watch For with 'Ten Items or Less'

The new Morgan Freeman movie, `10 Items or Less,' is the latest experiment in altering the motion picture industry's traditional "release window" structure. The movie opens in Landmark Theatres today, and will be available as an Internet download on December 15th, two weeks later.

Some background: Landmark's highest-profile experiment with release windows took place earlier this year, with Steven Soderbergh's 'Bubble.' The movie didn't do well in theaters, but Landmark co-owner Todd Wagner later told me that it more than covered its production costs in DVD sales, thanks to the copious free publicity the movie received.

`10 Items' is a much more commercial movie (the cast of `Bubble' were not just unknowns -- they were not trained actors). It was made by Brad Silberling, a director whose last movie, `Lemony Snicket,' was a fairly big hit. Still, most theater chains have refused to show it, since it'll be available on the Net so soon. In return for agreeing to show it, Landmark will earn a share of the download revenues, producer Lori McCreary said in October.

`10 Items' was made for less than $10 million, and filmed in three weeks. ThinkFilm is handling the theatrical distribution. It's unclear who has DVD rights...or when the DVD will be out. Here's an LA Times piece on the business arrangements behind '10 Items.'

What to Watch For:

1. First, the reviews. So far, they ain't bad.

2. Second, the per-screen averages. `10 Items' won't be a box office champ this weekend, but it'll be interesting to see how full those Landmark auditoriums are.

3. Whether Morgan Freeman or Paz Vega do much promotion for the movie (i.e., talk shows), and when they do, whether they mention the Internet availability or not. (So far, the newspaper ads I've seen don't mention it.)

4. Whether ClickStar, the new company that will be handling the digital download, starts getting more buzz in the next two weeks. The site still seems unbuilt, and I think to cultivate the support of the blogosphere, it'd be a smart idea to put up lots of free content on the site -- an extended five or ten-minute segment of the film, some behind-the-scenes footage, an interview with one of the stars -- that bloggers can either link to or embed in their sites.