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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Morning links: DreamWorks ditches Aardman ... Download revenue on the rise ... More on YouTube ads

- Variety reports that DreamWorks Animation and Aardman have ended their partnership after working on three movies together: 'Chicken Run,' 'Curse of the Were-Rabbit,' and 'Flushed Away.' (The last was Aardman's first computer-generated pic; the others were claymation.) Ben Fritz writes:

    Aardman is back in development on several films inhouse. Having long established its claymation prowess, company's in the midst of building up CGI capabilities, meaning it could potentially produce pics in both formats.

    How it will finance those movies, and how they will reach the market, is now an open question. A rep would say only that Aardman execs are looking at several different options.

    Possibilities include slate financing from private equity money, a one-off deal with a studio for its next pic or a new multifilm deal.

The Journal also has a short piece.

- The British research firm Informa predicts that revenues from legal TV and movie downloads will grow to $6.3 billion by 2012. Archie Thomas of Variety writes:

    The U.S. will account for 65% of this amount, according to a report published by Informa. Stateside sum will rise from $538 million in 2006 to $3.9 billion in 2012.

    Growth in the U.K. is expected to climb from $42 million in 2006 to $708 million in 2012.

    Increased broadband penetration and changing consumer habits will fuel the rising popularity of Web downloads.

- The BBC covers YouTube's decision to move toward integrating advertising in its videos. Tim Weber writes:

    YouTube founder Chad Hurley confirmed to the BBC that his team was working on a revenue-sharing mechanism that would "reward creativity".

    The system would be rolled out in a couple of months, he said, and use a mixture of adverts, including short clips shown ahead of the actual film.

John Battelle, who was at Davos for the announcement, has some additional perspective. Jeff Jarvis has a video clip.

My prediction is that YouTube will start with the least intrusive ads possible... perhaps a clickable still-frame ad at the end of a clip, or a five second video at the end, or even graphical or text ads integrated into the top or bottom of the YouTube video player. I'll be stunned if they introduce pre-roll advertising, which I think would drive off a large portion of YouTube viewers.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Blog Disclosure Statement

I’ve been giving some thought recently to the relationship between bloggers and their readers, in the course of working on an upcoming article, and so I decided it was finally time to post a disclosure statement on my blog.

My goal is for CinemaTech to be a useful, opinionated, and fair source of information about the ways that new technologies are changing the entertainment business. When I receive corrections or amplifications from readers or people I’ve written about in the blog, I’ll include them in the original post. Differing points-of-view are always welcome in the comments area of each post.

I consider myself a full-time journalist and writer, although I am also paid for speaking, moderating, and helping to develop the agenda for conferences and other events. When I’m writing about an event to which I have some sort of financial tie, I’ll make note of that. I don’t work as a consultant. I don’t accept gifts worth more than $50, or hold onto “review products” that I’m sent to evaluate. (I suspect that I’ve been to a few media dinners where the journalists present have ingested more than $50 worth of food and wine, but in those cases, I’ve skipped dessert.)

I do own some stock in individual companies, though none that I cover regularly. If I do mention one of these companies here on CinemaTech or in any other venue, I’ll be sure to note it.

CinemaTech carries advertising from Google; I don’t have control over the advertising or any interaction with the advertisers. Links on CinemaTech that point to books or other products on also generate a small amount of revenue for me. Links here to the book The Future of Web Video or other books I’ve written might also be considered advertisements, since the purchase of these generates a royalty for me.

If you have a comment or question about this policy, please e-mail me: kirsner - at-

YouTube to Do Revenue-Sharing With Users? ... 'Future of Web Video' interview

- Chad Hurley of YouTube apparently said at Davos that YouTube was planning to start sharing revenue with users, though he didn't give any specifics. Here's the LA Times coverage. And here's a video interview with Hurley from Davos. Hurley apparently sat on a panel at Davos, along with Bill Gates, Caterina Fake of Flikr/Yahoo, and the CEO of Nike, discussing Web 2.0. The Reuters headline afterward focused on Gates, not Hurley: 'Internet to revolutionize TV in 5 years: Gates.'

- Brian Alves, who produces a weekly podcast called The DV Show, interviewed me last week about my book 'The Future of Web Video.' The result is here. Among the questions he asked:

    - How can you make money from web video?
    - What is the best format to deliver video over the web?
    - Is the price of producing video for the web cheaper than traditional production costs?
    - What websites offer money for your video?
    - Where is web video going?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Some background on 'Manda Bala,' Sundance Documentary Grand Prize Winner

I was knocked out by 'Manda Bala' last night, the doc that won the 2007 Grand Jury Prize here at Sundance. It's a stylish, energetic, and surprising exploration of crime and political corruption in Brazil. Director Jason Kohn deftly interweaves the stories of kidnap victims, a plastic surgeon, anti-kidnapping detectives, a frog farmer, and a politician who mysteriously gets wealthier the longer he serves in office. There are moments where I felt my jaw dropping open, and other moments where I was watching through my fingers. Kohn is a protege of Errol Morris, but he's far from an imitator: I actually found the cinematography better than the last few of Morris' movies I've seen, and the pacing is quick enough to keep a restless teenager riveted.

There isn't much info about the movie online, and even fewer reviews, but here are a few quick links:

- Jason Kohn interview with The Reeler. Kohn says, "I've been stupid lucky with this film. Honestly, it's been a very long process, it's been five years; I nailed all the indie filmmaking clichés except for extraordinary credit card debt. But all of the fighting and all of the years... I mean, my investor tried to fire me. All of that typical stuff that goes into making a very, very hard movie over a long period of time."

- Filmmaker Magazine review. Jason Geurrasio writes, "this doc — with a brisk running time of 85 minutes — never lets you catch your breath as it weaves through numerous stories that are sometimes humorous but often excruciating to watch."

- Official site

- Indiewire interview with Jason Kohn. Kohn says, "I really thought of "Manda Bala" as a non-fiction 'RoboCop' depicting a very real broken and violent society."

- CNN writes a bit about the movie and Kohn, listing 'Manda Bala' as one of the five best movies at Sundance.

2007 Sundance winners (with links to reviews, and info on acquisitions)

Just back from a screening of 'Manda Bala (Send a Bullet),' the amazing documentary that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

Here's the full list of 2007 award winners at the festival (from Sundance's official press release), with a few links to reviews. I've put an asterisk* next to films that have been acquired by distributors as of Saturday:

    The Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was given to MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET), directed by Jason
    Kohn. In Brazil, known as one of the world's most corrupt and violent countries, MANDA BALA follows a
    politician who uses a frog farm to steal billions of dollars, a wealthy businessman who spends a small
    fortune bulletproofing his cars, and a plastic surgeon who reconstructs the ears of mutilated kidnapping

    The Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was given to PADRE NUESTRO, directed by Christopher Zalla. Fleeing a
    criminal past, Juan hops a truck transporting illegal immigrants from Mexico to New York City, where he
    meets Pedro, who is seeking his rich father.

    The World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary was given to ENEMIES OF HAPPINESS (VORES LYKKES
    FJENDER)/Denmark, directed by Eva Mulvad and Anja Al Erhayem. In ENEMIES OF HAPPINESS, Malalai
    Joya, a 28-year-old Afghani woman, redefines the role of women and elected officials in her country with
    her historic 2005 victory in Afghanistan's first democratic parliamentary election in over 30 years.

    The World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic was given to SWEET MUD (ADAMA MESHUGAAT)/Israel,
    directed by Dror Shaul. On a kibbutz in southern Israel in the 1970's, Dvir Avni realizes that his mother is
    mentally ill. In this closed community, bound by rigid rules, Dvir must navigate between the kibbutz motto
    of equality and the stinging reality that his mother has, in effect, been abandoned by the community. (Variety review)

    The Audience Awards are given to both a dramatic and documentary film in the Independent Film
    Competition as voted by Sundance Film Festival audiences. The 2007 Sundance Film Festival Audience
    Awards for the Independent Film Competition are presented by Volkswagen of America, Inc.

    The Audience Award: Documentary was given to HEAR AND NOW, directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky.
    Brodsky tells a deeply personal story about her deaf parents and their radical decision–after 65 years living
    together in silence–to undergo cochlear implant surgery, a procedure that could give them the ability to
    hear. (Variety review)

    The Audience Award: Dramatic was given to GRACE IS GONE*, directed by James C. Strouse. After
    learning that his wife has been killed in Iraq, a father finds the courage to tell his daughters the news
    during a quixotic road trip to an amusement park. (Variety review ... Cinematical review ... Hollywood Reporter review)

    The World Cinema Audience Awards are given to both a dramatic and documentary film in the World
    Cinema Competition as voted by Sundance Film Festival audiences.

    The World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary was given to IN THE SHADOW OF THE
    MOON/United Kingdom*, directed by David Sington. One of the defining passages of American history, the
    Apollo Space Program literally brought the aspirations of a nation to another world. Awe-inspiring footage
    and candid interviews with the astronauts who visited the moon provide unparalleled perspective on the
    precious state of our planet.

    The World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic was given to ONCE/Ireland*, directed by John Carney.
    ONCE is a modern day musical set on the streets of Dublin. Featuring Glen Hansard and his Irish band
    "The Frames," the film tells the story of a busker and an immigrant during an eventful week as they write,
    rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story.

    The Directing Awards recognize excellence in directing for dramatic and documentary features.

    The Directing Award: Documentary went to Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, directors of WAR/DANCE. (Variety review)

    The Directing Award: Dramatic was presented to Jeffrey Blitz, director of ROCKET SCIENCE. (Variety review ... Cinematical review)

    The Excellence in Cinematography Awards honor exceptional photography in both a dramatic and
    documentary film at the Festival. Heloisa Passos for MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET) from the
    Documentary Competition and Benoit Debie for JOSHUA* from the Dramatic Competition received the
    2007 Cinematography Awards. (Variety review of JOSHUA ... Hollywood Reporter review of JOSHUA)

    The Independent Film Competition Documentary Jury presented the Documentary Editing Award to
    editors Hibah Sherif Frisina, Charlton McMillian, and Michael Schweitzer for their work on the film
    NANKING*. (Variety review)

    The Jury for the Independent Film Dramatic Competition presents the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award
    for outstanding achievement in writing. The 2007 prize was given to James C. Strouse for GRACE IS

    The Documentary Jury presented a Special Jury Prize to NO END IN SIGHT, directed by Charles
    Ferguson, “in recognition of the film as timely work that clearly illuminates the misguided policy decisions
    that have led to the catastrophic quagmire of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

    The Jury for the Independent Film Dramatic Competition also presented two special Jury Prizes. Special
    Jury Prizes for Acting were presented to Jess Weixler in TEETH “for a juicy and jaw-dropping
    performance” and to Tamara Podemski in FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND “for a fully realized physical
    and emotional turn.” The Jury also presented a Special Jury Prize for Singularity of Vision to Chris
    Smith, director of THE POOL. (Hollywood Reporter review of FOUR SHEETS and TEETH ... Cinematical review of TEETH)

    The World Cinema Documentary Competition Jury presented a Special Jury Prize to HOT HOUSE/Israel,
    directed by Shimon Dotan.

    The World Cinema Dramatic Competition Jury presented a Special Jury Prize to THE LEGACY
    (L’HERITAGE)/France directed by Géla Babluani and Temur Babluani. (Variety review)

    The Shorts Jury presented the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking to EVERYTHING WILL BE OK directed
    by Don Hertzfeldt. The Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking was given to THE TUBE WITH A
    HAT/Romania, directed by Radu Jude. The Shorts Jury awarded Honorable Mentions in Short
    Filmmaking to DEATH TO THE TINMAN, directed by Ray Tintori; THE FIGHTING CHOLITAS,
    BEHTAR MIFAHMAND)/Iran, directed by Marjan Alizadeh; MOTODROM/Germany, directed by Joerg
    Wagner; SPITFIRE 944 directed by William Lorton; and t.o.m./United Kingdom, directed by Tom Brown
    and Daniel Gray. The 2007 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Awards are presented by Adobe Systems
    Incorporated. The Shorts Jury also presented a Special Jury Prize to the documentary short film
    FREEHELD, directed by Cynthia Wade.

Only a few of the winners have been acquired thus far: Fox Searchlight is distributing JOSHUA, ThinkFilm is distributing IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON, and The Weinstein Company is distributing GRACE IS GONE.

Looking forward to seeing GRACE and ROCKET SCIENCE tomorrow before I leave...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Money for Web video gets bigger

Reuters writes about basement video producers who are starting to earn serious money for their cheaply-made clips; it's not unheard of for a single clip to earn $10,000 or $25,000. Yinka Adegoke writes:

    Martial arts expert Joe Eigo never imagined he'd win millions of fans and earn $25,000 when he posted a clip of himself performing a series of gravity defying acrobatics to a video sharing site.

    In uploading his "Matrix - For Real" video to, Eigo joined the growing number of aspiring filmmakers who are benefiting from the new economics of online video sharing, a phenomenon made popular by YouTube.

    ...a growing number of users, particularly amateur filmmakers and wannabe stars, are seeking out other online video outlets. The promise is that not only might they find the fame they seek, but they could get paid for their work in the meantime.

(Yesterday, I updated my chart of sites that pay for Web videos, which got a nice mention earlier in the week on BoingBoing.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Quick Sundance dispatch

I arrived at Sundance Tuesday evening, and have mostly been focused this year on seeing movies and doing the networking thing, as opposed to going to lots of panels, as I did in 2006. (Movies so far: "Hot House," "Chasing Ghosts," "Starting Out in the Evening," "Crossing the Line," "The Unforeseen." )

The panel I moderated on rights and new distribution platforms was Wednesday at noon, in the New Frontier on Main Street. There was a full house for it, which was nice. Sundance panel organizer Jeffrey Winter kicked things off by noting that he'd invited a number of studio execs to join the panel, and all demurred, saying that they didn't quite grok the way that new media were changing the rights landscape (at least enough to talk publicly.)

I wasn't taking notes, since I was busy directing traffic among five very talkative and opinionated panelists. But there was some interesting discussion of leverage: filmmakers who have a track record, or who have made a movie that everyone wants, will have an easier time managing their rights, rather than tossing them all to the party that buys US theatrical, or home video. (Some things never change.) The panelists seemed to agree that while older distribution avenues can supply more reliable, easily-estimated revenue streams, new media avenues tend to be riskier, and very rarely offer up-front payments -- but the royalty structures can be more favorable. We emphasized the issue of being able to audit the numbers with download sites and other new distribution venues...since reliable third-party stats aren't available. And David Straus from Withoutabox said that his company plans to launch, later this year, an online rights marketplace similar to INDPlay.

At the end, I got the chance to chat with a lot of filmmakers who are dealing with these rights issues first-hand, which was great...also handed out a few free copies of The Future of Web Video that I'd brought along.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New Guide to Quality Net Videos: The Daily Reel

The Daily Reel is a new site (or at least new to me) that seems to be trying to cull some of the best-quality video on the Net (of the non-stupid, non-reliant-on-scantily-clad-women). Here's how they explain their mission:

    With all of the recent buzz surrounding web video, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a good movie online. If you search for quality content, you’ll likely become overwhelmed with nipple slips, lip syncing and not-so-funny home movies.

    ...We have assembled a team of film and television critics, pop culture commentators and online mavens from traditional and online media to find the best broadband videos out there. Our contributors come from The New York Times, Variety, The Village Voice, Filmmaker Magazine, The Austin Chronicle, and more.

They also seem interested in tracking news about digital distribution and user-generated video from other media outlets. And there's a daily top ten list of videos, based on user ratings.

I especially like the better descriptions of videos than you see on most sites, and also the info on budget, cast, and crew. (Here's an example.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Three from the NY Times: Sundance, Veoh, and High-def Porn

- David Carr of the NY Times writes about filmmaker M dot Strange (aka Michael Belmont), who cultivated a fan base on YouTube prior to coming to Sundance with his movie `We are the Strange.' (Here's the YouTube trailer.)

- Michael Eisner is betting that Net viewers are hungry to watch celebs online, not just unknown teens rambling in front of their bedroom Webcams. Eisner is an investor in the video service Veoh, and has just engineered a deal, according to the Times, to bring celeb content from US Weekly onto Veoh. Maria Aspan writes:

    The partnership follows the success of celebrity-focused Web sites like, as well as the YouTube phenomenon and the popularity of user-generated content. Veoh remains a very small participant in the market, with 500,000 unique visitors in August, according to Nielsen/NetRatings (although the company says the figure should actually be four million).

    Us Weekly, which had circulation of 1.8 million in August, already has a built-in audience. ( had almost a million unique users in December, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, and 1.8 million, according to Wenner.)

- Finally, the Times covers pornography in high-def. (Most actresses in the industry don't seem to appreciate the technological progress... and some are even reportedly having more surgery to conceal flaws that they think will show up in high-def imagery.) Matt Richtel writes:

    The pornographers’ progress with HD may also be somewhat slowed by Sony, one of the main backers of the Blu-ray high-definition disc format. Sony said last week that, in keeping with a longstanding policy, it would not mass-produce pornographic videos on behalf of the movie makers.

    The decision has forced pornographers to use the competing HD-DVD format or, in some cases, to find companies other than Sony that can manufacture copies of Blu-ray movies.

    The movie makers assert that it is shortsighted of Sony to snub them, given how pornography helps technologies spread.

    “When you’re introducing a new format, it would seem like the adult guys can help,” said Steven Hirsch, co-chief executive officer of Vivid Entertainment Group, a big player in the industry. Mr. Hirsch added that high definition, regardless of format, “is the future.”

Friday, January 19, 2007

New head of Entertainment Technology Center: David Wertheimer

Now that digital projectors are rolling out across the country, David Wertheimer will be faced with setting a new agenda for the Entertainment Technology Center at USC, which helped iron out many of digital cinema's technical and standards wrinkles. Here's a Variety brief, and here (in PDF form) is the ETC's press release. A snippet from the announcement:

    “One of the major questions for media companies today is how to produce and distribute the
    highest quality entertainment to users wherever they are, whenever they want it,” Wertheimer
    said. “ETC’s history as an enabler of the digital cinema revolution provides a strong foundation
    on which to answer these types of questions. As we move ahead, ETC will be the place where
    the industry comes together to explore new opportunities created by digital media.” he added.

I talked with Wertheimer last fall for this Hollywood Reporter piece on the future of cinema.

HD House at Sundance

This looks really interesting: Videography, DV, and Digital Cinematography magazines are sponsoring the HD House at Sundance, from Jan 19 to the 22nd.

From the site:

    This free, four-day filmmaking conference will offer expert technical advice, information and perspective for directors, cinematographers, videographers, producers, editors, sound editors and post supervisors.

    Visitors to HD House can find:
    • Hands-on equipment demos
    • Technology presentations
    • Screenings
    • Special evening events for cinematographers
    • Panel discussions
    • Footage show-and-tells
    • Hot chocolate with a generous supply of mini-marshmallows

The schedule of events looks interesting...including sessions led by Mike Curtis of HD for Indies. But this one looks most promising, Saturday at 5 PM: "It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. Director Crispin Hellion Glover details the digital workflow on his new film."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Morning links: `Grindhouse' contest ... HD DVD hackage ... Sundance tech ... YouTube's new CMO ... Brightcove VC funding ... MSFT and Hollywood

- Mike Curtis at HD for Indies calls your attention to a cool `Grindhouse' promo contest: make a movie trailer for a non-existent movie, and director Robert Rodriguez will pick the best one to show during his presentation at South by Southwest this year. (Note: I don't think the trailer will be included in the actual release of `Grindhouse.')

- NY Times has more on HD DVD hacking. Brad Stone writes:

    The move could send the technology companies behind the new wave of advanced DVDs scrambling back to the drawing board to improve their copy protection, and prompt Hollywood studios to rethink their alliances in the war between the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats.

- CNet runs an overview piece on the tech themes at Sundance this year, which includes commentary from Sundance digital maven Ian Calderon, and the directors of `Chasing Ghosts' and `In the Shadow of the Moon.'

- The Wall Street Journal has a Q&A with YouTube's new chief marketing officer, Suzie Reider, mostly about integrating advertisers into the site. Reider seems to agree with the site's founders that advertising shouldn't interrupt the videos on the site. She tells the WSJ, "There is no commercial video messaging that is interrupting their enjoyment of the entertainment content on the site."

- Brightcove, the video service that Barack Obama used to announce his presidential exploratory committee yesterday, just grabbed $59 million in fresh venture capital funding, according to this release.

- Chris Gaither's LA Times piece, `Microsoft hooking up with Hollywood' suggests that as Yahoo is scaling back its investment in original Web entertainment programming, Microsoft is doing more. Gaither writes:

    In recent months, the portal bought online syndication rights for the canceled sitcom "Arrested Development" and struck deals for Web-only shows with NBC Universal and such producers as Silverman, whose company, Reveille, has backed "The Office," "Ugly Betty" and "The Biggest Loser."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Vidmeter: `We aim to be the Billboard 100 of online videos'

The site Vidmeter just launched earlier this month; its goal, like The Internet TV Charts, is to track what people are watching online. But Vidmeter seems to be sampling a wider range of sites, including Metacafe, Revver, YouTube, and Google Video. Neither of them, it's important to note, seem to have much data about videos that people are watching via iTunes,,, etc.

From Vidmeter's site: "...we aim to be the Billboard 100 of online videos. Vidmeter will show industry watchers what's hot, it will show producers how their videos are doing, it will show advertisers where to buy and how their ads are doing, as well as show avid watchers the latest videos."

Updated once more: List of sites that pay and DVD-burning services

What's new on this list? SItes like Dovetail and Cruxy, which have only recently launched their programs to compensate video producers...and also the ability for filmmakers who sign up with CustomFlix (part of to have their movies made available on Amazon's Unbox video download service, alongside "The Devil Wears Prada" and "An Inconvenient Truth."

Worth a read: LA Times' studio report cards ... Why iTunes doesn't have more movies

From Patrick Goldstein in the LA Times: his annual movie studio report cards. Fox and Sony are at the head of the class, and New Line and MGM are this year's laggards.

From Ronald Grover in BusinessWeek: `Why Hollywood Snubbed Jobs at Macworld: Most of Tinseltown won't buy into the Apple chief's digital vision until he ponies up more money and gets more serious about protecting content.'

Netflix tip-toes into online video streaming

The Wall Street Journal, Variety, and the NY Times have stories about Netflix's new streaming video service. (Here's some earlier CinemaTech coverage on Netflix's strategy.)

The key facts about Netflix's new "Watch Now" feature:

    - It's free to subscribers. Based on your subscription plan, you get anywhere from 6 to 48 hours of free streaming a month.
    - Videos are in streaming format only. You can't store them on your computer for later viewing, and you can't burn them to a DVD.
    - It'll be available to a small subset of Netflix customers at first - about 250,000 will get access each week, to ensure the technology can handle demand.
    - It's launching today with 1000 movies and TV shows. Disney isn't participating yet, but the other major studios are.

That's a less appealing feature set than services like CinemaNow, Movielink, iTunes, Vongo and Amazon Unbox offer. I'm not sure how this is compelling, except as a stop-gap measure when you've just sent back your Netflix movies in the mail, and are waiting for more. That makes it more of a defensive move -- a way to keep customers happy, and prevent them from signing up for other download services. Also: I wonder whether Netflix users will use this mostly to sample movies before they add them to their queue.

But what this tells me about Netflix's digital strategy is that they don't want to be a pay-per-download player (like CinemaNow or iTunes); rather, they would like to keep growing their base of customers who pay a monthly subscription, and simply offer them an array of either physicial DVD rental or digital options.

Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK Day links: 'YouTube: Friend or Foe?' ... `High-Def Anxieties' ... Morganstern on HD Flat Screens ... YouTube Rivals Flagging

- From today's NY Times: `YouTube: Friend or Foe?' Laura Holson notes that lots of material owned by movie studios and record labels is being uploaded to YouTube. But the most interesting section of the story talks about mash-ups. Holson writes:

    Where studios and music companies see the most complicated copyright issue is in the posting of mashups — clips that incorporate video and music from various sources that has been “mashed up” to make something new. Most mashups are made by eager fans as a form of artistic expression or a demonstration of their editing skills.

    “I don’t consider any of this stuff piracy,” said Professor Litman of the University of Michigan. “Folks are taking snippets and making them their own.”

    One video posted last March, credited to Kusoyaro Productions, includes clips from the 20th Century Fox film “Napoleon Dynamite” that have been cleverly edited to create a new music video for Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile.”

    ...Ron Wheeler, a senior vice president of content protection at Fox Entertainment Group, said that even though Fox was not being paid for the right to use the “Napoleon Dynamite” clips, the company had not asked that the video be taken down.

    “We are not in the business of just saying no, but we do consider it unauthorized use,” Mr. Wheeler said.

    He predicted, though, that the studio would be saying “no” more often in the future. Fox is working on a policy that will address the issue of mashups in a way that those creating them can understand.

    “We will offer as much freedom as legally able, but at the same time it will be less than some people are doing now,” Mr. Wheeler added. “It won’t be ‘anything goes.’ ”

    Brian Grazer, a producer of “8 Mile,” said some of the mashups he had seen were “pretty hip.” But he said he, too, viewed them as a form of piracy: “It bothers me artistically. Here’s this thing where you have no control; they are chopping it up and putting your memories in a blender.”

    Directors may have a tough time accepting the wild world of mashups, particularly those who have been given control over the final cut of their movies. Mr. Grazer said he believed that Curtis Hanson, who directed “8 Mile,” would not be pleased. “Something like this drives an auteur nuts,” he said. ...

- My last piece from CES is in Variety, written with Ben Fritz: `High (def) anxieties: Dueling formats bring twin headaches to CES.' From the piece:

    "I never thought this would happen, but things are actually more confusing now than when we came into the show," sighs Richard Doherty, director of consulting firm Envisioneering Group.

    Whether they support one format, two, or neither, most in Hollywood agree dual formats are inhibiting the development of the hi-def DVD market, which studios had hoped would bolster flattening revenue from standard DVDs. That didn't happen in 2006, when a paltry 175,000 HD DVD players were sold. More than 1 million Blu-ray devices were shipped, but almost all -- a million -- of them are PlayStation 3 consoles able to play Blu-ray discs. It's not yet clear whether most gamers are using their consoles to watch Blu-ray movies.

- Joe Morganstern had a piece earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal about the symbiotic relationship between high-definition flat screens in the home and the cinema. His conclusion:

    The truth is that theaters and home theaters depend on each other. It's all very well for funny little videos to be discovered on YouTube, but movies of substance need the validation that can only be conferred by theatrical openings and public acceptance. Otherwise they never make it to DVD. Though it's thrilling to be able to watch beloved films at home on cutting-edge displays that honor every nuance (while reproducing every blemish), the supply of exciting new movies has grown sporadic and undependable. Without a revitalized system of production and theatrical distribution, home theaters will become private museums, and those small, special films we treasure will become the cinematic equivalents of literary novels -- eloquent stories writ large on glowing glass panels.

- CNET covers the executive exoduses at Revver and GUBA, two rivals to YouTube, and offers some traffic numbers from Hitwise that identify YouTube, MySpace Video, and Google Video as the three biggest video players, with market share of 45.92%, 21.57%, and 10.46% respectively. The piece quotes a Yankee Group analyst, Josh Martin, predicting a shake-out among the smaller video sites this year:

    "I'd be very surprised if some of these companies don't go out of business this year," Martin said. "Too many of (them) are distributing the same kind of content."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Quick plug: Sundance panel on 'Rights Licensing in the New Era of Distribution'

The Sundance Film Festival hosts a number of free panel discussions and events that don't require a ticket; just search for "Panels & Events" here. (But if there's a code like "PATHR22PA" in the bottom right hand corner of the description page that pops up when you click "More," that means you do need a ticket.)

The panel I'm moderating this year is about how new distribution opportunities are changing the way filmmakers and distributors deal with rights. Here's the description:

    Internet platforms, video-on-demand, mobile devices, and indie film pay-per-view are no longer a dream--they are the reality of the new world of distribution. But complexities abound, creating a need to make sense of revenue models, developing technologies, and evolving methods of exhibition. Hear major players, service providers, and filmmakers tackle the issues that surround today's licensing/distribution opportunities.

It'll be held at noon on Wednesday, January 24th at the New Frontier (formerly the Film Center, and before that, the Digital Center) at 333 Main Street, lower level.

The panelists will include Diane Robina, president of Comcast/Sony Networks, and before that EVP of acquisitions strategies at MTV Networks; Tracy Mercer of Clickstar; Orly Ravid from Wolfe Releasing; Jean Prewitt of the Independent Film & TV Association (formerly AFMA); and David Straus, CEO of Withoutabox.

If you're there, do come up and say hello afterward!

(Slamdance also has some great panels on new production technology and new distribution options.)

Venice Project in the Wall Street Journal

Kevin Delaney of the WSJ had a piece about The Venice Project, a new peer-to-peer application that delivers high-quality video, in yesterday's Journal. Delaney writes:

    "What they're doing is incredibly cool, says Mike Homer, chief executive of nonprofit Internet-video service Open Media Network and co-founder of online video company Kontiki Inc., which was purchased by VeriSign Inc. last year. But "there's just a lot of stuff going on in the industry now that makes what they're doing not so unique."

    [Venice co-founder Janus] Friis says the Venice Project isn't late, because it goes further in combining aspects of the Web and TV than any existing offering. Whereas YouTube and other popular sites offer short, low-video-quality clips -- most uploaded by individual users -- the Venice Project plans to offer full TV shows and movies from commercial content owners. [Venice Project CEO Fredrik] de Wahl says it won't let consumers submit clips until quality and copyright issues are resolved.

    He says the video is broadcast quality or better. Clips in its current test generally look good viewed full-screen on a PC monitor, but they often stutter, and parts of the images appear as small colored squares rather than the smooth image of a DVD.

Also interesting: the company says that it'll be able to deliver video ads targeted to a consumer's location or viewing behavior. That's something no current video site does, to my knowledge.

Friday, January 12, 2007

iTunes will offer some Sundance 07 short films

About half of the short films that are part of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (32 of 71 films, to be exact) will be on sale on iTunes starting on January 22nd, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But 46 shorts will be available for free on Sundance's own site, starting January 18th (the opening day of the festival.) From the piece:

    Just how successful the trial partnership between Sundance Institute and Apple will be is a big question mark, partly because all of the downloadable titles (and 14 additional shorts) will be streamed free of charge on Sundance's Web site through April 18. They will be available for purchase on iTunes for three years beginning January 22 alongside free podcasts featuring filmmaker panels and music performances from the fest.

Could porn industry be deciding factor in Blu-ray, HD DVD race?

Ars Technica has this piece today, suggesting that producers of "adult entertainment" may be favoring the HD DVD format.

Interestingly, the studio it refers to as having chosen HD DVD, Digital Playground, earlier made an announcement saying it would support Blu-ray. (They're currently releasing movies in HD DVD.)

Here's an earlier Computerworld story on the issue.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reflections on the Consumer Electronics Show: Video Content is Everywhere, But the Game is Changing

I got back from the Consumer Electronics Show last night...and one reason that I didn't post much to CinemaTech while there was that I was covering the show for Variety, which entailed scurrying around from keynotes to interviews to press conferences to the vast halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

I was also a bit overwhelmed at how much is happening all of a sudden: at the show, there were new ways for video content to get onto TV screens, laptops, cell phones, and cars. (Motorola CEO Ed Zander showed a bicycle outfitted with a cell phone holster, too -- which I'm sure could play video.) I think of these as "connected screens," capable of not just receiving over-the-air or cable broadcasts, but of getting video content from the Net.

As of January 2007, it seems to me that the capability problem is nearly solved. Just about any new device must be able to show video.

But: distribution is still uneven, and marketing (getting your content seen) is continuing to get more difficult.

What do I mean?

Not all of these new products and services will let the user watch any piece of video content she wants; many are still "walled gardens," with content partners carefully selected. Content producers need to focus on placing their stuff everywhere that meets their needs (either earning revenue or building a reputation.)

And second, as more content floods onto these screens, it'll get harder than ever to get someone to sample your stuff, whether you are an independent producer or whether you are NBC. Once they've started playing a clip, your task is to hold their interest for more than a few seconds, since, unlike a television, these new devices are multifunctional. (When you get bored, there's always the option to play a game on your laptop, or use your cell phone to send a text message.) And in a world where channels are increasingly irrelevant, content producers need to pay attention to ways to build a loyal following, by building mailing lists, maintaining RSS feeds and blogs, or getting viewers to "subscribe" in some other way to a continuing string of videos.

Is there good news for video producers and media companies? With consumers letting more of these "connected screens" into their lives, they're going to spend more time watching video.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dovetail ponies up: A dime a download

The online distribution site Dovetail is announcing that it'll start compensating filmmakers. From the press release:

    Dovetail (, the online destination for independent programming and distribution in high-quality HD/DVD formats, today announced that it will begin to make monthly payments to artist promoting their work on Dovetail based on the number of downloads for each independent feature film, short, TV program or music video the content producer generates. Under the newly announced bonus program, independent filmmakers are directly compensated for every audience member they attract, receiving $0.10 for each download of contributed works.

    “Dovetail is truly committed to the Indie artist and fan, and we’re working to do things for these people that Hollywood simply won’t do,” said Jason Holloway, co-founder and CEO of Dovetail. “We continue to hear about big media brand names making deals that completely ignore the true independents. Our team got together and decided it was time for us to make a ‘deal’ for them.”

When I'm back from CES, I'll add them to my list of Web sites that pay producers for content.

But in other news today, Metacafe had some data about content producers earning money on its site: "The top 8 creators have earned more than $10,000 each, and three creators have taken home more than $20,000 apiece," according to a press release.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Apple unveils Apple TV device, adds older Paramount movies to iTunes

I'm here at the Consumer Electronics Show through Wednesday evening, swimming in interviews, demos, and keynote presentations. (Here's a piece about simplicity I wrote in advance of the show for the San Jose Mercury News.)

But the most interesting news of the day comes from Macworld in San Francisco. Steve Jobs announced that Apple TV (formerly known as iTV) will be available in February for $299. Interestingly, the device has a 40-gigabyte hard drive built in, which stores up to 50 hours of shows. Jobs also said that Apple will sell more than 100 movies from Paramount, all from the catalog (not newer releases yet).

Here's's blow-by-blow coverage of the keynote... AP coverage...Wall Street Journal on Paramount/Viacom movies. Apple's press release divulges that the company also has sold more than 1.3 million feature films (all Disney/Pixar) through iTunes thus far, and 50 million TV shows.

Apple also introduced its first cell phone, the iPhone.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

From Variety: Challenges for TiVo

It'll be interesting to see what announcements TiVo has at next week's Consumer Electronics Show... in writing this piece for Variety, it was hard to find someone outside the company with a kind word to say.

The gist of the piece:

    In its most recent quarterly report, TiVo counted 4.4 million subscribers -- out of an estimated 16 homes that now use digital video recorders.

    "TiVo is becoming a classic business school case study," says Steve Frankel, an analyst who follows the Silicon Valley company for the investment bank Cannacord Adams. "They invented the category of DVRs, and they didn't capitalize on it. They're definitely foundering, trying to find a way to be a healthy standalone business."

    But CEO Tom Rogers, a former NBC exec who took the reins in mid-2005, says the company is making progress.

    "I think a lot of people were counting TiVo out a year ago, but we've made a lot of strides," Rogers says. "We've gone from being an island, in people's view, into a collaborative company that wants to have partnerships with all kinds of media players."

Friday, January 05, 2007

From the New Yorker: Big Pictures: Hollywood looks for a future

There has been a lot of debate recently about this New Yorker piece by David Denby, headlined "Big Pictures: Hollywood looks for a future." (One of the best responses hails from NY Times writer David Carr. Both are worth a read.

Denby writes:

    The movies currently offered by Apple and other downloading services are the first trickles of a flood. Soon, new movies will come pouring through the Internet and perhaps through cable franchises as well, and people will look at them on screens of all sizes. For those of us who are not agnostics [about the way we view movies] but fervent believers in the theatrical experience, this latest development in movie distribution is of more than casual interest.

Much of the piece is the usual hand-wringing: not enough good movies, and not enough good theaters to see them in. (Denby also estimates that even after theaters convert to digital projection, as many as 30 or 40 percent of them may disappear in the next decade.)

I tend to agree with David Carr's response: consumers are calling the shots here, they have *always* called the shots, and they will continue to call the shots. The movies we turn out to see turn into money-making hits, and when we decide we enjoy a particular viewing experience (whether it was television, VCRs, or iPods), the industry will deliver movies to us that way.

Of course, I'm hopeful that exhibitors will find a way to offer a viewing experience that resonates with people -- I, like Denby, don't want to see my local theaters vanish.

Is Warner's Total HD the Answer to DVD Division?

New technology from Warner Bros. could encode a single disc with a movie in both the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats, according to this AP piece and this NY Times report. More details are expected next week at the Consumer Electronics Show. Richard Siklos of the Times writes:

    Because of manufacturing complexities, the Total HD disc will not contain a standard format version, said Kevin Tsujihara, the president of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group. However, several months ago the company filed patents for a new disc incorporating all three formats, which it could produce in the future.

    Mr. Tsujihara described the new disc as an elegant way for studios to make their content available more widely “in a way that is not conceding defeat” for the format they have been backing.

    In the short term, Total HD would actually add to the number of formats retailers will have to stock, raising it from three to four. However, Irynne V. MacKay, senior vice president for entertainment products at Circuit City, said she supported the idea because it took pressure off consumers puzzling over which format to invest in. “The simpler the future is for us, the better,” said Ms. MacKay.

Last September, there was this New Scientist report that WB was working on a single disc that could hold all three formats: standard def, Blu-ray, and HD DVD.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

One step closer to easy DVD burning

From the LA Times: Movie studios approve DVD lock for downloads.

From the AP: Studios OK technology for movie downloads. Gary Gentile of the AP writes:

    With Qflix — and its studio-backed copy-protection system — consumers should have more options. But they'll need new blank DVDs and compatible DVD burners to use it.

    The system can also be used in retail kiosks, which could hold hundreds of thousands of older films and TV shows for which studios don't see a huge market. Customers could pick a film, TV episode or an entire season's worth of shows and have them transferred to DVD on the spot.

    Burning a DVD will take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes using Sonic's technology, the company said.

    Consumers still would be subject to restrictions placed by the movie service and studios. For instance, using the copy-protection technology in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media system, a service could specify that a given title can be burned no more than two times.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Journal looks at Web2TV technology ... Lawsuit over video-on-demand technology

- The Wall Street Journal asks, in advance of next week's Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld conference:

    A more capable crop of gadgets is emerging to bring video from the Internet to television sets. The question is -- will consumers care?

The article looks at the different strategies companies like Apple, HP, Cisco, Motorola, Microsoft, TiVo, and Sony are taking to bring video from the Web onto the TV.

- The Journal, the LA Times, and the NY Times all report on a lawsuit filed against Apple, Napster, and Google by a company called Intertainer. John Markoff and Miguel Helft of the Times write:

    In 1997, Jonathan T. Taplin, a veteran film and television producer, stood up at a cable industry convention and asserted that in the future all movies would be distributed over the Internet. He recalls being laughed out of the room.

    Mr. Taplin may laugh last. Online distribution of movies has arrived, at places like Apple Computer’s iTunes Store. And even though Mr. Taplin’s own video-on-demand company, Intertainer, shut down operations five years ago, it says it deserves some credit — and cash.

    Last week, Intertainer filed a broad lawsuit asserting that Apple, Google and Napster are infringing on a 2005 patent that covers the commercial distribution of audio and video over the Internet.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination

On my holiday vacation reading list was Neal Gabler's new biography of Walt Disney, "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination." What I found most inspiring was Disney's creative restlessness: he was forever trying to avoid repteating himself, and always hammering away at new technical and artistic problems. The book includes sections about Disney's push to use sound in "Steamboat Willie"; Technicolor in the "Silly Symphony" series; the multi-plane animation camera in "The Old Mill"; and multi-channel sound in "Fantasia". Gabler observes that Disney understood the possibilities of creating programming for TV at a time when most others in Hollywood still regarded the medium as a threat to the movie industry. Disney used the ABC show "Disneyland" not just to promote movies like "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," but his forthcoming theme park, too. The book also touches on the invention of Audio-Animatronics.

One favorite quote, from a letter that Walt's brother Roy wrote to their parents: Walt "continually (without letup in the least) always strives for something that has not been done before. That sort of policy, of course, is always costly." (It was always Roy's responsibility to make the finances work on Walt's many projects.)

Walt, for his part, said, "I found out the people who live with figures as a rule, it's postmortem, it's never ahead..." (Walt was talking specifically about shifting the studio to color animation from black-and-white. He figured his films would enjoy a longer life if made in color.)

Here's an Amazon link to the book.

Looking back, looking ahead

Looking back at 2006:

iFilm has this list of the worst movie trailers of the year.

And Screenhead has this list of the year's worst box office flops.

Looking ahead at 2007:

The LA Times has some fun predictions about what's going to happen in the worlds of media and technology.

And the Wall Street Journal looks at the turkeys that are usually released in January and February. Kate Kelly writes:

    Increasingly, the first two months of the year have turned into the dog days of moviegoing, replacing August as the season most likely to be populated by potential stinkers. Fresh from the push to get both Academy Award nominees and holiday blockbusters off the ground, the release calendar is dotted mostly with forgettable commercial fare and niche-targeted pictures. None of 2006's top 20 movies, for example, was released during January or February, but losers like "Annapolis" and "Freedomland" were.

    This year's crop of postholiday releases includes decidedly low-brow fodder like "Code Name: The Cleaner," starring Nicollette Sheridan, from "Desperate Housewives," and Cedric the Entertainer as a janitor who gets caught up in a government conspiracy. There's also the sober-minded "Freedom Writers," featuring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as a struggling teacher in a rough Long Beach, Calif., high school in the aftermath of the Los Angeles race riots. In late January, "Catch and Release" features "Alias" star Jennifer Garner, an actress with a spotty track record at the box office, playing a woman who finds new life after her fiancé's unexpected death.