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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

ToonBreak: New Site for Indie Animators

Shawn McInerney, an animator and the founder of, e-mailed me yesterday to clue me in on the site's launch. (It went up last Monday.) Here's how he describes it:

    ...ToonBreak is unique in that provides multiple tools for animators to generate revenue. Animators can earn money through merchandising, video ads, text ads, banner ads, and donations. All of this is currently done through third party systems such as Revver, Google Adsense, PayPal Donations, and links the animators' online stores. ToonBreak's deal is non-exclusive, and does not seek rights beyond those needed to show and generate revenue from the videos.

Shawn says that about 26 animators have work up on the site. On how payment works, he explains:

    - I use Revver as my video host. Revver pays the animators their share of the video ad revenue.

    - I link to the animators' PayPal donation accounts, if they want. 100% of this revenue goes to the animators. Payments are handled by PayPal.

    - I links to the animators' online stores, if they want. 100% of this revenue goes to the animators.

    - I use the animators' Google Adsense account codes, if they want. 100% of this revenue goes to the animators if they send me their code. Otherwise I use my own Adsense account codes and keep this revenue.

It's a cool idea, a sort of second-generation video site, which uses tools from other sites to host the video and ensure that creators get paid.

Here's a bit of background about Shawn, who has worked for Sony Pictures, Electronic Arts, and Will Vinton Studios.

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Academy Yanks Clips from YouTube ... Apple Opens Door (A Crack) to Indies

- I happened to notice that all of the clips from Sunday's Oscar show had vanished from YouTube yesterday, so I wrote about that for Variety. Here's the lead:

    Web surfers will no longer be reliving the magic moments of the 2007 Oscarcast via YouTube. The vid-viewing site complied with a Tuesday request from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to remove all unauthorized clips of the kudocast.

    Several segments of the show, including host Ellen DeGeneres' opening monologue and musical numbers featuring Will Ferrell and Beyonce, had been among YouTube's most-viewed content this week.

Ric Robertson from the Academy told me, essentially, that they prefer for people to watch (or tape or TiVo) the awards telecast. That's where all their revenue comes from (through a broadcasting deal with ABC), and they don't want to diminish the ratings by having too much video floating around the Internet. In fact, Robertson said that the scraps of video on the official site will disappear soon, too, to "whet people's appetite for next year's show." Interesting strategy...

- Variety's Ben Fritz reports that Apple has done its first deal with an independent producer to make content on the iTunes Store. Fritz writes:

    Apple's digital content store on Tuesday started selling "That," a snowboarding action pic made for DVD by Forum Snowboards. Move [represents] the first time iTunes has sold video content that didn't come from an established network, studio or distributor.

    Though the Mac maker wouldn't comment on future plans, the deal with Forum indicates iTunes will selectively sell video outside of its high-profile deals with companies like Disney, NBC and Lionsgate. (Anyone can distribute video podcasts for free on iTunes.)

    Given iTunes' dominance in the nascent digital download market, that's sure to generate hordes of interest among independent film producers in all genres who don't have a distributor.

That's a good first step, but it still doesn't seem like there's a system in place that opens up iTunes to any indie producer who wants to sell content there. I've long been critical about Apple's hostile attitude toward indie content makers.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

David Fincher's 'Zodiac': The Latest Feature Shot with the Viper FilmStream Digital Camera

David Fincher's 'Zodiac' is out this Friday. Early reviews are positive. This is the first feature that Fincher has shot with a digital camera: the Viper FilmStream from Thomson Grass Valley, the same camera Michael Mann used for 'Miami Vice' and 'Collateral.'

As far as I know, it's also the first feature shot digitally by Harris Savides, the cinematographer on 'Zodiac.' One more first: 'Zodiac' is likely the first Hollywood feature recorded directly onto hard drives from the camera -- no videotapes were used.

So a few links about the digital cinematography on 'Zodiac'...

From Filmmaker Magazine, a piece headlined 'Are We There Yet? HD Continues Its Journey Into the Mainstream' Jamie Stuart writes:

    The straight-talking Savides describes the situation bluntly: “Everybody who’s shooting this stuff is a guinea pig right now.”

    “Everything is still R&D,” he elaborates. “I feel like these movies being made are just little experiments for the big conglomerate studios. They’ll see what it’s like, what’s gonna happen, see the best way to handle it down the road.”

    The fluctuating nature of the technology means that most filmmakers still have to fight to shoot their films on HD. Directors like Steven Soderbergh and Robert Rodriguez can get away with HD because they keep their budgets down. But once budgets start rising to $100 million, or tent-pole status, the resistance is much fiercer. Savides says his hat is off to Fincher for making Zodiac happen in such an unconventional manner: “He’s amazing. I don’t think anybody could’ve done it this way. David had to figure it out on his own, and then present it to the studio. He had to do smaller projects, commercials. He’d been using the Viper, got really used to it. So by the time I stepped in he had gotten the Viper integrated and he’d figured out how to make the camera work. When I got there, 90 percent of the problems had been ironed out. I was just part of the creative solution.”

Digital Content Producer has a piece about the movie's workflow and an audio interview with Fincher.

Fincher also talks a bit about the Viper in this interview with film critic Emmanuel Levy.

And here's even more on 'Zodiac' from HD for Indies.

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Three from the Times: BitTorrent, Gaming at the Movies, and YouTube Celebs

Feeling glum this morning because I wound up in the middle of the pack last night in the Oscar pool...(though I did manage to get the visual effects and best animated feature awards right -- two categories near and dear to CinemaTech.)

Most of the coverage this morning involves dissections of last night's Oscar-cast. But the NY Times has three worthy, non-Oscar pieces:

- Software Tool of Pirates Gets Work in Hollywood

Brad Stone writes about BitTorrent, the file-sharing service that's trying to go legit. One possible advantage of buying movies from BitTorrent as opposed to other sites could be speed:

    In a test of the new BitTorrent store, downloading the film “X-Men 3” took two hours with a broadband Internet connection. Downloading the same movie from took three hours. And BitTorrent downloads should theoretically become faster as more people sign up, since digital copies will originate from nearby computers whose owners have bought the movie, instead of from a central server.

    The company, which has received close to $30 million in venture capital, ultimately wants to use its media store to demonstrate how the underlying technology is effective at moving large files around the Internet. It wants to sell the technology to other media stores and to the studios themselves.

    The studios hope the new BitTorrent will put a dent in the illegal trading of their content. Thomas Lesinski, president of Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment, said he hoped the store would win over young people accustomed to free fare. “We look at this as a first step in the peer-to-peer world, to try to steer people toward legitimate content,” he said.

- The New Video Arcade in Spain Might Be the Movie Theater

Doreen Carvajal writes about cinemas inviting gamers in to play against one another on the big screen:

    “Forget the pathetic speakers of a PC or television!” screams an ad for the theater, which opened in December and is offering cut-rate tickets at 3 euros, or about $3.95. “Come feel the sound that puts you at the center of the action.”

    “We’re trying this concept because there are many theaters in Spain, and admissions are down,” Mr. Martínez said. “So we have to offer new products.”

- New Hot Properties: YouTube Celebrities

Bob Tedeschi profiles some YouTube celebs who are being recruited by other video sites, with promises of pay - or just more promotion. He claims that YouTube "has been stung by the departure of popular acts" like Lonelygirl15. Would any traffic numbers bear that out? Not sure it made much of a dent. But there is a tiny scrap of speculation in the piece about how YouTube may soon compensate creators. Tedeschi writes:

    In January, YouTube’s co-founder, Chad Hurley, said the company would in the coming months begin sharing advertising revenue with contributors. The company last week said it would not elaborate on that plan, or on the efforts of competitors to lure its contributors away.

    But [videomaker Paul] Robinett said he was contacted by a talent agency claiming YouTube plans to share about 20 percent of the advertising money gleaned from each video clip with the clip’s producer. Mr. Robinett said he could not confirm that claim with a YouTube executive.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Variety: What's Changing at Walt Disney Feature Animation with Pixar in Command

Ben Fritz of Variety writes that Disney animators were optimistic when Pixar co-founders Ed Catmull and John Lasseter arrived to take the reins last year:

    Disney animators use words like "euphoria" to describe what they felt at the time. Today, those feelings are more tempered, thanks to an unexpected round of cutbacks in December that saw Disney Animation lay off 160 employees, or about 20% of its staff.

    "Everybody recognizes the fact that they're trying to change the culture down here for the better, but it's safe to say that the pixie dust that surrounded their arrival has pretty much disappeared," says one source close to Disney Animation.

Also interesting in the piece is Fritz's observation that, despite talk about making WDFA more "director-driven," the post-Pixar period hasn't been without directorial conflicts (and even some departures).

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wednesday links: DTS to Spin Off Digital Cinema Business ... Google's TV Quandary ... Spending on Video Downloads to Hit $4 Billion by 2011

- DTS plans to spin off its digital cinema business, according to the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. DTS isn't a major player in digital cinema; its biggest product seems to be an encoder that creates digital movie files for distribution to theaters. The company was founded in 1990 to bring a new kind of multi-channel digital sound to theaters. DTS' first big release was 'Jurassic Park,' in 1993.

- Great article in the Wall Street Journal about the challenges Google faces in negotiating deals with TV networks. The piece focuses primarily on a deal that didn't happen with CBS. Kevin Delaney and Matthew Karnitschnig write:

    Until about a month ago, Google thought it might get a big boost from CBS Corp. The two companies were closing in on a multiyear deal to let YouTube users watch clips from CBS shows such as "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "CSI," and even to splice those snippets into homemade videos, say people familiar with the matter. The two companies also discussed ways to peddle CBS Radio advertising spots to Google advertisers. Under the deal, Google would have guaranteed ad revenue of more than $500 million for CBS, these people say.

Later, they note:

    For TV executives fretting about the future of their business, YouTube [owned by Google] is both fascinating and terrifying. The popular Web site has brought online video to the masses, making it easy for anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to find and view clips ranging from home videos of pet tricks to TV shows like the "The Simpsons," which YouTube users post without permission from anyone.

    The way TV executives see it, programming they own has contributed to YouTube's success. Thirteen of the 20 most-viewed YouTube videos in the month ending Feb. 15, for example, were professionally made. They included a clip of Ivanka Trump on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and a local TV news report on lock picking.

- Adams Media Research is projecting that spending on digital video downloads of TV shows and movies will hit $4 billion by 2011, up from $111 million last year. From the Reuters piece:

    The market researcher forecasts that sales of video downloads will total $472 million in 2007, $1.2 billion in 2008, $2 billion in 2009, $3.1 billion in 2010, then hit $4.1 billion in 2011.

    It also predicts that advertiser spending on Internet video streams to PCs and TVs will approach $1.7 billion by 2011.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Creating a Business Around Web Video

In the "Small Business" section today, the NY Times has a piece about how the Mentos and Diet Coke duo, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, are trying to create a mini-entertainment empire in Buckfield, Maine. Unfortunately, the piece is a little short on financial specifics. (Grobe told me recently that the pair's first video for Google, "The Domino Effect," hasn't earned as much as their hit video from last year, "Experiment #137," distributed in partnership with Revver -- or been viewed as many times.) Keith Schneider writes:

    ...the creators of EepyBird, named after a character that a friend invented, know that their tale of entrepreneurial adventure on the Internet is just the first act of a larger media drama overtaking their lives, where little players are drawing the attention of big players. It is also making them important players in shaping the young business of selling entertainment on the Web. is among the small but growing fraternity of entertainment sites — like,, and — that are starting to reap a tiny part of that ad revenue, while benefiting from sponsorships, celebrity appearance fees and other sources.

    “The Internet is a social space, a new town square,” said Mr. Voltz, who was raised in San Francisco, where he performed as a juggler and fire eater on street corners. “If you’re an entertainer or an advertiser, you need to be there.”

There is, however, a seemingly skeptical quote from TV guru Shelly Palmer that livens up the story:

    For now, the online entertainment business is producing “digital snacks,” [Mr. Palmer] said.

    “Anybody can become famous for 15 megabytes,” Mr. Palmer added. “But to be a real business, they have to be able to promote themselves without a viral success.”

What does that mean? Promote themselves the way TV promotes a new show, with pricey magazine ads, billboards, and on-air teasers?

Or perhaps he just means that the challenge is turning viral success into a regular, long-term viewership -- which will be tough.

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Viacom's Deal with Joost: What It Means

Viacom is supplying Joost, an Internet video start-up, with "hundreds of hours of programming from Viacom's MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures movies studio and BET Networks," according to Reuters. It'll be available to viewers for free -- though likely supported by advertising.

Why is Viacom partnering with Joost, a video service still in beta, with nowhere near the audience of a YouTube? Joost, which needs a few high-profile content partnerships, was undoubtedly eager to offer sweet, sweet terms to Viacom. "In similar deals in the past, Viacom has received two-thirds of the advertising revenue and other compensation," the Wall Street Journal notes.

Here are the two big challenges facing this partnership:

1. How much will Viacom promote its content on Joost? I suspect that Viacom execs will be more eager to throw Viacom's promotional weight behind Viacom's own properties, like or Why make a start-up more successful -- unless Joost is offering equity to Viacom (which doesn't seem to be the case.)

2. Using Joost requires a special software download. So if I recommend a particular piece of Viacom content to you, you've first got to download the Joost viewing application. How much of a drag is that? With YouTube and other Web-based video services, what bumps up video viewership is e-mailing links, and "embedding" screencaps into blogs. Watching is simple. To me, putting content on Joost seems like having The Police play their reunion tour in series of a suburban garages -- who's gonna see it, and how much potential revenue are you missing?

(Of course, the caveat here is that with Skype, the previous piece of software produced by Joost's founders, is now used by more than 100 million people -- and it required a download. But Skype made it free to do something that had previously been very expensive: make long distance phone calls. There's already quite a lot of free video content on the Net.)

Joost's official launch is scheduled for June 30th.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Video Fingerprinting Overview: Who's Doing What

The New York Times dubs it "content-recognition software"; others call it video fingerprinting. The idea is to create a kind of digital dragnet that would allow copyright owners to prevent snippets of their work from being uploaded to video-sharing sites, or circulated around the Net.

Who's developing this technology? Here's my short list (post a comment or e-mail me if you know of others):

MIT's Technology Review magazine has an article that provides a good overview. Lots of challenges remain, as Brad Stone and Miguel Helft write in the NY Times today:

    Systems that can identify video files hold even greater promise to improve relations between traditional media companies and Internet companies like YouTube. But the technology is not quite ready.

    “Video is much more complex to analyze, and more information needs to be captured in the fingerprint,” said Bill Rosenblatt, president of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, a consulting firm based in New York. He noted that there were also more ways to fool the technology — for example, by cropping the image.

    Screening for video is also more difficult because of the sheer volume of new material broadcast on television each day, all of which must be captured in the database.

    And deploying any type of fingerprinting technology can carry a price. Users tend to leave filtered Web sites and migrate to more anything-goes online destinations.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Media Biggies Still Scheming Over YouTube ... Remembering Peter Ellenshaw ... Bob's Basement

- Richard Siklos has a piece in today's NY Times about the continuing discussions among the CEOs of NBC Universal, Viacom, and News Corp. about whether they ought to create a competitor to YouTube (or perhaps ally with Yahoo.) The opening:

    JEFF ZUCKER, the newly minted chief executive of NBC Universal, ventured to the Times Square headquarters of Viacom two Wednesdays ago with Peter A. Chernin, president of the News Corporation. It was not a social call as much as a social-networking call, to see Philippe P. Dauman, Viacom’s chief executive. After all, Viacom had rather publicly ordered YouTube, the Internet’s most popular video-sharing site, to remove thousands of clips of MTV material.

    A few weeks earlier, Viacom had also bowed out of a partnership with NBC and the News Corporation to set up their own alternative to YouTube, which was recently acquired by the search juggernaut Google. Not to be dissuaded, their idea is that a Web start-up featuring the broadcasters’ most Web-friendly fare (comedy clips and even whole episodes of their popular shows) could gather a crowd on its own and also be a powerful consortium for licensing content to other destinations around the Web — including, of course, “GoogTube.”

    According to people briefed on the visit, Mr. Zucker and Mr. Chernin ran through a presentation on why they thought Viacom ought to rejoin their group. So far, Viacom has not rejoined the venture, and the project’s fate remains unclear. (No love is lost between Viacom and the News Corporation, since the latter snatched from under Viacom’s nose.)

- Peter Ellenshaw, a great matte painter who worked with Walt Disney on movies like 'Treasure Island' and '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,' has died at age 93. He shared in the Oscar for visual effects awarded to 'Mary Poppins,' in 1965. Here is the AP obituary. The Wall Street Journal has a longer remembrance. Stephen Miller writes:

    A master of a now-dying art called matte painting, he helped usher Walt Disney Corp. into live-action films by painting miniature scenery that was combined through technical wizardry with frames depicting actors. He reached his apogee with "Mary Poppins," which won the Oscar for special visual effects in 1965. Mr. Ellenshaw, who died Feb. 12 at age 93, was nominated three other times and worked on 30 Disney films.

    "He helped define the Disney look," says Roy E. Disney, nephew of the founder and a former vice chairman. "He created a kind of faux-realism which you believed in. It didn't look like something pasted onto the frame. ...Walt loved him."

    Mr. Ellenshaw's handiwork can be viewed in films from "Treasure Island" (1950) -- his first for Disney -- "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954) and "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971). He also left his mark on several Disney television programs, including "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier," where actor Fess Parker as Crockett -- on his way to Washington to serve a spell in Congress -- journeyed down a dirt road that was an Ellenshaw painting.

Also a nice piece about Ellenshaw's work on Jim Hill Media, a Disney fan site.

- Fun piece in the NY Times about Bob's Basement, a collection of famous Hollywood props.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Future of Film conference in Beverly Hills / March 21st

Looks like a cool conference, coming up next month at the Writer's Guild Theater in Beverly Hills: The Future of Film. Some info from the press release:

    Future of Film will address release windows, optical disc life expectancy; content piracy; multi-platform distribution; the democratization of digital filmmaking; motion picture marketing in the Internet age; and other pivotal topics. Confirmed speakers include director Jason Kohn, 2007 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winner; Kevin Mayer EVP, Corporate Strategy, Business Development and Technology Group, The Walt Disney Company; Steven Starr, CEO, Revver; Derek Broes, SVP, Worldwide Business Development, Paramount Pictures; Steve Nickerson, SVP, Market Management, Warner Home Video; Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, Netflix; and Larry Gerbrandt, SVP & GM, Nielsen Analytics.


From the WSJ: 'Hollywood Weighs Copyright Protections'

Sarah McBride has an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal today on whether Hollywood studios might consider removing copy protections from their digital movies. My guess: not any time soon. Home entertainment execs within the studios are very powerful, and they're already worried about digital downloads *with* restrictions cutting into DVD revenues -- forget about digital downloads sans restrictions. McBride writes:

    The studios are increasingly engaged in internal debate over the right course for the future. According to people familiar with the matter, the studios' technology executives and engineers have been calling for Hollywood to at least re-examine the issue. They are meeting with stiff resistance, especially from the "home entertainment" units that distribute films on DVD -- and are adamant about the need for digital rights management.

    Nonetheless, the same forces pressuring the music industry to consider removing such coding are closing in on Hollywood. Pirated copies of movies circulate freely online, without any restrictions on how they are traded or copied. While the damage hasn't been nearly as great as in the music industry, many fear it will grow worse in the near future.

    ...Many movie executives agree that physical DVDs still need copy protection, but some are starting to discuss whether the heavy-duty digital rights management now on electronic copies is the right route. While movies sold on Apple's iTunes can be played on as many as five computers and an unlimited number of iPods, most online movie stores offer far less flexibility.

    "Consumers can find ways to get our content anytime they want to," says a Hollywood technology executive. "They get it from a friend, [or] the Internet. By putting on an onerous DRM, it's making an honest person want to go to the illegitimate side."

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Producers Institute for New Media Technologies: Apply by March 1

Andy Wasklewicz, the director of technology over at the Bay Area Video Coalition, sent me a note earlier today about the impending deadline for a cool program. It's free, but only for very special people: The Producers Institute for New Media Technologies. From the description:

    The Producers Institute for New Media Technologies is a ten-day residency for eight creative teams (independent producers or public broadcasters) with a shared goal of developing and prototyping a multi-platform project inspired by, or based on a significant documentary project. The intention of the Institute is to develop socially relevant media projects for emerging digital platforms. Producers will participate in high-level industry round tables, intense one-on-one project development with technical mentors, new media storytelling workshops, and hands-on prototyping of their ideas.

    The participants will adapt and develop film, video, and audio content for delivery using a range of interactive formats, including but not limited to video game applications, interactive, web-based experiences, mobile streaming, multi-user communities, and new educational software. You may propose a range of delivery strategies, including cell phones, other hand-held devices, set-tops, Internet, portable software and more. The Institute will provide creative mentors, technology consultants and advisors based on the needs of your project. At the end of the ten-day residency, all participants will demonstrate and pitch to a panel of VC funders, industry leaders, and foundations. As ongoing support after the Institute, BAVC will host a web-based resource center for the continued sharing of new ideas, strategies, project development, and distribution opportunities.

    - The lab will be held from June 1-10 in San Francisco, California at the BAVC facility, 2727 Mariposa Street.
    - All participants must be available and in-residence for the entire duration of the Institute.
    - All Institute participants will be provided airfare, hotel accommodation and meals.
    - Mentoring, technical equipment, software and access to post-production suites, gear, and facilities are provided by BAVC as part of your residency.
    - The Institute is made possible by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Cold Cash for Your Web Videos: From the NY Times

The Times has a piece I wrote on the "Circuits" page today, headlined, 'All the World’s a Stage (That Includes the Internet)'. The opening:

    AT lunchtime, or when he is walking the halls of his workplace, Roy Raphaeli’s colleagues often beseech him to do a magic trick. Usually, he obliges. “I take the opportunity to show people my new stuff and see how they react,” said Mr. Raphaeli, 23, a Brooklynite who works for a mail-order camera retailer.

    While Mr. Raphaeli, known professionally as Magic Roy, has been entertaining people with card tricks and sleight-of-hand since he was 5, he does not perform at birthday parties or casino showrooms.

    Instead, Mr. Raphaeli’s stage of choice is the Internet, where he has posted 30 short video clips to Metacafe, a Web site that pays video creators based on how many viewers their work attracts. So far, Mr. Raphaeli has earned more than $13,000 from the site, where his most popular card trick has been seen 1.4 million times.

    As video sites look for ways to attract higher-quality content, they are dangling cash, usually offering to cut creators in on the advertising revenue their work generates.

The story is accompanied online by a list of 10 Sites That Pay for Your Video,' an abridged version of my more comprehensive chart, 'Getting Paid.'

Of course, I can never resist the shameless plug for The Future of Web Video, which covers all this Internet video stuff in depth.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In Memoriam: Charles Swartz, Digital Cinema Advocate

Charles Swartz died over the weekend, at age 67. He had been director of USC's Entertainment Technology Center, which was a major force in bringing together movie studios and technology companies to imagine the future of cinema. Swartz and the ETC also helped support the Digital Cinema Initiatives standards process.

The Hollywood Reporter has an obituary, as does the LA Times. Earlier in his career, Swartz (like anyone worth their salt in Hollywood) worked for Roger Corman's New World Pictures, producing and writing movies like 'Student Nurses' and 'The Velvet Vampire.'

The first time I spoke with Swartz, in 2005, it was clear he believed that the theatrical exprience would have a long future, in part because as a species, we've all been sitting around campfires for so long. "It's a really old experience, sitting around the campfire, and somebody is a good story-teller. They tell the story, and other people get sucked into the telling of the story. That is the kind of primal satisfaction we get from watching a movie -- the narrative pull." Technology, Swartz felt, "will make it even more powerful."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Another YouTube Challenger ... Lionsgate Joins iTunes ... MySpace Intros a Media Blocking Tool (and more)

- Challenging YouTube is an incredibly tough challenge. YouTube is where people go to search for TV clips they missed, see videos their friends have made, and see what other people are watching. The latest start-up to announce it is taking on Goliath is Veoh, which officially comes out of beta today. From Dawn Chmielewski's piece in the LA Times: "Veoh seeks to differentiate itself with longer videos, high-quality pictures and sophisticated online publishing tools." One thing Veoh isn't yet offering: a way for video creators to get paid through advertising or paid downloads; that's still in the works.

- Lionsgate has added its older movies to iTunes, according to Variety. Why not new releases? Ben Fritz writes:

    ITunes' price for the download of new-release movies -- $12.99 the first week, $14.99 thereafter -- remains an impassable sticking point for all studios but Disney (in which Apple CEO Steve Jobs is the largest individual shareholder) since it requires a lower wholesale price than studios get for DVDs.

    ...Most studios are not yet willing to risk alienating retailers in the $25 billion DVD biz for the still nascent digital market.

- MySpace is introducing a new tool to let media companies block the uploading of unauthorized video clips, according to the NY Times. This will do two things:

    1. Frustrate users, especially if MySpace starts blocking clips that include, say, a snippet of a song or a short scene from a movie that would otherwise be protected under Fair Use.

    2. Keep MySpace from getting sued.

    3. Potentially enable MySpace to create a new revenue stream for media companies when their content is uploaded by users, funneling a trickle of advertising revenue to them.

- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is beefing up its Web site in the run-up to the Oscars on February 25th.

- MTV is laying off about 250 employees, in part to invest more in its "digital future," according to the NY Times.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Visual Effects Society Awards Winners

From Carolyn Giardina's dispatch in the Hollywood Reporter:

    "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" dominated Sunday's fifth annual Visual Effects Society awards, winning six trophies including the top prize for outstanding visual effects in a visual effects-driven film.

    "Pirates" also picked up prizes for single visual effect of the year, created environment in a live-action film, compositing in a film, models and miniatures in a film and animated character in a live-action film.

    In the top category, "Pirates" bested competition from "Charlotte's Web" and "The Fountain." While the nominees do not mirror this year's Academy Award noms for VFX -- "Pirates," "Superman Returns" and "Poseidon" -- it should be noted that in three of the past four years the winner of the VES' top prize did go on to win the Oscar. The exception was in 2004 when the VES recognized "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and the Academy honored "Spider-Man 2."

    An Oscar win for "Pirates" would end a dry spell for pioneering VFX house Industrial Light + Magic. The company last brought home a VFX Academy Award when "Forrest Gump" won the category in 1994. In recent years, the category has been competitive with the emergence of such companies as Digital Domain, Sony Pictures Imageworks and WETA Digital.

The Visual Effects Society Web site has photos and a complete list of winners.

Sci-Tech Oscars ... The 3-D Report ... Film Schools in a Box ... and More

- Maggie Gyllenhaal handed out the Scientific and Technical Oscars on Saturday night. Here's the complete list of winners from the Academy. The big winner was Ray Feeney, a pioneer of visual effects hardware and software systems, who took home the night's only Oscar statuette. Here's Variety's coverage. Another effects guru, Richard Edlund, took home the John A. Bonner award; he's also the chair of the Academy's visual effects branch. NPR's coverage of the awards called them the "Oscars Sans Glitz."

- Two pieces on 3-D: an editorial in the LA TImes, which concludes, "Innovation is always a gamble (and often great fun); the only thing certain is that good stories told well will always succeed, no matter how many dimensions are involved." The second piece, in the Wall Street Journal, is about broadcasting NBA games in movie theaters, in 3-D.

- The NY Times on Sunday ran a piece about the growing number of DVD-based tutorials that aim to supplant a film school degree. "Sold on DVDs and CDs, with names like 'Film School in a Box' and 'Make Your Own Damn Movie,' these programs, often conceived by people with no formal film training of their own, offer surprisingly detailed tutorials on a variety of film-related topics: blocking, editing, even fund-raising and distribution. Priced roughly from $50 to $500, they can instill confidence without the bother of hundreds of thousands of dollars of a formal education." Justin Peters continues:

    ...democratization appears to be an irreversible trend in cinema. The thousands of movies each year now submitted to festivals around the world are testimony to a guerilla mentality that says no one needs official permission to make a film; and the advocates of teaching software often see themselves not so much training, but liberating new filmmakers.

    “We try to inspire people to understand that they do not just have to work for Paramount or Sony — that does not necessarily validate their lives,” said Lloyd Kaufman, the longtime president of Troma Entertainment, whose book-and-DVD combination program, “Make Your Own Damn Movie,” offers lessons on everything from script conferences to presentations to potential investors to creating inexpensive yet realistic special effects.

    As Mr. Kaufman sees it, those who want to make a movie should, and avoid the studio system entirely: “They don’t have to pitch movies to 23-year-old idiots who have never heard of John Ford or Charlie Chaplin.”

- The Times also had an article about David Lehre, the 22-year old filmmaker who made "MySpace: The Movie" and landed a TV production deal with Fox. John Clark writes:

    Clearly one thing they got from Mr. Lehre was Internet-style economy. He borrowed props from everywhere: a Cessna from a friend of one of the producers, a Chrysler Prowler from one of Mr. Lehre’s neighbors, some hair clipped from the head of a crew member for a fake mustache, pasta left over from lunch to throw on an actor’s face. A crew member’s basement became a clubhouse for one skit. Mr. Lehre’s garage was the scene of a break-dancing video. His skateboard was used for a dolly shot. Production meetings were sometimes held in his bedroom. He brainstormed on his trampoline.

    A big test of Mr. Lehre’s viability as a television director was whether he could slow down his disposable, high-speed Internet shooting approach and embrace television’s higher production values. It wasn’t always easy. He had to be talked into covering scenes with more than one camera so that he would have editing options. Details that would drive most directors crazy — shadows thrown on actors’ faces, for example — didn’t appear to concern him, as long as he got the shot.

    “Never in all my years producing television have I seen anyone like David Lehre,” said Michael Binkow, who was hired by Fox to produce the pilot and whose credits include the reality show “30 Seconds to Fame.” “He gets to a location, shoots it in 10 minutes and says, ‘That’s it, I’ve got it.’ ” Asked if Mr. Lehre really got it, Mr. Binkow replied, “That remains to be seen.”

    Inevitably this breakneck pace was often thwarted, sometimes by production machinery, sometimes by the grown-ups on the set. Mr. Lehre wasn’t thrilled to be receiving input of any sort, especially from people outside the circle of friends and collaborators who have been working with him all along.

- In this morning's Journal: 'Media Firms Say Google Benefited From Film Piracy.' The gist of the complain seems to be that Google's advertising sometimes directs users to sites offering pirated movies. From the story:

    On Friday, Google responded to the complaints by agreeing to implement a series of measures it believes will help thwart piracy. In an afternoon conference call with studio representatives, lawyers for Google said the company would remove certain ads the companies objected to, create a list of approved advertisers and refrain from selling keywords used by rogue sites to lure users to pirated material. In addition, the Google lawyers said the company would introduce internal guidelines on monitoring keywords and train its ad sales force about how to avoid selling such ads.

    A spokesman for Google declined to comment on the call or the specific allegations the media companies have leveled against it. In a written statement, Google said it prohibits advertisers from promoting "the sale of copyright infringing materials." It also said, "We are continually improving our systems to screen out ads that violate these policies."

- The French videogame developer Ubisoft plans to get into the animated movie biz, according to another piece in the Journal. The company "will invest up to $384 million by 2013 to hire an additional 1,000 people in Montreal, about half for its new film operation and half to expand its game development team, bringing total staff in the city to about 3,000." One other interesting element of the firm's plans: "Initially, Ubisoft's Montreal film studio will make short movies that will be distributed digitally over the Internet to personal computers or consoles through online channels like Microsoft's Xbox Live service. One of its first projects will be a movie, around eight minutes long, that will be based on Assassin's Creed, a Ubisoft action game set during the third Crusades."

- This LA Times piece, 'Porn studios quitely courted,' gets to one of the key reasons that porn producers are finding it difficult to crank out Blu-ray discs. Joseph Menn and Dawn Chmielewski write:

    HD DVD production methods are built on the old DVD standards, so the older machinery can be retooled to make the next-generation discs. But Blu-ray requires expensive new equipment. That's why there are only eight or so Blu-ray replicators in the world.

    For Vivid Entertainment Group, the physical production of Blu-ray discs will come to about 35% of those movies' budgets, compared with 15% for HD DVDs and 10% for a standard DVD, said Vivid Chief Executive Steve Hirsch.

    Even if a porn studio wants to pay extra for Blu-ray, Sony and Walt Disney Co. make it hard.

    Sony manufactures Blu-ray discs but won't do it for adult titles. And Disney requires the replicators it uses to pledge not to use the same machines and employees to publish porn. Disney has its reasons: In the past, porn snippets have accidentally shown up on Disney titles. Neither company would comment for the record about porn.

    Since Disney uses most of the biggest U.S. Blu-ray replicators, L.A.-based Vivid, the only adult producer to promise some Blu-ray discs, has been forced to range far afield.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Disney, Pixar, and the Art of the Hand-Drawn Cel (plus, DVD burning and HD disc posturing)

- As a reporter, you have these interesting moments sometimes when you ask someone a question, and you don't get a real answer ... but the interviewee seems to *wish* they could give you a real answer. That was the case last April, when I asked Pixar prez Ed Catmull whether he could ever see Disney/Pixar getting back into traditional 2-D, hand-drawn animation. No concrete answer ... but an apparent desire to say "yes."

So this headline in The Hollywood Reporter doesn't surprise me: 'Disney getting back to hand-drawn animation.' Paul Bond writes:

    Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, said Thursday in Orlando that he and John Lasseter, chief creative officer of those same entities, intend to bring back traditionally animated movies. The news comes little more than two months after Disney eliminated 160 jobs from its staff of 800 at its Burbank animation studio that deals in movies and TV shows.

    ...Catmull expressed an appreciation for animation of the CG and traditional variety, provided a worthy story is being told. "Quality is the best business plan," he said.

    He and Lasseter showed clips of the next several animated films from Disney and Pixar, all of which are computer-generated: "Ratatouille," "Meet the Robinsons," "Wall-E," "American Dog" and "Toy Story 3."

Some background:

    In 2005, the NY Times ran a story about Disney moving away from traditional animation.

    In July of 2006, after Disney acquired Pixar, I predicted that sometime in 2007, the studios would announce a 2-D animated project.

    Later that month, Disney announced that it was developing 'The Frog Princess,' a 2-D animated project overseen by John Musker and Ron Clements, who oversaw 'Aladdin' and 'The Little Mermaid.'

- Variety's Ben Fritz writes about the future of DVD burning, both at home and in stores using kiosks that can store as many as 65,000 movies.

- Yet another article about both sides in the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps trying to claim that they're ahead.

Friday, February 09, 2007

HDTV Adoption Stats ... Mobile Content ... Why (Legal) Net Movie Downloads Haven't Taken Off

- According to Informa Telecoms and Media, a British research firm, the number of homes with high-definition televisions will triple by 2011. Reuters reports:

    According to Informa Telecoms and Media, the number of homes taking the product will jump to 151 million worldwide by 2011 from 48 million at the end of 2006 when an estimated 1.2 billion households had a television.

    The report said some 58 percent of HD homes were currently found in the United States and 20 percent in Japan, with Britain, Canada, China and Germany also high on the list.

    "The falling price of high-definition sets has really caught the public's imagination, and consumer uptake is impressive," Adam Thomas, the report's author said.

    But he also said some customers were disappointed with the product as, on some services, there is not always enough content to watch.

- Variety has a trio of good pieces on creating content for mobile phones:
- Gizmodo has this cheeky list of the ten reasons "why the idea of digital downloads of movies hasn't gained much traction yet." The top three: pricing, selection, and the lack of a path to get Net movies onto the TV screen.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

NAB Digital Cinema Summit, April 14-15 ... Pre-Show Advertising ... 'Download business stays elusive'

The gigantic NAB Show in Las Vegas in April will once again incorporate a Digital Cinema Summit (the sixth annual one, to be exact.) Its April 14-15 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. From the press release:

    Saturday's line up, programmed by SMPTE, focuses on the latest in stereoscopic (digital 3D) cinema techniques; technologies for creating digital intermediates (DIs); new, innovative workflows in the digital theater; the DC-28 Standards; and a final report from the international digital cinema deployment organization, World Screen. Chris Cookson, chief technology officer for Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., will deliver a keynote address that explores what the industry can do to prepare for and empower the long-term promise of digital cinema image quality.

    Sunday's program, produced by ETC@USC , will look at creating and distributing digital motion picture content for consumption in the movie theater and the new digital home. Sessions will address the digital pipeline, success and roadblocks in retrofitting theaters for digital cinema exhibition, 3D content, and recent Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) developments. The day will be feature two, in-depth case studies analyzing the production of recent, high profile, digital releases and a soon-to-be-announced keynote from a leading filmmaker.

Web site is here.

- The Wall Street Journal covers pre-show advertising as National CineMedia, one of the leaders in the field, prepares to go public. Sarah McBride writes:

    National CineMedia serves about 11,000 digital screens. The company is owned by theater groups AMC Entertainment Inc., Cinemark Inc., and Regal Entertainment Group. Their combined stake will fall to 59.5% after the IPO.

    The technology behind the digital advertising, while high-definition, usually isn't on par with the ultra-high-definition projection formats some movie theaters are rolling out for feature pictures, but both companies say they are heading in that direction.

Of course, National CineMedia is the company responsible for developing a digital cinema deployment strategy for AMC, Cinemark, and Regal. The IPO, and being a public company, likely won't accelerate that process. Public companies like getting the most out of their assets (for instance, the lower-grade digital projectors already installed), and I can't imagine how virtual print fees from the studios (paid every time a digital feature is sent to a theater) will develop into a real profit engine for NCM. The Street will view NCM as an advertising company, pure and simple.

- Ben Fritz of Variety looks at digital movie downloads in the wake of the Wal-Mart announcement. Price and selection, he writes, have been major barriers to mass adoption. The conclusion of the piece is interesting, too:

    When Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in January that iTunes had sold more than 1.3 million Disney movies since October, one industry exec observed that figure is more than all other online moviestores, such as Movielink, CinemaNow and, have sold combined.

    In other words, the total number of movies sold online is less than "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" sold on its first day of DVD availability.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lots-o-Links: Amazon and TiVo bring Net movies to small screen ... Steve Jobs on DRM ... Thought Equity Motion ... Guild Negotiations ... and More

- Some TiVo owners will be able to have movies and TV shows bought through's Unbox digital download service sent straight to their TiVo's, according to this Reuters piece. (Here's the Wall Street Journal coverage.) TiVo owners will need to have a Series 2 or 3 device, connected to their home network. No word on exactly how long it will take a movie ordered from Amazon on a PC to show up on the TiVo. Here's TiVo's press release.

This is another small step in bringing the world of Internet video content into the living room.

- Apple CEO Steve Jobs started to make a public case with his record label partners yesterday to eliminate digital rights management restrictions from their music. That'd make it easier to play any song purchased from any music store (including Apple's iTunes) on any device. I suspect this campaign will slow Apple's negotiations with movie studios over adding more titles to iTunes. They'll likely want to wait to see the outcome...

- Thought Equity Motion is a stock video library that has started to solicit footage from video producers via a Web site upload process, and cut them in on any sales. You can send them in footage from your archives, or focus specifically on types of content they're looking for. They compensate producers based on the content's "use and popularity," according to a recent press release, which also says:

    The launch of Thought Equity Motion’s self-upload submission capabilities makes it easier than ever for individual producers of motion content to secure representation for and make money from their own footage, creative storyline and commercial content. In addition to uploading their existing content, Thought Equity Motion is also providing filmmakers with access to its extensive library of watermarked footage - free of charge - to encourage the creative process and development of new content and new media productions.

- Interesting take from Craig Mazin, a Writer's Guild member, on the current negotiations. Mazin writes:

    Everyone is freaked out over “new media,” or “internet video on demand.”

    In short, the football this year is how we’re going to be paid residuals when people pay to download our television shows and movies through the net, be it on to their iPod or their computer or their Apple TV or their DVR or some soon-to-be-purchasable tv-computer-internet thingy.

(Via Cinema Minima)

- OpenFlix is a directory of movies in the public domain. You can't download the movies from the site... but a useful resource nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Two Updates: List of Sites that Pay for Web Video, and New Price for "Future of Web Video" Book

While I'm posting in a self-promotional vein, I should note two things:

    1. I've updated my list of Web sites that compensate creators for video, from short instructional clips to full-length feature films.

    I think at this point there are too many sites for this to be an encyclopedic (or Wikipedic?) list, so I'll just try to keep tabs on the most significant players. (That'll generate lots of angry e-mails, I'm sure.) With this latest update, I've added companies like Si-Mi and IndiePix, and also amended the entries for, which ended a short-lived video partnership with Yahoo in December and also recently changed its payment strategy.

    2. Sales of "The Future of Web Video" have far surpassed my expectations -- thanks mostly to postings on other film, video, and tech-oriented blogs. So far, the download version has outsold the paperback version, 3 to 1.

    To pander to anyone who hasn't yet bought their copy, in either the PDF or ink-on-dead-trees format, I'm lowering the price. The downloadable version is now $9.95, and the paperback is $15.95. You can buy both versions here.

Podcast-orama: From The Workbook Project and Sundance

Lance Weiler has a really wonderful interview with filmmaker M dot Strange, whose animated feature 'We Are the Strange' played at Sundance last month. (Lance, a filmmaker who is building a site called The Workbook Project, even asks about the origins of M dot's nom de plume.)

So far, Lance has posted podcasts of his interviews with Ted Sarandos of Netflix, Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films, and George Ratliff, director of 'Joshua,' another Sundance movie, plus eight others. You can find them here. (Disclosure: I'm among Lance's victims.)

Sundance also has put the podcasts from most of its 2007 panel discussions on the iTunes Store for free, including the one I moderated on "Rights Licensing in the New Era of Distribution." Others include "Opportunities in Documentary Funding," "Community Voice and Social Networking," and "Mapping the New Frontier." (You'll need Apple's iTunes software, I think, to open both of those links.)

Tuesday News: Wal-Mart intros movie downloads ... Bob Z bolts to Disney ... Diller dips into video

- Wal-Mart is introducing movie downloads today, according to the NY Times and LA Times.

The good: all of the major studios are involved. Also, Wal-Mart customers who purchase a DVD in a store will be able to get the digital version of that movie for an additional $1.97.

The bad: "To avoid running afoul of studios, who want to protect their DVD business, Wal-Mart said the price of a digital movie would be comparable to that of the DVD at its stores," according to the NY Times piece. Wal-Mart and other big retailers don't have any incentive to undercut DVD prices, since even with no profit margin, a DVD sale brings a customer into their store to buy other merchandise; downloads, even with a small profit margin, don't have that effect.

So what will it take to make download prices more reasonable? (By reasonable, I'm thinking around $10, not the $14.88 Wal-Mart charges for recent releases.) Sales of physical DVDs will need to decline (which has been predicted to happen in 2007), making studios more eager to goose the online distribution channel. Indie distributors will need to undercut the studios' pricing on their new releases, proving that lower price points generate more purchases...some Internet download sites will need to continue to experiment with selling some movies below cost, to show that there's demand at lower prices -- and over time, I think everyone will acknowledge that it makes sense to sell a digital product for less than a physical product. Your thoughts?

- It's now official... director Bob Zemeckis is moving his motion-capture animation studio to Disney. (Rumors began circulating last August.) Any live-action pictures Zemeckis makes may be distributed by another studio, though. Here's the Hollywood Reporter coverage...and Variety's piece. Zemeckis' company has been known as ImageMovers -- a new name may be in the offing. Their first three mo-cap movies, "Polar Express," "Monster House," and the upcoming "Beowulf," were distributed by three different studios: Warner Bros., Sony, and Paramount.

- The Wall Street Journal writes about Barry Diller's video strategy: creating inexpensive original content, rather than relying on user-generated content. Jessica Vascellaro writes:

    CollegeHumor's expansion into video programming is a harbinger for what Barry Diller's IAC has in store for the rest of its Internet media conglomerate, a portfolio of some 65 brands. While user-generated content, from pet-tricks to video rants, has captured much of the buzz around video online to date, Mr. Diller is betting on a different formula: featuring professionally produced, ad-supported video clips geared toward highly targeted audiences. In addition to kicking off CollegeHumor's original content, Mr. Diller is launching 23/6, a multimedia comedy news site whose name is a spoof on the phrase "24/7." He's also adding original online-only content to, the home shopping network Web site.

    "With bandwidth penetration being higher, you can use the Internet for more than information retrieval," Mr. Diller says. "Now is absolutely the perfect time to invest in online video. It is just before the deluge."

A typical clip on costs between $500 and $2000 to produce, and takes about a week.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Jim Cameron's 'Avatar': 3-D Only?

This Variety piece by Ben Fritz is the first time I've heard it said definitively that Jim Cameron plans to release his upcoming movie, `Avatar,' only in 3-D ... no 2-D version for theaters that aren't equipped to show digital 3-D. Will he and Fox, which is releasing the movie, backpedal if there aren't enough theaters that can show 3-D by 2009?

Fritz writes:

    Studios are banking on 3-D in a variety of formats: animation ("Meet the Robinsons"), motion-capture (the Robert Zemeckis-helmed "Beowulf"), live-action ("Journey 3-D") and even revivals (1993 toon "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is now an annual event in 3-D, while George Lucas hopes to re-release his "Star Wars" pics in the format).

    But the poster boy for the revival is James Cameron, whose "Avatar" will be released by Fox in 2009. The live-action film -- his first fiction work since the 1997 "Titanic" -- will be released only in 3-D. Proponents hope Cameron and his film will be a rallying point for the new format.

Cameron is using the Fusion Camera System that he developed with Vince Pace and Sony Electronics. More on that here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Viacom to YouTube: Get rid of unauthorized clips

I'm not sure this news that Viacom wants all its unauthorized clips taken off of YouTube is earth-shattering; essentially, it's one giant "take-down" notice, requesting that any Viacom content that YouTube users have posted be removed. (Here's the Wall Street Journal coverage.) I don't think the 100,000 clips Viacom wants deleted from YouTube include the clips the company has posted itself.

Viacom and YouTube still haven't come to an agreement about how the media company will be compensated when videos that it has chosen to post are viewed. YouTube doesn't have the technology in place yet to either remove Viacom content posted by users or add it to Viacom's tally, and pay the company (once an agreement is reached) whether Sumner Redstone uploads a clip from "The Colbert Report" or little Billy Smith in Bozeman, Montana does. (Here's a clip of "Colbert" that has been seen more than 700,000 times, and was posted by just such a YouTube user.)

According to this piece in TV Week:

    "YouTube and Google retain all of the revenue generated from this practice, without extending fair compensation to the people who have expended all of the effort and cost to create it," Viacom said. "The recent addition of YouTube-served content to Google Video Search simply compounds the issue."

    Viacom said it hopes to come to a fair, authorized distribution model with YouTube and Google that will allow consumers to make its content available on all media platforms. YouTube has struck deals with some content owners to feature their content legally. In recent months, YouTube signed licensing deals with CBS, NBC, the National Hockey League, Universal Music Group, Sony BMG and Warner Bros.

I expect we'll see Viacom's authorized content stick around on YouTube, while the two continue to negotiate on a revenue-sharing deal. And I *know* that every media company feels the same way about unauthorized YouTube content.

Of course, this is only the latest skirmish between Viacom and YouTube.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Blu-ray Disc exec says porn won't tip the scales

Diane Garrett of Variety writes about how the Blu-ray/HD DVD battle is playing out in the adult entertainment industry.

Lately, there has been a flurry of articles suggesting that purveyors of porn could help HD DVD prevail over Blu-ray, since the Blu-ray camp has been a bit hostile to our friends in the San Fernando Valley.

The most interesting comment appears at the end of the piece... I think in about a year, we'll know whether Andy Parsons of Pioneer, was right or wrong:

    Pioneer senior VP Andy Parsons, a spokesman for the Blu-ray Disc Assn., considers porn's reputation as a tech bellwether urban legend. He says the home entertainment biz is vastly different from the early days of VHS, when consumers had no other way of viewing porn at home.

    "Mainstream content is what drives the market, and that comes from studios," Parsons says. "Adult content should be appreciated for what it is, but it is not mainstream and it will not drive the mass market."

Tech Notes on the Ten Top-Grossing Movies of 2006

The Wall Street Journal ran a list today of the ten top-earning films of 2006, noting that four of the ten were computer-animated cartoons.

But even those that weren't computer-animated still incorporate a boatload of cutting-edge technology, whether it's visual effects shots or digital cinematography.

So here's an annotated list of the biggest box office hits of 2006. All the numbers come from Box Office Mojo, and you should note that these sums are grosses from the US theatrical release only -- not worldwide, and not home video.

Studio/Other Contributors
US Box Office (in Millions)
Tech Notes
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's ChestDisney/Buena Vista$423.3Movie contains 1100 visual effects shots, supervised by John Knoll of Industrial Light & Magic. Nominated for a visual effects Oscar and a Visual Effects Society award. (ILM site focusing on 'Pirates.' CG Society site.)
CarsDisney/Buena Vista/Pixar$244.1Scenes at the race tracks incorporate some of the biggest crowds in any CG animated movie. Neon lights and reflections, in the scene where the cars cruise down the main drag of a reinvigorated Radiator Flats, make for one of the movie's most complex sequences. Nominated for a Visual Effects Society award and "Best Animated Feature" Oscar. (Disney's production notes [PDF doc].)
X-Men: The Last StandFox$234.4 Sequence involving the re-routing of the Golden Gate Bridge to lead to Alcatraz combines miniatures, full-size sets, digital backgrounds, and plates shot on location. Visual effects companies working on the film included WETA Digital, Framestore CFC, Kleiser-Walczak, Hydraulics, and The Motion Picture Company. (Production notes.) (Digital Producer magazine article.) WETA Digital and Framestore CFC used software from Massive. (Press release.) Lola Visual Effects handles the "de-aging" of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Nominated for a Visual Effects Society award.
Night at the MuseumFox$217.7Jim Rygiel of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy serves as visual effects supervisor; Rhythm + Hues, Rainmaker, WETA Digital, Lola VFX and The Orphanage handle the drudgework. Pre-vis by Image Engine Design. Philly Inquirer says, "If the filmmakers had a script half as good as their special effects, 'Night at the Museum' would be a must-see." (Interview with Richard Hollander of Rhythm + Hues.)
The Da Vinci CodeSony$217.5 When filmmakers couldn't shoot inside Saint Sulpice, a famous church in Paris, Rainmaker built a digital set to emulate it. VFX work from Rainmaker, Double Negative, the Senate, and The Moving Picture Company. Nominated for a Visual Effects Society award. (Article on Saint Sulpice sequence. Autodesk interview with Double Negative.)
Superman ReturnsWarner Bros.$200.1Shot with Panavision's Genesis digital camera. Marlon Brando is returned to life as Jor-El, Superman's dad. Plus, a digital double of Superman, and CG water, cape, Boeing 777, and space shuttle. Sony Pictures Imageworks, The Orphanage, Photon, Framestore CFC, Pixel Liberation Front, Eden FX, Frantic Films, Rising Sun Pictures, and Rhythm + Hues produced about 1400 visual effects shots. Nominated for a visual effects Oscar and a Visual Effects Society award. (CinemaTech interview with cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. IT News article. Studio Daily story. FXguide overview of who did what. Adobe case study.)
Ice Age: The MeltdownFox/Blue Sky Studios$195.3Sixty animators crank out the movie in just eight months. New technology for fur and water. (Animation World article.)
Happy FeetWarner Bros./Animal Logic$192.0Director George Miller builds a CG animation facility from scratch. Lead character, Mumbles, sports six million feathers. Dance sequences built upon motion capture data from expert tap-dancer Savion Glover. Nominated for "Best Animated Feature" Oscar. (Hollywood Reporter story.)
Casino RoyaleSony/MGM$165.4VFX supervisor Steven Begg oversees lots of wire-removal and rig-erasing during the action sequences. Movie expanded from 50 visual effects shots to 600. Nominated for a Visual Effects Society award. (Hollywood Reporter article. Framestore CFC explainer.)
Over the HedgeParamount/DreamWorks Animation$155.0According to Hewlett-Packard, movie required more than 15 million hours of rendering time. A single hedge contains 25 million leaves. (Seriously? Sounds a bit high.)

Bob Iger on User-Gen Content ... Google's CEO talks advertising on YouTube

The Financial Times interviews Bob Iger, Disney's CEO. Not surprisingly, Iger says that digital distribution platforms like Apple's iTunes grow Disney's revenue pie, rather than threaten it. That's easy to say when you've just had a string of hits that everyone wants to see (namely 'Pirates' and 'Cars').

The FT also asks what Iger things about user-generated content. He responds:

    First of all, let me comment a bit on user-generated content, which I find interesting, because back in the late eighties, 1989, an executive who worked for me at ABC, when I was running ABC’s primetime business, came to me with a tape of a programme in Japan that featured home-videos, or user-generated content, and it became America’s Funniest Home Videos. That was 1989, this is 2007 – the programme is still on. So that says something: that people in fact are fascinated by this, and YouTube’s success, and their eventual sale to Google, is certainly a current and living breathing example of just that.

    I always think there’ll be a balance in the sense that I don’t think it’s necessarily a threat to traditionally-created content at all. It’s not going to take over the world; it’ll just be another component of people’s media consumption. I’m only sorry that we didn’t get there first online before YouTube, having put it on ABC, knowing how successful it was, that we didn’t think about it as a potential web product.

I would just note that most TV and movie execs think of user-gen as the Internet version of "America's Funniest Home Videos," and that's a mistake -- it's much broader and more diverse... and that pigeon-holing seems like the kind of thing that's destined to lead to some strategic blunders. (Via ReelPop)

- Google CEO Eric Schmidt talked a bit yesterday in the company's earnings call about how YouTube may approach integrating advertising. He also said that discussions continue with media companies about how YouTube can benefit them. (IE, "Please don't sue us.")