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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Video Q&A: Cinema Owner Mark Stern on Innovation

When I was in Seattle earlier this month, I had a chance to visit Big Picture -- a new cinema concept I'd been eager to see ever since I talked with co-founder Mark Stern for this Hollywood Reporter piece.

Big Picture is a really interesting new direction in theatrical exhibition: an intimate venue where you can throw parties and corporate events, or simply buy a ticket to see a movie in a hip, comfortable environment. (Mark claims Big Picture in Redmond was the first theater to install Tempurpedic seats.)

Here's a video "notebook" of my visit to Big Picture in Redmond Town Center (not far from Microsoft's headquarters), and my conversation with Mark. We talk about the origins of the idea, how he competes with the chains, his early belief in digital cinema, his philosophy on service and design, his plans to expand to either Santa Monica or the San Francisco area, and some of the private events that have been held at Big Picture (including one with live music by Dave Matthews.) Running time: 17 minutes.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Pixar's 'Wall*E' and More from Comic-Con ... Q&A with IMAX CEO on Future of Large-Format Movies

- At Comic-Con over the weekend, Disney and Pixar lifted the veil a bit on two forthcoming projects -- the next 'Narnia' movie and the next Pixar movie, 'Wall*E.' From the Cinematical coverage:

    First, [director] Stanton talked about ['Wall*E'], which he described as basically "R2-D2 the movie," tells the story of a "trash-collecting robot named Wall*E" who gets a chance to finally leave a world where he's been alone for years and go into space. Once there, "he falls in love and its this love that may allow him to save mankind." He also talked about the challenges of making a film like Wall*E, one where the main character is a robot who communicates with a series of sounds and doesn't have a traditional voice.

    To illustrate the challenges of this type of film and how Pixar and Stanton will overcome them, the director then introduced pretty much the only man you could decide to call on when robots communicate with each other, convey emotion with sound and propel the story with their beeps, whistles and other noises: sound guru Ben Burtt.

    Burtt took the stage and stood in front of a keyboard, prepared to show how his use of sound would help tell the story and provide, what Burtt called, a "sonic texture for the film."

    ...Burtt went through several examples of the sounds he created for each of the robots in the film. Of course, the clips were great -- as you would expect from Pixar -- and showed how far animation has come over the years. It was also interesting to see the design of Wall E's love interest, the probe droid Eve, and how it looked like her design had been influenced by the iPod. I wasn't the only one who thought so. Several others around me remarked on the similarities.

- If you want more from San Diego, Variety has been producing scads of dispatches from Comic-Con.

- Kendall Whitehouse over at the Wharton School of Business passed along this great Q&A with Richard Gelfond, co-CEO of IMAX. They're still talking about an eventual transition from film to digital -- but I suspect this is being slowed by the company's precarious financial position. But here, he does mention a specific date, which is interesting. From the interview:

    IMAX is in the process of developing a digital IMAX system that, instead of working with 70mm film frames 10 times the size of 35mm, our whole technology will be in the digital world. And we're fairly far along in that development. I've seen a prototype. We're going to start to show customers prototypes in the next couple months. We're aiming to launch it in January 2009.

Gelfond also talks about his predictions for the next five or ten years of the theatrical exhibition business, which include more niche programming to small audiences, but fewer screens overall:

    I think you'll see a lot of evolution. You'll continue to see the home as the place of most change. You'll continue to see [distribution] windows shrink, meaning you're going to have access to content in the home even sooner than you do versus the theater. I always ask myself: If you're someone like Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox and also owns different delivery systems around the world, why is it so important to give 50% of the opening box office to the exhibitor? If he can cut them out and deliver [content] directly to the consumer -- especially when they have better ways of viewing it -- why isn't he going to do that?

    Now the common answer to that is that the theatrical platform is a marketing platform for the other windows. And some of that holds [true]. But, for example, if there was another Star Wars and Fox could charge $50 on the download, and not have to share it with the theater operator on the opening weekend, why wouldn't you see some kind of blend of that going on? So I think you'll continue to see big changes there.

    With the change to digital, you'll see some changes in the way movies are distributed. The lock that the large studios have on distribution is partly because of physical distribution; you just need the infrastructure and the financial resources to distribute widely. But, as you go digital, you may be able to let smaller and more specialized players distribute in some way.

    You'll definitely see more live action. You'll see more 3-D.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

How a Hand-Drawn Animation Studio Survives in the Age of CG

Great piece from the LA Times about Film Roman, the studio that cranks out "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill." Richard Verrier writes:

    [Film Roman's] growth comes as Hollywood studios have largely abandoned the traditional 2-D style of animation long practiced by Film Roman in favor of computer-generated imagery.

    But the Emmy-winning company has managed to survive and thrive in a CGI world thanks to television, where demand for hand-drawn cartoons remains strong.

The just-released "Simpsons" movie was Film Roman's biggest project in its history...spurring the company to add 130 new animators in addition to its regular staff of 400. (FR was also working on two seasons of the TV show simultaneously.) From the story:

    Some of the animation work was farmed out to two studios in South Korea, Rough Draft and Akom. Although largely drawn by hand, the film used various digital tools to speed up the process and incorporated some 3-D scenes.

Film Roman was founded in 1984 by a Disney alumm, Phil Roman. It's now part of Liberty Media.

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By September, YouTube Says It'll Start Blocking Copyrighted Uploads

From CNET's

    YouTube will launch a system in September designed to prevent pirated material from going up on the site, a Google lawyer said in court on Friday.

    Google, which acquired YouTube in October, plans to generate a library of digital video fingerprints that would be used by a computer system to screen clips being uploaded to YouTube, said Philip Beck, one of the attorneys representing Google and YouTube. Beck added that the screening process would take only a few minutes to determine whether a clip is copyright material.

That's the first time Google/YouTube have mentioned a firm date. But later, Google hedged in a statement, saying that the technology was complex, and "it's difficult to forecast specific launch dates."

Even more complex is the fact that it's legal to use portions of a copyrighted work -- say, a song or movie. That concept is called "fair use." But when even the US Copyright office concedes that the distinction between copyright infringement and fair use "may be unclear and not easily defined," how will Google figure it out? I'm expecting a lot of videos will be blocked if they contain a few seconds of a song or a snippet of a TV show, once this new software swings into action.

(Here's the AP/NYTimes coverage.)

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Friday, July 27, 2007

This Weekend: Woods Hole Film Festival

I had the pleasure of lunching today with filmmaker/techie David Tamés, who has been doing some shooting of late on the Ray Kurzweil documentary 'The Singularity is Near.' David has a great blog called, and also maintains a list of events that would surely be of interest to CinemaTech readers in the Boston area.

And if you happen to be headed to Cape Cod this weekend, David has organized three really cool panels at the Woods Hole Film Festival:

    - The future of long-form documentary in the age of Internet video
    - Delivering Video via the Internet: Challenges and Opportunities, and
    - Media Literacy in the 21st Century

Not only that, but one of David's short films, 'Smile Boston Project,' is screening at the fest next Saturday.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reverse product placement: Fictional brands in the real world

The Journal has a great piece today about product placement strategy for 'The Simpsons' movie, out tomorrow. Instead of putting real-world brands into the movie (which would've seemed strange), Fox has negotiated to put Simpsons brands (like Buzz Cola and KrustyO's) into the real world. They've turned twelve 7-11 stores in the US and Canada into Kwik-E-Marts. From the story:

    The ploy stems from a decision by creators of "The Simpsons" not to portray actual products or brands when the show debuted 18 years ago, according to Denise Sirkot, a producer on the television show and the executive vice president and chief financial officer of Gracie Films, which produced the movie. "We never do placements for creative reasons," she says. "The creative is always driven by the story and that's a standard we established from the beginning, and our promotional partners respect that."

    In fact, they've shown their willingness to navigate their real products around the fictional brands of the Simpsons' hometown of Springfield. That's why 7-Eleven stores around the country, for instance, are selling not only Squishees, but also the cola, comic books and cereal brands of the Simpsons' world.

    "If we worked to place a product in the movie, a consumer sees it for a few seconds," says Doug Foster, vice president of marketing and chief marketing officer at 7-Eleven Inc., a unit of Japan's Seven & I Holdings Co. "But if we turn it around, a store within the movie comes to life. And then people are making a choice to come to 7-Eleven."

Here's the handy Kwik-E-Mart locator.

And Burger King, another of the movie's marketing partners, serves up this Simpsons avatar generator. (That's a Simpson-ized image of me, at right.)

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Netflix's new(ish) blog

Michael Rubin over at Netflix started the Netflix Community Blog back in May -- but I'm just discovering it. Lots of talk about new features being added to the site, or under consideration -- and a chance to post comments and ideas.

(Here's my friend Meghan, who manages the Netflix Queue, communicating with Netflix customers about it.)

Increasingly, this is the way every company is going to stay in touch with their most loyal customers, developing new generations of the product by listening.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Video from BAVC Event on New Media & Documentary Storytelling

I moderated a really interesting conversation last month at the Bay Area Video Coalition on using new media to tell non-fiction stories. (Some of my notes from the panel are here.)

They've recently put the video up on Blip, so I'm embedding it here. Here's the description of the panel, and who was on it:

    New Media/New Meaning: Multi-Platform Technology, New Media Innovation and Documentary Storytelling

    10am - 11:30am, Saturday, June 2 at KQED, 2601 Mariposa Street at Bryant, San Francisco

    Panelists include: Scott Kirsner, CinemaTech (moderator); Chris O'Dea, MobiTV; Tim Olson, KQED Interactive; Rahdi Taylor, Sundance Documentary Institute; Anthony Marshall, Current TV; Tony Walsh, Clickable Culture; Meghan Cunningham, Magnet Media, zoom-in online; Ben Batstone Cunningham, alt-zoom studios.

(Some editorializing: Blip seems like a pretty bad place to host video.)


User-gen content ain't dead ... but it'll have to fight for viewers

Andrew Wallenstein of The Hollywood Reporter has a mock obituary for user-generated content. He writes:

    There was a time not that long ago when UGC seemed poised to topple Hollywood, as if anyone with a video camera and a Web connection was deemed a budding Steven Spielberg. But ask yourself this: When was the last time an amateur viral video actually reached viral status?

This is in the vein of my article last December in the Mercury News, suggesting that while big media companies were slow in grasping the Net's video-distribution potential, they were going to figure it out soon enough. In that piece, there's a quote from ABC exec Albert Cheng:

    "Pirated content and user-generated content was all that was available on the Web [for a long time]," says Albert Cheng, executive vice president of digital media for the Disney-ABC Television Group. "Once you see media companies such as ours putting more content online, I think there will be a shift in what people choose, back toward professionally-produced content."

    Some argue that viewers on the Internet simply prefer the wacky, unpredictable, and more informal quality of amateur-made videos, comparing the genre to reality TV shows that have become increasingly popular in the past five years.

    But every new medium goes through an early period of playful, sometimes aimless, experimentation.

I don't think amateur video content is going away... in fact, more of it will be produced every year. I don't think we'll stop seeing viral videos that come from amateurs or semi-pros and reach millions of people. I just think our diet of online video is getting more balanced -- a mix of stuff from big media, smaller producers, and individuals.


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Monday, July 23, 2007

'The Future of Web Video': Lower prices

Good news for procrastinators: I'm dropping the price on both the digital and print versions of 'The Future of Web Video: New Opportunities for Producers, Entrepreneurs, Media Companies and Advertisers.' The current version was updated in March 2007.

You can find the table of contents and a nice string of endorsements here.

The paperback version is now priced at $15.75, plus shipping. The digital version (an e-book in PDF form, with no DRM) is $12.95.

If you haven't bought your copy yet, just another little incentive...


HBO's 'Voyeur' Promotion

Tim Clague called my attention to a promotional project from HBO called 'Voyeur.' It's an interwoven set of stories directed by Jake Scott (Ridley Scott's son) that let you look inside a building -- think 'Rear Window' with X-Ray vision.

HBO recently projected the video onto the side of a building in Manhattan. It's hard to tell whether they have plans to do this elsewhere, but I'm hoping.

HBO's own Web site is kind of clunky and slow to load -- the best way to actually watch 'Voyeur' is via this version posted on YouTube:

This video is just five minutes long -- but HBO created two hours of material, according to Multichannel News.

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A Quick Reminder: Patronize Your Local Drive-In has the ultimate database of the world's surviving drive-in movie theaters.

If you haven't been yet this summer (or ever, heaven forbid), take it from CinemaTech: there is no better way to see a movie in the summertime. Bring your own food/beverages, bring a couple of lawn chairs, bring a football to toss around before the movie. You can turn up the sound (broadcast over your new-fangled FM radio) as loud as you want. You can talk (or make out) throughout the entire movie with nary a complaint.

Also, a word to the wise: many drive-ins now charge by the carload, rather than by the person. That means you don't have to stuff your cousin into the trunk to save money. Know before you go.

(Here's where I'll be Friday night.)


Studios Court Mr. Skin

- I found this story in today's NY Times fascinating: studios actually send screeners of new movies to the Web site, to promote new releases that have nudity in them. From the story:

    “The movie companies aren’t stupid,” [CEO Jim] McBride said. “I’m a guest on radio shows at least 300 times a year as the expert on celebrity nudity in film. If I’m on the radio talking about a movie like ‘Ask the Dust,’ and telling guys, ‘You’ve got to check it out: Salma Hayek has a full-frontal at the 33-minute mark,’ it’s going to make guys want to rent or buy the movie.”

    More than 75 movie companies — including Universal, Fox, Paramount and Lionsgate — regularly send advance DVDs to Mr. McBride’s company. And his subscribers buy hundreds of DVDs every day, said Brian Sokel, director of marketing at, which sells DVDs on the site. (He declined to provide precise figures.)

    Mr. Sokel finds nothing untoward about selling a film solely on nudity.

    “That’s why filmmakers and Hollywood put sex scenes in movies — because it sells,” Mr. Sokel said. “People have a problem with raw or open sexuality, but for our company and for Mr. Skin, it doesn’t have to be a demonized concept. This is normal; you’re not a freak for wanting to see a Hollywood star in a film be naked.”

I wonder if the actresses in those scenes find this kind of niche marketing a little unseemly...

- The Times also has a piece about a new area on The Daily Reel that's intended to be a place for content creators and companies that need content to mingle.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

'1/2 a Soulja': Putting Clips from an Unfinished Indie Movie on the Web

At a gathering of documentary producers earlier this summer, this question came up: how much of my project should I put online before it's finished?

There's nothing to promote yet -- no theatrical or DVD release, no television airing.

Some of the producers present didn't like the idea of putting anything up on the Web before they were done. They wanted to focus on their work, and they weren't always sure what shape the story would take. They resisted the idea of letting anyone "behind the curtain."

We talked a bit about the advantages of putting some footage up:

- You can point prospective interviewees or funders to the site, to give them a taste for what you're doing and persuade them to get involved.

- You can build an audience for the finished work, inviting them to sign up for an e-mail list or an RSS feed. Then, you can communicate with them when there's something for them to see or buy.

- For a non-fiction project, you might even discover new sources of information -- like people who stumble across your site, and are experts on your topic or know someone who you ought to be interview. For fiction projects, you might connect with an editor or cameraperson or marketer who wants to get involved and help.

There's a story in the New York Times today about a physically impaired panhandler, Byron Breeze, who is participating in the New York Triathlon. He has no legs, and only one finger on each hand. From the piece:

    Mr. Breeze makes his living largely by panhandling, spending most weekdays at the intersection of Madison Avenue and 60th Street. He has been a regular fixture there since 2002, and likes to refer to the panhandling as social networking. He has met many people on the corner, including Kathleen Kiley, a filmmaker who is making a documentary about his life. Clips of the film can be seen on the Web site Soulja (slang for soldier) is Mr. Breeze’s nickname.

Pretty lucky that Kiley has already built a very nice Web site for her project -- with seven short clips on it.

I wonder what sparks will fly, as the result of a good site and some nice national publicity in the Times...

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Original Content for the Web: The Big Questions

I had a conversation earlier this week with a very well-known TV writer who is working to develop a new video series for the Web. And I've gotten e-mails from a number of producers (and publicists) this month plugging new episodic projects.

I think we're seeing the emergence of professional content online that will challenge user-generated content -- something I started talking about late last year. This doesn't mean user-gen video is going to disappear, or that we won't see user-generated viral clips continue to circulate -- just that the professionals are now serious about trying to reach viewers, build long-term relationships, and make money on the Web.

Earlier this month, Brett Weinstein of UTA announced 60Frames Entertainment. You've also got Michael Eisner's Vuguru and Next New Networks, founded by Herb Scannell of MTV. Plus:

- Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman just launched an "urban western" called "The West Side."

- Nerve Video has a sexy new series called "Tight Shots."

- AmericaFree.TV is doing a series called "Custody."

- Nickelodeon debuts its first original Web series, "Nick Cannon's Star Camp," on July 22nd at There are five 15-minute episodes, culminating in a televised finale on August 26th.

Some of the big questions that haven't yet been answered:

- How much advertising will viewers tolerate? How "interruptive" will it be (IE, will it be small logos in the corner of the frame, or 15-second commercials that run before, during, and after the video)?

- How much can you spend on production and still expect to earn a profit? Will a new aesthetic emerge?

- We know that good writing will be important. But how important will recognizable stars be?

- How will creators make their stuff "appointment viewing"? It's one thing to get a viewer to subscribe to a stream of videos by e-mail, or some form of RSS, but actually keeping them engaged and getting them to watch is a tougher challenge.

If you compared the development of professional Web video to television, we'd still be pre-Uncle Miltie.

Some history:

In 1948, NBC moved Milton Berle's "Texaco Star Theater" from radio to television. By 1949, Berle had become television's first big-name star, and was credited with causing the sale of television sets to double that year.

While there have been lots of original shows created for the Web, we don't yet know who the Texacos will be (the sponsors for this new kind of content) or the Uncle Milties. I don't think we've hit an inflection point yet for professional video content online.

But it could be close.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Viewing Video on Cell Phones Gets Easier (and Cheaper) .... New Ad Model for Revver

Here's a Wall Street Journal video that shows how allows users to get short videos onto their phones -- without subscribing to a separate service like MobiTV:

The story is here. From the piece:

    MyWaves Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., is one of a flurry of start-ups offering new ways to access Internet videos on cellphones, hoping to overcome barriers that have prevented mobile video from taking off in the past.

    For years, cellular carriers including Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. have offered licensed video content for cellphones, such as sports highlights, TV shows and music videos. But these services, which carry monthly subscription fees, offer limited content programmed by the carrier and usually work only on certain phones. Adoption has been slow.

    Now, the new services are taking a different approach, allowing users to view a wider array of Internet video clips -- without locking themselves into a subscription and without purchasing a fancier phone. The services each operate slightly differently, but users can view online videos using any standard video-enabled phone. Videos can be wirelessly downloaded to a handset for viewing later, or sometimes streamed over cellular networks to be watched in real time.

    ...Some new offerings say they have attracted nearly a million users and are attracting tens of thousands more a day.

In other news....Revver says it will let video creators put ads at the start or the end of their videos, and earn money not based on clicks (as Revver has done in the past) but on how many times the ad was shown. Revver's CEO says the ads could command about $20 per thousand impressions -- money that'd be split 50/50 with the creator.

Here's the Adweek story.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Illegally posted YouTube vids now appearing on iPhone

Seems that among the 10,000 videos YouTube has specially-encoded for viewing on the iPhone are a few that were posted to YouTube illegally, including some soccer highlights and clips from Turner Broadcasting's Adult Swim.

This blog entry explores the legal implications of that.

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Tuesday Links: Blockbuster's New CEO ... Grouper Becomes Crackle ... DVD Still On Top ... 'Simpsons' ... Digital Cinema ... YouTube Ads ... And More

Catching up here: Some news from the weekend, and Monday:

- The NY Times writes about how Blockbuster's new CEO will compete with Netflix, video-on-demand, and the TiVo/Unbox combination. From the piece:

    “The opportunity for Blockbuster is to provide true total access whether in the form of physical stores or mail delivery or digital distribution,” [James] Keyes said. “The goal for Blockbuster would be to be the preferred provider in whatever venue is preferred by the customer.”

- Grouper, the Sony-owned vid-sharing site, is now Crackle. And they're now paying video-makers. Not just any videomaker. But chosen videomakers. This is very similar to what AtomFilms has been doing for a few years now. From the NY Times story:

    Other sites have tried this approach. Revver, for example, promised to share advertising revenue with video producers, but foundered. Sony will instead offer upfront cash payments to some producers. These will range from a few thousand dollars to well over $10,000 a segment, Mr. Feltzer said. That is somewhat more than some other sites, like, that have been paying for video segments.

    Sony has created a unit called Crackle Studios, with 15 employees, that will produce its own segments for the site. One example is Judgment Day, a reality show in which a person judges other people, then interviews them to find out if their first impressions were correct.

    Crackle will also invite submissions from users, and all of them will be posted unless they violate the site’s terms of service. But since the user videos are meant to be added to Crackle’s existing channels, Mr. Feltzer said he hoped they would be in the spirit of the site.

    People who submit unsolicited videos will not be paid, but they can try to submit ideas to get financing from Crackle for future projects.

- DVDs are still the top cash-producer for the movie industry: a record $23 billion in sales and rentals in 2006, according to the Entertainment Merchants Association. (Box office was $9.5 billion.)

- Fox isn't doing advance screenings of 'The Simpsons' movie for critics, according to the LA Times. The studio says that it isn't because the movie is bad (the traditional reason for withholding movies from reviewers), but rather to thwart Internet scoops and spoilers.

- The Economist has a short overview piece on digital cinema, circa July 2007.

- The Age in Australia writes about the Portable Film Festival, taking place in August.

- Matt Dentler tells us what Harry Knowles DVD wedding invitation was like.

- If you're in the Boston area, this screening of 'Willie Wonka' (the 1971 original) in Smell-O-Vision (or at least an approximation of it) looks like fun.

- Anne Thompson has a brilliant piece in Variety about the evolving relationship between celebs and their fans. A snippet:

    The dynamic between celebrities and their audience is shifting. The critics and the media no longer have the last word. Thanks to evolving technology, moviemakers and stars have new weapons to not only promote their projects directly to moviegoers, but to fight back against what they perceive as misinformation. They are taking advantage of their Internet fanbases to promote their projects, skipping the marketing middlemen and interacting directly with the people who buy tickets. Fan sites offer them valuable feedback about what their audiences like and dislike. But they also offer an opportunity to set the record straight. And sometimes, change the world.

- Here's what the new video ad format on YouTube (or at least one of them) looks like:

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Friday, July 13, 2007

What's the Economic Value of User-Gen Content?

The investment firm Bear Stearns issued a report last month looking at the economic potential of user-generated content (including things like video and blogs) -- and the impact that UGC content could have on established media companies as it competes with their big-budget movies and TV shows for viewers' time.

From the report:

    We see the emergence of UGC as an alternative and viable form of entertainment. If we are correct, this may augur, over time, for a significant increase in the supply of content available to consumers. Given constraints on leisure time and disposable income, both of which are finite, we think UGC will compete over the long run with content produced by the incumbent Hollywood studios and independent producers (although UGC is unlikely to be a perfect substitute given lower production values).

The authors of the report see more potential in ad-supported content models than paid downloads:

    ...[M]any users prefer free online video with no advertisements, [but] contrary to popular perception, consumers are not completely adverse to short pre-roll ads. Among all respondents and M18-34, 48% and 67%, respectively, prefer a free, ad-supported service with ten- to 15-second commercials. À la carte fees, such as paying $1.99 per video or a $14.99 monthly subscription fee, do not appear compelling to users with only 7%-9% of respondents indicating a preference for these types of offerings.

    Drilling deeper into user attitudes toward video ads, our research finds that over one-third of respondents have no major complaints about pre-roll ads. Only 10% of respondents stated that a ten- to 15-second commercial was too long to watch before the video. Our survey finds that online video providers can monetize and improve consumer attitudes toward advertisements by focusing on targeted, relevant ads, reducing frequency (i.e., a user seeing the same ad too many times), and creating less-intrusive ads.

The authors see more opportunity in what I think of as "content curation and navigation" than in simply creating content. Content curation involves creating a thoughtful, targeted collection of content for the audience; navigation is helping users get to the content they want, either through search, subscription feeds, or personalized recommendations. From the report:

    ...[I]n an era of theoretically infinite video choice, the greatest value can be created not by producing content but by solving the “paradox of choice” and connecting users’ individual interests with the vast supply of content. The need for this type of aggregation/navigation is highlighted by findings from our online video survey — e.g., among users not fully satisfied with online video, one-quarter of the target demo (M18-34) cited difficulty in finding what they want to watch.

(The "paradox of choice" refers to the phenomenon that as the amount of content grows, it can become more difficult and time-consuming to find what you want to watch.)

In their wrap-up, they sound a wake-up call to established media companies:

    Net-net, our work finds that technology changes pose a threat to the incumbent entertainment companies. To be clear, we are not calling for the demise of traditional media any time soon. However, we can certainly envision these changes leading to slowing growth and the rise of a new class of media companies just as the text-based Web spawned powerful new competitors such as Yahoo! and Google. As broadband Internet continues to evolve, it seems fairly probable that other, as-yet-to-be-determined companies will emerge from out of nowhere to play a role, as YouTube

To me, this report reads like a memo to media executives that should've been titled, "Buy Internet Start-Ups Before They Get Too Expensive." The next couple years are going to be a race between traditional media companies (Time Warner, Viacom, NBC Universal) and Internet companies (Google, mostly) to buy companies they see as the next MySpace or the next YouTube. Of course, lots of money will be misspent in that race...

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

60Frames Entertainment: Model for a New Kind of Studio? Plus, Disney movies on Xbox

- Ad Age reports that Brent Weinstein, head of United Talent Agency's digital division, is starting a new venture in partnership with Spot Runner, an online advertising firm. It'll be called 60Frames Entertainment, and has an initial bankroll of $3.5 million, according to the WSJ.

The idea is to fund professionally-produced short-form comedic content for the Web. Spot Runner will sell ads around the content. This is similar to what Barry Diller has been up to, Michael Eisner's Vuguru, or the Atom Films Studio.

All these experiments, it seems to me, are essential to figuring out how a next-gen TV "network" or movie "studio" will work: how it will identify and fund cool content, support creatives, structure the costs of production, market the finished product, and spin it off from the Web into other media. One important milestone that probably isn't more than a year away: a Web series that attracts a big enough audience to get a movie greenlit. We've already seen an animated cell phone series spawn a TV show, after all.

Here's the official press release.

- About 35 Disney movies, including 'Aladdin' and 'Armageddon,' are now available on the MSFT Xbox. WSJ story...LA Times. The Times notes that there had previously been 192 movies from Warner Bros., Paramount, Lions Gate, and New Line, and 179 TV shows available on Xbox. From the story:

    Xbox Live's users can rent high-definition versions of new release movies for $6, or $4 for standard definition. Older movies are $4.50 for high definition, $3 for standard.

    Once downloaded, consumers have 14 days to begin watching the films before they are erased from the console's hard disk drive.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lotsa Tuesday Links: Mark Cuban + Video...Unbox + TiVo...Technicolor + Satellites...Warner + Total HD...Spielberg + EA...And More

- Mark Cuban has some hypotheses about the value of video. Number 5 is especially interesting, and one thing I've been focusing on in my presentations and panel discussions lately:

    5. The greater the number of content alternatives at any given point in time, the more expensive it is for any given piece of content to acquire an incremental viewer. The cost may come in the form of investment into the production of the content, advertising, promotion or placement. It may come in the form of sweat equity from hustling to promote the content.

- TiVo users can now order Amazon Unbox movies directly from their television set, rather than from a Web-connected computer.

- Technicolor Digital Cinema says 'Transformers' is the first movie sent by satellite to theaters in the US and Europe.

- Warner's Total HD discs, which offer a movie in Blu-ray format on one side and HD DVD on the other, have been delayed until 2008. Is that the same thing as dead in the water?

- The Wall Street Journal reports on what Spielberg has been working on in his partnership with videogame developer Electronic Arts.

- A fun story about copyright squabbles on YouTube; in the case of Uri Geller, the site may actually have been too quick in removing a video from its library.

- The schedule for Comic-Con 2007.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Tron's 25th Anniversary: A Chat with Director Steven Lisberger

An e-mail from Michael Coate reminds me that today is the 25th anniversary of the release of 'Tron' in 1982.

'Tron' was the movie that served as the "shot heard 'round the world" for computer-generated visual effects. Coate notes that 'Tron' was nominated for two Academy Awards, in sound and costume design. But it wasn't nominated for Best Visual Effects.

I had a chance to chat with 'Tron' director Steven Lisberger last month for a book project I'm wrapping up, and I asked him why that was.

"We found out that the statement that was made was that we had cheated when we used computers," he said.


Some other snippets from our conversation...

"When we did 'Tron,' there was very much a feeling of standing at the frontier -- that it was all possible."

"There was a spillover from the 1960s rebellion and counter-culture, and that was reflected in 'Star Wars' -- the rebels taking over the establishment. I had some of that energy. There was a sense that things were possible in Hollywood, because 'Star Wars' had gotten made."

"Even if it failed, it was gonna be revolutionary. We looked at it like a 'Fantasia' kind of thing -- this is what artists do when you give them freedom -- they go for it. What we did was impossible." He said 1100 effects shots were completed in nine months.

On the complexity of making 'Tron,' and then having Disney executives nit-pick about the final result, Lisberger said, "It was like we had just made a jet plane out of recycled Coke cans, and those guys weren't amazed that it flew, but they were asking what the meal was." Disney's legendary 2-D animators didn't offer much help throughout the production process.

Lisberger said that when 'ET' came out a few weeks before 'Tron,' Disney executives told him they wished 'Tron' had turned out more warm and fuzzy... like 'ET.' ('ET' won the Best Visual Effects Oscar for 1982.)

We talked a bit about how visual effects look today, and how they're incorporated into movies. "The technology dances and jumps through the hoops like a trained monkey," he said. "It doesn't feel dangeous. The new sense of danger is the enormous money in production and marketing, and the only thrill is, will it get its money back? There isn't the same sense that there was in the pioneering days."

These days, Lisberger is writing screenplays -- and doing some pretty amazing woodworking at his place in Santa Monica.

There's a certain thrill in that, he noted. "If that piece of wood flies off the lathe -- that's dangerous."

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

No Flash for iPhone Users ... Peter Jackson Bids Farewell to the Original Alamo Drafthouse ... Ken Burns Wants You ... And More

- For some reason, that fancy new iPhone won't play video in Adobe's popular Flash format. (All of the YouTube videos that you can watch on the phone have been re-encoded into h.264, the video format Apple prefers.)

- Courtesy of Anne Thompson's blog, here's a video farewell from Peter Jackson and Edgar Wright to the original Alamo Drafthouse, in Austin, TX. An "improved" Drafthouse will open in September, in a different location.

- Ken Burns is asking citizen documentarians to go out and interview World War II vets for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Here's how you can participate.

- The Wall Street Journal makes note of 'Four Eyed Monsters' on YouTube; the full film remains there until August 15th.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Jaman CEO Gaurav Dhillon: Building a Marketplace for Indie Movies

I had a chance, just before the holiday, to sit down for a chat with Jaman CEO Gaurav Dhillon; I'd spoken with him the previous week for this Variety piece about the iPhone, and had also written here about a hack that allows AppleTV users to view content purchased from Jaman, even though Apple and Jaman don't have a formal partnership.

I'm posting the video of a portion of our chat here. It is very much geared to filmmakers who might be considering using Jaman for their films. Below the video are some of my notes from the non-recorded part of our conversation.

Some notes:

- Jaman's split is 70/30, with the filmmaker getting the 30 percent. That's a smaller cut than other sites offer, like Brightcove, EZTakes, Lulu and Grapeflix, for example.

- But Gaurav emphasizes that the site has done a lot of high profile marketing at events like the Tribeca Film Festival and Cannes, and that the community they build around their catalog of films will help lead users from one movie download to another.

- One cool feature: allowing viewers to "blog inside a movie," leaving comments and questions that other viewers can read as a movie plays, attached to specific scenes.

- Gaurav says they don't support downloading content to a portable device; they're more interested in getting onto set-top boxes like AppleTV right now.

- They also don't support DVD burning; Gaurav says that "a good percentage don't burn right or just won't play."

- Movies on Jaman aren't quite HD. They've got fewer than 720 horizontal pixels, but they're better than DVD. The file of one movie Gaurav used as a demo, "Agua," was compressed to just 1.3 gigabytes.

- Some of his favorite movies on the service: 'Yank Tanks,' 'An Uzi at the Alamo,' 'Stoned,' and Hirokazu Koreeda's 'After Life.'

- I suggested that one way to get other sites pointing users to Jaman movies (you can already embed links to movie trailers) would be to offer an affiliate program, where those sites would get a cut of any resulting movie rentals or downloads. Gaurav seemed open to that idea -- but it isn't on the near-term radar.

- Jaman's movie files are wrapped in their own flavor of DRM, but Gaurav says that if Apple would license its FairPlay DRM, he'd do that deal in a second. Windows DRM, on the other hand, is "buggy and crash-prone," he says, "and the rules that are imposed are fairly arbitrary."

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Thursday links: Netflix May Be Prepping a Set-Top Box ... Thwarting Piracy (and Consumers) ... Soderbergh Psyched About Red Camera

Some post-holiday links for ya...

- Netflix may be planning to roll out a $50 set-top box that'd pull movies down from the Net and let you watch them on your TV.

- The Wall Street Journal reports on a new strategy for thwarting hackers trying to crack the encryption on high-def discs played on computers. Unfortunately, it may also stymie consumers who've bought the discs and simply want to use them. Note: this only applies right now to watching high-def discs on a computer. From the story:

    The anticopying protection for high-resolution DVDs relies on secret, 128-digit passwords embedded in the hardware or software used to play DVDs. Under its new " key-revocation strategy, Hollywood and its allies in the high-technology industry start with the assumption that enterprising hackers will eventually decipher the passwords, which can then be used to make copies.

    But once a password is compromised and posted on the Web, the industry answers by changing the way in which its new DVD titles are made. Anyone who pops one of the new discs into their personal computer without installing a software upgrade will find that it destroys the computer's ability to play any high-definition DVD at all. To restore the computer's ability to play them again, the owner is forced to download new software from the Web -- software with a new password that hackers haven't yet discovered. The old password, or key, has been revoked.

    The self-destruct signal affects player software for both formats for high-definition DVDs -- HD-DVD and Blu-ray -- not hardware players hooked up to TVs. The effect could be bewildering to a customer not used to downloading frequent updates over the Internet.

- Director Steven Soderbergh is apparently impressed with the Red One digital camera. From his comment to Red founder Jim Jannard: "This is the camera I've been waiting for my whole career: jaw-dropping imagery recorded onboard a camera light enough to hold with one hand."

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

In New York? Two Great Shows That Taste Great Together

If you're in the Greater New York area, filmmaker Lance Weiler is organizing a very special showing of his latest movie, 'Head Trauma,' complete with a DJ providing a live soundtrack -- and live performers in the audience. Plus, you're encouraged to use your cell phone -- which Lance incorporates in the story as a cinematic gaming device. It happens on Saturday, July 14th.

Is Lance gunning to be the new William Castle?

And the Museum of the Moving Image is also doing a preview screening of 'In the Shadow of the Moon,' in Manhattan on July 19th. Great documentary by British director David Sington, who'll be there in person.

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From Last Week's Web Video Summit: Audio of Panel on Internet Video Distribution

One of the serendipitously swell things about attending the Web Video Summit in San Jose last week was bumping into Joel Heller, who runs the site Docs That Inspire. When I told him I wasn't going to be able to attend the panel on distribution, he offered to record it for me. After getting each of the speakers' permission, we're posting it here. (Thanks, Joel!)

Here's the description of the panel:

    You and Your Audience: Distribution

    A service, a network or do it yourself? Everyone wants to host your video, as money has poured in for video sites ever since Google bought YouTube. Many promises, many choices, far too many disappointments as you try to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of other producers. Tom Hammer at Akimbo manages possibly the world's largest library of professional video, from Rocketboom to the BBC. Comcast's thePlatform and Vitalstream/Internap deliver video from ABC to the Wall Street Journal. Bittorent is proving peer to peer works for producers as well as pirates. Bring your question and get answers from the key players in this intense session.

    PANELIST: Ian Blaine, CEO, thePlatform
    PANELIST: Tom Hammer, CTO and VP of Engineering and Operations, Akimbo
    PANELIST: Philip N. Kaplan, Chief Strategy Officer, Internap
    PANELIST: Tim Napoleon, Media and Entertainment Product Line Director, Akamai
    PANELIST: Ashwin Navin, President and Co-founder, BitTorrent Inc.
    MODERATOR: Eric Savitz, West Coast Editor, Barron's

Not surprisingly, there were some interesting sparks between the execs from Akamai and BitTorrent. The file is here, in MP3 form.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Animator M dot Strange Discusses His Digital Vision

I shot some video last week with M dot Strange, the director of 'We Are the Strange,' which showed at Sundance this year. He's based in San Jose -- and he is what you'd call a dyed-in-the-wool indie. Very sharp guy.

We talked about his he has used YouTube to cultivate a community...the origins of his name...the importance of collecting e-mail addresses online from people interested in your work (or enabling them to pre-order a DVD)...a new kind of digital multiplex that M dot envisions...the iTunes cinema...and film festivals that continue to demand 35-millimeter prints from entrants.

My favorite quote from the conversation (which lasts about 20 minutes): "No one knows the value of my media, because no one has ever done it before."

(If you'd prefer to download the video and watch it later, you can do that here.)

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Monday Links: Costner on the Web ... CustomFlix to Support HD DVD ... New Edition of Film Financing Book ... And More

- This is an interesting model: Kevin Costner is financing an animated Web series called "The Explorer's Club." It'll debut later this year, as 12 four-minute episodes, with Costner's voice. The goal is to later turn "The Explorer's Club" into a live-action feature. This approach uses the Internet as a proving ground for new characters and stories, before committing to make a feature -- something I think we'll soon see a lot more of.

- CustomFlix, part of, will now accept indie films in high definition, and sell them in the HD DVD format, according to the NY Times. From the story: "The company said it would waive processing fees for the first 1,000 films it accepts for production by its CustomFlix Labs subsidiary."

- Via Lance Weiler's WorkbookProject Web site, I learned about a new edition of The Film Finance Handbook. They're offering a free chapter online, too, which deals with using the Net to distribute movies -- one of my favorite topics. The authors' premise in this chapter is that the Internet is evolving into the seventh major studio. They write:

    "...We have seen the gradual emergency, very loosely, of a seventh major studio-like power. It is neither owned by a single organisation or individual. It does not even have a manager. Rather it is a collection of tools, networks, information and communities which collectively could be said to be beginning to offer similar functions to a traditional vertically integrated studio. ...And of most interest to the independent producer, this 'studio' is neutral, largely meritocratic and completely global."

- This piece about Xbox users watching movies and TV shows on the system really annoyed me, because it contains not a single statistic about how many people have paid for TV shows or movies through Xbox...yet it's basically a wet kiss to Microsoft. If Xbox is doing so well, why not back it up with some data, guys?

- Robert Katz will be head of production at The Film Department, a new indie production company founded by Mark Gill and Neil Sacker.

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