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Saturday, December 29, 2007

No more movie downloads from Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart pulled the plug on its movie download service on December 21st... and no one noticed for a week, the thing was so incredibly popular. Wal-Mart's service was one of the few to offer movies from all six major studios. Wal-Mart's unsuccessful "beta test" began this past February,

From the NY Times coverage:

    In a research note published Friday, Rich Greenfield, an analyst with Pali Capital, said the D.R.M. might have doomed Wal-Mart’s movie service. “We suspect a key reason behind Wal-Mart’s decision to exit the digital video download business was the need for D.R.M., which prevented the content from working with iPods,” he wrote. “Anywhere you look, Apple’s devices are winning, forcing content holders’ hands.”

    High prices also hampered the service. Prices to buy a movie, a copy of which resides on the hard drive of the buyer’s computer, ranged from $12.88 to $19.88 on the day of the release; older movies cost $7.50. But it costs just a few dollars to rent a DVD or watch a movie through a cable system’s on-demand services.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thursday links: Rentals on iTunes? ... Viral video picks ... Predictions

- Reuters and The Wall Street Journal say Apple may bring Fox movies into the iTunes universe -- as rentals only. This is likely something that'd be announced at Macworld next month in San Francisco. From the Journal's story:

    Apple has for months been trying to persuade the Hollywood studios to agree to a digital rental model, in which consumers would be able to download movies through iTunes that could be played for a limited time. Until now, no studio has agreed to such a deal with Apple, and some companies have continued to resist Apple's pitch.

What do you think the pricing will be? I'm guessing $2.99. And hopefully Apple will make the other terms less frustrating than they've been on other online rental sites... as far as how much time you've got to start and finish watching the movie.

- The LA Times has put together a list (this is what journalists do at the end of the year, when no one is around the be interviewed) of 2007's best viral videos.

- The Hollywood Reporter makes eight predictions for 2008. The most interesting to CinemaTech readers:

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dolby's Tim Partridge on Digital 3-D Moviemaking

I'm a little late in posting this video, shot back in October... but in it, Dolby EVP Tim Partridge lays out his vision for how digital 3-D moviemaking will take over the world.

Partridge says that in the early days of Dolby's audio noise reduction (and later, Dolby's digital sound), industry insiders predicted that the new technology would only be used for big action pictures. These days, 3-D is regarded as something for action pictures and cartoons, but Partridge says that since humans see in 3-D, it's natural for all movies to have that third dimension. (Here's more on Dolby's 3-D offering.)

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Digital archiving dilemmas

Michael Cieply of the NY Times today writes about the challenges of archiving movies shot in digital form.

From the piece:

    One of the most perplexing realities of a digital production like “Superman Returns” is that it sometimes generates more storable material than conventional film, creating new questions about what to save. Such pile-ups can occur, for instance, when a director or cinematographer who no longer has to husband film stock simply allows cameras to remain running for long stretches while working out scenes.

    Much of the resulting data may be no more worth saving that the misspellings and awkward phrases deleted from a newspaper reporter’s word-processing screen. Then again, a telling exchange between star and filmmaker might yield gold as a “special feature” on some future home-viewing format — so who wants to be responsible for tossing it into the digital dustbin?

    For now, studios are saving as much of this digital ephemera as possible, storing it on tapes or drives in vaults not unlike those that house traditional film. But how much of that material will be migrated when technology shifts in 7 or 10 years is anyone’s guess. (And archiving practices in the independent film world run the gamut, from studied preservation to complete inattention, noted Andrew Maltz, director of the academy’s science and technology council.)

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wednesday linkage: iTunes movie rentals, more opera on digital screens, 'Honeydripper' Q&A

- An Apple analyst suggests that the company may start renting movies on iTunes in 2008, and perhaps even delivering them directly to an AppleTV.

- Following the lead of the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera is going to start transmitting pre-recorded operas to about 200 digital cinemas, starting in March. The plan is to do six a year. (The Met, by contrast, does live broadcasts to cinemas.)

- Jane Green of the blog Film Publicity Help has a Q&A with Maggie Renzi and John Sayles, who talk about the marketing and distribution of their latest film, 'Honeydripper.'

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Striking Writers as Web Video Entrepreneurs

The LA Times has a story today about striking movie and TV writers talking to investors about creating new Internet ventures that would bypass studios and connect directly with consumers.

Joseph Menn writes:

    Already this year, a handful of sites have received venture [capital] backing, including, co-founded by comedic actor Will Ferrell, and, launched by former MTV executive Rob Barnett.

    MyDamnChannel pays for the production of original content by a handful of artists and splits ad revenue with them.

I think some of these ventures will work. The odds improve if:

    1. The strike drags on, and pulls in directors and actors next year
    2. These sites can get other established stars involved, a la Will Ferrell
    3. The sites can create a new generation of Web celebs (like the Ninja or, god help us, Lonelygirl15)
    4. Good quality writing and a strong creative team can produce either a string of break-out, one-off viral hits (like "The Landlord") or a series of videos that people watch over time (like "Red vs. Blue" or "Homestar Runner's" Strongbad e-mail series)
    5. They've got their own in-house ad sales/sponsorship/product placement people.

Despite all that, I'm not sure how these mini-content studios will prove to be great short-term investments for venture capitalists. These feel to me like businesses that'll take a while to build.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Paramount's Direct-to-Net 'Jackass' Release

We can debate whether 'Jackass 2.5,' made up mostly of left-overs from 'Jackass 2,' really counts as a new, stand-alone feature film... but Paramount is claiming that it'll be the first studio feature released first online as an ad-supported streaming program. Later, it'll be available on DVD and as a paid download on iTunes and Amazon Unbox. Essentially, this is experimentation with what would've been a direct-to-DVD release, and the budget for the movie was under $2 million.

It goes up December 19th on Movielink, and on sale as a DVD and on iTunes on December 26th

From the NY Times:

    ...Viacom executives emphasized that this was a stand-alone venture that would pay for itself.

    They described the online premiere as an experiment aimed at gauging the potential revenue streams for studio-produced, longer-form Web material that could take advantage of the consumer appetite for user-generated content.

    “If this works, it could open up and really change the game about additional content that studios can create,” said Thomas Lesinski, president of Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment. Then again, Paramount executives acknowledged it might not be the fairest test of long-form films, given that the movie, like the TV show, is made up of many short segments, consumable in morsels.

From the Wall Street Journal story:

    The move comes as the studios explore new media in the face of lackluster revenue in traditional outlets. Box-office sales are down about 7% for the holiday season beginning Nov. 2, according to Media by Numbers LLC. DVD sales are down for the year, dropping 1% so far in the fourth quarter, according to Nielsen VideoScan.

    If Paramount can show this tactic brings in revenue, it could become a template for movies aimed at young, Internet-savvy viewers. The original "Jackass," released in 2002, took in $64 million at the domestic box office. "Jackass 2," released in 2006, took in $73 million domestically.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Some mid-week linkage: ILM, Sam Raimi, Michael Bay, and More

- For about a week, the blog world has been buzzing about this post from director Michael Bay, alleging that Microsoft is trying to slow down adoption of either high-def DVD format so that it'll have time to corner the market on digital downloads.

I think the theory is a bit off. First of all, Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, where it sells digital downloads, is still an unknown quantity -- the company has never announced how many movies and TV shows it has sold there (unlike Apple with iTunes). Second of all, if you wanted to propagate conspiracy theories, why wouldn't you suggest that Apple is trying to hamstring high-def discs? It's iTunes Store is the dominant place for buying downloads, and Apple has yet to ship a computer that can play either Blu-ray or HD DVD discs.

- Industrial Light & Magic says it wants to work on lower-budget projects. What's a shoestring pic to the San Francisco-based VFX topdog? $35 to $40 million, according to Variety.

- Director Sam Raimi talks visual effects in another Variety piece. (I have a soft spot for Raimi, since in his 'Dark Man' days, he was the first director I ever interviewed.) He says:

    No director is ever done with their film. Now the director has the necessity and opportunity to keep directing the film, not just for the shooting period of three months, but on a longer picture, maybe for an entire year or on a 'Spider-Man' film for 2½ frickin' years straight. And it's hard. It's exhausting. You can keep redirecting this shot forever. It's an opportunity to work yourself to death.

- Lots of cool video on the promo site for the new Indiana Jones movie... but no way to embed it in a blog, or link directly to an interesting clip. That makes it harder for bloggers and fans to promote the movie on their sites.

- Wall Street Journal reports on Internet-connected set-top boxes, which aren't yet getting traction in the market. Nick Wingfield writes:

    What's the holdup? Generally speaking, the video players are just too complicated to hook up, too expensive and too limited in what they can do. There are skeptics, too, who think Internet video players are trying to solve a problem that simply doesn't exist -- especially as cable companies enhance on-demand video services.

    ...Still, tech companies can't stay away from the idea, because of the booming popularity of Internet video. In August, Internet users in the U.S. viewed 9.13 billion online videos, up 26% from 7.24 billion in January, estimates research firm comScore Inc.

    Users watched more than a quarter of those videos on Google Inc.'s YouTube, but online video from traditional entertainment companies is exploding, too.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

YouTube expands advertising program; still sketchy on revenue-sharing

YouTube is expanding its "partner program" today, allowing a wider range of content creators to include ads in their videos and earn some coin. The program is now open to anybody in the US or Canada.

But you still have to apply to become a partner, and YouTube hasn't been very up-front about how the revenue split will work.

A Wired News piece reports that

    Partners who regularly produce videos with more than 1 million page views earn "several thousand dollars per month," according to YouTube.

And NewTeeVee has a bit more shading on the announcement.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

In Variety: Summit Addresses Festival Issues

Here's a quick dispatch I wrote for Variety about the Int'l Film Festival Summit this week. It was the fourth edition of the summit; first I've attended.

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The New Filmmaker/Festival Partnership

Just got through moderating a really interesting panel on how film festivals can get more involved in distribution...interesting in that it exposed some truths and opportunities that I think are important for filmmakers and festivals.

Here at the International Film Festival Summit, the oft-repeated wisdom is that acquisitions executives only attend a few select festivals (Berlin, Cannes, Sundance, etc.) And the majority of films that play at second- and third-tier festivals will never get theatrical or home video distribution deals.

So what of the worthy movies that play at these festivals, but don't get picked up?

Some entrepreneurial filmmakers will self-distribute, pressing their own DVDs, or working with services like Amazon's CreateSpace to make DVDs or digital downloads available. (Here's a starting point for filmmakers that choose to go that route.) They'll book their own limited theatrical engagements. Two people I spoke to here (Gary Meyer and Adrian Belic) used the same word in describing this process: in, "you've got to get out there and hustle the movie."

But a lot of filmmakers won't. They'll leave the last movie behind, and start working on another (and some will get frustrated and become accountants.)

That's where I think there's an opportunity for festivals to create relationships with companies like CreateSpace, B Side Entertainment, or IndiePix, helping create a clear path for films that don't get picked up. That relieves the filmmaker of having to evaluate all of these new distribution avenues on their own. (To be clear, I'm not in favor of forcing any filmmakers into a one-size-fits-all deal. This needs to be voluntary.) And for the festival's audience, it does them the service of making it obvious where to find movies that played at the festival in prior years.

In my perfect world, every festival Web site would maintain a permanent page for every film that had played the festival in previous years, along with information and a link about where the film is available. Some will be picked up by big distributors, and be available for purchase at Amazon or rental at Netflix. (And incidentally, referring new people to Amazon and Netflix can be a nice little source of income for festivals, thanks to those companies' referral programs, which pay a small fee whenever anyone makes a purchase or signs up for a subscription.) Some films may be available for download at iTunes. And others will be available through other outlets, where the festival has made a deal with a firm like IndiePix. (IndiePix, in such deals, splits the revenue evenly among the festival, the filmmaker, and itself.)

Am I being too unrealistic to imagine a world where every movie good enough to play a festival is available in some form, after the festival has ended?

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Variety publisher lists '10 Festivals We Love'

I'm in Las Vegas this week at the International Film Festival Summit, and it's an interesting mix of people...mostly fest directors, but also a few filmmakers and tech company execs.

One idea I've been talking about with speakers and attendees is whether any fests will actually give audiences a role in choosing some of the content that plays -- for instance, voting on a half-dozen movies that fest curators have selected, and giving the winner a spot in the program. Some smaller fests, like Slamdance, are doing experiments in that vein.

Charlie Koones, the publisher of Variety, gave a keynote yesterday morning that had some interesting advice for festival organizers ... and also filmmakers, in that Koones listed ten of the most interesting and exciting festivals, in his view. (Disclosure: I'm a regular contributor to Variety.)

Koones urged festivals to pick more challenging films. "It's better to piss off your audience than to bore them," he said. "Edgy films are fodder for conversation [in the press and among attendees]." Koones also suggested that festival organizers "beware of world premieres. There may be a reason why that world premiere film is available," he said. "It's better to have great cinema than it is to have bad cinema first."

Koones listed ten "festivals we love," which he described as "interesting and exciting" events, not listed in order of importance.

The omissions are interesting.... Sundance? Tribeca?

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