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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Notes and News from the HBS Entertainment & Media Conference

Spent the afternoon and evening yesterday at Harvard Business School's annual Entertainment & Media Conference.

I filed a short piece for Variety about the opening Jeff Zucker keynote, which felt pretty news-y to me. Liz Gannes from NewTeeVee was there, too -- and has some video and notes on the Zucker talk.

Some other notes:

- Marshall Herskovitz was on a panel, bemoaning the low ratings for the first NBC broadcast of his made-for-the-Web series 'quarterlife' this week. Herskovitz told me afterward that he was pretty sure NBC would kill the show, but that he hoped it'd find another home on cable, where it could have a few months to build up an audience.

Herskovitz also acknowledged that the production costs were too expensive for something that would only exist online; 'quarterlife' needs the broadcast component to it to make it financially viable. (I was always skeptical that Herskovitz and Ed Zwick started their venture by boasting that they were going to create Internet content with extremely high production values.)

But Herskovitz, later in the panel, was also very hopeful about the future of paid downloads (versus ad-supported streaming) for content creators. "Apple has shown us something," he said. But he acknowledged that most creators haven't figured out how to take advantage of it.

- Fresh from negotiating the truce between the WGA and the AMPTP, WGA West President Patric Verrone said the definition of what constitutes a paid download and what constitutes ad-supported streaming are becoming muddier by the minute. Verrone said he'd heard earlier in the week about free downloadable videos that could have ad blocks inserted in them, which would be updated by a server whenever the viewer decided to watch the video. I guess we'd call that an ad-supported free download ... and it's probably not covered by the new WGA contract.

- We're all still waiting for the mobile device that has high-bandwidth, always-on connectivity. (The iPhone isn't it -- unless you're sitting in a WiFi hotspot, and there aren't too many other people around.) Tim Westergren from Pandora predicted that once that happens, wireless delivery of music and video -- targeted to the tastes of the recipient -- will start to clobber traditional broadcasting.

- At dinner, I was talking with an HBS student who formerly worked in corporate strategic planning at Disney... we wondered what Walt would be doing right now, in terms of creating original content for iPods, cell phones, PCs, etc.

Lo and behold, today Disney announces Stage 9 Digital Media, a studio to create original content for the Net. From the LA Times story:

    ighty years after the 7 1/2 -minute cartoon "Steamboat Willie" helped launch the career of a certain iconic mouse, Walt Disney Co. has returned to its short-form roots with the debut of a digital studio that will develop original content for the Internet.

    Stage 9 Digital Media, quietly in the works for two years, will be unveiled today with the premiere of "Squeegees," a comedy series about window-washer slackers, on and YouTube. It is the first of a planned 20 online programs currently in development.

    ...[ABC Studios president Mark] Pedowitz said Stage 9 would make it possible to experiment with new forms of storytelling, cultivate young talent and incubate franchises that might someday graduate to the bigger screen, namely TV. And because the financial risks are lower, there is greater creative freedom. The goal is to bridge the gap between the irregular quality of amateur video and traditional television show

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

DivX's Stage6 Video Site Fades Out

From the "If a video-sharing site falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it" department...

The San Diego tech company DivX is shutting down its Stage6 video-sharing site, which aimed to be a higher-resolution version of YouTube -- and had plans to share revenue with its users and enable pay-per-download. The site launched in the fall of 2006, but never attracted much of a following.

Even though the venture didn't succeed, and no one wanted to buy Stage6, DivX is declaring victory, contending that "We helped prove that it's possible to distribute true high definition video on the Internet. And we helped broaden the Internet video experience by offering content that is compatible with DVD players, mobile devices and other products beyond the PC."

Here's more from the sorry-we're-closing e-mail I got last night from a DivX employee:

    So why are we shutting the service down? Well, the short answer is that the continued operation of Stage6 is a very expensive enterprise that requires an enormous amount of attention and resources that we are not in a position to continue to provide. There are a lot of other details involved, but at the end of the day it's really as simple as that.

    Now, why didn't we think of that before we decided to create Stage6 in the first place, you may ask? That's a good question. When we first created Stage6, there was a clear need for a service that would offer a true high-quality video experience online because other video destinations on the Internet simply weren't providing that to users. A gap existed, and Stage6 arrived to fill it.

    As Stage6 grew quickly and dramatically (accompanied by an explosion of other sites delivering high-quality video), it became clear that operating the service as a part of the larger DivX business no longer made sense. We couldn't continue to run Stage6 and focus on our broader strategy to make it possible for anyone to enjoy high-quality video on any device. So, in July of last year we announced that we were kicking off an effort to explore strategic alternatives for Stage6, which is a fancy way of saying we decided we would either have to sell it, spin it out into a private company or shut it down.

    I won't (and can't, really) go into too much detail on those first two options other than to say that we tried really hard to find a way to keep Stage6 alive, either as its own private entity or by selling it to another company. Ultimately neither of those two scenarios was possible, and we made the hard decision to turn the lights off and cease operation of the service.

    So that's where we are today. After February 28, Stage6 will cease to exist as an online destination. ...

DivX's primary business is selling software that enables high-quality video encoding and playback on PCs, DVD players, and other consumer devices.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Last Night's Academy Awards: Not on YouTube

Last year, I wrote about how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences requested that YouTube yank any clips from the Oscar telecast...and yet the official Oscar site didn't offer much video to Oscar-obsessed Internet users.

The same thing is happening this year. offers mostly footage from the "thank you" cam, a backstage opportunity for winners to be more profuse in their gratitude.

And on YouTube, nearly all clips from the telecast are being zapped almost immediately. (Someone posted the "In Memoriam" tribute to actors who died in 2007, and it was removed within about 12 minutes.) I wonder if this is YouTube's automatic content filtering software at work...

People clearly want to watch the few highlights of the telecast that are available on YouTube. (A clip of the song 'Falling Slowly' from 'Once,' which hasn't been removed yet, has been seen more than 37,000 times.)

The Academy did launch an official YouTube channel this year (you can find it here), but today it contains only clips from previous Oscar shows, promo spots, interviews with Academy members, and Sid Ganis' pre-Oscars video blog.

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Two from the Times: Online Video Viewing Data, and Saving the DVD

- The NY Times offers some interesting data about how people consume video online: the 20 percent of viewers who watch the most video view more than 140 times as much of it as the 50 percent who watch the least. With data from comScore and Media Contacts, the Times found that the top 20 percent of viewers see 841 minutes (or 14 hours) of video every month, on average. The bottom 50 percent watch just six minutes a month.

- The Times also has a very smart examination of how studios are trying to sustain their DVD sales -- both high-def and standard-def. Brooks Barnes and Matt Richtel write:

    Movie studios are fighting back by taking a page from the Internet playbook. Indeed, the centerpiece of the market rejuvenation effort is something 20th Century Fox calls “digital copy.” Fox DVDs, starting last month, now come with an additional disc holding a digital file of the title. Consumers can download the file to a computer in about five minutes — far less time than via the Internet — and then watch the movie there or transfer it to their iPod.

    ...But John Freeman, an industry analyst, sees the effort as a stall tactic. Although digital copies are “a step forward,” he said, that step is tantamount to Hollywood admitting that its lucrative hard-goods business is growing obsolete. Today, digital files on discs; tomorrow, mass downloading straight from the Internet.

    Troubles big and small started buffeting the DVD business in 2005. First, overall sales of television shows on disc started to slip as releases lost their freshness — New to DVD! “Murder She Wrote: The Complete Eighth Season” — and consumers realized they were devoting a lot of living room space to bulky boxed sets they never watched.

    Next, prices started to plummet as overall demand weakened and retailers and grocery stores turned to DVDs as loss leaders. DVDs sold for an average retail price of $15.01 last year, compared with $21.95 in 2000, according to Adams.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Conversations with Oscar-nominated VFX Supervisors

VFX World talks to John Knoll, Mike Fink, and Scott Farrar about their nominated movies: 'Pirates: At World's End,' 'The Golden Compass,' and 'Transformers.' (Courtesy of vfxblog.)

Fink says:

    If there is a difference between 'Golden Compass' and the other two contenders for the Oscar -- and believe me, these are the ones that I voted for in the bakeoff -- I think it comes down to the fact that for visual effects 'Golden Compass' was an exercise in intimacy. And for 'Pirates' and 'Transformers,' it was an exercise in spectacle. And believe me, I think intimacy is a lot harder to pull off. So whether we win or not, I think we had the larger task of the three of us. And that’s not taking anything away from what the guys did on the other films -- I think they did a stupendous job.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Media Companies and Videogames: In the Wall Street Journal

Big thinker Allan Yasnyi e-mailed today to make sure I'd seen this WSJ piece on the on-again/off-again relationship between big media companies and the videogame business. (I hadn't.) The relationship is apparently on again, in a big way.

From the piece by Merissa Marr and Nick Wingfield:

    With renewed zeal, traditional media companies have begun building their own videogame businesses again. For years, they outsourced development of games based on their television shows and movies in licensing deals with big games publishers. Now, the media companies want a bigger piece of the fast-expanding games business for themselves.

    They see the videogame business as an opportunity for significant growth, especially compared to their more mature, traditional businesses such as television and movies. Box office revenue inched 4.0% higher last year, in large part because of ticket price increases, while home-video sales declined 3.2%, according to Adams Media Research. In contrast, videogames are the fastest growing sector of entertainment, with sales in the U.S. rising 34% last year to $8.64 billion, according to NPD Group Inc.

    "The only growth business now and for the foreseeable future is interactive entertainment," says Strauss Zelnick, chairman of Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., the New York-based publisher of the Grand Theft Auto series of games, and a former movie-studio executive.

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For Thursday: Set-Top Box Reviews, Upconverting DVDs, and Player-Developed Games

- NY Times columnist David Pogue evaluates four leading Internet-connected set-top boxes, and gives the $300 Vudu the highest overall grade. (Others included in his survey include Xbox 360, Apple TV, and TiVo.) Pogue also makes some good points about the limitations imposed on all of the boxes by studios:

    ...[N]o matter which movie-download service you choose, you’ll find yourself facing the same confusing, ridiculous time limits for viewing. You have to start watching the movie you’ve rented within 30 days, and once you start, you have to finish it within 24 hours.

    ...What would the studios lose by offering a 27-hour rental period? Or three days, or even a week? Nothing. In fact, they’d attract millions more customers. (At the very least, instead of just deleting itself, the movie should say: “Would you like another 24-hour period for an additional $1?”)

    Then there’s the fact that to protect their cash cows, most studios don’t release their movies on the Internet until a month after they’ve been available on DVD.

- NY Times reporter Saul Hansell talks to an electronics retailer who says that until the cost of Blu-ray players drops below $200 or $150, most consumers will still be happy buying standard-def DVD players that upconvert, producing a very nice looking picture from a garden-variety DVD.

- This feels important, somehow: Microsoft allowing players to develop their own videogames and share them with others via Xbox. A vidgame twist on YouTube?

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Five Oscar Wins That Shaped the Movies

Looking back at the history of the Academy Awards, there were five Oscar wins that were central to the evolution of the motion picture industry, changing the way movies are made by directors and experienced by audiences.

Technological innovation, in my opinion, not only created the movies, but insured that the art form would remain an important part of American culture over more than a century.

So, in chronological order.

1. At the very first Academy Awards ceremony, held in 1929, Warner Bros. received a special award for producing 'The Jazz Singer,' "which has revolutionized the industry." 'The Jazz Singer' wasn't the first time anyone tried to add sound to motion pictures (see Phonofilm and the Kinetophone, for instance), and the movie still relied on title cards. But its success convinced Hollywood that audiences wanted to hear actors talk -- and sing.

Al Jolson "Blue Skies" The Jazz Singer 1927

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(Video: Al Jolson singing 'Blue Skies' to his Mammy.)

2. A decade later, in 1939, 'Gone with the Wind' won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Art Direction. While it wasn't the first movie made in Technicolor (Disney had first used the three-strip Technicolor process for an earlier Oscar winner, the animated short 'Flowers and Trees') it represented the "tipping point," when mainstream Hollywood was finally convinced that shifting to color production made sense.

(Video: Rhett puts the moves on Scarlett.)

3. Movie soundtracks were recorded in mono for most of the 20th century. Walt Disney tried to bring more depth and nuance to the theatrical experience with 'Fantasia' in 1940, using multi-channel sound for the first time in a commercial release. (As many as 54 speakers were installed in some theaters, with the soundtrack recorded optically onto a second strip of film that ran in sync with the picture.) While Disney won an honorary Academy Award certificate for "outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures through the production of Fantasia" in 1942, it was another 35 years before stereo sound at the movies became truly widespread, with the introduction of Dolby Stereo soundtracks in the late 1970s.

(Video: Part of the 'Rite of Spring' dinosaur sequence.)

4. Here's a movie few people remember: 1953's 'The Robe,' starring Richard Burton. It won two minor Oscars, and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Cinematography. 'The Robe' was the first feature released in Fox's CinemaScope widescreen format. While other widescreen movies also won Oscars (like the Cinerama release 'Around the World in Eighty Days', in 1957), it was the CinemaScope format the persuaded most theater owners to leave behind the square old Academy ratio and start showing widescreen releases (in part because CinemaScope was a less-expensive system than others, and in part because of Fox's salesmanship). The transition to majestic widescreen in the 50s and 60s also helped Hollywood remain relevant as Americans were installing televisions in their living rooms.

(Video: A fanfare for Caligula.)

5. 'Star Wars: Episode IV' wasn't the very first movie to incorporate a computer-generated visual effects shot (a wire-frame animation of the Death Star's architecture), but it was the first to win an Oscar: Best Visual Effects, along with five others. The 1977 blockbuster heralded the arrival of digital tools for crafting objects, characters, and environments that look real (but aren't quite.) George Lucas' and Richard Edlund's pioneering use of computers in 'Star Wars' led to not just 'Tron,' 'Titanic,' and 'Lord of the Rings,' but also 'Toy Story' and 'Shrek.'

(Video: Original 'Star Wars' trailer.)

I know I've left out plenty of other significant wins (such as 'Lawrence of Arabia,' which used an innovative, custom-built lens from Panavision; 'The English Patient,' the first movie edited digitally to win the Best Editing Oscar; and dozens of important Science and Technology Oscars), but these are my votes for the milestone Oscars, from a CinemaTech point-of-view.

I'm eager to hear what you think...

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An Alternative Distribution Update

Anne Thompson of Variety has a blog posting and a column that together offer a very thorough update on alternative distribution.

Madonna recently said that she's planning to explore Internet distribution options for her directorial debut, 'Filth & Wisdom,' and lesser-known directors like Matt Gannon and Michael Sarner have been figuring out how to use Amazon's CreateSpace to generate serious revenues. (They've grossed more than $500K on their hockey doc 'In the Crease,' they say.)

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Science Doc is First to Use ArtistShare for Fund-Raising

The producers of the science documentary 'BLAST,' about the launch of a high-altitude telescope, claim that they're the first ones using ArtistShare to raise money for a film.

ArtistShare is an Internet financing site, originally for musicians. Fans can either pre-buy a download or a CD, or donate larger amounts -- which might earn them a producer's credit, tickets to live shows, original hand-written sheet music, etc.

'BLAST' is being featured on the homepage of ArtistShare; donate $150,000 to the project and you'll get a hand-written thank you letter from director Paul Devlin, tickets to a private screening at the SoHo House in Manhattan, and much, much more.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

The final post about the Blu-ray / HD DVD format war?

The final nails were hammered into HD DVD's coffin this week, with Netflix, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart deciding to stock only Blu-ray discs and players.

Here's an obituary from today's NY Times.

From the Times piece:

    Thus far, consumers have purchased about one million Blu-ray players, though there are another three million in the market that are integrated into the PlayStation 3 consoles of Sony, said Richard Doherty, research director of Envisioneering, a technology assessment firm. About one million HD DVD players have been sold.

    Evenly matched by Blu-ray through 2007, HD DVD experienced a marked reversal in fortune in early January when Warner Brothers studio, a unit of Time Warner, announced it would manufacture and distribute movies only in Blu-ray. With the Warner decision, the Blu-ray coalition controlled around 75 percent of the high-definition content from the major movie and TV studios. The coalition includes Sharp, Panasonic and Philips as well as Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox studios.

ZDNet covers the Netflix and Best Buy decisions from earlier in the week.

Earlier, people had predicted that Sony's PlayStation 3, which included a Blu-ray player, would help Blu-ray edge ahead. Others thought that the availability of X-rated movies on HD DVD, or that format's cheaper equipment, would help it win. HD DVD was also the first to hit the market, in the spring of 2006.

Right now, though, it looks like Warner Bros. helped break the tie between the two formats in January, by announcing that it'd release movies only in the Blu-ray format; the studio had previously been releasing in both Blu-ray and HD DVD. History, of course, may eventually reveal that some other force was involved (conspiracy theorists imagine a giant payment to Warner Bros. from Blu-ray patent holder Sony Electronics, for instance).

It's interesting to me that it was Warner Bros. that helped make sure the studios coalesced around the original standard-definition DVD format in the 1990s... and that the Warner Bros. executive who led that effort, Warren Lieberfarb, wound up as a consultant for the HD DVD camp this time around.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

'U23D' and Hannah Montana Compete for Digital 3-D Screens

The Wall Street Journal writes about two digital 3-D releases that are suddenly competing head-to-head for the roughly 700 3-D capable screens in the US.

From Sarah McBride's article:

    ..."U23D" has run into another 3-D concert movie: "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour." The world of 3-D film exhibition, it turns out, isn't big enough for both Hannah and Bono. Originally scheduled to run for just one week, the "tween"-oriented Hannah Montana film was extended by theater owners because of overwhelming popularity -- sidelining Bono & Co. until Feb. 22 in most markets. For now, "U23D" remains largely at a few dozen Imax theaters.

    The situation underscores the challenges of 3-D technology. The industry is touting 3-D as its best shot at combating increasingly sophisticated home-theater systems. Among the 3-D titles in the pipeline: "Toy Story 3D" from Disney's Pixar; "Monsters vs. Aliens" from DreamWorks Animation; and "Avatar," the next film from "Titanic" director James Cameron.

Also, here's a new blog from Jim Dorey on 3-D movies, called MarketSaw.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Panel on Internet Video, in Boston

Last night's sold-out MITX panel, 'Internet Video: What's Next?', was a lot of fun... and a full house despite dire warnings of impending precipitation. (Which always get Bostonians agitated.)

In the audience was a big contingent of video folks from the Globe, at least one exec from Visible Measures, video analyst Will Richmond, blogger and consultant Cesar Brea, and lots of folks from PermissionTV, one of the event's sponsors.

I won't try for a comprehensive re-cap here, but we talked about three areas: how is viewing behavior changing on the Web; how are videos made and distributed, and how are they monetized and measured.

No one has yet solved the problem for the mainstream consumer of getting Internet video onto a TV. Mike Hirshland of Polaris Venture Partners said that it could wind up being the player who can most successfully do deals with cable companies -- a risky prospect for venture capitalists to bet on. He said he'd earlier invested in a company, Ucentric Systems, that tried to built a next-gen set-top box, but was about eight years too early.

The panel seemed to agree that story and content trump production values. Denise DiIanni of WGBH recalled that several years back, filmmakers working with 'Nova' resisted shooting on video and tried to stick with 16 millimeter film. But the audience didn't see the difference, and didn't care.

Hirshland said that pre-roll advertising is already dead, and that the ad formats that will win will be highly targeted, and allow the viewer to choose to engage with them, rather than forcing a viewer to sit through them.

Someone from the audience asked a great question about how Internet video will evolve. Right now, he said, we're treating it like TV -- but it'll likely turn into something different. Denise DiIanni of WGBH had a great reply, which is that Internet video allows for conversations between the creator of media and the consumer -- putting both on a level playing field.

Videoblogger Steve Garfield, sitting in the audience, showed us how he does liveblogging with his Nokia N95 cell phone. Using QIK, he streamed video while he was talking.

After the panel, I had an interesting chat with Cesar Brea, who said that an impending recession will likely force advertisers to get serious about Internet video, emphasizing solid measurement and accountability. IE, it may shift things more to a pay-per-click model, as opposed to pay-per-impression.

Finally, here are some of the clips that we showed and talked about at the start of the panel....

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Strike Resolved ... What It Means

A tentative deal between writers and producers was reached on Saturday; work in Hollywood could resume as soon as Wednesday. The big win for the Writer's Guild of America was securing a percentage of revenues when shows and movies are delivered online (rather than receiving a fixed fee.)

Cynthia Littleton of Variety has some thoughtful analysis of what the WGA strike meant to TV and screenwriters, in economic terms. She writes:

    For the WGA, it was all about setting precedent and cementing the idea that scribes deserve to be paid for Internet exploitation of their work. More specifically, they wanted a deal that paid them a percentage of distributor's gross, on the principle that "when you get paid, we get paid."

    But the cost of achieving that principle through a strike has been considerable -- particularly for the busiest and most successful WGA members with the most to lose. Meanwhile, the money to be made through the hard-fought new-media residuals is not exactly eye-popping.

    A TV writer, for example, will earn about $1,400-$1,600 a year for each streamed episode on which he is the credited writer -- while some showrunners may have lost as much as six figures from unproduced episodes. Screenwriters will probably earn less from this new income source, as Web streaming of movies is not nearly as ubiquitous as streaming of TV programs.

The Wall Street Journal says:

    Whether the advances the WGA made on winning new-media income will ever be worth anything remains to be seen. Some of the producers feel they have made a considerable concession in agreeing to pay the writers a percentage rather than a flat fee. But even the studios have little idea of what impact the Internet will have on the industry by the time the next negotiation comes around in 2011.

    "There are important issues that remain unresolved and there are more discussions to be had over the next contract," said David Young, the WGA's West Coast executive director.

Reaching an accord with the Screen Actors Guild is next on the to-do list, according to the New York Times.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday links: HPA Tech Retreat, 'An Evening with Richard Edlund,' a $6 Million Home Theater

- offers an advance look at what'll be happening later this month at the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Tech Retreat: new cameras, new displays, new microphones.

- Variety's David Cohen reports on a talk given on Wednesday by visual effects pioneer Richard Edlund:

    [Edlund] noted that George Lucas had upstaged at least one of his own best scenes by adding CG characters to the background in his "Star Wars" re-release and observed that ILM in general tends to get "carried away" and put to much in the frame.

- A 4K digital cinema in your home? CNET fills you in.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Revver on the skidds?

CNET and NewTeeVee say the pioneering vid-sharing site Revver has been trying to sell itself -- with no takers so far. Liz Gannes at NewTeeVee writes:

    Public traffic measurers show Revver with flat growth, though the company sees quite a lot of views in its embedded players, which aren’t typically measured. The company hasn’t figured into anyone’s top 10 video sites by traffic in quite a while. We’d reported on video stars who have moved off the Revver platform as their primary host, such as Ze Frank, who left for; Ask a Ninja, which chose Castfire; and Lonelygirl15, which went back to promoting its YouTube clips.

Revver's big differentiator in the early days was that it was the first site to share advertising revenue with creators...remember the Mentos and Diet Coke duo?

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Selling Short Films: The YouTube/B-Side Strategy

Jack Truman is a Missouri filmmaker whose short, "Phone Sex Grandma," played at Slamdance in 2006. (It stars his mom, disturbingly enough.) Truman also had a documentary short shown at Slamdance this year.

Here's his distribution strategy for "Phone Sex Grandma": put it up for free on YouTube (an ad plays briefly on the bottom of the screen), and offer viewers the opportunity to buy the short at iPod definition or DVD definition -- in digital form, without DRM -- from B-Side Entertainment. (It may also be available somewhere on B-Side's site as a physical DVD you can order ... but I couldn't find that.)

The YouTube version of the nine-minute short is here. It's chock full of profanity ... which makes me wonder again whether Web video needs some sort of ratings system, a la G, PG, R, NC-17. This'd probably be rated R for language.

Update: Truman tells me that the ad revenue from YouTube goes to B-Side, not him.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Why Aren't More Sundance Movies Pirated?

Slate has a story that poses that question.

Tim Wu observes that it's nearly impossible to find any of the hits from this year's Sundance Film Festival, or last year's, on any of the leading networks for pirated media. He hypothesizes:

    ...The simplest explanation is that it takes a critical mass of interest—lots of people who want to see a film—before it will get decent pirate distribution. There are a number of reasons for this, but, crucially, every step of the piracy distribution system relies on knowing that the film exists at all. Moreover, to get effective, fast distribution on a peer-to-peer network, you need lots of reliable peers—enough people willing to share the burden of distributing the film online.

    In the end, it's a numbers game. How many people want to see the film? Of those, which will get access, break the protection, and put it online? How many will download it, and of those, how many will share the burden of allowing others to download it? These numbers determine whether a film is online at all and mark the difference between a BitTorrent download that takes one hour, and one that takes five days or doesn't work at all.

    ...What this suggests is that film pirates are not predators but parasites. They do not roam around looking for new and unknown films to eat, but rather prey on big films with name recognition. Some pirates also seem to take pride in landing the "big film," and, by that measure, documentaries about the Pentagon's classification policies (Secrecy) do not measure up. In a sense, this is more bad news for independent filmmakers. Forget about Sony Classics: It's not all that easy to get distribution on the Pirate Bay.

Reading the piece kept bringing to mind the quote from Tim O'Reilly: "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy."

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Talking with Brian Chirls about Online Audience-Building

Last Wednesday, I had a chance to sit down for a few minutes with Brian Chirls, the tech guru who helped Arin Crumley and Susan Buice build an audience for 'Four Eyed Monsters.' More recently, he has been working with John Sayles on the online marketing for 'Honeydripper.'

Brian's a smart guy... we mostly talked about the importance of collecting information about your fans (and who's a super-fan versus someone who's just mildly interested in your movie). We also touched on the deal that 'Four Eyed Monsters' did with YouTube and Spout, where YouTube offered the full movie for free, and Spout served as a sponsor, paying the filmmakers a buck for every new member who joined after watching the movie on YouTube.

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