CinemaTech [ Digital cinema, democratization, and other trends remaking the movies ]
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Things This Movie Web Site Does Wrong
Here's a Wednesday challenge for you: have a look at this Web site, and think about the things it does wrong from a digital marketing point-of-view. (Note: this is a movie I'm very interested in seeing, as a fan of Disney history, so I would *like* to see them doing a better job.)
I'd note at least four things:
1. The title of the movie, "the boys," is very hard to "own" on Google. The words are just too common (try searching on "the boys" in Google). Pick a title that is non-generic enough that you have a shot at appearing on the first page of Google results. ("Burma VJ," a doc from this year's Sundance Film Festival, is a good example.) 2. Site is built entirely in Flash, so there is no way to link to a specific part of it. Sites in Flash are close to invisible when it comes to search engines. There's also no way for bloggers or other Web sites to easily "grab" text, like the movie synopsis, when they want to write about it on their site. 3. There's no info whatsoever on where I can see the film (at festivals or in theaters). 4. No way for me to give them my e-mail so I can be notified when the DVD goes on sale.
What else can we learning, using this as a case study?
Why Shouldn't Video Sites Focus on Where the $$$ Is?
I found this NY Times storyyesterday to be a surprising and interesting read.
Brad Stone and Miguel Helft write:
Web companies that rely on advertising are enjoying some of their most vibrant growth in developing countries. But those are also the same places where it can be the most expensive to operate, since Web companies often need more servers to make content available to parts of the world with limited bandwidth. And in those countries, online display advertising is least likely to translate into results.
This intractable contradiction has become a serious drag on the bottom lines of photo-sharing sites, social networks and video distributors like YouTube. It is also threatening the fervent idealism of Internet entrepreneurs, who hoped to unite the world in a single online village but are increasingly finding that the economics of that vision just do not work.
Last year, Veoh, a video-sharing site operated from San Diego, decided to block its service from users in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, citing the dim prospects of making money and the high cost of delivering video there.
Audio: Panel on How Filmmakers Are Building Fan Bases
My audience-building panel at the Independent Film Festival of Boston was surprisingly packed for something scheduled at noon on a beautiful Sunday. Panelists included new media guru Brian Chirls, documentary producer and cinematographer Sean Flynn, and Chris Holland from B-Side, who is also the author of 'Film Festival Secrets.' The attendees were mostly filmmakers, with some musicians and comedians tossed in for biodiversity.
You can click the player below to hear the audio. (A downloadable MP3 can be found here.) According to Brian, who recorded the panel, we talked about a wide range of things, including:
- Benefits and pitfalls of social networking (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) - Strategies for reaching audiences before, during and after production - Crowdsourcing to build audiences as well as help production - How much of your content to post online for free - Ad revenue models - Distribution formats (DVD, download, streaming, theatrical, etc.) - Applying all the above to other media such as music and art
I also recall that we talked a bit about the pendulum shift that is happening with regard to building a fan base for your work. In the old days, when you had a movie distributor or a record label behind you, you spent maybe 10 percent of your time on promotion and marketing tasks (like doing interviews with the media), and 90 percent of your time actually creating. I think the pendulum is swinging, toward a world where success is going to require more of a 40/60 split between audience-building and creating. That's not necessarily bad news, since audience-building can feed your art, and in fact be an art form unto itself. Just think about how much people like Andy Warhol, Frank Lloyd Wright, and John Waters all seem(ed) to enjoy promoting their work...
New Wiki: The Tools That Work Best For Building a Fan Base and Selling Your Stuff
I just created a wiki called "Power Tools." This is an excerpt from Fans, Friends & Followers that aims to list some of the most effective tools for promoting and earning money from your creative work, whether it's film, music, writing, comedy, animation, or visual art.
I'd love to get your help in expanding it. What sites and services have you found most useful for selling your stuff, communicating with fans, booking theaters, analyzing your site traffic, advertising your DVD release?
And any help spreading the word would be swell. Wikis don't work so well unless you get a decent number of folks involved...
The New York Times has a great piece today on a court case that begins in San Francisco today, over the issue of whether you have the right to take a DVD that you own and store a digital copy of that content on your own computer.
From Brad Stone's piece:
The case is ostensibly about RealDVD, a $30 software program that allows users to save digital copies of Hollywood DVDs to their computers — a capability the movie industry strenuously objects to, worrying that it will stimulate piracy and undermine the budding market for digital downloads.
But the outcome of the trial, set against the backdrop of plummeting DVD sales, could also have more far-reaching effects on the future capabilities of the DVD player — a device connected to millions of television sets.
Before it started making RealDVD software for computers, Real was also developing DVD-saving software that it hoped to license to manufacturers of DVD players, according to the company’s executives and legal filings in the case.
That software, which the company refers to by its internal name, Facet, would allow companies like Sony, Samsung and Toshiba to sell DVD players capable of making digital copies of all discs, even movie DVDs that have anticopying software, called C.S.S.
The owners of those devices could save copies of their DVDs to watch later — much as people use digital video recorders like TiVo to save live television programs.
I had fun sitting down in February to talk with Larry Jordan, one of the pioneers of non-linear editing and the publisher of the site HDFilmTools. We talked a bit about my two recent books, Inventing the Movies and Fans, Friends & Followers, but largely we focused on the ways the entertainment industry is changing for individual content creators -- the new opportunities and challenges that are emerging.
Here's Part I (we talk about innovators and those who resist innovation in Hollywood):
Part II (begins with Larry asking, "Where is the studio system heading?"):
And Part III (why you need to cultivate your own fan base):
Funny how Hulu has suddenly become the gold-standard for video sites. My initial impressions are that PBS' site is not as fluid to navigate... that the videos aren't as well-described in text as Hulu... and that it isn't as clip-oriented. You have to dive in to watching a half-hour or hour-long program.
The site is built on new technology that will also allow users to upload video, make comments and otherwise interact with the site and one another. For example, in conjunction with the Ken Burns documentary series “The National Parks,” which will be introduced this fall, users will be invited to upload videos of parks.
Just added a Reviews page to the Fans, Friends & Followers Web site, collecting some of the generous things people have been saying about the book.
From Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and editor of Wired:
“Making a living in the Long Tail means taking matters into your own hands, crafting a marketing strategy that’s just right for you and your work. This book compiles the stories of those who’ve done it best. You’ll get ideas from every one of them. Inspiring and incredibly useful — Kirsner has assembled a playbook for the social media age.”
Three Monday Links: Flash Wants to Be Omnipresent ... Lumina's Business Model ... Inside the Pirate's Mind
- The NY Times reports this morning on Adobe's efforts to get TVs and mobile phones to support its Flash format for online video. From the piece:
For consumers, what sounds like a bit of inconsequential Internet plumbing actually means that a long overhyped notion is a step closer to reality: viewing a video clip or Internet application on a TV or mobile phone.
For Hollywood studios and other content creators, a single format for Web video is even more enticing. It means they can create their entertainment once in Flash — as the animated documentary “Waltz With Bashir,” from Sony Pictures Classics, was made — and distribute it cheaply throughout the expanding ecosystem of digital devices.
“Coming generations of consumers clearly expect to get their content wherever they want on it, on any device, when they want it,” said Bud Albers, the chief technology officer of the Disney Interactive Media Group, who will join Adobe executives at the convention to voice Disney’s support for the Flash format. “This gets us where we want to go.”
- Dan Carew of the blog Indie 2.0 offers a great example of someone taking the "Fans, Friends & Followers" approach to building an audience for her work: Jen Thym, director of the online series "Lumina." Thym explains her business model in a Q&A with Carew:
On LUMINA, we’re going with the fan supported business model, which basically goes like this: Viewing is free. If you like us and want to support us, please spread the word about us and, if you’re feeling really generous, buy our mechandise. Webcomics have succeeded on this model with varying degrees of success - Penny Arcade probably being the most famous of these - and they even have a themed convention called PAX now, next year I’m sure they’re going to host a panel on the moon or something! On the music side, Nine Inch Nails did something similar by giving away Ghosts for free, and then selling limited editions of the CD, concert tickets, and so forth.
- Slate's Farhad Manjoo explains why there isn't yet an expansive, totally comprehensive movie service. And he offers some insights into the thinking of people who get their movies illegally:
... I've been getting my programming from the friendly BitTorrent peer-to-peer network. Pirates aren't popular these days, but let's give them this—they know how to put together a killer on-demand entertainment system.
I sometimes feel bad about my plundering ways. Like many scofflaws, though, I blame the system. I wouldn't have to steal if Hollywood would only give me a decent online movie-streaming service. In my dreams, here's what it would look like: a site that offers a huge selection—50,000 or more titles to choose from, with lots of Hollywood new releases, indies, and a smorgasbord of old films and TV shows. (By comparison, Netflix says it offers more than 100,000 titles.) Don't gum it up with restrictions, like a requirement that I watch a certain movie within a specified time after choosing it. The only reasonable limit might be to force me to stream the movies so that I won't be able to save the flicks to my computer. Beyond that, charge me a monthly fee and let me watch whatever I want, whenever I want, as often as I want.
So according to an analysis by Credit Suisse, Google will lose about $470 million this year operating YouTube. Clearly, selling ads around user-generated and illegally-posted content isn't really working.
Those are all worth trying, but YouTube will need a broader selection of content than CBS' "Harper's Island" and the 1980 feature film "The Blue Lagoon." (Though there are a couple good Werner Herzog films available...)
The Boston Globe ran this great piece about how musicians are funding tours and albums with help from their fans. The headline is "Musicians and fans join together to get albums made."
Some solid ideas for film and video folks in here...and it's all very much in tune with the Fans, Friends & Followers approach. (They even include a few quotes from Jill Sobule, who is in the book.)
Wanted to share one great quote from a "benefactor" who supported folk musician Ellis Paul:
Karen Zundel, a librarian in Pennsylvania who's been a devoted Ellis Paul fan for 12 years, says she even saved up for her contribution because it held more importance than your typical splurge. "The arts are what sustain us and bring individuals and communities together and help us to connect with our innermost beings," Zundel says. "A new car won't do that. When you buy a new car or a new outfit, you get that little thrill that lasts very temporarily, and then it's gone. But I think art really sustains me. It lasts."
I have to say, I respect the impulse to do something journalistically innovative and review a partially-finished movie pulled down from a file-sharing site. What could be more contemporary? But I also feel like movie criticism involves reviewing movies when they're done... and also not encouraging readers to do things that chisel away at the economic model of actually making movies.
Will YouTube Ever Be a Place for Long-Form Content?
There's news this week that YouTube and Sony are negotiating to bring more full-length films to YouTube. From CNET's coverage:
Founded in 2005, YouTube made a name for itself by showcasing amateur-made snippets as well as hosting scores of illegally posted clips from the best TV shows and films. YouTube has done much to rid the site of pirated content, but the flip side is that most of the hot shows and films that generated big viewership are gone. At the same time, a host of Web video services are offering full-length films and TV episodes online. To compete, YouTube is trying to get access to the same premium content but has so far only acquired a handful of films from the archives of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
What do you think... will long-form viewing ever be part of the YouTube experience, or is this something that Hulu and Netflix and others will eventually own?
Doesn't Wall Street Have Better Things to Worry About?
For each of the last four Pixar films, Wall Street analysts have worried about their appeal in some way: can cars be expressive enough... will anyone relate to a rat who works in a restaurant... can a half-silent film about a trash-compacting robot connect with kids?
Now, they're fretting about 'Up,' whose main character is a 78-year old man. From today's NY Times piece:
Some industry watchers, a few of them still griping about the hefty $9 billion that Disney paid for Pixar in 2006, are fretting about the film’s commercial potential, particularly when it comes to benefiting other Disney businesses.
Richard Greenfield of Pali Research downgraded Disney shares to sell last month, citing a poor outlook for “Up” as a reason. “We doubt younger boys will be that excited by the main character,” he wrote, adding a complaint about the lack of a female lead.
Mr. Greenfield is alone in his vociferousness, but not in his opinion.
“People seem to be concerned about this one,” said Chris Marangi, who follows Disney at Gabelli & Company. Doug Creutz of Cowen and Company said qualms ran deeper than whether “Up” will be a hit — he thinks it will — but rather whether Pixar can deliver the kind of megahit it once did.
“The worries keep coming despite Pixar’s track record, because each film it delivers seems to be less commercial than the last,” Mr. Creutz said.
While I have been critical in the past about Pixar's reluctance to experiment with new forms and formats for animation (Internet stuff, mobile phones, interactivity/gaming, etc.), I don't think it makes sense to worry about their ability to produce big hits ... hits that often do great on the merchandising and theme park front.
Thursday Reading: 'Wolverine' piracy, Hulu, Star Salaries, ShoWest, and More
- An unfinished version of 'X Men Origins: Wolverine' seems to be available online, a month before its scheduled release. Brian Stelter of the New York Times writes:
Eric Garland, the chief executive of the file-sharing monitoring firm BigChampagne, called the widespread downloading of “Wolverine” a “one-of-a-kind case.” “We’ve never seen a high-profile film — a film of this budget, a tentpole movie with this box office potential — leak in any form this early,” he said.
The studio, a unit of the News Corporation, spent the day demanding that copies of the film be removed from the largely anonymous swath of Web sites that swap movie files. But the copies propagated at such a swift rate that the digital cops could not keep up. BigChampagne estimated the digital film copy had been downloaded in the low hundreds of thousands of times in its first 24 hours on the Internet.
The studio said the F.B.I. and the Motion Picture Association of America were both investigating the film’s premature distribution.
- Interesting piece in BusinessWeek about Hulu's success at attracting viewers... but its problems selling advertising.
- In the recession, Hollywood studios are changing the way they pay big stars, according to The Wall Street Journal. Lauren Schuker writes:
For years, top movie stars often landed deals paying them a percentage -- sometimes as much as 20% -- of a studio's take of box-office revenues from the first dollar the movie makes, even if it turned out to be a flop that cost the studio millions. As a result, the biggest celebrities broke the $20 million mark. Eddie Murphy got that kind of payday for the flop "Meet Dave," which cost Twentieth Century Fox about $70 million and took in only $11.8 million at the domestic box office.
These "first-dollar gross" deals are hitting the cutting-room floor as studios slash the number of movies they're making. For two new projects, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures has done away with such deals, even though it has landed top talent. In "Dinner for Schmucks," with Steve Carell, and "Morning Glory," starring Harrison Ford, the actors accepted "back-end" deals, in which they get a portion of the gross, but only after the studio and its financing partners have recouped their costs. The studio also cut a back-end deal with "Dinner" director Jay Roach.
- The NY Times reports that the annual ShoWest convention in Vegas, where studios present their forthcoming product to theater-owners, is smaller and lower-key than usual this year.
CinemaTech focuses on how new technologies are changing cinema - the way movies get made, discovered, marketed, distributed, shown, and seen. (With occasional forays into other parts of the entertainment economy.) You can also follow CinemaTech on Twitter (@ctechblog).
For about the last ten years, I've been writing about innovation for publications like the Boston Globe, the New York Times, Wired, Variety, Fast Company, the Hollywood Reporter, Salon.com, BusinessWeek, and Newsweek.
I helped start (and continue to help run) three conferences: Future Forward, the Nantucket Conference on Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Convergence: The Life Sciences Leaders Forum. I also often speak and moderate at other people's conferences, and serve as a commentator on TV and radio. (Which beats actual work.)
You can reach me by e-mailing kirsner - at- pobox.com. My personal site is www.scottkirsner.com.