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Friday, May 19, 2006

Jim Ramo of Movielink at FilmAngels

I had a chance last night to moderate a conversation with Movielink CEO Jim Ramo at the FilmAngels gala in San Jose. It was held at the Camera 12 multiplex downtown -- an interesting venue for talking about film financing and digital distribution.

Jim has had an impressive career that has taken him from CBS to Times Mirror Cable to DirecTV to Shelter Ventures to, now, Movielink, a joint venture of five movie studios.

I don't have copious notes, since I was conducting the conversation onstage, but Jim mentioned some interesting stats:

  • Movielink offers about 1500 titles today. The main barrier to adding more titles, he said, is clearing the music rights for movies made before 1995. (It seems that even if older movies have been cleared for sale on DVD, they may not have been cleared for Internet downloading, which falls into the same category as TV video-on-demand.)
  • I asked him whether Movielink was interested in offering more indie titles. He said yes, but that they probably wouldn't do deals with individual filmmakers, but rather with a larger distributor/aggregator. He said the key would be making sure all the rights were cleared -- and that someone would pay the $500 it costs to encode a movie from a DVD.
  • Jim divulged some usage stats I hadn't heard before. He said Movielink gets a million unique visitors a month, and sells about 100,000 downloads each month. The gender split among users is 60/40 male/female, and the demographic that uses Movielink most is people between the ages of 21-54. Jim said that younger Net users may be already accustomed to illegal downloading.
  • Of the current movies available, Jim said the split was about 10/90 between new releases and archival content. But the 10 percent of new releases generate 60 percent of the buys.
  • We talked a bit about Chris Anderson's long tail concept. Jim said that one problem with studios releasing every movie they've ever made -- which Jim would like to offer -- is that the costs of clearing the rights, and of digitizing the movies, can be prohibitive if the studios feel they might only sell 100 or so downloads of that movie per year. In other words, the costs to them of making the long tail of their movie libraries available is daunting.
  • Jim hinted that Apple is talking to the studios about offering movies through iTunes, using its proprietary DRM format, Fairplay. He said that Steve Jobs isn't that interested in supporting other content marketplaces. That is one reason that Movielink -- which uses Microsoft's DRM format -- doesn't sell movies to Mac users.

I also caught presentations made by two groups of filmmakers working on indie movies that seem promising. (All told, there were five presentations.) One, already in post-production, was `Her Best Move,' which seems a bit like an American take on `Bend It Like Beckham.' The cast includes Daryl Sabara from `Spy Kids' and actual soccer pro Brandi Chastain. The other film, `Harrison Montgomery,' is still in fund-raising mode, but the filmmakers say they've gotten Martin Landau interested in playing the title character, an eccentric pack rat who lives in San Francisco's Tenderloin.


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