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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Greg Joyce on Brightcove and serial Internet movie distribution

Massachusetts filmmaker Greg Joyce e-mailed last month to let me know he was experimenting with Brightcove, a relatively new platform for distributing and selling video on the Net. He's chopping up his comedy `Working Stiff' into three and four-minute chunks, and using Brightcove to make it available as a kind of Web serial -- for free.

Earlier, Joyce told me via e-mail that he'd tried to use Google Video for Net distribution, but that they "rejected my movie because of nudity. I thought it was a mistake because it's really quite tame, but they said it wasn't a mistake, I was violating their rules. It could be worse, I suppose; if I were Chinese, they'd be blocking my access to the real world. `Don't be evil.' Right." (That brings up a really important issue -- which is how all these Internet video sites, from YouTube to Google, are judging what's obscene and what's not. Almost all of them have said they don't want to help distribute porn -- which would no doubt cause their bandwidth bills to skyrocket and their investors to blush -- but none of them have explained how they define porn. I suppose they subscribe to the Justice Potter Stewart approach to censorship: "I know it when I see it.")

Earlier today, Joyce sent along a link to some correspondence he has been having with Brightcove founder Jeremy Allaire on the company's online forums. It's worth reading. Allaire writes:

    I actually really like your ‘episodic’ or ‘webisodic’ approach to your film. One of the things that make broadcast television series so rich is that they develop over time and the viewers can develop a much deeper relationship with the story. Unlike broadcast and cable, however, Internet TV gives the producer the option of delivering these at any time and length. This makes things potentially more cost effective to start building an audience. The threshold for a TV pilot is several hundred K, for a series, many many millions. But the cost threshold for an Internet TV show is much much lower, and the producer can engage with their audience in a more direct fashion and adapt the storytelling and characters based on audience engagement.

    We think that casual broadband consumers will want to consume a lot of content daily in 2-7 minute bursts of high-quality, streamed viewing. But once they develop either a specialized interest in a content or topic, or a deeper loyalty to an entertainment product, they’d be willing to pay a small fee (.99 cents) to download a DVD quality version of the feature-length show, and be able to use it easily on a TV or portable device.

I applaud Joyce's experimentation, but I feel like feature films are written and directed to be viewed in one or two (or maybe even three) sittings. A half-hour TV show is structured in a way that it's most enjoyable consumed in a single gulp. I just don't think that putting long form content through the Cuisinart and serving it up as Internet video is gonna work. I do think that `mobisodes' and short Web films are perfect filler for those procrasinatory moments we all encounter during the day, and watching a few of them on iFilm or YouTube can be really fun. And I'm sure you could create a great 100-part (or infinite) serialized story, with two or three minute episodes.

But do you really want to consume `Blazing Saddles' or `Schindler's List,' one teaspoon at a time?


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