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Thursday, August 31, 2006

NY Times: Thumbs down for movie download services

John Quain reviews movie (and a few TV) download services in the NY Times, including CinemaNow, Movielink, Vongo, Guba, and AOL Video. His verdict: Netflix and local video stores are probably still the best bet. Quain complains about slow download times, DVD burning that doesn't work seamlessly, and 24-hour viewing deadlines before a downloaded video self-destructs. But Quain concludes that pricing may be the fatal flaw:

    Ultimately, what may hamper sales of downloadable movies may not be download times or trouble with DVD burning. The obstacle will be price. It is often more economical to rent DVD’s from local rental kiosks or mail-order outfits like Netflix (

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 Paying videographers to produce videos

This is quite a cool idea, and one I've been musing about for a few months: paying mediamakers to produce videos in a certain topic area or format. is looking for `how to' videos, but you could imagine building an online media service by commissioning video restaurant reviews, or coverage of local school sporting events, or even speeches by public company CEOs. is shelling out $300 per shoot, according to the press release, which is not great, but isn't chopped liver, either.

Seems like payment ought to scale up based on how many times your video is viewed...

(Update: An spokesman says the payment is a flat fee for each video, not based on number of views. But he tells me that some videographers have already made north of $1500 by submitting multiple videos.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Technicolor Digital Cinema signs up 120 screens with National Amusements

This announcement today simply means that 120 screens owned by National Amusements will be part of Technicolor's digital cinema beta test. Over the next 3-4 years, Technicolor hopes to digitize 5000 screens.

Apparently, the partnership between National Amusements and Technicolor is most evident, at this point, in Ohio, where Technicolor has put seven digital projectors into one of National Amusements' high-end Cinema de Lux multiplexes.

Stu Maschwitz blog ... Cruise financing ... `The lost art of film editing'

- I'm late in pointing you to Stu Maschwitz's blog. Stu is a co-founder of The Orphanage (which did visual effects recently for `Superman Returns' and `Sin City') and an alumnus of Industrial Light & Magic. Also a very busy TV commercial director and co-founder of Red Giant Software. He's got a book coming out this November that looks promising, called `The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap.'

I've got a Q&A with Stu that should be running soon in The Hollywood Reporter; I'll post a link here when it does, along with a longer version of the conversation, which also included Orphanage co-founder Jonathan Rothbart. (Thanks, Mike, for the nudge.)

- Tom Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, were getting $10 million a year from Paramount for overhead expenses -- basically, the costs of running an office and developing movies. Since the Paramount split, Cruise/Wagner have lined up financing for just $3 million a year for overhead, according to the Wall Street Journal. The financing comes from the owner of the Washington Redskins and the CEO of Six Flags. (Perhaps hoping that a future Tom Cruise flick will inspire a new breed of roller coaster at his theme parks?)

- The Boston Globe ran a piece on Sunday headlined `The lost art of film editing', by Jessica Winter. Her gripe is a familiar one: cuts in contemporary movies are too fast and too furious. Still, it's a good read. (In part because she doesn't blame new editing technology, like Avid or Apple's FinalCut Pro -- an obvious and simplistic scapegoat.) One cause for the disappearance of the long take, she says, is filmmaking by committee:

    ...filmmaking by committee is nothing new -- countless auteurs have had to battle with the suits over final cut -- but the size and power of the committees have grown in the last couple of years, as digital technology has made it possible to burn multiple copies of a rough cut onto DVDs in a matter of minutes. That means more comments and criticisms from anyone involved in the production -- be it a producer, sales agent, publicist, or personal assistant -- who happens to get his hands on a cut.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Monday reads: Film Journal on D-Cinema ... NY Times on Star Power ... `Long Tail' response

- Film Journal International has two good pieces on digital cinema, both by Andreas Fuchs. One deals with digital projection at the drive-in, and the other supplies an update on the Cinema Buying Group, a collective of independent theater owners who aim to negotiate better prices on digital cinema gear by banding together.

- The New York Times talks to economists and discovers that stars may not help a movie's performance at the box office as much as studio execs would like to believe. Eduardo Porter and Geraldine Fabrikant write:

    Hollywood, where the star system was invented, is not wholly dependent on celebrities: the list of biggest-grossing movies in history is dominated by movies like “Shrek 2,” “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial” and the “Star Wars” series, which were not star-driven. But the industry still places an enormous importance on superstar power based on a straightforward fact: On average, movies that have big names starring in them make more money at the box office than movies that do not.

    Movie industry specialists argue that, in the complicated world of Hollywood economics, stars bring many different kinds of benefits. They are easier to market, they help sell more tickets at home and overseas and they help drive home-video sales, which are a bigger and bigger slice of studio revenue. “If the stars’ job is to increase output, by drawing crowds into the theaters or selling DVD’s, it is not working as well as it had worked in the past,” said Harold L. Vogel, author of a book called “Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide for Financial Analysis.” But, he added: “This is a hiatus. We have gone through 25 years where new distribution for films — videocassettes, cable and DVD’s — added new revenue potential. That meant less resistance to stars’ salary demands.”

- It's ironic, of course, that `The Long Tail,' Chris Anderson's book about the importance of niches, should wind up on the big kahuna NY Times business best-sellers list -- but that's where it is. (And kudos to Chris, a sometime editor of mine.) In the LA Times, Marc Fisher reminds us that hits aren't going to vanish, in a response to Anderson's book. A snippet:

    Anderson dismisses the power of songs, movies and TV shows that speak to a mass audience, deriding them as a superficial form of connection. Human beings are "rather more tribal," he writes. "We're deeply connected with a few people."

    True enough, the digital revolution has demonstrated the allure of thousands of tiny online affinity groups, many with real emotional meaning. In the music world, blogs and sharing sites are creating their own mini-communities of like-minded listeners. But that is happening underneath a continuing longing for a mass culture. The desire to listen to what the other kids are listening to, even when it's lousy stuff, is as fundamental as speech and song themselves.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Discs by mail

My monthly Boston Globe column, which runs today, focuses on services other than Netflix that send discs in the mail, and how they're planning for the inevitable transition to digital downloading. A snippet:

    Executives at each of the services feel they can build nice-sized businesses in the shadow of Netflix, and many are already profitable. ``There are 100 million households that can play DVDs," says GameFly co-founder Sean Spector, ``and Netflix has about 5 million subscribers, so they have a lot of runway in front of them. There are about 60 million households with gaming consoles, so I think we have a lot of runway, too."

    But there's also looming uncertainty: How much longer will physical media like CDs and DVDs last before they are replaced by digital downloads?

Of course, the most interesting detail, to me, is that many of these services (like Simply Audiobooks and GreenCine) have already begun offering digital downloads -- while Netflix has not.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bluetooth beaming ... Cruise aftermath ... AOL Video launches movie downloads

- CBS is promoting some of its new TV shows by installing billboards at Grand Central Station that can beam a free video clip to travelers' cell phones, using Bluetooth wireless technology. (Is it just me, or does Bluetooth technology actually work for some people?)

- The Wall Street Journal wonders about hedge funds financing future Tom Cruise movies:

    ...[T]he question is: Will investors be willing to back a single -- and sometimes volatile -- producer like Mr. Cruise? From "Risky Business" to "War of the Worlds," the actor's movies have generated billions of dollars of revenue over his 25-year career.

    ..."If they thought Sumner [Redstone] was a tough boss, wait till they see what they have to put up with to get $100 million out of a fund," says Hal Vogel, an entertainment industry analyst who runs Vogel Capital Management.

The LA Times has a few pieces, one headlined `Money is the Real Star in Hollywood'. It includes this interesting passage:

    "Celebrity is less powerful now," said Jeff Fenster, an executive at Jive Records who helped discover pop superstars Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. "Just because a film or album stars a big-name celebrity doesn't guarantee success anymore. And Hollywood craves making money above everything else."

    Even Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount owner Viacom Inc., suggested in an interview Wednesday that parting with Cruise after a 14-year business relationship had more to do with the profitability of his recent films than with his off-screen antics.

    "There is no question that the box office is affected by other distractions such as the Internet and video games," Redstone said. "Studios make peanuts compared to the stars, and unless they learn how to say no and demand more for less, they won't survive."

And there's another LA Times piece headlined `Star is Collateral Damage of Studios' Profit Push'. It focuses on internal politics at Viacom, and why some executives didn't like the idea of firing Cruise.

- Where can't you buy digital movie downloads, all of a sudden? AOL just added them to its own site, AOL Video. Prices will range from $9.99 to $19.99 per movie, and the studios include 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sony buys Grouper ... The Cruise/Paramount split ... and More

- Sony is buying Grouper for $65 million. The video sharing site, based in Sausalito, CA, had raised $5.5 million in venture capital. Sounds like a good deal for the founders and investors. Coverage from The LA Times, NY Times, and Wall Street Journal.

If managed well, this acquisition could help promote Sony movies, games, and other content...and potentially also serve as a "scouting system" for talent. Grouper could also generate decent ad revenue for Sony; it now has 8 million visitors a month, according to its founder. (Third-party stats say the number of visitors is closer to 500,000.)

Some interesting tidbits from the coverage....

The Journal's Sarah McBride writes, "The companies are exploring making Sony shows and movies available for mash-ups, where users could lift parts of Sony content and mix it with their own material to produce a new video."

From Matt Richtel's piece in the NY Times:

    “My sense is that user-based content is a form of content that’s going to last,” [Sony Pictures chairman Michael] Lynton said. “It’s a bet, no question, but it’s a bet worth making.”

    Despite its emphasis on letting users share homemade videos, many of the most popular clips on Grouper are slick short productions, including music videos and commercials.

But Chris Gaither and Dawn Chmielewski of the LA Times observe that unlike rivals Viacom and News Corp., "Sony doesn't have a big advertising sales force to sell online commercials. Its main goals are to create and distribute movies and TV shows."

- Everyone, including the NY Times has coverage of the split between Tom Cruise and Paramount Pictures. The big question raised by the story is whether this split is an indication that the Hollywood star system (which emerged in the 1950s) is in decline. The story quotes a senior studio executive:

    “These companies [the studios] are sick of being pushed around. This is indicative of a huge paradigm shift in the industry in terms of what constitutes a star and how much power a star has.”

- A few more advance details about Amazon's video download service, which may be called Unbox. Looks like it will offer content to rent or to own.

- Cool contest from Stephen Colbert for video remixers...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Will hedge funds get behind Tom Cruise?

The Wall Street Journal has a piece (subscription required) about the split between Paramount and Tom Cruise's production company, Cruise/Wagner Productions.

There's an interesting hedge fund element to the piece. Merissa Marr writes:

    ...Mr. Cruise's representatives...said that Mr. Cruise's production company had decided to set up an independent operation financed by two top hedge funds, which they declined to name. Paula Wagner, Mr. Cruise's partner in the company, said such an arrangement represented a new business model for top actors prominent enough to take advantage of the flood of money coming into Hollywood from Wall Street.

Morning news: Ads on YouTube ... Warner's new direct-to-dvd division ... `Snakes' analysis

- Lots of coverage today on YouTube's evolving strategy for including advertisers on its site. Here's the LA Times story...Wall Street Journal...NY Times. The bottom line is not that surprising: advertisers now have access to a nice piece of real estate on the upper right hand corner of the YouTube home page, and they can create their own "channels" -- essentially collections of promotional content. The first one advertisers Paris Hilton's new album. (The opening video is well worth watching; apparently Paris can not remember more than one line of dialogue at a time, so there's a cut after each line she utters, presumably so someone can rush onto the set and whisper the next one into her head.)

YouTube is also placing big banner ads at the top of pages, but the site still objects to forcing viewers to watch short "pre-roll" or "post-roll" ads inserted into the videos themselves.

My take on this news: YouTube users don't really care about the division between advertising content and other content on the site, in the same way that TV viewers long understood the delineation between programming and ads (and chose, mostly, to ignore the ads.) On YouTube, the only important distinction is between something that's fun to watch (or something endorsed by a friend) and something that's lame. Lots of advertisers, I predict, will buy time and space from YouTube, only to have users hoot it down.

A related link: GigaOM has a post about why Apple should buy YouTube that is a fun read. I agree that it ain't a bad idea... but I don't think it'll happen, because Steve Jobs doesn't really get the significance of user-generated, grassroots content.

- This seems like a good idea for Warner Bros.: launching a direct-to-DVD business that will crank out 15 movies a year. More movies, and more risk-taking, at lower budgets, is just what the studios need right now. The first release doesn't bode well, though: `Dukes of Hazzard II.'

- Seth Godin has some thoughts about `Snakes on a Plane': even the best marketers need a great product to sell.

Monday, August 21, 2006

More on Hollywood's malaise...Robert Greenwald says his new doc is done...Still speculating about Amazon's download plans

- Laura Holson had a piece in the NY Times last Friday headlined, `Caught on Film: A Growing Unease in Hollywood'. The unease this summer is about job cuts, studio belt-tightening, and increased scrutiny for mega-bucks star contracts. (Last summer, it was all about sagging box office revenues.) One great quote, from Warren Beatty:

    “In this Wall Street and corporate world, the discussion has become: What is the proven, unique selling property of this product?” said Warren Beatty, the actor, who is upbeat about the industry’s prospects.

    But he, too, agreed the industry was in transition. “The problem is you can’t sell entertainment the way you sell cars or air-conditioners,’’ he said. “Entertainment is dependent, to some extent, on surprise.”

- Robert Greenwald says his new documentary, `Iraq for Sale,' just wrapped, and he's organizing screening parties for the week of October 8th - 14th. The Washington Post just had this pieceabout Greenwald's innovative approach to raising money for his films: hitting up his fans.

- No solid date yet for Amazon to unveil its much-anticipated movie download service... but lots of speculation about the name and pricing from Paid Content and The Economist. The Economist writes:

    ...At heart the company remains primarily a purveyor of old-world media: some two-thirds of its sales are from books, CDs and DVDs. Whatever share of media ends up being downloaded, Amazon will miss out unless it introduces its own service. The one it is said to have in the pipeline has evolved in the past year from offering mostly music to concentrating more on films and television shows, according to Advertising Age. The trade publication says this is because Amazon's executives felt Apple's grip on the music market would be too difficult to break.

    A video service could resemble a downloadable version of Netflix, a Californian company that pioneered online video rentals. Netflix's customers compile online lists of videos they want to see and receive them in the post. When the DVDs are returned in their pre-paid envelopes, the next titles are sent. With no late fees, Netflix has pummelled Blockbuster's store-based video-rental model.

Friday, August 18, 2006

For Warner Bros., a summer to forget

Claudia Eller of the LA Times has a great piece today on how quickly a studio can go from toast of the town to charity case. Last year, Warner Bros. had Batman, Willy Wonka, and Harry Potter. This year it has the "Lady in the Water," Superman, "Ant Bully," and "Poseidon."

The most interesting thing, to me, is what impact this will have on private investors coming in to Hollywood to help finance studio pictures. Warner Bros. recently got financing help from Legendary Pictures ($500 million worth) and Virtual Studios. Eller writes:

    Warner's flops also underscore the inherent risks for investors behind the torrent of private equity money flowing into Hollywood. Warner and other studios increasingly rely on outside financing from hedge funds, private equity firms and other sources to spread their risks.

    Warner's recent losses will be shared with equity players Legendary Pictures and Virtual Studios, each of which has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to co-finance the studio's movies.

    Increasingly starry-eyed Hollywood investors are feeling the sting of failure when expected blockbusters go bust.

    "All I can say to our partners is the same thing I say to our people here at Warner Bros.: It's painful to lose money on a movie," [Warner Bros. chief Alan] Horn said. "We are in the business for the long term. We are producing a slate of movies and some will work and some will not."

    Warner is especially dependent on the outside money to protect its downside. Except for its lucrative "Harry Potter" series, the studio has partners on virtually every film.

    Although the partners split costs with Warner, the deals are particularly good for the studio because it winds up making far more on the hits and losing less on the flops than its investors. That's because it takes an off-the-top distribution fee of more than 12% before sharing any revenue.

    But independent media analyst Harold Vogel wonders whether access to such easy private equity money has clouded Warner's movie choices.

    "Maybe Warner Bros. got a little inebriated, and it distorted their normally good judgment," Vogel said.

Of course, Warner Bros. will likely take the conventional wisdom approach to solving this summer's box-office "problem": make fewer movies. Warner now releases between 18 and 22 movies a year.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

D cinema watermarking ... MTV's multimedia awards show

- Thomson is trying to make its watermarking technology the standard for digital cinema servers, according to this TechWeb piece. It's designed to help authorities track down the place and time when a camcorder was used in a theater to create a bootleg movie. Great quote:

    "Watermarking is important, but it's a little like closing the barn door after the horse escapes," [consultant Bill M.] Murray said. "All watermarking does is allow the studios to do is track the pirated movie back to the theater where it was copied."

Here's another version of the story.

- When MTV broadcasts the Video Music Awards on August 31st, they'll be available not just on multiple cable channels controlled by Viacom, but also on the Web and cell phones, according to this Wall Street Journal piece. Emily Steel writes:

    The elaborate multimedia programming and marketing deals reflect MTV's recognition that its target audience of young people can't be reached solely through TV anymore. "Clearly our audience is consuming entertainment across multiple platforms, so it is no puzzle to us that we have to increase that," says Christina Norman, president of MTV.

    MTV has good reason to protect the VMA franchise. The show drew 14 million people ages 12 to 34 last year, making it the top-rated cable program of 2005 among that age group, according to Nielsen Media Research, and reinforcing its reputation as the "Youth Super Bowl." Increasing its audience further, MTV airs reruns of the show on TV for about a week and on the Web for even longer. This year's show, to be broadcast from Radio City Music Hall in New York, features comedian Jack Black as host and performances by Beyoncé, Ludacris, Justin Timberlake and others.

    MTV experimented with a multimedia approach at last year's awards, putting some of the show on MTV Overdrive and offering some multimedia packages to marketers. But this year's effort is much more elaborate, reflecting how quickly digital media has grown. Web video, for instance, has taken off in the past year.

These awards shows used to be thought of as "event programming" that would forever retain the power to draw people to television, even when they weren't loyal to weekly series... But now, it seems, conventional wisdom is changing. Perhaps the new assumptions are, even awards shows need to be in-your-face, and that all content needs to come to the viewer, in whatever form he or she wants it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More from Building Blocks: Short-form vs Long-form, Video Advertising, Google, Yahoo, and YouTube

Just some more notes from the Digital Hollywood event in San Jose...

- Peter Chane of Google Video says the company's goal is to collect "all the world's video," whether it's user-uploaded content, or premium TV shows like `Charlie Rose.' Google wants to "make sure that as videos explode on the Web, that users can find it and that it's accessible."

- Short clips work better than long-form content. They're easy to digest during a coffee break. Established media companies are thinking about how to "chunkify" their content -- breaking longer shows up into smaller chunks.

- Advertisers are still a bit wary about putting their spots in front of user-generated clips, because the content can be low-quality, offensive, or copyright-infringing. They're worried about "inappropriate adjacencies." Still, Jason Zajac of Yahoo said that "the buzz in this space is that everybody's full now" -- there's very little inventory left at popular video sites.

- Oliver Luckett of Revver said that by his tally, there are now 180 video-sharing sites. His company is planning to "open our system" within the next couple months, so that anyone would be able to build a site that would allow people to upload videos to Revver, watch videos from Revver, and make money in the process... what SiliValley types call an "open API."

- Saw a demo over lunch from Andy Leak of Instant Media. He says his site is one of the few that's currently doing digital downloads of high-def content. Know any others?

- I got a chance to talk with Lewis Henderson from the William Morris Agency after a panel, and he told me that many of his clients are thinking about creating short-form videos for the Net, making it for $10,000 or less. But it's still unclear, he said, what the best distribution avenue is for that...where can you make the most money, without signing away all the rights?

Controlling video content

I'm at the "Building Blocks" conference in San Jose this morning, put on by Digital Hollywood, and Scott Roesch of Atom Entertainment (just acquired by MTV/Viacom) related a great anecdote about how it isn't just big media companies that are trying to control the way video is shared on the Internet, but individual creators, too.

One of the dynamics of there being more than 100 video-sharing sites on the Net is that individual videos get posted to multiple sites -- often, not by their creators.

Roesch said that Ahree Lee's short film `Me' has been a popular clip on Atom; every day for three years, Lee took digital snapshots of her face, and then strung them together. (Note: This blog entry was corrected, after I heard from Lee via e-mail.)

When creators like Lee license their films to Atom, they get a share of the advertising revenue generated when people watch. But Lee's movie also got posted without her permission to YouTube and other video-sharing sites, where she wasn't making money. Lee liked the exposure, but she also wanted to earn money from her work.

When Lee asked YouTube to take the video down, they complied. But she wanted to replace the illegal version with a kind of promotional trailer for the short film, to drive viewers to the version on Atom's site. The catch: Lee hoped to retain the traffic numbers that the illegal version had generated (the reason for this is that once a video has been viewed many times on YouTube, it tends to attract more views by virtue of its popularity...the snowball effect.)

So last week, Lee showed up at YouTube's Silicon Valley offices, and made the request in person, Michael Moore-style. But, she tells me via e-mail, they told her they couldn't keep the viewing stats that the illegal version had generated. Lee sounds a bit disappointed about that outcome, but she writes, at least "now I am in control of how my film is presented on YouTube."

After the panel, Scott Roesch told me that Atom has a team of four acquisitions people who go to film festivals and film schools looking for short movies like `Me.' They also get e-mails from filmmakers. Most of what they see, they reject, Roesch said. "We're not a personal media site" like YouTube, he said. Instead, they're trying to provide a kind of quality filter for Internet videos.

Barry Diller back in the content biz ... Hedge funds love the movies

- Barry Diller is edging into content once again, after many years of focusing on Internet commerce and search. He's buying control of, according to The Wall Street Journal, for an undisclosed sum. CollegeHumor, of course, is an online version of Animal House, with lots of video. But the parent company, Connected Ventures, is really what Diller's buying -- which includes the online video sharing site Vimeo. Sarah Silver writes:

    The move is the first acquisition by the new programming division of IAC, which is led by former television and Hollywood executive Barry Diller. With properties including Ticketmaster, the search engine, CitySearch, and the invitation service Evite, IAC hopes that content-oriented sites will increase the usage and transactions of its monthly audience of 270 million users.

- Merrill Lynch and a consortium of hedge funds are providing Montecito Pictures (Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock) with $200 million to help bankroll ten movies over the next five years, according to the LA Times. Claudia Eller writes:

    Although the Hollywood studios are increasingly looking to outside investors to help bankroll their films, the Montecito deal marks one of the rare times producers have directly tapped Wall Street.

    "That's why it's unique," Pollock said.

    The first movie to be financed under the new venture, dubbed Cold Spring Pictures, is "Disturbia," a $22-million thriller that will be released by DreamWorks SKG through its new parent studio, Paramount Pictures, in 2007.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Al Gore's Current TV, one year later

The San Francisco Chronicle looks at Current TV, the cable and satelllite channel that relies heavily on user-submitted content, a year after its launch. The channel is now carried in 30 million homes, and plans for an online expansion and an international version are in the works. They've also just hired the co-creator of `The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.' But Joe Garofoli frames the challenge ahead:

    ...[W]hile Current may have been ahead of the curve on this trend [user-generated content], the next challenge it confronts is tougher: Many in the channel's targeted 18-34 demographic may not be able to afford the premium-tier service of some digital cable systems, where Current is carried. Others may prefer lapping up videos online in YouTube's free-form format rather than on Current's more organized site. Critics continue to ask: Is Current focused on the wrong medium?

    Current "caught the (viewer-created content) trend early, but it is kind of surfing by them," said John Higgins, business editor at Broadcasting & Cable magazine, a trade publication for the television industry. "These guys (at Current) had all the right ideas and all the same machinery in place that YouTube did, but they didn't quite do it. Lighting struck 10 feet to the left of them.

    "Do you ever hear people say, 'Did you see that video on Current?' No. They say, 'Did you see that video on YouTube?' " Higgins said.

Fox does downloads ... Intel's muddled Viiv strategy ... Google chases content deals

- Fox is making downloadable movies and TV shows available on its Web sites, including MySpace and, according to Chris Gaither of the LA Times. Like the other studios, Fox is starting the pricing at the DVD level - $19.99 for a movie - which is sure not to attract many consumers, since the downloadable movies have all kinds of limitations (they can't be burned to a DVD, for instance). The real strategy here is for Fox to establish a storefront for downloadable content, gain experience selling it, and build up a customer base, so the studios aren't forced to rely on Apple's iTunes to sell their TV shows and movies, as the record labels are. But I do think they're hamstringing themselves by starting their pricing so high. Gaither writes:

    When it launches in October, the service is expected to include movies such as "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "The Omen," for $19.99, and shows such as "Prison Break" and "Bones," for $1.99 an episode. Movies will be available when they're released on DVD, and shows will go online 24 hours after they air.

    Analysts said the immediate financial effect for 20th Century Fox appeared minor. Customers won't be allowed to burn the videos to a DVD or transfer them to an iPod — only to Windows Media-compatible devices — which should limit the appeal.

    "We're still in this hazy period where big media companies are not sure of the future, and they want to place a lot of bets on the table," said Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner.

- What is Viiv? Apparently, it is a souped up PC with Intel inside, designed for watching multimedia content. But that's not all...

Intel has done a pretty poor job of explaining Viiv to people since the campaign began at this year's Consumer Electronics Show; today's LA Times article is an attempt to clear things up. Terrell Yue Jones of the LA Times writes:

    Think of Viiv as a high-tech hose connected to buckets of paint, spraying small canvases around the world. The buckets are video from Intel partners such as India's Eros International, Mexico's Grupo Televisa and the Shanghai Media Group; the canvases are Internet portals such as Yahoo, Time-Warner's AOL unit and their equivalents, or individual computer monitors.

    That hose is to be turned on before the end of the year. Studios and networks can gain revenue by allowing their content to be downloaded or streamed, either for fees or supported by ads.

Is it clear now?

I'm not sure Intel, which does a fine job making chips, really needs to be in the content business...and I wouldn't bank on this strategy lasting for long.

- Google, on the other hand, has slightly better chances in the content biz. Kevin Delaney of the Wall Street Journal writes this morning about how the company is making nice to media companies after several missteps. Delaney writes:

    Last Monday, the Mountain View, Calif., company announced a deal to distribute video from Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks on the Web and a separate agreement with News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media division to provide it with search technology and broker advertising. Google has pledged $900 million in minimum payments to Fox under the tie-up. Google also recently said it would license content from the Associated Press news agency as part of a new, unspecified service. And Google has said there are likely more such deals to come.

    Google's improved relationships with media and entertainment companies reflects the confidence those companies have gained in online distribution in the past year, amid rapid growth in Americans' consumption of Web video and other Internet content.

    But just as importantly, it illustrates a coming of age in Google's approach to the owners of content it wants to search. One key development: Google has recruited executives from the media and entertainment industries in the past year to negotiate with those companies. Led by David Eun, a Time Warner Inc. and NBC alum who joined Google in February, these teams are prowling for deals and courting potential content partners with visits to Google's Silicon Valley headquarters.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A leak, or a stealth marketing campaign? ... Making movie trailers

- The Wall Street Journal has a piece about `leaked' television pilots on the Net (or are they part of stealth marketing campaigns?)

John Jurgensen writes:

    Networks have increasingly been experimenting with giving viewers early looks at coming shows on their official Web sites, as well as on iTunes and through DVD rentals. But recently at least 10 unaired pilots have been leaked -- apparently without the networks' permission -- to so-called peer-to-peer networks that allow users to download files stored on each others' computers. In many cases, the pilots appear to have been "ripped" from official DVDs made for reviewers and company executives.

    It's unclear whether the leaks resulted from security breaches or quiet efforts to promote the shows. In either case, Internet leaks can sometimes pay off for TV shows. In June, a TV pilot called "Nobody's Watching," which the WB network had passed on, was leaked to the video-sharing site YouTube. It generated enough of an audience online that NBC decided to pick up the show for development.

    At least four of CBS's fall pilots have been circulated on the Web, a development that CBS spokesman Chris Ender calls "both flattering and frightening." He adds: "We're pleased that there's an early demand for our shows but the marketing benefits can't excuse what is illegal theft of our programming."

    The number of people trading the files is still relatively small. According to Wiredset, a digital marketing agency that's been tracking the trading, the leaked pilot for ABC's "The Nine," for instance, has been downloaded about 36,000 times in the past month with Bittorrent, a program for downloading large files.

- The LA Times writes about the art of the movie trailer. Fun fact from Susan King's interview with Devin Hawker of Gas Station Zebra:

    Why footage appears in a trailer but not in the movie: "When I talk to people outside the business they think that's some sort of devious thing going on. But what happens is that [the filmmakers] are cutting the movie the same time we are cutting the trailer. It is a concurrent thing and so they are making their decisions and the studio is making theirs on what the trailer should be so a lot of times the trailer will go out and two months later they will pull something out of the movie."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Viral video: Your theories?

Just a quick link to a fun viral video from the band OK Go that has been making the rounds this week. Why is it that this has been seen by 2.5 million people in about 10 days?

I'd love to hear your theories about what makes videos like this take off... to me, what makes it work certainly isn't the production values. It's simply creative and funny, and you've never seen anything like it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What MTV's Atom deal means ... LA Times on small screen entertainment ... WSJ on cinema biz

MTV Networks, part of Viacom, is paying $200 million for San Francisco-based Atom Entertainment, which has 100 employees.

Here's the LA Times coverage... Washington Post ... NY Times

Here's why I think this is a significant deal for movie studios... perhaps even moreso than Rupert's purchase of MySpace...

With no physical `studio lot,' and just 100 employees, Atom has gotten really good at developing and scouting cool short form Internet content, cheaply. That includes animated clips, short videos, and interactive games. This is going to be a competency that every studio and media company needs to cultivate going forward -- and now Viacom has it.

Atom CEO Mika Salmi spends short money to develop fun, topical Net content, as the LA Times reported earlier this year. And he also licenses it from talented independent creators, like the Spiridellis Brothers of JibJab fame. They developed a Dick Cheney hunting game in-house earlier this year, and licensed a Zidane head-butting game from its creator, doing a revenue share. (The latter is the most common approach for Atom.)

Salmi told me a few weeks ago that getting Net content to take off, and accumulate millions of views, isn't about production values. "People are pretty tolerant when it comes to quality," he said. "Hollywood likes to mention that everything has to be the highest quality. But people are pretty tolerant, as long as the joke is good."

Atom's real value isn't the number of viewers its sites have accumulated, but its ability to create (inexpensively) and license cool, short-form content in a fast, fluid, non-bureaucratic way. (That Cheney game was only funny for a very short time...)

- The LA Times finds that about half of young adults, and 4 in 10 teens, aren't interested in watching TV shows or movies on computers, cell phones, or portable devices like the iPod. (Did they ask about short-form, Net specific content, like that supplied by Atom?) I think that number is going to change, as it becomes easier to transfer video content onto these devices, and as the experience of viewing live/streaming content improves. I (and lots of people I've spoken to in the industry this year) expect computer viewing to grow first, followed by "stored video" devices like the iPod, and then cell phones.

- This Wall Street Journal piece about the Cinemark/Century acquisition, and potential IPOs of other theater businesses (like AMC, or the National CineMedia joint venture), made me laugh, for one reason. Everyone says the holiday season looks uncertain, because there are no major sequels or franchise movies scheduled, beyond `Casino Royale.' Kate Kelly writes:

    There isn't a "Harry Potter," "Chronicles of Narnia" or "Lord of the Rings" in sight. To draw moviegoers, the theater chains will instead be banking on a handful of as-yet-unproven properties like "Happy Feet," an animated picture about dancing penguins, and a movie adaptation of the fantasy book "Eragon."

    "With maybe the exception of 'Happy Feet,' you don't have movies that probably, on paper, are headed to $200 million or more" in domestic ticket sales, says Jeffrey Logsdon, an analyst who covers media and entertainment for BMO Capital Markets Corp., a subsidiary of Canadian financial-services company BMO Financial Group.

I look at a season devoid of sequels and franchise flicks as good news for movie-goers...and, hey, even studios need to create a new franchise every once in a while.

- IMAX is in bad shape: no one wants to buy the company, which has been on the block for five months, and now there's an "informal" SEC inquiry into the company's revenue-recognition practices.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Caféshorts brings indie shorts to local eateries

Cool idea: an Orlando start-up called Caféshorts brings a mini-festival of short films to a local restaurant once a week. In between films, there's a break for food service. And the whole show is over by 9 PM, so parents can get home and relieve the babysitter. There's no charge for patrons; seems like restaurants foot the bill, to lure patrons on slower nights (like Mondays).

The Orlando Sentinel has a report. And here's the company's explanation of how the business proposition works. (Although they're not very clear about how they make money... I'm assuming the restaurant pays a fee or shares some of the evening's revenue.) Ambitiously, they expect to be in "thousands of locations within 2 years!"

More on CG overload ... It's official: Cinemark buys Century

- Ben Fritz of Variety asks, `Is the toon biz over-drawn?' The evidence:

    In 2004, the average box office for an animated pic was $149 million. This year, it's $88 million. But then, there are 50% more toons in release this year than in '04. Three toons have bowed in the past three weeks: Sony's "Monster House," Warner Bros.' "Ant Bully" and Paramount's "Barnyard."

    The bullish spirit of several years ago, when all these projects began production, has given way to introspection: How much is too much?

- Texas-based Cinemark is buying Century Theatres, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area. "The combined enterprise," according to The Hollywood Reporter, "will join about 391 theaters with 4,395 screens in 37 states and 13 countries. In terms of screen count, Cinemark is the third-ranked circuit in the country, behind Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment."

The San Francisco Chronicle points out that, oddly, no dollar value was put on the acquisition.

Kate Kelly of the Wall Street Journal writes:

    After a spate of overbuilding that resulted in hundreds of multiplex theaters in the 1990s, many chain operators were forced to seek bankruptcy protection when they couldn't fill seats. Now, with relatively fixed costs and a revenue stream that is increasingly dependent on the availability of hit movies, some exhibitors are focusing on geographic growth as a way to increase profits. A few -- including AMC and Cinemark, according to analysts and industry officials -- also are considering going public.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Is Pixar swiping Bob Zemeckis and ImageMovers?

According to Claude Brodesser-Akner, director Robert Zemeckis may be on the verge of signing a multi-year deal to move from DreamWorks to Disney's Pixar division. He writes:

    Seeking entry into 3D animation, Disney paid $7.4 billion to acquire Pixar Animation last January, but that company's chief creative officer, John Lasseter, has been reluctant to tamper with Pixar's venerated tradition of - like Ernest & Julio Gallo - serving 'no wine before its time' - which at Pixar usually means a new film every 18 months or so.

    As one insider with knowledge of the ImageMovers negotiations explained, that's not enough for Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook. Said the insider: "Pixar's output is their output, and they feel that the only way they can keep the quality control where they need it is to keep going at the pace they've been going. But [Disney CEO] Bob Iger feels that while Pixar was a good first step into making sure Disney is the preeminent force in animation, it's only the first step."

`Monster House' apparently cost $75 million -- about half of a typical Pixar project. Zemeckis' next project is `Beowulf,' another performance-capture animated movie.

LA Times survey on teen entertainment consumption...Summer movie season analysis...Animation traffic jam?

- The LA Times has two pieces today about teen's changing entertainment habits.

One's headlined, `Far Removed From the Multiplex'. The subhead is, `With an array of devices at their fingertips, youths don't always think of theaters as the place to see a flick.' The other carries the headline, `Underwhelmed by It All', and the subhead, `For the 12-to-24 set, boredom is a recreational hazard.'

In the first piece, John Horn writes:

    For years, theater owners and movie studios have argued about the timing of home video releases. The people running the multiplexes want to keep the wait period between theatrical debut and the DVD's first day on sale — known in the industry as a window — as long as possible. The studios have been pushing to shrink that gap (it now averages about 20 weeks) to minimize the need for two separate advertising campaigns.

    The poll found that many teens and young adults would be happy if that window were eliminated altogether. Asked where they'd prefer to watch a new movie if it were simultaneously available at home and in theaters, about a third said they would choose to stay at home, and another third said it depended on the movie. Going to movies at theaters still has appeal, particularly for younger teens, but among respondents ages 21 to 24, 56% said they wanted to see the new movie at home, and only 9% said they would rather travel to a theater.

    Based on the box-office popularity of many critically savaged films, it should come as no surprise that teens and young adults care little about what reviewers think. In deciding what to see, their friends' judgments are the ones that matter. Those opinions are sometimes spread instantly, with almost a quarter of teenagers and young adults sharing their opinions during or right after the movie.

    "It used to be that we could get people to see movies that weren't worth it because they didn't have so many other things to do," said Laura Ziskin, producer of the "Spider-Man" movies, whose latest installment is slated for next summer. "Now, you have to be a hit even before you open."

The second piece includes the poll results, and talks a bit about multi-tasking:

    Young people multi-task, they say, because they are too busy to do only one thing at a time, because they need something to do during commercials or, for most (including 64% of girls 12 to 14), it's boring to do just one thing at a time.

Well worth a look...

- David Poland has a great analysis at Movie City News of this summer's movie season, including movies that shouldn't have been made (`Poseidon'), movies that should've been made more cheaply (`Miami Vice') and movies released on the wrong date (`Little Man' and `You, Me & Dupree,' both released on the same Friday).

- The Wall Street Journal posits that we're seeing an animation "traffic jam" -- too many CG movies being released this year. Anthony Kaufman writes:

    Distributed over consecutive weekends, Sony's "Monster House," Warner Bros.'s "The Ant Bully" and Paramount's "Barnyard" have created a traffic jam of animated kid-flicks, with deleterious results. While "Monster House" opened with a satisfactory $22.2 million, "The Ant Bully" disappointed with an $8.4 million debut and "Barnyard" corralled a modest $16 million in its first weekend.

Universally, people point to `Doogal' as the test case that proves audiences won't go see just any CG movie: it made just $7.4 million at the US box office earlier this year.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mike Curtis visits Red Digital Cinema...

...and he likes what he sees. Mike writes about Red's still-in-development digital camera:

    The test footage I saw off the Mysterium [the image sensor that will power Red's camera], which was early, straight-from-the-lab, pre-beta, not optimized, "we just turned it on and there it was" type of stuff, shot on a low end lens (I think it was a Canon EOS lens) makes me think that Red is truly going to be a force to contend with, that it will at the very, VERY least, compare entirely favorably with existing high end digital cinema ANY price.

Red plans to show images to people other than Mike at the IBC Exhibition in Amsterdam next month.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Live Cinema Nights: Aug 8, 9, 10 in San Jose

This sounds like fun. From the site:

    What happens when you take cinema out of the confines of the movie theater, wrench the film reel off the projector, and start editing the images and sound live, in front of the audience? Live cinema.

    Recent developments in media processing software tools have facilitated a new generation of electronic artists across the world in creating real-time video performances. The practice of combining music and images live started in club culture and carries on the visual music tradition of abstract filmmakers such as Oskar Fischinger and the Whitney brothers. The form also resurrects the expanded cinema experiments of the 1970s, in which artists started to craft an immersive synaesthetic or expanded cinema, one that would create a new kind of vision, a new kind of consciousness.

The artists come from Spain, Israel, Turkey, France, Finland, Mexico, Columbia, and the US.

Free Josh Wolf, and Protect the First Amendment

If you visit this blog regularly, you know that it doesn't get political very often. (I can't think of an occasion, in fact.)

Until now...

Josh Wolf, one of the members of San Francisco's indie video production community, is in federal prison for refusing to turn over videotapes of an unruly anarchist protest (is there any other kind?) that took place last summer. (Josh himself is a self-proclaimed anarchist, so he wasn't necessarily at the protest as an objective reporter.)

If the government can demand and obtain reporters' material, that chisels away at the foundation of the work that reporters do...and this includes documentary filmmakers. How close will your subjects and interviewees let you get, if they believe that government agencies can easily request and obtain all of your footage and notes?

The San Francisco Chronicle says it best in an editorial that ran yesterday: "Journalists are not agents of the government." Period.

Josh's site is here, where you can read about the case, and, if you choose, donate to his legal defense fund.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

More options ahead for downloadable flicks...Cameron picks Weta for `Avatar'...Cinemark/Century Merger...EW on `Snakes'...More

- Among those working on movie download services, according to Sarah McBride and Merissa Marr of the Wall Street Journal, are:, Apple, Wal-Mart, Blockbuster, Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T. From the piece:

    ..."We want to be ready to hit the road running, rather than just beginning to get onto the learning curve," says Bob Chapek, head of world-wide home entertainment at Walt Disney Co.'s studio. "This is our fact-finding and model-exploration time."

    While the studios are fact-finding, an array of big-name players will be jostling for position in the emerging market. Studio executives predict that just one or two principal players will emerge from the fray, much as Apple's iTunes Music Store dominates online music and Google dominates online searches. In a bid to become a significant player, many services are likely to cut prices below costs, leading to price wars that may undo weaker players.

    All of the services are vying to become the first one a customer tries, believing it will set up customer relationships that could last for years. "There will likely be a lot of loyalty to who you start with," says Tom Lesinski, president of digital entertainment at Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures. "Once you're registered and the program is all set up, are you really going to switch digital retailers?"

There's also an interesting quote from Fox:
    "Our goal is to seek out as many [viable] retail outlets as we can, and put as many titles as we can on those sites," says Peter Levinsohn, president of News Corp.'s Fox Digital Media, which has signed deals with many of the emerging online outlets. "Ultimately, we let consumers decide where they shop."

- Jim Cameron will work with Weta Digital and Joe Letteri for the visual effects for his upcoming film `Avatar,' according to The Hollywood Reporter.

- Texas-based Cinemark is in talks to acquire San Rafael-based Century Theatres, according to the Wall Street Journal. Combined, they'd have about 4300 screens, making them a stronger #3 player to Regal and AMC. Exhibitors don't tend to get more innovative as they get bigger, in my experience.

- Entertainment Weekly devotes its cover story to `Snakes on a Plane', and the only reason I link to it is for some insight into how the `Snakes' phenomenon is influencing other studios' strategy. From Jeff Jensen's piece:

    ...SoaP has many admirers in Hollywood, where every studio, mindful of the maturation of both YouTube and MySpace, is currently desperate to reach young pop junkies online. Case in point: Twentieth Century Fox, whose parent, News Corp., last year acquired MySpace, has just launched a new youth label called Fox Atomic. This fall the division will shoot a remake of Revenge of the Nerds, but it has already begun cultivating its audience via viral-video Web promotions. ''Snakes is a powerful indication of how you can use the Internet to engage the audience and capture their imagination with just a concept,'' says Peter Rice, president of Fox Atomic and Fox Searchlight. And Fox marketing president Pam Levine believes the kind of online creativity inspired by Snakes will soon evolve to a point where fans become less interested in playing with Hollywood movies and more interested in making their own.

- I can't provide a link, but in this week's issue of BusinessWeek, Heather Green has a short piece about directors' video diaries, posted to the Net from a film set. She notes that Kevin Smith "pumped out 75 video posts about the making of `Clerks II.' They got 3 million downloads before the movie came out on July 21."

- How do you sell out a movie theater on a Wednesday night, showing a movie originally released in 1961? Turn it into a singalong. There were probably about 500 people who turned out last night at the Castro, and paid $15 to get a bag of participatory goodies (my favorite was a champagne popper for when Tony is shot) and watch a 45-year old classic.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

BusinessWeek on YouTube: `Whose Video Is It, Anyway?'

BusinessWeek looks at YouTube and finds "a Pandora's box" of copyright issues. From the piece:

    While YouTube promises huge distribution, the site and its users are just starting to sort out how to apportion the power they've suddenly acquired. Some indies are becoming wary of YouTube, which doesn't share ad dollars with them, unlike rival services. "The exposure is great, but with all the copyright issues and the lack of potential ad revenues, it seems like something that we're not going to get into right now," says Orrin Zucker, co-creator of It's JerryTime, a popular animated cartoon series that is shown, for now, on the artists' own site.

    Tur's lawsuit shows the fine line that YouTube is walking as it attempts to build its business model. [Photographer Robert] Tur is suing because his videos of the [1992 Los Angeles] riot and other events were uploaded without his permission. Although lawyers agree that YouTube should be protected by copyright law as long as it responds to content owners' requests to take down their works, it entered uncharted territory when it recently began adding ads next to search results.

Interesting data point: the guys who made the popular Mentos and Diet Coke video, in Maine, earned $30,000 from Revver -- but they believe they could've made twice as much, had the video not been posted without their permission to YouTube.

YouTube backlash seems to have begun. The armchair analysts at Valleywag say YouTube is "about to die." There's controversy about the site's terms of use, and whether it purports to "own" videos uploaded there. And John Batelle says its unlikely a major entertainment or tech company will buy YouTube, given the problems over copyrighted content.

How filmmakers are using MySpace ... And how digital moviemaking changes acting (from the DGA's Digital Day)

- Anne Thompson's Risky Biz blog pointed me to this article about how filmmakers are using MySpace to build an audience for their projects (and ideally convince distributors that people want to see it in theaters). Alexandra Deyle writes:

    Some [filmmakers] liken the social-networking landscape to an unmowed lawn: messy and overgrown. “Every 12-year-old with a camcorder is posting his movie,” sighs one forlorn filmmaker. “There’s so much junk out there, your film can get lost in it.” But others see the vastness of MySpace its most valuable resource — a massive talent pool with limitless networking possibilities, all free of charge. “Regardless of the clutter, [MySpace] has given indie filmmakers a kind of base operation,” says Dominic Greco, a Utah-based filmmaker who used the site to find cast and crew for his upcoming film Plastic. “We can all browse each other’s projects and team up with other filmmakers who have similar visions.”

    Greco knows a lot about networking on MySpace: it’s where he met (and fell in love with) cinematographer Janissa Rose Hamilton, who moved from Virginia to Salt Lake City to collaborate on Plastic, a drama about teenagers who get embroiled in credit card fraud. Greco and Hamilton cut together a spec trailer for the film, created a MySpace page that has over 7,200 friends and now hope to secure financing through their growing network of supporters.

    When the producers of the bio-doc Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? began searching for their target audience of Nilsson fans, they devised a pretty logical strategy using the site. “We heard there were a lot of Harry fans on MySpace, [and] we knew how powerful the site was,” says Arlene Wszalek, an associate producer of the film. A simple query into the MySpace music search field yielded hundreds of profiles, and before long the official Who Is Harry Nilsson film page had 1,630 friends. “Once we got accepted to the Seattle Independent Film Festival...we sent a bulletin to [our] MySpace friends, and people started e-mailing [to say] that they would be traveling to Seattle to see the film,” says Wszalek, who points to the film’s MySpace popularity when speaking with potential distributors.

- Wired editor Chris Anderson was the opening speaker at the Director's Guild of America's Digital Day on Saturday, July 29th. This is technically an off-the-record, top secret event, though some coverage seems to slip out each year. (Here's some from 2005.)

Chris posts some notes from the event, including some comments from `Flyboys' director Tony Bill and `Zodiac' director David Fincher about shooting digitally -- and how it changes acting. Tony Bill says:

    That slight whirring noise of film running through the camera is the sound of money. And it gets in the way of being real.

    I've had to unlearn saying "action" and "cut". I think shooting in digital makes every actor better. You're always in rehearsal and never in performance. There's no "start". It allows for serendipity. Rather than reach an emotional moment and then having to recreate it later with the film running, you capture everything.

Other speakers at the event: Doug Trumbull (via holographic projection), Scott Billups, Rob Cohen, Rebecca Miller, and Brad Silberling.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Audio file: `The Future of Movies'

The podcast from last Thursday's panel discussion on `The Future of Movies,' organized by The Churchill Club, is now available on Apple's iTunes Music Store. (It's free.) You'll need the iTunes software on your computer to hear's the link to the podcast. (It shows up as the last one on the list, titled `The Future of Movies.')

Todd Wagner from 2929 Entertainment and Landmark Theatres offers lots of insight into their strategy, as does Bob Lambert, the senior vice president for worldwide technology strategy at Disney. Dolby's Tim Partridge talks about the digital cinema roll-out -- which he says will take a long time -- and digital 3-D projection. Jerry Pierce represents Universal Pictures, and Randal Kleiser, an active Director's Guild member, represents the director's viewpoint.

Morning links: `The Big Picture' ... Video mash-ups ... Networks launch Web channels ... YouTube surpasses MySpace ... DreamWorks partners with AOL

- Patrick Goldstein's column in the LA Times, `The Big Picture,' examines the cost-cutting craze in Hollywood that's even affecting big names like Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt. He writes:

    In the New Hollywood, the power has shifted from production to marketing. And why not? When your aim is to make a franchise picture aimed at the whole family, the person you want at the helm is a brand-management expert, not a filmmaker-friendly production chief. Next summer is already jammed with another slew of sequels, including new installments in the "Harry Potter," "Spider-Man," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Shrek," "Fantastic Four," "Rush Hour," "Bourne" and "Ocean's Eleven" series. These are consumer products, not cinema.

Goldstein seems to realize (I think) that these consumer products can and will co-exist with a different kind of product: cinematic stories that aspire to be art. He acknowledges that actors who want to make meaningful movies often work on independently-financed projects, signing up for studio pictures when they need to pad their bank accounts. But I think the missing piece of this story is this: even if we can't count on studios to make a `Godfather' nowadays, we're in the early stages of a great creative renaissance that will produce thousands of worthy shorts and full-length features, aided and abetted by the Internet as a tool for marketing and distribution. The key is to take your eye off the $200 million consumer products, and focus on little bitty projects like this.

- Kim-Mai Cutler of the Boston Globe writes about the controversy over video mash-ups that rely on copyrighted material.

- The Wall Street Journal is starting a series of articles today called Web video wars. The first installment talks about how major broadcast and cable networks are creating niche channels online. Brooks Barnes writes:

    "We're on the verge of an explosion of these kinds of ultra-focused broadband channels," says Jordan Levin, a former Warner Bros. executive who recently co-founded a production and management company called Generate LLC in part to develop video content for the Web. "Just as television evolved from the broadcast networks to cable channels, now we're seeing another splintering of the audience."

- Hey Rupert, time to buy YouTube? According to The Guardian:

    "The video sharing site has taken a 3.9% share of global internet visits a day compared with 3.35% for MySpace, according to internet analysis company Alexa.

    YouTube's popularity has grown immensely over the first six months of the year. In May its reach outgrew that of the BBC's websites.

- DreamWorks will be created an animated online game in partnership with AOL and Mark Burnett, to promote its feature film `Flushed Away.' It goes live in November; movie's release date is November 3rd.