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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Advice on Attending the Sundance Film Festival

I am far from a Sundance guru, but I've been a few times in the past, and recently a couple of friends have asked for advice about 'doing Sundance.' I think Sundance somehow gives off an aura of exclusivity -- like you need to be invited to attend. But lots of people who are simply film lovers go -- and most of them probably have a better time than the filmmakers and industry folks who are frantically trying to meet the right people and seal deals. So here is a distillation of what little I know about going to Sundance, held every January in beautiful Park City, Utah.

The only two real challenges you'll face in planning to attend Sundance are: getting tickets to movies you want to see, and finding a place to stay. Your odds of succeeding at both challenges increase if you attend the second half of the festival, instead of the first. (The second half in 2007 is roughly January 24-28.) But being there for the opening weekend has its charms, too: the chances of bumping into a celeb on Main Street are much better.

Getting Tickets

If you want to see the most movies with the minimal amount of time invested standing in line, the thing to do is buy tickets online before you arrive. (Apparently, the absolute best way to get tickets is to live in Utah, or know someone who does, and can buy them at the box office as soon as they go on sale. Info on that avenue is here.) To do that, you need to register before January 4, 2006 on the Sundance site. You'll then get information by e-mail about when you can return to the site to purchase your tickets. (They hold a lottery, and assign each person a window of time on a specific day when they can buy tickets. Obviously, the earlier your window, the better chance you'll have at getting tickets.

Before your time arrives, have a look at the online film guide to see what you're most interested. It helps to have a long list of stuff you'd be willing to see, as many of your first choices will likely be sold out by the time you're allowed to buy tix on the Web. (There may be a way to get the printed film guide in advance of buying tickets, but I'm not aware of it. The online film guide is kind of a pain to use.)

Sundance offers a number of special passes that will get you in to see movies, but most are pretty expensive. Two worth considering, though, are the Adrenaline Pass ($400), which gets you into any movie playing before 10 a.m. or after 10 p.m., and the Awards Weekend Pass ($300), which gets you into any screenings on the festival's final weekend. This is when all of the films that have won awards get an additional screening, so you'll see the cream of the crop. (Unfortunately, both of these passes are sold out already for the 2007 fest.)

Even if you don't have a single ticket when you arrive in Park City, though, don't fret. You have four options:

    1. You can go to any venue, for any screening, and wait in the "Stand-By" line. (They've usually got a nice heated tent for you to hang out in.) If you're among the first ten or twenty people in line, you'll most likely get in. Unfortunately, you have to arrive pretty early to be in the front of the line. If you do this, try it at off times, and at the bigger venues (in order, Eccles, Racquet Club, Library Center, Prospector Square. Don't do it at the Holiday Village, a multiplex which has the smallest auditoriums.) Sometimes, if you are in the stand-by line, someone who is trying to sell an extra ticket or two will show up. If they do, cough up the cash quickly, before someone else does. People almost always sell tix at face value, and I've never heard of anyone buying a counterfeit ticket at Sundance; honesty prevails.

    2. You can go to the Park City box office early in the morning and line up to buy day-of-show tickets. There's a place to hang out indoors and drink your coffee; people will already be there most days by 7 a.m., even though the box office doesn't open until 8 a.m.

    3. Aside from the main Sundance Film Festival, there are lots of other screenings that take place in Park City. Some are organized by individual filmmakers trying to drum up interest in their movies -- these you'll find out about when someone hands you a flyer on Main Street, or on one of the town's bulletin boards. Then, there's SlamDance, the Park City Music Film Festival, X-Dance, and TromaDance. There's usually something good at each of those, except for TromaDance, which prides itself on being so bad it's good.

    4. Check Craigslist. Sometimes, people in Park City are offering tickets at the last minute, and can meet you to make the exchange.

Getting There

SLC is the airport you want to get to. Conveniently, it's a Delta hub, and also served by Southwest. Even JetBlue flies there, from JFK in New York and Long Beach in Southern California.

Getting Around

Having a rental car in Park City is totally optional. There is a great shuttle bus that will take you around town to all the screening venues. Walking is an option, too. And there are a bunch of shuttle services (like All Resort Express and Park City Shuttle that will bounce you back and forth from the airport in SLC to your Park City accommodations. Meeting people on the shuttle vans from the airport is a great part of the festival social experience -- and a great way to find out about parties, or even score free tickets to a screening. And the in-town shuttle routes are generally crammed with people -- you'll inevitably get into conversations about which movies are worth catching, and which ones to avoid. Sometimes people have tickets to trade or sell too, if they can't make it to a particular screening.


The ideal lodging is something that will enable you to walk to Main Street, and is also close to a shuttle stop. Let those two things be your guides. If you're a skier, you may prefer to be at one of the slopeside hotels (Marriott MountainSide is very good), which are a bit more of a hike to Main Street. One good place to start is the Park City Chamber of Commerce. Craigslist is another good source, especially if you're looking to rent a house, or looking for someone who has an extra room for you in a house they've already rented. CyberRentals and VRBO are also good if you're looking to rent a house or condo. Here's the official Sundance lodging page.

Free Stuff

There's always a fun, free outdoor concert at the start of the festival on Main Street. This year, it's on Thursday, January 25th. Often, festival sponsors have tents and storefronts where you can go in and hang out, whether you are a bigwig or not. Don't be afraid to ask the guys at the door. There are two really great free venues where you can see panel discussions and other talks: one is the Film Center, which focuses on new technologies and cool video art installations, and the other is the Sundance House. See the schedule for info on events at those places.

You might also try swinging by Dolly's Bookstore on Main Street; often, there are filmmakers who've written books or movie critics like Roger Ebert doing signings there.

If You Ski or Ride

The ski areas are generally pretty uncrowded during the festival. One deal to take advantage of is Quick Start, which offers you a free lift ticket, no strings attached, on the day that you arrive in Utah. Just register on the Web site, and print out the voucher. Bring the voucher and your airline boarding pass to a ticket window at the Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons, or Deer Valley, and they'll give you a free pass good for the rest of the day. If you are a snowboarder (like me), or have one in your group, don't bother going to Deer Valley; the resort is skiers-only.


Assuming you are staying in Park City and don't have a car, there are a few screening venues you probably don't want to buy tickets to (just because they're tough and time-consuming to get to): the Salt Lake City venues (Broadway, Tower, and Rose Wagner Center), Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden (not to be confused with the Egyptian in Park City, which is festival venue that's easy to get to), and the screening room at the Sundance Resort. That said, I'm sure going to movies in Salt Lake City and Ogden is great -- it's certainly easier to get tickets. My only experience at the venues outside of Park City was in going to see a an evening screening at the Sundance Resort a few years back. We had a rental car, and the drive there was quite nice. At dinner, Robert Redford stopped by the table next to us for a long chat. It was fun to walk around the resort, and have a drink at the Sundance Owl Bar. The screening venue was really laid back and comfortable. But the hour-plus drive back to Park City at the end of the night was kind of a bummer. (There is, however, a shuttle that will take you between Park City and the Sundance Resort for $15 each way.)

Finding Out What's Happening

Pick up the daily newspaper the festival publishes. But also, ask everyone you encounter what movies they've seen, what events and parties they know about, which celebs they've bumped into.


One way to be part of the festival, and get in to see a few movies for free, is to volunteer. (You also usually get a snazzy Sundance parka and hat.) Volunteers are usually chosen and placed in December.

Other Resources

Is the Viral Learning Center the School for You?

Just a clever faux-commercial (via DVGuru) that pokes fun at the genre of viral videos.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

An Aural Piece of Hollywood History

This is just a really cool piece of Hollywood history... You've undoubtedly heard the Wilhelm Scream, whether you've realized it or not, from 1951 to the present. (Via BoingBoing.)

The Flaws in Wal-Mart's Digital Download Strategy

I'm a big supporter of experimentation. Even when experiments go awry, you tend to learn something. When they go well, they can reinvent your career, your business, or an entire industry.

That said, I think Wal-Mart's recently-announced digital download strategy (or at least, Phase I of their digital download strategy) is going to prove to be a bad experiment for Wal-Mart, the movie studios, and consumers. (Here's the Wall Street Journal coverage...NY Times...Variety.)

The gist of the strategy: once a consumer buys a DVD like `Superman Returns' ($14.87), she will have the option of also buying a digital copy for her portable video player (an additional $1.97), a PC ($2.97), or both devices ($3.97). Ostensibly, this seems like a win for Wal-Mart and the studios -- new products to sell the consumer generate additional revenue. Yee-ha!

But here's why this experiment won't work out:

1. Consumers don't like the idea of having to buy the same product two or three times. Today, when you purchase a DVD, you can play that in your living room, on your laptop while flying cross-country, or in your car's DVD player. I think consumers will feel like they're being nickled-and-dimed with the offer to pay $2.97 to watch the movie they already own on DVD. Why doesn't Wal-Mart also try selling me a blow-dryer, and then adding a surcharge if I want to plug it in at a hotel, or at my mother-in-law's house, or at the gym?

2. For Wal-Mart, the pricing is too low. It won't be economical for them to support all of the problems users are going to encounter trying to load a movie onto their portable video player when they've paid all of $1.97. (Not that I think they're going to have a whole lot of users to support, given problem #1.) Another issue for Wal-Mart is the simple resentment about being sold the same product twice, or three times.

3. For the studios, the $1.97, $2.97, and $3.97 price points could start to stick in consumers' minds. Once studios start to charge $9.99 or $12.99 for a digital movie (without a DVD purchase), consumers are going to wonder why those prices are so high. The Times piece hints at this problem: "Some studios feel that it would be better to provide the downloads free to DVD buyers, making them clearly a promotion, so that those prices do not become fixed in customers’ minds as the going rate for movies online." And studios will, like Wal-Mart, be a target for consumers' resentment about being sold the same product twice or thrice.

Your thoughts?

Revver Touts its Own Verizon Deal ... Metacafe Says, `We're #3' ... Web Video and HD TV ... Online Video Sharing Quality

- Verizon Wireless will offer videos from Revver as well as YouTube on its V CAST service, according to the San Jose Mercury News. (Here's the Forbes coverage.) While Revver videos on the Web run with ads at the end, that won't happen on V CAST. But video producers will get a small piece of the licensing revenue Revver is getting from Verizon. (Revver says it'll give 50 percent of all licensing revenue to content creators.) That's cool -- and it won't be the case with YouTube videos.

- Metacafe wants everyone (but mostly prospective purchasers) to know that it is now the world's largest independent video-sharing site, and the third most-watched video site in all, behind YouTube and Google Video. (Hmmm.... where is MySpace in all this?) The viewership stats come from comScore.

- Mark Cuban muses about the problems of getting Web video from a PC onto an HD TV set.

- From DV Guru, a comparison of the video quality that each of the major sites deliver. DV Guru thinks Soapbox (from Microsoft) and are among the best.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why the Verizon/YouTube deal doesn't matter (and other Tuesday news)

- Starting next month, Verizon will start offering subscribers to its V CAST media service access to a selection of YouTube videos on their cell phones. Here's the Wall Street Journal story...Reuters...NY Times. Here's a video reaction from Engadget blogger Pete Rojas.

Here's why this is not an important deal:

    1. Verizon and YouTube will select the clips. According to the Times story, they'll have to meet "the company’s editorial and taste guidelines," whatever those are.
    2. They haven't specified how many clips they're going to offer at a given time, but I'd be surprised if it was more than 100. YouTube's popularity has been, in part, about its incredible breadth of content
    3. You won't be able to share a particular video you've made (say, at last weekend's party) with a group of friends -- one of the original reasons YouTube was created
    4. Copyrighted material uploaded without permission won't be offered -- one of the content groups that helped fuel YouTube's growth
    5. The V CAST service only works with certain cell phones, and it costs an additional $15 a month.

- TiVo is planning to try inserting new ads that it sells at the end of recorded shows, according to the Journal. It's not clear why someone who has skipped through all the ads in the middle of a show will choose to watch one at the end, as TiVo seems to be arguing.

- GQ recounts the history of YouTube. (Via the Risky Biz blog.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday links: Survey suggests as online video viewing increases, TV viewing drops...and more

- This Reuters piece suggests that Brits are watching less television as their consumption of online video increases. From the piece:

    The ICM poll of 2,070 people for the BBC found that some 43 percent of Britons who watch video from the Internet or on a mobile device at least once a week said they watched less traditional TV as a result.

    Three quarters of users said they now watched more TV online or on mobiles than they did a year ago.

    Online video viewers are still a minority though, with just 9 percent saying they go online regularly to watch clips.

- This piece about the Carmike Theatres chain installing digital projectors in Virginia makes the important observation that digital movies aren't yet being transmitted to theaters by satellite.

- More on d-cinema for my Canadian friends: apparently, the Royal Theatre in Toronto (built in 1939) is reopening next month, with digital projection capabilities. The company behind the project is Theatre D Digital, a post-production firm. Here's more (in PDF form) from the Globe and Mail.

- Carson Daly seems to get that Web content requires much lower production costs. From a Hollywood Reporter piece, via CNET:

    "I can't compete with the Dick Wolfs of the world and those producing The Office or My Name Is Earl," Daly said. "We don't have a tremendous amount of money, which leads me back to the Internet because with $5,000, we can do a lot now."

    Though well situated in the TV world though a production deal at NBC Universal Television Studio, Daly has chosen to focus his production company on Internet projects. In June, it awarded 20-year-old Brooke Brodack a talent/development deal on the strength of her video commentaries on YouTube. It was the first time an established Hollywood figure struck a formal arrangement with an unknown off the Internet.

    Daly has since used Brodack's madcap style on a Web site he launched with NBC Universal, It's Your Show, which rewards video contributors with cash prizes.

- A historical blast from the past... Check out this Quicktime movie, made by the Lumiere brothers and shown in Paris in December 1895 -- the very first time that tickets were sold for a movie show. Then have a look at this YouTube video. Does every young medium go through its hose-spraying phase?

`The Future of Web Video': Now in Paperback

Earlier this month, I published The Future of Web Video in eBook form. It's now available in paperback, too. And both versions have been updated (so much has happened since early November.) They include some updated statistics and graphs, as well as new interviews with executives at TiVo, Verizon, and Avenue A | Razorfish, and additional predictions and insights from folks at NBC, Disney-ABC, Motionbox, and One True Media.

You can view the updated table of contents here, along with some nice endorsements of the book from people who've read it.

And if you already purchased the first edition in eBook form, and would like a copy of the second eBook edition for free, just drop me a note.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday News: Machinima, MTV and Kevin Smith, Amanda Congdon, Google Video Lawsuit, and Illegal iPod Activity

- Three fun pieces from the LA Times....

- A French documentary producer is suing Google because his film, 'The World According to Bush,' showed up on Google Video without his OK. From the Variety story:

    "This isn't a war against the Internet. I'm a big fan of Google and I use it all the time," [producer Jean-Francois ] LePetit told Variety," but it isn't possble to develop legal services on the Internet as long as this kind of parasitic activity continues to exist. Google must assume its responsibilities."

- The US Copyright Office says it ain't legal to decrypt DVDs that you own and then transfer them onto an iPod or other video player, according to the Associated Press.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The HD Report: David Fincher and Clint Eastwood ... Also, Disney Movies on Demand

- David Fincher shot his forthcoming feature, `Zodiac,' with Grass Valley's Viper digital camera. (Here's a piece from the San Francisco Chronicle, and another from Digital Content Producer.)

Now, they've posted trailers, including one in 1080p HD. `Zodiac' will be out in January. Cast looks incredible: Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jake Gyllenhaal.

- In other HD news, Clint Eastwood's cinematograher, Tom Stern, apparently used Sony HDV cameras in a very limited way on `Flags of Our Fathers,' according to this piece from Digital Content Producer. But Eastwood isn't entirely sold yet. From the piece:

    “I looked at all the [available] digital cameras, and tested them against film to see if the digital age was here completely,” Eastwood recently told Millimeter. “I know, some day, that will be it. But for this project, I felt HD did not hold up quite enough compared to film for the way I wanted it to look. It obviously had some advantages, but I just felt I couldn’t control atmospheres as well—I couldn’t get quite as deep into the blacks as I wanted. So I decided to shoot film. It was almost like they needed to go another millimeter before HD gets to where I want it to be. I’m sure [manufacturers] will get there before long the way things are progressing. They are already so close. But for me anyway, the main advantage I’m looking for is portability—small cameras. Some of the systems we tested were really big..."

- Finally, Disney has struck a deal with Comcast to make movies available on cable pay-per-view just 15 days after the DVD is out. Joseph Menn of the LA Times writes:

    Until now, Disney has generally followed the industry practice of releasing movies to pay-per-view between 30 and 45 days after DVD release. Now all Disney theatrical releases, with the possible exception of animated films, will automatically go to Comcast in a 15-to-45-day window. Other cable operators are likely to get the same earlier access in the future, said one person familiar with the agreement.

Variety has more on the deal, which has numerous other facets.

Queuing: The Importance of a String Around the Finger, or a Digital PostIt Note

I had coffee this morning with Gary Meyer, the extremely-sharp movie industry guru who co-founded Landmark Theatres, and is now running the Balboa Theater here in San Francisco, as well as the annual Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.

As were were wrapping up our conversation, Gary made an interesting observation about Netflix, in the vein of a gripe. Try going to Netflix today, and looking up the Pixar movie `Ratatouille,' he suggested. You'll have the option of adding it to your Netflix queue, even though the movie won't be released until June 2007. What is the impact on theaters? As Gary sees it, you can decide that you want to watch a movie on DVD before it has even reached the theaters. Doesn't that naturally reduce the urgency you'll feel to try to get out and see a movie during its theatrical run? If you miss it, it'll eventually show up in your mailbox, in one of those cardinal-colored envelopes. Gary mentioned that he'd spoken to people who receive the Balboa's monthly printed calendar in the mail, which has excellent descriptions of the movies that'll be playing there, and use it to circle the movies that look interesting. Do they necessarily come to the Balboa? Not always. Many times, they just add those movies to their Netflix queue.

We're all familiar with the concept of queueing, whether we realize it or not. On Amazon, you can put products in your shopping cart, and then save them for later (or create a wish list, which enables other people to buy them for you). That's a kind of queue: stuff I'd like, but don't necessarily need right now. On YouTube, if you don't want to watch a long-ish video right now, you can save it to your favorites, and come back later. Another queue. If you've got a TiVo, and someone tells you that there's a Tony Bennett special coming up, or a new Comedy Central series that you might be interested in, you can easily instruct your TiVo to record it; TiVo then presents it to you on the "Now Playing" page, which is a kind of content queue.

At a moment when our choices are starting to seem infinite and a bit overwhelming, whether it involves buying a CD or book from Amazon or spending a couple minutes watching a particular YouTube video, queues help us organize the stuff we're interested in. Queues are like a string tied around the finger, or way of sticking a digital PostIt note on something we want to remember.

Companies like Netflix have an advantage over the independent cinema and even the chain multiplex, unfortunately, because they make it easy for us to eventually watch that movie we've put on our queue. (If you add `Ratatouille,' be assured that eventually, around December 2007, that DVD will show up in your mailbox.) Amazon has an advantage over my neighborhood bookstore, because I've got half a dozen books sitting in my Amazon shopping cart, waiting to eventually be bought.

What could non-Internet businesses do? Look for opportunities to help people create queues. (Often, this involves some level of software expertise.) What if I could go to an independent cinema's Web site after I'd seen their calendar, and mark the movies I wanted to be reminded about? I might get an e-mail the day they opened, along with some links to online reviews. What if a multiplex incentivized me with a free popcorn, or $1 off a ticket, if I pre-purchased a ticket today to a movie coming out on Christmas Day that I'd expressed interest in? (Already, I'm getting accustomed to printing out my own tickets at home.) Studios let you watch a trailer on their sites...couldn't they also ask you whether you wanted to add a movie's debut date to your Google or Outlook calendar?

It seems like making it easier for people to remember and return to things they want to see or buy is becoming a core competency for every business.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is the pendulum starting to swing back? CBS shares its YouTube stats

One of my theories about user-generated video (which is shared by execs at ABC and NBC I've spoken with this week) is that one reason for its popularity has been the dearth of professionally-produced video available online. IE, if the networks and movie studios had been quicker to put some of their video online, we might never have spent so much time watching skateboard accidents and cute kitties walking across piano keyboards.

I don't think that user-generated (or semi-professionally produced) content is going to vanish -- but it's going to increasingly have to compete with the polished stuff. We're seeing the pendulum begin to swing back from amateur to professional, with announcements like this one (I'm excerpting the CBS press release below, since it doesn't seem to be online yet):


Nearly 30 Million Views Since Partnership Began Oct. 18

Television Ratings for "Late Show with David Letterman" and "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" up 5% and 7%, respectively

NEW YORK, NY and SAN BRUNO, Calif. — One month after launching the CBS Brand Channel on YouTube, CBS’s daily feed of news, sports and entertainment clips have become some of the most widely viewed content on the site.

CBS has uploaded more than 300 clips that have a total of 29.2 million views on YouTube, averaging 857,000 views per day, since the service launched on October 18. CBS has three of the top 25 most viewed videos this month (Nov.1–17), including clips from CBS’s Tuesday night hit drama “NCIS,” “Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and “The Early Show.” The CBS Brand Channel is also one of the most subscribed channels of all time with more than 20,000 users subscribing to CBS programming on YouTube since the channel launch last month.


Ratings for the network’s late night programs, in particular, have shown notable increases. CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” has added 200,000 (+5%) new viewers while “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” is up 100,000 viewers (+7%) since the YouTube postings started. Although the success of these shows on YouTube is not the sole cause of the rise in television ratings, both companies believe that YouTube has brought a significant new audience of viewers to each broadcast.

Here are the Top 15 CBS videos watched this month (as of Nov. 17):

Title Total Views
1. NCIS/Cat Fight 1,603,364

2. Letterman/ Borat Meets David Letterman 1,057,180

3. Early Show/ Borat Vs Harry Smith 969,391

4. Letterman/ Bush is drinking again 698,806

5. Letterman/ Message About February for Bush 524,697

6. CBS Evening News/ Michael J Fox Talks to Katie Couric 465,563

7. CSTV/USC Cheerleaders: The Song Girls 374,623

8. CSTV/ A Field of Dreams for Judy Coffman 358,572

9. Letterman/George W. Bush Fakin’ It 357,213

10. Letterman/ Dave and Bill O’Reilly 352,747

11. Letterman/The Guy Who Swears At Dave 316,258

12. Ferguson/ Fun is Dangerous 314,093

13. Letterman/Do Maggots Go With Scorpion 278,283

14. Ferguson/ Bush visits the Un-Late Late Show 221,462

15. Ferguson/Bad Kerry 219,556

Monday, November 20, 2006

Video: Eisner and Diller Chat About Media and Tech ... Study Finds Video iPod Usage Hasn't Yet Taken Off

- Forbes has posted some video clips from their MEET Forum, held last month in Beverly Hills. The first few come from the interview between Michael Eisner and Barry Diller. (Here are some of my notes from the conference, and my Variety coverage.)

- Nielsen has done what is purportedly the first survey on video iPod usage. From Andrew Wallenstein's story in The Hollywood Reporter:

    ...Nielsen monitored a panel of 400 iPod users in the U.S. from October 1-27 as part of its new initiative, Anywhere Anytime Media Measurement, or A2M2, which aims to measure audiences on myriad emerging digital platforms.

    Among the findings: Less than 1% of content items played by iPod users on either iTunes or the device itself were videos. Among video iPod users, that percentage barely improves, up to 2.2%.

    Even measured by duration of consumption, where 30- or 60-minute TV shows might seem to have a built-in advantage over three-minute songs, video comprises just 2% of total time spent using iPods or iTunes among iPod owners. Video iPod users consume video 11% of the time.

    The study also found that 15.8% of iPod users have played a video on either iPod or iTunes. About one-third of that group doesn't own a video iPod.

    Nielsen's "Home Tech Report," a separate ongoing tracking of new technologies, projects about 13% of U.S. households own at least one iPod, amounting to about 15 million -- 30% of which are video-enabled iPods....

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Disney and Target Reach DVD Truce ... Downloadable DVD Commentary ... Ballantyne Goes Digital ... `For Your Consideration'

- Great article in the LA Times about the wrangling between Target and Disney over the question of whether Target deserves the same wholesale prices for DVDs as Disney gives to Apple for digital downloads. IE, if Disney is selling Target the DVD of 'Pirates 2,' should that price be equal to what Apple pays Disney when it sells an iTunes download of the same movie? Joseph Menn writes:

    Target made Disney testy in September, when it fired off a letter demanding the same low wholesale prices on DVDs that Apple Computer Inc. is paying Disney to offer movie downloads over iTunes. At the time, Target threatened to cut back on its efforts to sell Disney's DVDs.

    Disney countered that DVD buyers get something different from what iTunes customers get: an actual disc packed with commentary, deleted scenes, trailers and other extras. Disney charges conventional retailers about $16 for new DVD releases, between $1 and $2 more than Apple pays.

What's interesting is that even if Apple pays only $14 or $15, it often sells new releases for $12.99 during the first week they're out, losing money on every sale. (I've written about that digital loss-leader phenomenon in Variety.)

- The Wall Street Journal writes about a new wrinkle in DVD commentaries: fan-created commentary posted on the Web, designed to be listened to along with a particular movie. John Jurgensen writes:

    One new site is turning the genre into a business. Called RiffTrax, it's the creation of Michael J. Nelson, a comedy writer best-known for his role in "Mystery Science Theater 3000," a 1990s TV show that became a cult hit in its 11-year run on cable...

    The medium of the podcast has allowed Mr. Nelson to aim at a different target in his new commentaries -- recent blockbusters, such as "The Matrix," "The Grudge" and "X-Men." While the TV show tackled only movies it could afford the rights to, Mr. Nelson, who launched RiffTrax in July, avoids copyright issues by selling his audio downloads separately. Users pay $2.99 to download a commentary and play it on a computer or MP3 player while watching a movie they've rented or bought themselves.

- Interesting take on Ballantyne of Omaha, the Nebraska-based projector manufacturer that's now trying to move into digital cinema through a partnership with NEC. The big question: can a company that doesn't have its own technology expertise (Ballantyne is dependent on NEC, and NEC in turn on Texas Instruments and their DLP chip) profit from the digital cinema transition, based on strong customer relationships alone? I'm not so sure.

- GreenCine has a cool video interview with Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, on their new movie 'For Your Consideration.' (I saw it Friday night, and really enjoyed it. It seemed on the first viewing not as funny or well-structured as 'Best in Show' or 'A Mighty Wind,' but those movies got more funny with repeated viewings -- and perhaps this one will, too. The main problem is that, while the movie is about the Oscars, we never actually get to the Oscars.)

Friday, November 17, 2006

`Don't call us, we'll call YouTube, agents say'

British newspaper The Guardian has a piece in their Saturday edition about how talent agencies are starting to scour the Web for promising prospects.

Writer Dan Glaister, who is based in L.A., called me up to chat last week, and he used me in his piece as the voice of skepticism. Essentially, I told him that I thought some Web video creators would love to be 'discovered' by movie studios and TV networks, but that others actually have more entrepreneurial dreams: they'd like to make it without caving in to the system. Glaister writes:

    The agencies can offer the promise of money - particularly at a time when many whose work is showcased on YouTube are wondering if they will get a slice of the website's recent $1.6bn sale price - and even a successful transition into mainstream entertainment.

    But creators may be hesitant. Many chose to go on the web precisely to avoid the mainstream. "A lot of people feel they don't want to be co-opted by the system and hand over creative control," said Scott Kirsner, author of The Future of Web Video. "They want to figure out how to use the web to sustain themselves and keep producing more work - they don't particularly want to be assimilated by the establishment.

    "They want to be subversive and they want it to be their voice that's heard, and not filtered through 20 production executives."

A YouTube for Ads? .... One Levinsohn Out at Fox Interactive, Another Steps In ... 100 Years Ago in Cinema

- A new site, adTV, will launch the day after the Super Bowl, according to Variety. The objective is to create a YouTube for commercials. If executed right, this sounds like a swell idea. One key feature will be letting site visitors rank and comment on the ads...and putting up some of the edgier ads that tend to run in countries other than the U.S. Advertisers, not users, will actually post the content. This is the second Web-oriented deal in a week to involved TV producer Steven Bochco, who seems to be taking a real interest in all things digital.

- Ross Levinsohn, one of the execs most responsible for News Corp.'s acquisition of MySpace, has left Fox Interactive Media. Here's the LA Times coverage, and here's the piece from Variety. Chris Gaither and Dawn Chmielewski of the Times write:

    Ross Levinsohn recently told associates that, at a time when so much money was backing big digital ideas, he wanted the opportunity to help build a company with the possibility of a big payday. Friends said they wouldn't be surprised to see him become a venture capitalist, or be tapped by one to run a start-up.

Ross Levinsohn will be replaced as head of FIM by Peter Levinsohn, who is a distant cousin.

- If you're in LA on December 6th, consider going to this event being put on by the Academy: "A Century Ago: The Films of 1906." From the description:

    After years as a technological novelty presented as added attractions in vaudeville lineups and at fairs and in contained machines called kinetoscopes, motion pictures finally arrived at a home of their own in 1906, when local storefront nickelodeons expanded their operations dramatically within a matter of a few months. Although only a handful of nickelodeons were open at the end of 1905, they proliferated to 35 states the following year. Filmmakers were shooting films both in studios and on location while continuing to push the boundaries of narrative storytelling.

(Thanks to Cinema Minima for the heads-up.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Orb Tries Bringing Video to Cell Phones ... Ex Rocketboom Host to ABC ... An Obit for VHS

- Orb Networks says they're on the verge of announcing software that will let you forward Web video from Google, YouTube, and other sites to your cell phone. But according to, "Orb's new programs can also be used only on advanced smartphones like Motorola's Q model or Nokia's N80 phone, and won't work for a wider audience of users with less sophisticated phones."

- Amanda Congdon, formerly the host of `Rocketboom,' one of the most-watched video podcasts, just got hired by ABC to produce online reportage. From the BusinessWeek story:

    Congdon will regularly appear on the network's 24-hour digital channel ABC News Now and occasionally appear as a correspondent on the network's TV news broadcasts. She will also host a weekly video blog, or "vlog," on focusing on topics such as new media, politics, and the environment. "She certainly has the eyes and ears of a great many people who may have only trafficked in Internet information," says Michael Clemente, executive producer of ABC News Digital Media. "I would love to see her talking to [Illinois Senator] Barack Obama, new people with new products, and all sorts of things."

- Variety is declaring the VHS tape dead. "The format flourished until DVDs launched in 1997," Diane Garrett writes. "After a fruitful career, VHS tapes started to retire from center stage in 2003 when DVDs became more popular for the first time.... VHS continued to make as much as $300 million a year until this year, when studios stopped manufacturing the tapes."

YouTube Copyright War Chest ... Motionbox's `Deep Tagging' ... Metacafe and Bochco Collaborate

- According to the Associated Press:

    Google Inc. is holding back more than $200 million of the stock it paid to acquire YouTube Inc. to cover losses or possible legal bills for the frequent copyright violations on YouTube's video-sharing site.

    ...The reserve could signal that Google is trying to insulate itself from a possible onslaught of lawsuits aimed at the large number of pirated videos posted on YouTube, which will retain its current management and name.

This disclosure is interesting, in that Eric Schmidt seemed to say this wasn't the case at the Web 2.0 conference last week. (Schmidt said the company hadn't set aside money to "buy peace with the media companies.")

- Steve Bryant at Reel Pop has a good analysis of why it'll be important, as the amount of video on the Web grows, to be able to link specifically to the part of a clip you want to reference. The folks at Motionbox call this `deep tagging.' Chris O'Brien, the company's CEO, mentioned to me last week that the company has some patents around this technology -- which could prove important as the Web video economy evolves.

- Network TV legend Steven Bochco has signed up with YouTube rival Metacafe to produce content for the site, according to Variety. From Josef Adalian's report:

    First project for the site has already started production, with an eye on an early-2007 bow. Neither Bochco nor Metacafe would discuss details, except to say the initial offering would be unscripted and encourage audience participation.

    Metacafe, which calls itself the world's largest indie video-sharing site, attracted 3.7 million visitors last month, according to

    Bochco, whose credits range from "L.A. Law" and "NYPD Blue" to last season's "Commander in Chief," becomes one of the first "old-guard" scripted TV producers to enter into a production alliance with a video-sharing service. A number of reality TV producers, including Mark Burnett and Ben Silverman, are already well-established on the Net.

- Chris deFaria will run the newly-merged visual effects and animation departments at Warner Bros., according to Variety.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

TiVo Opens Up to More Web Video (But Still Not All)

- The morning's big news is about TiVo opening up its digital video recorders (or at least the 500,000 of them that are linked to the Internet) to a new cache of Web content. Here's the Variety coverage ... NY Times ... Washington Post.

Saul Hansell of the Times writes:

    ...TiVo has already offered some programs in conjunction with programmers including iVillage, and The New York Times. It will soon add more programming, from CBS and Forbes, and make the content more prominent on its menu screens.

    The company will also introduce software that will allow users to watch a much wider range of videos that are available on the Web. This method, however, requires users to first download the videos onto their computers. If they purchase software from TiVo for $24.95, they will be able to connect their TiVo recorders to their computers over a wired or wireless home network and watch the videos on television.

    This software can play videos in popular formats including MPEG4, QuickTime and some versions of Windows Media. This will allow it to play most video podcasts and some files offered by video sites including Google Video and Revver. The system cannot play videos that have copy protection, like downloadable movies sold by major studios.

But the key here is that even those 500,000 lucky few won't get access to the whole wide Web of video content ... just stuff in formats that TiVo can handle. (You'll notice that YouTube was not mentioned; they use the Flash video format, which TiVo won't support.)

- In other news, Apple has done a deal with several airlines, including Delta, Continental, and United, to allow passengers to charge their iPods in flight, and also link up to the seatback screens (when available) for viewing video content. The technology should take flight beginning in mid-2007. How long will it be before there's one last chump sitting in coach and watching the lame in-flight movie the airline has chosen?

Monday, November 13, 2006

`Digital do-it-yourself': From The Hollywood Reporter's Leadership Issue

The last piece that I wrote for The Hollywood Reporter (before moving over to Variety) appears in their annual Leadership issue this week. It's headlined `Digital do-it-yourself,' and the byline is mysteriously missing. From the piece:

    [Director Caveh] Zahedi is one of a far-flung group of digital pioneers who regard technology as an opportunity -- not as a threat to established ways of doing business. While this year's headlines have been dominated by the studios' tentative experiments with downloadable movies, there is a portion of the independent filmmaking community engaging in far more radical research and development. They're exploring new and innovative ways of using the Internet not just to make their movies available as legal downloads, but to find new ways to finance them, to cast and edit them, to get feedback from the audience, to market and promote them and even secure theatrical playdates.

    "Maybe we're a little ahead of the curve," says Adam Shapiro, producer of the horror film "Incubus," which made its digital debut on AOL in late October, ahead of its eventual DVD release. "We could fail miserably, but at least we're trying. And even if this does fail, I'll take what we've learned and tweak it and make it work. Eventually, there will be a new model."

For the piece, I also spoke with Jonathan Marlow at GreenCine, Susan Buice and Arin Crumley of `Four Eyed Monsters,' Ben Rekhi of `Waterborne,' Leone Marucci of Steelyard Pictures, `Iraq for Sale' director Robert Greenwald, and Brian Terwilliger of `One Six Right.' (A longer interview with Rekhi appears in `The Future of Web Video.')

There are some other fine pieces in the Reporter's Leadership issue:

New Lycos Cinema Site Brings Jabbering to Net Movie Watching

Lycos Cinema doesn't have the greatest catalog of content, and it only works on PCs running a recent edition of Internet Explorer. But the idea of watching movies online with a group of friends, and chatting throughout, is a good one.

From Hiawatha Bray's story in today's Boston Globe:

    The new Lycos Cinema site, which is being launched today, at, offers hundreds of low-budget independent films for viewing free of charge.

    But unlike other video sites, Lycos Cinema will also provide a built-in chat room feature that lets groups of movie buffs watch the same film simultaneously, no matter where they are.

    Up to 10 friends can make a date to meet at the site and watch a film. All the video streams are synchronized so that each of them views the same scenes at the same time. And they can type messages to one another, ranging from friendly chit-chat to wry wisecracks about the film.

    "For the most part, our competitors are focusing on how to make the video-on-demand paradigm better," said Lycos's chief operating officer, Brian Kalinowski . "They've done nothing to create community." The goal of Lycos Cinema, he said, "was to create community around peoples' desire to watch and interact around video content."

And from Lycos' press release, a bit more about how it works:

    LYCOS Cinema lets users host their own Screening Rooms, inviting others to watch high-quality video content, while the host of the room controls the video experience. Screening Room hosts can pause, rewind and fast-forward video streams, and most importantly, chat with other Screening Room viewers. Users can view profiles of other guests in the Screening Room audience and build buddy lists for future watch and chat sessions. Users may also congregate in virtual lobbies within the LYCOS Cinema environment, browsing lists of available screenings, conversing with other users with whom they can watch and chat. For added privacy, Screening Room hosts can password-protect screenings, making watch and chat sessions available by invitation only.

    Future product enhancements will allow users to rate, review, post questions and recommend content. Additional features will enable independent film producers and high-quality content providers to upload videos while moderated chat capabilities make director, actor or subject expert chats a reality.

Disney & Movie Downloads ... Liberty Media to Start Making Movies ... HD Projectors for the Home ... And More

- I recently saw a forecast from PriceWaterhouseCoopers in the Red Herring that said that only about $1 million in digital movie downloads would be sold in 2006 (can't find the link)... a number that Disney alone seems to have blown out of the water in less than three months. According to a recent Disney announcement, since September (when Disney movies were added to iTunes), the studio has sold 500,000 movies through Apple's iTunes Music Store. If we assume an average selling price of $9.99 per movie (on the low side), that's $5 million right there.

- Liberty Media is launching Overture Films, with a $500 million war chest and 70 employees, according to the LA Times. Overture will turn out 8 to 12 live-action movies a year, budgeted at $30 million or less.

- The Washington Post carries this review of high-definition digital projectors for the home, which cost $1500 to $2000. Peter Svensson seems impressed:

    ...The projectors give beautiful, saturated colors and the sheer size of the image was overwhelming. It's one thing to watch a clip of Shakira on a TV screen, a totally different one to watch her belly dance nearly life-size across your wall.

    It's also clear these projectors are a far cry from the ones we're used to seeing in conference rooms, which usually have a very visible "raster," or grid pattern of pixels. This pattern is hard to pick out in the Mitsubishi's output, and practically invisible on the Panasonic. The company said it has reduced pixilation by adapting technology from its digital cinema projectors, the kind that go into movie theaters to replace film projectors.

The big drawbacks, however: "...ambient light remains the Achilles' heel of projectors, hampering casual viewing. Another problem: To enjoy a big screen, you really need high-definition input. Regular TV doesn't cut it, and even DVDs look quite mushy blown up beyond three feet or so. You need high-definition TV programming or, even better, the new HD DVD or Blu-ray discs."

- The new trailer for next summer's `The Simpson's Movie' proudly anounces it will be 2-D (not 3-D).

- The NY Times has a piece this morning on Microsoft's Zune portable media player, which is available starting tomorrow. I love the Zune's ability to wirelessly share media from one device to another (though it doesn't yet support video, only photos and audio), but Michel Marriott of the Times wonders if that's enough to make it a hit:

    The question is whether the Zune’s singular innovation — the wireless sharing feature — is enough to distinguish it. [Sean] Wargo [of the Consumer Electronics Association] said the big draws for consumers generally are the extent of a player’s library of content and how easy it is to add and manage content on the device.

    But late last year, with social networking and community building becoming more popular, [J] Allard [of Microsoft] said “we thought the time was ripe” for a portable player that could share content and create communities around music.

In a review last week, David Pogue of the Times was underwhelmed by the Zune, writing:

    Competition is good and all. But what, exactly, is the point of the Zune? It seems like an awful lot of duplication — in a bigger, heavier form with fewer features — just to indulge Microsoft’s “we want some o’ that” envy. Wireless sharing is the one big new idea — and if the public seems to respond, Apple could always add that to the iPod.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Workbook Project: Add to a Library of Information about DIY Filmmaking

Lance Weiler (`Head Trauma,' `The Last Broadcast') has just kicked off a great project: a collaborative Web site where DIY filmmakers can share information and war stories. Eventually, he hopes to make "the Workbook" available as a printed publication.

The project is still quite nascent, but Lance is looking for filmmakers to contribute. As sample content, Lance has started to write about his recent 17-city theatrical release of `Head Trauma,' done on a shoestring this fall.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Breaking the One-Minute Barrier

Among the many provocative conversations I had at the Web 2.0 Summit yesterday, the most provocative was with podcaster/journo/maniac Steve Gillmor. One topic we wound up discussing was the one-minute barrier: why have most people stopped watching Web videos before they hit the one-minute mark?

Here's what I think:

- Most are bad, and not worth watching for very long.

- Most Web videos are poorly-described. You don't know what you're gonna get until you actually click play.

- It's impossible for a Web site/blog to link you to a precise spot in a long video, so if you don't get quickly to the part you want, you get frustrated and abandon it. (One company trying to solve this precise-linking problem is Motionbox.)

But the biggest reason, simply, is that watching more than a minute of video just doesn't fit very well into most people's established Internet usage.

Think about how you surf: you spend 30 seconds scanning a page like MyYahoo or or the NY Times, or wherever you start the day. You click off to a number of articles, and perhaps read a few paragraphs from each one. Unless you are writing a blog entry, or composing an e-mail, or maybe filling out a long form, it is pretty darn unusual to spend two or three or four minutes on a single Web page. (The average time that a user spends on a page of CinemaTech is just about one minute -- and that data surely skews a bit long, because of the way visit duration is measured, and because you and I both know there's not much deep thinkin' here.)

Watching a video longer than a minute doesn't fit in very well -- there's always another browser window open, calling to us, or a new e-mail or instant message arriving.

I don't think the one-minute rule is absolute; the OK GO music videos are about three minutes, the new `Extreme Mentos and Diet Coke' video is the same, and `Evolution of Dance' runs six.

But that leads us to another point... video sites like YouTube only tell us the number of times someone has started playing a video -- not the number of times they've watched it all the way through. I don't expect the info about how many viewers abandon a video mid-way through would be interesting to the general public... but it sure would be valuable to people creating videos. At what point do you start losing viewers? That'd be phenomenally helpful in re-editing a piece of content.

One other issue Steve and I touched on: where will people watch videos longer than one-minute?

My expectation is that as you surf on your PC, you'll tag longer videos that you plan to watch later, and be able to send them to your cell phone, your video iPod, or your television set.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Now playing on CinemaTech: `Groundhog Day'

This new offering from Grouper, ScreenBites, is a giant leap for media companies on the Web. (Grouper is part of Sony Pictures Entertainment -- acquired by them in August.)

What's the big deal? Sony is making part of its content library available on Grouper, so that people can link to it, or embed it in their blogs or Web sites (as I've done here.) Every time a clip is played, there's an opportunity to purchase the movie on DVD. Try clicking the menu button above... or waiting until the end of the video to see the purchase option. And Sony's pricing of the DVD is appealing: $9.99, with no shipping.

Eventually, Sony or others could (and probably will) sell advertising around this content, or also enable you to buy a digital version of the full-length movie.

Sony is one of the few studios experimenting with making the Net a marketing tool for library content, rather than just complaining about people illegally posting and sharing that content online.

They even plan to eventually let users incorporate Sony clips into their own home-made videos -- which will be another major leap toward the Internet-powered entertainment economy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Comcast and Verizon: Sniffing around user-generated video

The Wall Street Journal has a solid piece today exploring how Comcast and Verizon are approaching user-generated videos. Peter Grant's piece brings up a lot of very important issues. If YouTube is getting paid by Verizon for its content, for example, why wouldn't YouTube share some of the revenue with creators? And how will viewers respond to short, home-made videos on their TV sets. Grant writes:

    On Monday, Comcast launched a trial version of, a Web site that uses contests to attract homegrown videos, with the best then available for Comcast's video-on-demand TV service. Verizon, meantime, is close to a deal with YouTube, according to people familiar with the matter. If it happens, Verizon TV subscribers are likely to be able to watch the top YouTube videos of the day for a fee.

    Such moves illustrate the new battleground that's emerging as phone and cable companies seek to woo households with attractive packages of TV, phone and high-speed Internet offerings. Because cable and phone companies provide roughly the same popular TV channels, including ESPN and MTV, they're eager to distinguish themselves through the variety of content they offer on demand. Right now, so-called user generated content is what's hot. "We're all experimenting," says Sam Schwartz, an executive vice president of Comcast Interactive Media.

    At the same time, both cable and phone companies are trying to stay ahead of efforts by a wide range of technology companies -- including TiVo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. -- to route Web videos, TV programs and movies directly to television. In the future, it's likely they'll give consumers the ability to access individually produced videos from a number of different sites.

Ziddio is nicely-designed, but there ain't much there yet.

From Web 2.0: Mary Meeker on the Growth of Web Video

Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker gave a light-speed talk (41 slides in 15 minutes) at Web 2.0 this morning. Much of it focused on the growth of Web video viewership, and her prediction that just as text and audio on the Web have been "monetized," so will video. (Here's a link to her slides as a PDF.)

- Her first captivating stat: an estimate that 60 percent of Internet traffic may be peer-to-peer file-sharing of unmonetized video.

- She estimated that the number of Internet users are growing at about 10-15 %, and that Internet usage is increasing at 20-30 %, while the growth in monetization is running at about 30 %. (Yes, this was kinda vague -- but it was on a slide headed `Global Internet Thesis.')

- As video is increasingly tagged, findable, and easy to search, she said, advertising can better be associated with it.

- She suggested that some of the most successful advertising might not be intrusive, 30-second spots that play before the video you've requested. Instead, she showed some examples (mock-ups, I think) of what she called "non-invasive, branded ads," like a Nike logo atop a Tiger Woods video, or a Purina logo atop a cute-dog video.

- Some of the fastest-growing sites, she pointed out, have been based on user-generated content: YouTube (2,662 % year-over-year growth in unique visitors), Wikipedia (110 %), and Fox/MySpace (303 %).

- She posed two questions toward the end:

    1. What will be the mix of amateur, professional, and semi-professional video content that people want to consume? Will it be 1/3, 1/3, and 1/3? No clear answer yet.

    2. She wondered whether traditional media companies (Time Warner, Viacom, NBC Universal, Disney) will be among the list of the most popular Web destinations in three or four years...observing that many brick-and-mortar retailers are today on the list of the most popular e-commerce sites (Wal-Mart, Staples, Best Buy, etc.), when everyone would've predicted that they'd be blown out of the water back in the late 1990s.

(Of course, monetizing video on the Web is a topic that I've been sorta obsessed with lately.)

Rob Hummel, former Warner Bros. and DreamWorks exec, named prez of DALSA Digital Cinema

I spoke briefly with Rob Hummel yesterday about his plans for DALSA’s Digital Cinema division, which markets the DALSA Origin 4K digital camera. (Here’s the official press release.)

Hummel’s new gig was partly surprising – he has long been an advocate of the high resolution you get from shooting on celluloid – and partly not, since he and WB exec Chris Cookson were the staunchest advocates for including 4K in the Digital Cinema Initiatives standard.

Job #1 for Hummel will be getting the Origin used on some major motion picture sets, which hasn’t happened yet. He’ll do it by trying to make the case that shooting with lower-resolution cameras, like the Viper and Panavision Genesis, is a compromise not worth making. “Genesis is just a souped-up HD camera,” Hummel told me. “The output file is 1920 x 1080, at the end of the day. With Origin, now you’re starting to kiss, if not exceed, the resolution of a 35-millimeter frame.”

Hummel agreed when I suggested that many directors and cinematographers are still reluctant to pick up a digital camera. “Making movies is the act of risk avoidance,” he said.

He said one of his goals would be to persuade a few well-known directors and cinematographers to shoot digitally. The first name that came up was Steven Spielberg. (Spielberg has often said he plans to be the last director buying the last foot of film stock he can find.) Since Hummel worked with Spielberg at DreamWorks, I asked him what he thought it’d take to get the director to pick up a digital camera.

“I think [he hasn’t done it] because he has never seen anything that lives up to the clarity and dynamic range he gets from shooting on film.” But Hummel said he thought Spielberg could be swayed over time. One strategy would be by trying to convert Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg’s long-time cinematographer.

“Steven would say, `If Janusz will buy it, I might do it,’” Hummel said. “I’m not saying I’ll succeed [in moving Spielberg to digital], but yeah, I’d like to give it a shot.”

Other names Hummel said he’ll be focusing on: Richard Crudo (former president of the American Society of Cinematographers), Vilmos Zsigmond, Russell Carpenter, Vittorio Storaro, and Steven Soderbergh. I mentioned that Soderbergh had already worked with digital cameras. “Yes, but when it comes to doing an `Ocean’s 12’ or `Ocean’s 13,’ he has gone back to film.”

“I’ll never presume to tell a filmmaker what’s absolutely best, but if you want to shoot a film of the ultimate quality, and approaching large format films, you’ll have to shoot in 4K…” Hummel said.

It looks like now, we'll see some sharp elbows thrown among the 2K and 4K camera-makers, just as we've seen among the 2K and 4K projector-makers.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Red Herring: `User-Generated Video v. Hollywood'

I don't regularly read the Red Herring, but there's an interesting story in the 11.06 print issue headlined `Blockbuster or Bust?' It's not online yet, but the key stat, from PricewaterhouseCoopers, is that the firm expects just $1 million in movie downloads to be sold in 2006. The number will grow to $400 million by 2010.

Last week's Herring had another story, `User-Generated Video v. Hollywood.' A snippet:

    Hollywood might claim it wasn’t caught off guard by the Internet video revolution, but Google’s acquisition of YouTube has certainly given it a new sense of urgency. “It lights a fire under everybody’s butts,” says Dmitry Shapiro, CEO of Veoh, a video-sharing and broadcasting web site. “If [Hollywood] doesn’t get into this game in a big way, they will have a giant monster competitor that is Google—now the largest video broadcasting company with the deepest pockets.”

    Talent companies, production houses, and major studios are all scrambling to survey the landscape of the changing $588-billion U.S. entertainment industry. The Internet video revolution represents a cultural shift in which viewers are gravitating toward offbeat and underground short videos made by individuals seeking new ways to express themselves. Hollywood is no longer the ultimate arbiter of taste.

    Advertisers are coming to understand the potential of Internet video as well. The television advertising market remains huge at $40 billion in 2006, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, but sponsors are keenly aware that young people now spend more time online than they do watching TV. Research group eMarketer says video advertising grew sevenfold from $30 million in 2000 to $225 million in 2005. The market is expected to surge to $2.35 billion in 2010.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt on the YouTube purchase and online video

From the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco: John Battelle opens his on-stage interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt by asking him about the YouTube acquisition. Why’d you do it? Battelle asks.

Schmidt says he started to notice traffic spiking on Google Video this year – more people posting video, and more people watching it. YouTube, he said, was growing even faster than Google Video. “Something happened this year where all of a sudden, video became a fundamental data type on the Internet, and we wanted to be part of that,” says Schmidt, who is an engineer by training.

Schmidt reiterated Google’s intention to let YouTube continue to operate as a separate property. “They’re very much focused on the community and social networking aspects of video, and they have some special and unique ideas about how to address that,” he said.

Schmidt said Google hadn’t set aside a large sum of money to “buy peace with the media companies,” as Battelle put it (the question seemed to be inspired by these rumors. But Schmidt that he was trying to figure out how Google and YouTube could work with major content owners for mutual benefit.

“We’ve visited with as many of the media companies as we can,” Schmidt said, “because we have to respect copyright.”

“The explosion of video gives us the opportunity, if we can construct the right partnerships, to get licensed content into the right places, [which] could result in a larger number of viewers.

“YouTube had been on this path, and we’d been on this path,” he said. “Together, we’ll move more quickly.”

But the he said that the process of working with content owners on rights and revenue deals wasn’t a walk in the park. Media companies have “sophisticated rights management systems” and “complicated rights structures.” Determining the right way to monetize content can be hard, especially when media companies have “other customers whose rights they have to respect,” too.

That was about all he said about video and YouTube, although he did make a broader comment later in the session that sounded, to me, like it could apply to studios and networks, which can still be reluctant to make much of their content available online. (Disney told me this week that they have all of 100 movies available for digital purchase today.)

“It’s a mistake to bet against the Internet. Don’t bet against the Internet,” Schmidt said. “As the Internet has rolled into industries, it has upset things – especially with businesses that withhold information…the Internet is fundamentally about sharing.”


During the Q&A period, someone in the audience asked whether Schmidt thought that someone else might be able to build a YouTube-sized business without relying on copyright-infringing content. Schmidt said he didn't agree with the premise of the question, but that "the answer is yes." Someone could emerge who created a better user experience, better performance, better cross-linking.

From Web 2.0: Advertising panel

My old colleague from the Boston Globe, Scott Meyer, was moderating a panel this morning at Web 2.0 on advertising. (Scott is now CEO of, owned by the NY Times Company.) Panelists included reps from paidContent, Brightcove, Avenue A | Razorfish, and NBC Universal.

Michael Steib from NBC Universal said some advertising becomes content that people will seek out; he said he'd gone to Apple's site to watch all of the Mac-and-PC ads.

Jeff Lanctot from Razorfish observed that most companies/agencies aren't producing ads specifically for the Web, though he mentioned that his agency had done some video "skyscraper" ads for Levi's recently.

Rafat Ali from PaidContent said that his maximum tolerance for video ads shown before a short clip is five seconds.

Afterward, I chatted with Todd Sacerdoti from Brightroll, who was on a different panel (more specifically on video.) Brightroll sells and inserts ads in video content.

We talked a bit about how Google and YouTube will approach advertising. I wondered whether Google and YouTube might just try and sell text ads and banners around video, without integrating anything into the video. He disagreed, saying, "Google is going to monetize the unit -- maybe not on the YouTube site," but perhaps on Google Video, or videos that they syndicate to other sites in the Google player. "They're anti-pre-roll," he said, referring to Google execs, "but they may do mid-roll between videos. They'll find a way to get you to watch ads."

I'm here for much of the conference through Thursday, so if you're here, too -- say hello.

More Digital Video for TV, Cell Phones, and Xboxes ... Future of Television Forum ... `Domino Effect' ... Net Neutrality

- Two interesting news items this morning that relate to bringing more digital video offerings to cell phones, TVs, and gaming consoles:

Microsoft is working with Viacom and Time Warner to make movies and TV shows available on its Xbox 360 game console, according to the Wall Street Journal. Nick Wingfield writes:

    As it gears up for what is expected to be an intense, competitive holiday season in the games business, the Redmond, Wash., software giant said it will sell episodes of television shows including the likes of "CSI" and "Star Trek" and rent movies such as "Mission Impossible III" and "Superman Returns" for users of Xbox 360 to download and watch on their television sets. The service, called Xbox Live Video Marketplace, will launch Nov. 22. Microsoft yesterday said the entertainment companies initially offering content through the service will include CBS Corp., Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks and Paramount Studios, and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Brothers.

    ....Movies and TV shows are "a secondary function for Xbox 360," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "It's not something that's going to drive the purchase of an Xbox."

And Verizon is apparently talking to YouTube about making its videos available on Verizon Wireless cell phones and the company's IP TV service (which only has about 118,000 customers today.) Again, from the Wall Street Journal:

    Verizon already offers video clips from major media companies and networks such as MTV, ESPN, and ABC News, but a YouTube deal would be its first with a company whose videos appear only on the Internet. Among the many clips Verizon was offering yesterday was a short CBS News piece on President Bush's last-minute campaigning before today's midterm elections. Rivals Sprint and Cingular have even broader offerings, including live TV.

    Under the terms being discussed, Verizon Wireless cellphone users would be able to access about 50 to 100 of the most popular videos on the YouTube Web site at any given time, people familiar with the matter said. Initially, Verizon cellphone users wouldn't be able to post material of their own to the V Cast service but, by the end of the year, they would probably be able to upload video shot with a Verizon camera phone, a person with knowledge of the plan says.

    As part of the proposed deal, Verizon, starting next year, would allow users to view YouTube videos on demand through its new TV service. Users would likely be able to buy access to the top YouTube videos of the day for a small fee, with the revenue shared between the two companies.

- Interesting conference on The Future of Television coming up next week at New York University.

- A great post from the blog "Digital Micro-Markets" about how Google is approaching monetization of user-generated video, and their deal with Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz for `The Domino Effect,' a sequel to their hit viral video `The Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments.'

- Susan Buice and Arin Crumley (`Four Eyed Monsters') have made an excellent video about Net Neutrality. Well worth watching.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday links: Ads on HD DVDs, Talent costs, Revver partnership, InDplay, and more...

- What else can you put on those fancy new HD DVDs? Ads, of course. From today's NY Times: `Insert Product Here: Plenty of Space to Sell on HD DVDs.'

- Also in the Times, a Laura Holson piece on Hollywood's new attempts to manage talent costs. It includes some interesting passages about how actors, directors, and writers are struggling to get paid for digital downloads of their work. She writes:

    Hollywood is in the midst of a strategic shift. The average cost to make and market a movie has skyrocketed — to $96.2 million last year, from $54.1 million in 1995 — while lucrative DVD sales have flattened. Major film studios are fending off illegal piracy, which industry executives say accounted for $1.3 billion in lost revenue in the United States last year.

    The growth of new media threatens to undermine traditional businesses, while studios are flummoxed about how to take advantage of the new opportunities they represent. And movies and TV also face tough new competition from video games and online social networking sites. Even cellphones have become a favorite diversion among the young.

    As in so many other show business debates, money and control are at the heart of the matter. And without solutions to these problems in sight, relations between talent and the studios are more strained than ever.

- Revver and Creative Artists Agency have done a deal, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The gist, writes Andrew Wallenstein, is this:

    CAA is expected to bring marketing opportunities and talent to the Web site, which has cut a distinctive figure in the anarchic viral-video world by compensating contributors through its syndication technology. The partnership is not exclusive to either company.

- inDplay, a content licensing marketplace here in the Bay Area, seems to finally be getting some traction, thanks to a deal with Allied Artists. The San Francisco Chronicle has the story. Gina Smith writes:

    "The number of these films and TV shows and documentaries that could be available to the public and aren't is just staggering," said venture capitalist William Hearst. Along with Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, Hearst is giving angel funding to the Redwood City startup inDplay Inc., which hopes to solve this problem. "There are libraries and libraries of these films just sitting around lying fallow," Hearst said. "With inDplay, we hope to ... (create) a place where the library owners can broker deals with customers who want to license them." Hearst serves as a director of Hearst Corp., the company that owns The Chronicle.

    Allied Artists' library will be the first big library to sign up with inDplay, a deal that is expected to be announced today. The huge library not only features the Robin Williams and Ingrid Bergman films, but seven lost shows from cult actor and director John Cassavetes, and more than 20,000 other titles. The company hopes that this kind of content will come in handy, for instance, if a cable channel wanted to do a weekend of Westerns. The Allied library includes 876 Westerns, including some little-known John Wayne titles.

- Time says that YouTube is the best invention of 2006. (Actually, it was invented in 2005. Keep up, Time!)

- Finally, DVGuru brought to my attention a new service offering to insert ads into video: Brightroll. (No relation to Brightcove.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

How Internet Video is Changing Hollywood ... Comcast Considering User-Gen Content ... Mentos & Diet Coke: The Sequel ... Pixar v. DreamWorks

- A piece of mine ran in the `Current' section of the Los Angeles Times today, focusing on how Internet video is changing the business and culture of Hollywood. The opening:

    THE INTERNET IS rerouting the road to stardom and rewriting long-held beliefs about how entertainment hits are made.

    Complete unknowns such as Judson Laipply are producing online videos ("Evolution of Dance") for the cost of a camcorder tape and attracting more viewers — 34 million at last count — than the average episode of "Seinfeld" in its heyday. A pair of new-age vaudevillians in Maine parlayed 101 bottles of Diet Coke and some Mentos into a $30,000 payday by allowing ads to be placed at the end of their video. And last month, Google acquired the video-sharing site YouTube for $1.6 billion, sending the message that it believes the consumer-generated video trend is here to stay.

They were also kind enough to mention, in the bio at the end, my new eBook, The Future of Web Video: Opportunities for Producers, Entrepreneurs, Media Companies and Advertisers.

A few related (and unrelated) links:

- Comcast is trying to figure out how to integrate user-generated video into its cable video-on-demand service, according to The Wall Street Journal. Peter Grant writes:

    Comcast, the country's largest cable-TV operator with more than 21 million subscribers, has had talks with some of the largest Web-video companies -- including YouTube Inc. and Revver Inc. -- about adding "user generated content" to its video-on-demand service, people with knowledge of the talks say. Comcast's plans include organizing the content or videos in video-on-demand genres and sponsoring contests for best content in each genre.

    Philadelphia-based Comcast, the country's largest provider of high-speed Internet hookups, also is planning to add user content to its Web portal, Comcast.net1. That site, which has already built up a vast library of music videos, movie trailers and other videos, currently streams as many as four million short videos a day.

    Rather than doing a deal with an established Web video company, Comcast may develop its own service for soliciting and displaying user content. Comcast could announce its plans as early as the end of next month, people say. Revver acknowledged that it has had talks with Comcast. YouTube, which is being acquired by Google Inc., declined to comment.

- The EepyBird guys up in Maine, Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe, made more than $30,000 from their first `Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos' video this summer by posting it on Revver, and having a clickable, still-frame ad shown at the end of it. Now, they've jumped the fence, and are working with Google Video for the sequel, called `The Domino Effect.'

It's unclear how the economics of this new arrangement work, but it seems like Google has sold a sponsorship to the Coca-Cola Company on EepyBird's behalf. (There's no pre-roll, post-roll, or mid-roll advertising on the video itself, but there are Google text ads on the page, and Voltz and Grobe are running a video contest on Coke's site. I suspect Google is trying to understand whether click-through rates on ads are higher when a viewer 'sits' on a page for a few minutes; the new video runs 3:01.) NPR had a story mentioning the deal yesterday, `Google Raises the Stakes for Amateur Videos.' But Google isn't yet open to just anyone, as you'll see from this blog entry from ZDNet. They're just doing a test with Voltz and Grobe.

- Merissa Marr of the Wall Street Journal has a really fun piece (subscription required) asking the question we've all asked at some point: why does it sometimes seem like DreamWorks and Pixar are making withdrawals from the same idea bank? ('A Bug's Life' from Pixar follows 'Antz' from DreamWorks; 'Shark Tale' from DreamWorks follows 'Finding Nemo' from Pixar; and now Pixar's `Ratatouille' will follow DreamWorks/Aardman's `Flushed Away.')

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thoughts on the Cruise/United Artists Deal ... Stray Cinema `Open Source Movie-making' Contest ... George Miller on `Happy Feet'

- I'm not sure how the Tom Cruise/Paula Wagner deal could possibly work out well for MGM, the studio that just signed Cruise and Wagner to run its moribund United Artists division.

Cruise and Wagner get 30 percent of United Artists, without putting in a dime. Wagner gets the ability to greenlight four (or more) movies a year, with an average budget of $50 million. But Tom Cruise has not committed to actually being in any of those movies -- and if he does deign to play a role, the budget will go up significantly. Cruise is also free to make movies for other studios. (Sounds to me like one of the same things that hamstrung DreamWorks SKG -- Spielberg kept making movies for others.) Kate Kelly and Merissa Marr of the Wall Street Journal write:

    Funding for initial overhead and production costs at UA will come from MGM. But over time, the company may raise additional financing, perhaps from hedge funds or some of its current owners. Mr. Sloan said he hoped that the studio would be able to structure arrangements in which those that financed the films could be paid back shortly after the films are released.

    Mr. Sloan expressed faith in his new partners' willingness to be flexible about their terms: "I think that Tom and Paula are completely committed to working with us on a financially prudent model."

We'll see 'bout that.

- Cinema Minima has a post about a cool new contest for directors and editors from a site called Stray Cinema: you get the complete raw footage of a movie to play with. (You can also add up to 20 percent new footage.) The five best cuts will be screened in London.

- Anne Thompson of The Hollywood Reporter has a fun piece about the $100 million CG-animated musical 'Happy Feet,' which debuts on November 17th. She writes:

    Miller originally conceived the project as a blend of live-action and animation a la the "Babe" movies. But after his frequent cinematographer Andrew Lesnie tipped him off to what Peter Jackson was doing over in New Zealand at Weta Digital with motion-capture technology and the first "The Lord of the Rings" film, Miller visited Weta, saw Gollum and realized his problems were solved.

    "You can't train penguins to dance or sing, unlike pigs, which are domesticated animals," he says. "The moment I saw motion capture I said, 'I can get my dancing penguins.' "

    It was up to Miller's 27-year-old company, Kennedy Miller Prods., to create an animation studio from scratch. In 2001, computer animation was nowhere near what it is today. It took years of sweat, tears and R&D to form such complex operations as Pixar or Chris Wedge's Blue Sky ("Ice Age," "Robots"). It took Kennedy Miller more than two years to build the infrastructure, hardware, software, pipeline and data-processing capacity. And with the glut of animated movies going into production, competition was fierce for top-tier animation talent. Miller and Mitchell, working closely with CEO Zareh Nalbandian, painstakingly built the FX house Animal Logic into an CG animation studio.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Future of Web Video

After a year of work, and more than 100 interviews, I've just published a book called The Future of Web Video: New Opportunities for Producers, Entrepreneurs, Media Companies and Advertisers. It's available in eBook/PDF form (which you can download immediately), or as a paperback, which requires a few days for shipping. (Note: Second edition of the book was released in March 2007.)

I'm posting the table of contents below, to give you a sense of what it includes, followed by a few endorsements. The book is 100 pages long. One of the elements of it is available free online (`Getting Paid: Sites That Help Indie Producers Make Money'), and there's also a lengthy PDF preview available here. Variety also ran a slightly-edited and updated version of one of the advertising-oriented interviews from the book, which you can find here.

Initially, my objective with the book was to put together something that would be useful for independent "creatives" -- filmmakers, freelance TV producers, anyone with a camera and an idea -- who want to understand how they can make money in this Web video economy. I hope I've achieved that. But as I was writing, I expanded the scope quite a bit, getting into the the challenges and opportunities Web video creates for big media companies, advertisers, and entrepreneurs. There are lots of interviews, data points, and case studies.

I welcome your comments, whether you buy a copy or not.

Table of Contents

Tuning in to the Future of Web Video

Web Video: Opportunities and Challenges (Chart)

> The Revenue Equation

> Going Viral

    Perspective: JibJab Media Co-Founder Gregg Spiridellis

    Perspective: Fritz Grobe, Co-Founder of Eepybird and Co-Creator of “Extreme Mentos and Diet Coke Experiments”

    Conversation: “Evolution of Dance” creator Judson Laipply

    Perspective: Ahree Lee, Experimental Video Artist

> Beyond the PC

    Web Video on TV: Reaching the Couch Potato Audience (Chart)

    Perspective: Jeremy Allaire, Founder and CEO, Brightcove

    Conversation: Jim Barton, Co-Founder and CTO, TiVo

    Perspective: Shawn Strickland, Vice President, Verizon FiOS TV

    Can You See Me Now? Crossing the Cellular Chasm

> Movies

    Perspective: Waterborne director Ben Rekhi on Web Feature Films

    Conversation: Writer-Director Lance Weiler

    Perspective: Joe Swanberg, Independent Film Director

    Conversation: Jonathan Rothbart and Stuart Maschwitz, Co-Founders of The Orphanage

> Advertising

    Conversation: Steve Hayden, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

    Conversation: Jeff Lanctot, Vice President, Avenue A | Razorfish

    Conversation: Andrew Robertson, CEO of BBDO Worldwide

    Perspective: Jamie Tedford, SVP of Marketing and Media Innovation, Arnold Worldwide

> Data and Predictions

    Surveys, Stats, and Forecasts
    - Advertising
    - Discovery
    - Mobile video
    - Payment
    - Sharing
    - Viewing habits
    - Atom Entertainment's 15 Most Popular Videos of All Time

    Visions of What’s Ahead
    - Viral video
    - Playing Web video on television
    - Amateur vs. professional content
    - High-def
    - Piracy
    - Advertising, measurement, and tracking
    - Transitions and transformations

> Back Matter


    Recommended Reading

    Blogs and Other Resources

    Author Bio

    A Note on Sources

Comments on the book:

The Future of Web Video promises to be an essential resource for independent filmmakers hoping to make some money in the ever-expanding realm of online video.” -– DVguru

“Few journalists have written as extensively on the business of online video as Scott Kirsner, and in this report he manages to cover all aspects of this dynamic field, from storytelling to producing to monetization. It’s the most comprehensive single source of information I’ve read on our emerging industry and I highly recommend it.” -– JibJab Media co-founder Gregg Spiridellis

"Kirsner's treatise on the constantly changing face of digital content is extensive and highly relevant. An excellent read." -- Matthew Jeppsen, FresHDV

"The Future of Web Video is so clearly the ultimate work on this subject, it will be a long time before it reaches obsolescence." -- Isaac Botkin, Outside Hollywood

"After languishing for over five years, video over the Internet has grown at a blazing speed over the last year. The Future of Web Video is an outstanding review of the key moments, from the perspective of the movers and shakers, that defined the onset of this revolution. By putting this hyper-fast-moving world in context, this book is a must-read for anyone expecting to play a meaningful role in web video in the future." -- Jason Holloway, CEO,

"As an independent producer, I was doing all the research on the same topic for myself...To my knowledge there is no other book about this topic." -- Wolfgang Boeck, Aisha Media

"A must read for every filmmaker. A comprehensive look at an elusive emerging market that has the potential to change the way films are made and distributed." -- Lance Weiler, producer/director, `Head Trauma' and `The Last Broadcast'

"If you're thinking about trying to distribute some video-based content online, especially if you're trying to make money at it, this is the best $15 you'll spend all year." -- Mike Curtis, HD for Indies

"For filmmakers looking to get paid for their work, the world of Web video can resemble a terrifying alternate universe where millions of viewers hungrily devour thousands of clips, all without paying a penny. That alternate universe, though, is quickly becoming our own, and for those looking to successfully profit from it Scott Kirsner’s The Future of Web Video is a must-read. It’s a concise and comprehensive analysis of the viewer trends, distribution opportunities, and revenue schemes out there now and soon on the horizon that working filmmakers can’t do without." -- Scott Macaulay, Editor, Filmmaker Magazine and producer, Forensic Films

"The Future of Web Video is the most comprehensive look yet at the very latest developments in the marriage of filmmaking and the Internet. A must-read bible for filmmakers, producers, and media companies to learn from leading pioneers about the opportunities, challenges, and realities of the digital distribution revolution and the paradigm shifts now underway." -- Liz Rosenthal, director, Earthly Delights Films and programme director, Digimart

"Kirsner’s The Future of Web Video gives you a roadmap into a brave new world: how to play, pay and get paid with viral, user-generated content. Future serves to capture what every digital professional must synthesize today: how the economics of internet video are changing, influencing our audience and everything we do." -- Greg Berkin, Former Technology Evangelist, Intel Corporation, Director, Skin City

"With all the clutter bombarding Web audiences and the content community alike, Scott Kirsner's The Future of Web Video cuts things down to an accessible treasure trove of information that will whet the appetite of any would-be producer. From reviews of practical resources that will help you get your work out there, to a few cautionary tales, the book is...a telescope pointed at what's down the road..." -- Animator and filmmaker Tyler Gibb