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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Using the Internet to Finance Indie Films

This coming week's edition of Variety has a piece I wrote on filmmakers and entrepreneurs trying to turn the Net into a tool for film financing. The opening:

    Howard Dean managed to fuel his 2004 presidential campaign by inviting small donors to send him contributions over the Internet.

    Now, an array of filmmakers and entrepreneurs are exploring the same approach to raise a production budget for an indie pic.

    The tactic's been tried since the early days of the Internet, but a fresh crop of entrepreneurs thinks the time could finally be ripe.

Among the sites I focus on:

- CinemaShares
- A Swarm of Angels
- IndieGoGo (formerly Project Keiyaku)
- Make A Movie Happen!, from Stuart Acher
- Robert Greenwald's 'Iraq for Sale'
- MovieShares (now defunct)
- The 1 Second Film (not mentioned, but worth a look)

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Who Will Be the TV Guide of the Internet Video Realm?

In my most recent Boston Globe column, I look at the competition to provide a useful guide to the world of Internet video. From the piece:

    Several start-up companies, such as ClipBlast,, Blinkx, and MeeVee Inc., are trying to develop a TV Guide for Internet video. And they're competing with none other than, part of Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., which plans to launch its own guide to online video next month.

    The amount of videos pouring onto the Web isn't the only challenge they face. Some content isn't described well, or accurately.
    "You might have a couple of guys fooling around in front of a camera who want their video to get watched a lot, and they use the term 'Britney Spears' to describe it, so it shows up in lots of searches," says Neil Kjeldsen, vice president of marketing and content at MeeVee in Burlingame, Calif.

    And then there's the problem of transience: an Internet video that appears one day may vanish the next, either because it was posted without the permission of the copyright holder, or simply because it's no longer newsworthy. "We have to battle with that all the time," says Suranga Chandratillake, co-founder of the San Francisco video search company Blinkx.

And the LA Times has this short piece looking at TV Guide's efforts specifically.

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'Meet the Robinsons' in 3-D

Whenever a new 3-D movie comes out, Michael Coate of the site From Script to DVD compiles a list of all the theaters where it's playing in 3-D. Here's his list for Disney's 'Meet the Robinsons,' which comes out tomorrow. This is the first Disney animated movie to be released where Pixar execs (namely, John Lasseter) have exerted creative influence.

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Viacom states its case

Here's a compelling piece from last Saturday's Washington Post, by Michael Frick, who is Viacom's lead lawyer. He outlines the basis for the company's lawsuit against Google/YouTube, discussing Viacom's interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Frick writes:

    YouTube has described itself as the place to go for video. It is far more than the kind of passive Web host or e-mail service the DMCA protects -- it is an entertainment destination. The public at large is not attracted to YouTube's storage facility or technical functionality -- people are attracted to the entertainment value of what's on the site.

    And YouTube reaps financial benefits from that attraction through selling the traffic to advertisers. While an e-mail provider is paid to facilitate and manage the exchange of e-mail traffic, and competes in that fashion, YouTube lures consumers and competes by having great content -- a resoundingly substantial part of which it did not create or pay for.

And Google's response appeared in the Post five days later, as a letter to the editor. Google lawyer Michael Kwun writes:

    Viacom is attempting to rewrite established copyright law through a baseless lawsuit. In February, after negotiations broke down, Viacom requested that YouTube take down more than 100,000 videos. We did so immediately, working through a weekend. Viacom later withdrew some of those requests, apparently realizing that those videos were not infringing, after all. Though Viacom seems unable to determine what constitutes infringing content, its lawyers believe that we should have the responsibility and ability to do it for them. Fortunately, the law is clear, and on our side.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday news: 3-D, Starz v. Disney, Red Camera Gets Feature Gig, Nameless New Video Site

- In 3-D news: James Cameron talks to BusinessWeek about motion capture and 3-D filmmaking. And 3ality, one of the pioneering production firms in digital 3-D, is building a new 20,000 sq. ft. facility in Burbank, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

- Starz Entertainment is suing Disney. Starz thinks that its deal with Disney prevents the Mouse from selling its movies through services like iTunes, and is asking for those profits as damages in its suit.

- Mike Curtis reports that the Red Digital Cinema camera will be used on its first studio feature starting next month. The Universal production stars Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. But it seems that the brand-new Red camera will be used primarily for visual effects shots, not principal photography.

- Variety has some juicy business details on yesterday's announcement of a new, as-yet-unnamed video site that NBC and News Corp. will create together. And Mark Cuban tells you why he thinks the site is such a great idea. His analysis is really sharp, especially this point:

    This new venture, if it can launch in the next few months, will hit the ground with more and better content, and more monetization options than Google. It's a unique opportunity to set the rules of how video advertising is sold. Something Google thought they had wrapped up when they bought Youtube.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

The site with no name: NBC and News Corp. announce new video joint venture

So NBC and News Corp. are getting together to develop a video site.

Here's the coverage from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and LA Times.

Listening now to the live conference call with Peter Chernin of News Corp. and Jeff Zucker from NBC Universal.

The joint venture, or the site that it will launch sometime this summer, has no name yet. They refer to it as "NewCo."

Why is that a big deal?

Because it hints at how difficult it is for two or more big companies to decide on anything (like a name), let alone actually build anything.

Chernin and Zucker make all the right noises: Web 2.0 functionality, consumer control, mash-ups are OK, embedding in personal pages, etc. Also, the site will protect copyright and help content owners earn money from advertising. They want to make it the "biggest video destination on the Web," Chernin says, and "we are in discussion with other content owners right now," who want to be "treated fairly" and have their content protection. There will also be movies for sale on this site, most as electronic sell-through (paid downloads), but perhaps some older titles studded with advertising. Some full episode TV shows may also be paid downloads, likely the same stuff you pay for on iTunes. Pricing will be similar to sites like Movielink, CinemaNow, and iTunes.

Importantly, there is some key content you won't see on this site -- like 'American Idol.' Fox doesn't control the Internet rights for its biggest hit.

Six factors that would make this venture successful:

    1. Launching sooner rather than later
    2. Lots of content
    3. Inobtrusive advertising (IE, not the 15 second pre-roll ad that takes 30 seconds to start playing and then segue into the clip you want)
    4. Copious promotion
    5. More content partners (and that includes welcoming in independent content producers, not just the Viacoms, Time-Warners, or Disneys)
    6. Really sharp software developers

Will this unnamed joint venture be able to hit all six of those marks? I'm skeptical, but we'll see in a few months.

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A few more notes from the Future of Film conference

Some last notes from yesterday's Future of Film event in LA...

- I had a chance to talk with “Ask a Ninja” co-creator Kent Nichols after his panel. We talked about the competition between professional and amateur/semi-pro content creators online, which I think will intensify this year. Kent didn’t seem worried. “I’m just fighting for five minutes of people’s time,” he said.

I asked him whether he’d played around with Joost. He said he had, but that he isn’t convinced it will take off. He did say that the concept appeals to media companies like Disney, though, because it’s like TV all over again, with a channel metaphor and everything.

- Director Jason Kohn, whose first movie, “Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)”, won the documentary grand jury prize at Sundance this year, was the day’s most passionate (and profane) speaker.

He wants to shoot movies on film, and have them seen in theaters. With his documentary, which focuses on corruption and kidnapping in Brazil, “I was reacting against the future of film. The future of film at the time was video, and I thought the future sucked. So I decided to change the future.” He said he was depressed after listening to all the day’s talk about digital distribution, and watching movies alone on tiny handheld screens. “This was made to be projected in a theater in front of hundreds of fucking people,” he said. “We’re entertainers. We’re not fucking drug dealers, just fulfilling demand.”

Kohn is a real firebrand. He worked on the movie over five years. After the first edit, he and his investors realized he didn’t have a compelling ending. The movie didn’t make it into the Toronto International Film Festival. So he went back to Brazil, and eventually met the dangerous character who provides a solid ending for the movie. Kohn doesn’t have distribution for 'Manda Bala' yet, but it sounds like talks are still pretty active.

- Tim Sarnoff, who runs Sony Pictures Imageworks, was the final speaker of the day. He said that the company’s performance-capture abilities had been improving with each movie. With ‘Polar Express,’ recording the motion and facial expressions of a single character was a challenge. For the upcoming ‘Beowulf,’ there were scenes where they did mocap for 20 characters – including horses – simultaneously. That film, Sarnoff said, required 28 days of performance capture work. With ‘Surf’s Up,’ the upcoming documentary-style animated movie about penguins who surf, they did key-frame (standard) cg-animation, but they did performance-capture on the camera. The idea was to have the feeling of a real documentary cameraman shooting the scenes, which of course had all been created in the computer. I’ll look forward to hearing more about that.

But Sarnoff said that he doesn’t want people to focus too much on technical innovations like those. As visual effects and computer animation mature, “the future of film is in the performances, and the characters you can create.”

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Disney tech exec Kevin Mayer on iTunes, YouTube, Joost, and animation

Down in LA for the Future of Film conference today.

Kevin Mayer is the first “keynote interview” of the day, after the opening panel that I moderated. He is the EVP of corporate strategy and business development for Disney’s technology group. Some rough notes:

Some people believe that content is king; others say distribution is king. At Disney, Mayer says, the reigning philosophy is that the consumer is king. (Sounds like the right philosophy for changing times.)

Disney has three strategic pillars under CEO Bob Iger, Mayer says: creative excellence, using technology to produce better product and distribute it to consumers, and globalization.

Phil Schuman of HighView Media, who is interviewing Mayer, asks about the company’s animation activity since the Pixar acquisition. Is Walt Disney Feature Animation, the traditional core of animation activity at the company, going to focus on hand-drawn 2-D animation, while Pixar handles 3-D computer-generated work? “That isn’t the case,” Mayer says. “We’re going to assign our picture development as [John] Lasseter and [Ed] Catmull see fit. I’m sure you’ll see a different array of projects at both.”

Next up, the film studio. “In looking at our slate, we were doing too many projects,” Mayer says. “We felt like we were diffusing our creative talent over too many things.” Now, Disney is focused on making 11 to 13 features a year, spending the same amount of money as it spent in the past, but trying to make each release a little better, he continues. The hope is that “the outcome would be a notch higher in creative execution” than before.

DVDs: The growth of the DVD business has slowed, Mayer acknowledges, no longer growing at a double-digit pace. “But great product will still find a huge audience.” They don’t worry about physical media formats going away, at Disney. Blu-ray high-definition discs “will help sustain physical media. But you’ve got to have great product.”

Digital downloads at places like iTunes: Mayer says they haven’t yet been cannibalistic to DVD sales. “But if in the future, it is [cannibalistic], that’s OK. We just want people to buy our product.”

Schuman asks about Joost, the new Internet video service (still in beta-testing): Mayer says it is “a really great service. It brings a TV-like quality to the PC. I’ve been very impressed with it. They seem to be able to get higher video quality than one would envision at the bit rates they’re using.” Mayer says that if Joost gains traction in the future, and becomes an environment appropriate for Disney’s content, “we’d consider it” as a channel for Disney’s content. But “is forcing a TV-like interface on the PC going to resonate with consumers? I think that’s to be determined.”

Schuman asks whether the studios are developing their own site or jointly-run service to compete with YouTube: “I’m sworn to secrecy on that. Yes, there is one. I think.”

Next, the Viacom/YouTube lawsuit: “Someone was going to sue YouTube at some point. I don’t think we were completely taken by surprise.” But “we’d like to see these things resolved in a market-friendly way, rather than in a court of law.”

Schuman asks whether Mayer thinks Disney might ever distribute movies online for free, supported by advertising. Mayer says yes. “We really do want to honor the consumer…Ad-supported models are part of our arsenal, and we’ve had ad-supported movie viewing for decades, on free TV and basic cable.”

They talk a bit about the theatrical window. Mayer thinks the current 45-day theatrical window (on average) will probably shrink, but won’t go away entirely.

Someone from the audience asks what the movie business can learn from the music busienss’ experience with the Internet. Mayer says, “The consumer always wins. You should not do battle with your customers. The corollary to that is, the best defense is a good offense. We use that phrase a lot around Disney.”

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Roy Disney invests in 3-D company

Roy E. Disney's investment company, Shamrock Holdings, is putting $50 million into Real D, the Calfiornia company that has installed 3-D projection gear in more than 700 theaters, according to the LA Times. From the press release:

    “The Shamrock Capital Growth Fund looks for exceptional opportunities among key domestic media, entertainment and communications companies,” stated [Shamrock managing director Stephen] Royer. “The 3-D market is at a point of explosive growth, with the rapid adoption of REAL D’s technology by leading theater owners combined with a strong commitment from the studios and an expanding pipeline of 3-D content in production. We believe that REAL D, as an industry leader, will continue its successful brand expansion, and we look forward to facilitating their continued success in energizing the 3-D marketplace,” Royer added.

The next two big releases for Real D are Disney's 'Meet the Robinsons,' at the end of March, and Robert Zemeckis' 'Beowulf,' in November.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Segmenting Broadband Video

Will Richmond from Broadband Directions is giving a talk about the impact of Net-delivered video; Will is someone I've known for ten years now, since he worked for MediaOne Express in Boston, one of the first high-speed Internet services. Here's how he divvies up the players in broadband video:

    - The broadband video portals (Google, Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Apple's iTunes Store)

    - Aggregators and syndicators (Joost, BitTorrent, Amazon Unbox, Brightcove, Clip Syndicate)

    - Video-sharing and community sites (YouTube, MySpace, Digg, GUBA, Revver)

    - Niche providers (Rocketboom, JibJab,,

    - Online publishers (iVillage, CNet,

    - Print publishers (Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal)

    - Brand marketers (Pepsi, Budweiser, Krups)

I'd add broadcasters and cable companies to that list (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN, etc.)

He notes that 75 or the 75 cable channels he surveyed are doing broadband video; 39 of the top 40 newspapers; and 40 of 50 local TV stations.


Google/YouTube exec David Eun on getting content owners to 'embrace the upload'

David Eun from Google is the opening speaker this morning at the NAB Futures Summit. He’s a former NBC executive who is now the VP in charge of Google/YouTube’s media partnerships.

His talk deftly avoids mentioning the Viacom lawsuit against YouTube; several times, though, he says that one of Google’s guiding tenets is respecting copyright. He also emphasizes that YouTube has developed tools for copyright holders to request that their content be removed, but he doesn’t get into any depth about automated content filtering technology. If the exact same clip is reposted time and time again, he says YouTube can identify that and block it.

Some rough notes:

“We don’t own content, nor do we create it.” Instead, Google’s goal is to help users organize, find, and manage content. “Google is about connecting people with information.”

Old media – newspapers, and broadcasters – were “fantastic businesses based on finite access,” Eun says. That’s a nice phrase. Not everyone could afford a printing press, or a television tower. Now, though, access to publishing and broadcasting has been cracked wide open.

Eun says Google is hiring people fluent in new technology and old media.

By 2014, according to Google’s estimate, an iPod-sized device will be capable of holding a year’s worth of video. By 2016, it will be able to store all commercial music ever produced. By 2024, 85 years worth of video (a lifetime). By 2025, all the content ever created.

Eun says Google’s aim is to create a marketplace on YouTube where users and advertisers can come together – and profit. No word on how exactly advertising will be integrated within YouTube videos. He shows one YouTube video clip, “Where the Hell is Matt,” where a globe-trotting videographer got sponsorship from a chewing gum company to cover the cost of his travels.

Google gauges how successful it is, Eun says, by how fast it links you off to the information you’re looking for – not by how long it keeps you on your site. I’d observe that that isn’t exactly the case with Google’s YouTube property, which keeps users on its site for nearly a half-hour, on average. Is YouTube really looking to reduce that engagement time?

Eun notes that Google has done “over 1000 deals” with content owners.

Google will seek to get content owners to “embrace the upload,” he says. Information about what people are uploading to YouTube is valuable data, he adds, about what they like. Google wants to give content owners the opportunity to swap in high-quality, official content for the clips that users upload, and put promotional content or advertising around it. He acknowledges that that system isn’t in place yet today, but it will be – “one day.”

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From the NAB Futures Summit: Technologies to Watch

Arrived in Pebble Beach yesterday, where the National Association of Broadcasters holds its annual Futures Summit, a gathering that looks at some of the trends and technologies changing television and radio. I don’t play golf (aside from the miniature variety), but went for a nice afternoon bike ride along the 17-Mile Drive.

When I arrived in the conference room, Brian Cooley from CNET was giving a talk about the most important consumer electronics trends to watch, most of them media-related.

He observed that people in the 15-to-24 age group are listening to more MP3s than radio, and using more Internet than TV. Cell phone usage is growing, which magazine and newspaper readership is waning. These technologies are taking advantage of (and perhaps spurring) some of those shifts. Some rough notes:

- TV on Phones

Image quality improving, and more content is available. First service he mentions is VCast Mobile TV. CBS, Fox, NBC, Nickelodeon are all providing content – and importantly, none of the stations offered are local broadcasters.

He also talks about Apple’s iPhone – which won’t receive live TV broadcasts, but will enable video viewing from the iTunes Store – and notes some of the drawbacks: no 3G data connectivity, no memory expansion slot. Then, on to Modeo, which is building its own network and marketing a Windows Mobile smartphone that will take advantage of it. Modeo is currently in beta in the NYC area.

TiVo Mobile allows you to program your TiVo box from a BREW-capable cell phone, for $2 a month. But you can’t actually watch video.

- Internet on TVs

68 percent of adults are interested in watching Web based video on their TV, and 45 percent are interested in watching Web video on their PC, according to eMarketer. (This is among people ages 18-34.) “Online video is becoming HD,” Cooley says, observing that Apple TV will support 780p content. SlingCatcher, for under $200, will beam anything on the PC onto a TV, and also has HD support. He also mentions a device called the Miglia TVMax, which adds DVR capability to a Mac Mini, and also can export video in iPod format. It costs $200, and is apparently on sale now.

The HP MediaSmart TV can be linked to a wired or wireless network, but seems to only give access to a few providersm including CinemaNow. Sony’s Bravia Internet Video Link only works with new, 2007 Bravia TVs. It clips onto the TV, costs $300, and will be on sale in July. “My concern is that it limits where you can get content,” from services like AOL TV and Grouper.

The Netgear Digital Entertainer ($399) is for the true techies. It supports 1080p HD. If you have two of these, the content you’re watching can follow you from one TV to another. Offers access to YouTube, BitTorrent, and others.


“We’re starting to get people to understand it,” Cooley says. The typical HD TV people were buying last Christmas was a 42” LCD flat panel, with a price of $1327. The prices came down 30 percent in 2006, and that should continue. Biggest-selling brands: Philips, Samsung, Funai, Panasonic, and Sharp.

- High-Def DVD Battle

“We recommend people stay on the fence.” A CNET analyst thinks that by this September, HD DVD will capitulate. Blu-ray began outselling HD DVD just before Christmas – but the numbers are still small. He gets a laugh when he shows a chart of the number of titles available – about 250 for each format. “This isn’t in thousands, or millions,” he says. “It’s 250 titles.”

Warner Total HD Dual Disc – a disc with a Blu-ray file on one side and HD DVD on the other – will be available in June 2007. WB says that the price won’t be “materially higher” than either format.

Sony has introduced a Blu-ray player, the BDP-S300, for $600. A PlayStation 3 is still cheaper. Howard Stringer, Sony’s chairman, hinted that he though the market needs a $300 deck – which could mean Sony has one in the works.

- Internet in cars

Dash Express gives you traffic data, and lets you do local searches via Yahoo. It has two ways to get on the Net – WiFi and 3G cellular. Every unit reports how fast it’s going, and where it is – which is a way to collect traffic information from each user, to benefit the community. It’ll cost $600 to $800 a month, plus a monthly service fee.

AutoNet and WAAV, using a 3G cellular connection, turn the entire car into a WiFi hotspot. Opens up the possibility of streaming Internet radio, rather than listening to broadcast or satellite radio, or viewing streaming video. Avis is starting to offer AutoNet in some selected market, for about $11 a day.

Sirius has a $300 box that links in to a Sirius receiver in the car that may be out this spring, which delivers TV. Programming will be geared to kids.

- HD Radio vs. Sat Radio

Cooley answers a question I’ve had about the proposed Sirius-XM merger: a new radio will be required to access the merged Sirius-MX channel line-up, though current radios will still let you listen to the stations from whichever provider you initially signed up with. Cooley thinks the merger is necessary for satellite radio to provide.

- Death of the Disc?

This is the possibility that people don’t upgrade to either of the HD disc formats, and instead skip right to downloads. Cooley says that the predictions of $2 billion in online downloads of movies and TV shows by 2009 might actually be on the low side.

I think he’s on crack, though, when he says that Wal-Mart will be a big player in digital downloads. But he acknowledges that “iTunes is still the category leader.”

He characterizes Netflix’s “watch now” feature as a preview service – rather than a genuine movie-viewing service.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

From the NY Times: Downloading Cinema

The NY Times has a package of three stories in the arts section, all focusing on movie downloads. They are:

Nothing ground-breaking here. In fact, here's my summary:

- In the future, there will be thousands of movies in downloadable form to choose from. Film critics like A.O. Scott are fretting about their role in that environment of boundless options (IE, how can a lone movie critic watch all that stuff on your behalf?)

- Downloading movies is slow and complicated.

- Directors still dream of having their movies distributed to theaters; they're not yet devising new kinds of movies, or new distribution plans, for this downloadable universe.

-, a download site devoted to indie cinema from around the world, must have a heck of a PR person -- the site is mentioned in all three articles.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Best Overview Article on Friction Between YouTube and Hollywood

It's by Ben Fritz and Michael Learmonth, in Variety. Even if you've followed the saga, you'll discover something new (like that a paid placement on YouTube's homepage costs about $80K a day.)

Here's the opening:

    Hollywood veterans are used to the ground shifting quickly, but the case of YouTube is rather extreme.

    Just one year ago, studios and networks were bragging that the once-scrappy video Web site was handy for branding, by helping mint hit shows or injecting movies into the youth consciousness.

    "To make this kind of promotion work, you have to be able to lose control of the media," VH1 programming chief Michael Hirschorn told Variety then. "We got millions of impressions with those clips" of the network's "Flavor of Love."

    The love affair abruptly ended last month, when Hirschorn's bosses at Viacom demanded that YouTube take down every one of its roughly 100,000 clips.

    "We cannot continue to let them profit from our programming," CEO Philippe Dauman said, after the two companies failed to seal a content distribution and revenue sharing deal.

    Every conglom has been affected in one way or another. Soon after "Ghost Rider" bowed, Sony found virtually the entire film on YouTube, chopped into segments of various lengths. The studio demanded their removal, but was unsure if another webbie would simply post them later. It's a scenario that every other studio has experienced.

    The battles over the future of content online now represents arguably the most rancorous and disruptive issue to confront Hollywood in decades. Merely mention the words "viral video" to any player in Hollywood and you will get an earful. At stake, they say, are hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars being digitally picked from their pockets.

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Fall release for U2 concert film in 3-D?

Variety reports on U2 3D, which could be released as soon as this fall -- only in theaters capable of playing digital 3-D pics.


Video Spam a Growing Problem ... LA Times on Viacom's Motives ... and ShoWest News

- The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a piece headlined, 'Spam Hits Video Sites, Misleading Web Viewers.' Spammers upload videos to advertise a product, but then describe them as something else entirely -- like Paris Hilton in the buff. Sites like AOL say they've noticed an increase in the past six months. Kevin Delaney writes:

    or spammers, there may soon be a clear economic incentive to post bogus videos: More video sites may start sharing ad revenue with the people who upload videos. For example, spammers could be paid each time someone viewed a video they posted or clicked on an ad accompanying their clip. YouTube executives have said they might share revenue with individuals in that way eventually.

    Such an approach could encourage spammers to increase the use of false pretenses to draw users. But Revver Inc., a site that already pays people when ads accompanying their clips are clicked, says video spam submitted to it has actually dropped over the past year. It says its employees review each clip before putting it up on the site.

- The LA Times says that Viacom's suit against YouTube is all about money and control. Most interesting quote is at the very end:

    Viacom CEO Philippe P. Dauman said his company went to court to enforce its copyrights and protect its valuable brands, such as MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. That doesn't mean Viacom won't one day strike a deal with YouTube. "Certainly, Dauman said, "we could find ways to operate in a YouTube environment that would be compatible with our brands."

- Sharon Waxman of the NY Times reports from ShoWest. She notes:

    Exhibitors have ... not rushed to install digital projectors in their theaters, an expensive process whose cost they are sharing with Hollywood studios. After years of discussions with manufacturers, there are now 2,300 screens across the country with digital projectors, still a small fraction of the nation’s 37,000. The higher-quality equipment is not expected to be widely installed until 2009, when a few high-profile movies in 3D requiring digital projection (like James Cameron’s “Avatar”) are scheduled for release.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Roundtable on the Future of Indie Filmmaking, from SXSW

When I was at SXSW over the weekend, the film Web site was nice enough to invite me to a dinner roundtable with filmmakers Ry Russo-Young ('Orphans') and Lance Weiler ('Head Trauma') and film blogger Alison Willmore from IFC.

We talked about marketing, distribution, and whether the tiny cell phone screen represents the new face of cinema. They had a couple cameras there to record the conversation... which I think taught all four of us a very important lesson: never let them film you while you eat.

Here's Part 1:

Part 2:

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ShoWest 2007 News: Opening Talks from the MPAA and NATO

ShoWest officially opened yesterday in Las Vegas, with speeches from NATO head John Fithian and MPAA head Dan Glickman. The mood seems pretty bouyant, according to the Variety and Hollywood Reporter coverage. Everyone's jazzed about this summer's releases, which star pirates, Harry Potter, Shrek, Danny Ocean, and Spider-man. At the opening session of ShoWest, Disney showed the audience a short trailer for the third 'Pirates' pic, and also a 12-minute segment from Pixar's 'Ratatoiulle,' which opens June 29th.

You can read the opening addresses from Fithian and Glickman (both are in PDF form.) The big themes were piracy and preserving the theatrical release window.

Fithian also noted that there are about 2300 screens now capable of digital projection in the US, and said the roll-out will "accelerate considerably" in 2008. He predicted that 2009 will be a "bellwether year" for 3-D projection.

Also, he said:

    It became fashionable during the downturn of 2005 to pit emerging technologies against the great American tradition of going to the movies, to see new technologies as some seismic shift in consumer preferences—and therefore to depict movie theatre operators as frightened by and hostile to new technologies. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in so many ways, the exhibition industry is exciting and dynamic today precisely because of new technologies— and not only because we’re now embarking on the most technologically significant and sophisticated revolution in exhibition history with the advent of digital cinema. Our appreciation extends even to home technologies. A recent survey by Nielsen Entertainment confirms that consumers with many home technologies are actually more avid moviegoers than those with fewer home technologies.

Hmmm -- does that list of home technologies include YouTube and the Internet, John? I wonder....

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Viacom is Hoping to Achieve with YouTube Suit

Viacom filed a lawsuit today against YouTube that accuses the site of showing clips of its content more than 1.5 billion times without permission. Sumner Redstone's company is seeking more than $1 billion in damages. Here's the Wall Street Journal story ... and here's coverage from the NY Times.

I don't think Viacom actually believes they're gonna win; YouTube, as an online service, is likely protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, as I wrote in Variety just after Google's acquisition of YouTube last year. But this lawsuit is a lick of fire from a giant flamethrower, intended to do one of two things: force YouTube to get better at keeping copyrighted content off its site once the owner demands that it be removed (usually, after content is pulled from YouTube, other users quickly re-post it), or encourage YouTube to offer better revenue-sharing deals to media companies.

But the relationship between Viacom and YouTube may have already deteriorated to the point where that second thing isn't going to happen.

(In other legal news, here Mark Cuban explains why he recently sent subpoenas to Google to get the names of users who were uploading copies of movies he owns the rights to.)

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DreamWorks Animation: First 3-D Pic Will Be 'Monsters vs. Aliens' in 2009

From Variety:

    DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said the studio considered adding 3-D effects to some of its 2007 and 2008 releases but wanted to produce pics with the new exhib process in mind from the outset.

    "We have not really been enthusiastic about turning 2-D into 3-D in post-production," Katzenberg said, referring to the way 3-D effects have been added to pics thus far. "It doesn't begin to touch the quality of product that is originated in 3-D."

    DWA summer 2009 release "Monsters vs. Aliens" starts production this spring and will be made with 3-D in mind from the outset. Studio will produce two versions, with a standard version for nondigital screens, DVD and TV.

    By waiting until 2009, studio will also benefit from a significantly higher availability of 3-D enabled digital screens.

    "By that time, I think that in domestic markets we will be able to release a film entirely in 3-D," said Jim Tharp, prexy of domestic distribution for Paramount, which releases DreamWorks Animation pics.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

A few tidbits about iTunes and indie content creators, from SXSW

At one of my panels at SXSW last weekend, I asked the panelists who the new power players are, when it comes to distributing movies on the Internet. The consensus: iTunes, definitely. Movielink could be a contender, depending on how much money Blockbuster will put into enhancing and marketing the site. And I think CustomFlix, owned by Amazon, is an interesting dark horse candidate.

But iTunes has sold 50 million TV shows, and 1.3 million feature-length films. That ain't bad.

The problem is, it's just about impossible right now for an independent content producer to get their stuff sold on iTunes.

In some conversations at SXSW, though, one DVD distributor I talked to said that one of his movies, a documentary with a Net-oriented theme, could show up soon, and he said that IODA, the Independent Online Distribution Alliance, is in the midst of doing a deal with iTunes. (IODA already helps indie musicians get their stuff sold on iTunes, so that makes sense.)

I also had a chat with a senior exec at Film Baby, which distributes indie movies on DVD. He said that iTunes was more focused on getting more big studios signed up than working with indie distributors, but that things could change as soon as this summer. He said the revenue split would likely be the same as it is on the music side, 70/30 in favor of the producer, but that producers would likely have to pay a third-party digitizing firm to have their content digitized to iTunes' specs. That could cost about $150. This person also said that anything under 60 minutes would be priced like a TV show ($1.99), and anything longer than 60 minutes would be considered a movie (with a price of $9.99 or up.)

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ShoWest opens in Vegas ... Eisner dips into Web content production ... What's happening at ClickStar?

- Gregg Kilday of the Hollywood Reporter is blogging from ShoWest in Las Vegas, the annual conclave that brings together theater owners, studio execs, and lots of vendors. The Reporter also has a few ShoWest stories: Dolby's new 3-D system will compete with the system made by Real D. (Here's Dolby's press release.) A satellite services company called Microspace will be beaming the feature 'Disturbia' to ShoWest for a Tuesday screening. And finally, NATO head John Fithian admits he was wrong about the revenue potential of digital 3-D:

    "I'm willing to accept the fact that I was wrong because I did not believe that 3-D would be as big of a catalyst as it is now," John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said in The Hollywood Reporter's ShoWest roundtable. "3-D is becoming a much bigger value add than I originally thought. 'Chicken Little' and 'Nightmare Before Christmas' blew the socks off all our members. When you can take a product that's been around for a while and bring it out and make $9 million, that's impressive."

- Michael Eisner is launching a digital content development studio called Vuguru, according to The Wall Street Journal. (The LA Times also has coverage. From the Journal's piece:

    "Vuguru's goal is to be the leader in producing high-quality, story-driven content for the Internet that up until now could only be found in movie theaters or on television," Tornante said. [Tornante is Eisner's private investment company.]

    "In the past few years, the development of exciting and innovative digital media platforms and technologies has outpaced the creation of truly great content," Mr. Eisner said. "Vuguru will produce and showcase original and third party content in all genres and formats to meet the new demands of the evolving media landscape."

Here's a look at their first project, Prom Queen, which will consist of 80 episodes, each 90 seconds long. It'll show up on Veoh ( a video site Eisner has invested in ), as well as YouTube and other sites. Pretty cool experiment, but one question: how will Vuguru place advertising on the clips it posts to YouTube?

- ClickStar, the site that is a joint venture of Intel and Morgan Freeman's production company, Revelations Entertainment, has split with its interim CEO, James Ackerman, according to Variety. Lori McCreary, Freeman's co-producer at Revelations, will take over as CEO. (ClickStar's original CEO, Nizar Alibhoy, left last January.) Ben Fritz of Variety writes about the next Internet feature ClickStar will release:

    Company hopes to get a second boost from "Lonely Hearts," an indie pic that will be available for download at ClickStar on April 27, two weeks after it hits theaters. True-crime story, which Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films are releasing, is written and directed by Todd Robinson and stars John Travolta and Salma Hayek.

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From SXSW: Finding your audience in a noisy and competitive world

I lost count of how many panels at SXSW this year dealt with the Internet video economy. There was one on next-generation TV, my session on “New Media Goes to the Movies,” one featuring Rocketboom creator Andrew Baron, and another featuring his one-time anchorwoman, Amanda Congdon.

There were plenty of questions about production technology and codecs, and other wonky stuff. But the most interesting question, to me, that kept bubbling up was this one:

    If you have a brand-new project, whether it’s a short piece of viral video, a full-length feature, or something in between, how do you get people to care about it?

Marketing isn’t a new problem for creative people. But in the digital milieu, you’re up against media conglomerates with vast bank accounts (in 2006, the studios spent about $35 million, on average, marketing a new movie) and incredibly clever DIY devils just like you, who've got no money but lots of energy.

So what are some of the ways you get someone to care about a piece of content they’ve never heard about before, created by someone they’ve never heard of – without spending a lot? Here are some of the ideas that came up in SXSW panels, and in my conversations with people at the fest.

1. The content needs to be remarkable and unique. People have to see it and feel compelled to tell other people about it.

2. Are there ways you can get people involved in the production? Some filmmakers have experimented with letting people audition for a bit part in a movie by giving them a scene and letting them upload a video of their performance to a Web site. There are countless other ways to get people to feel invested in your project: by voting on their favorite title, scouting locations (you might ask them about the most romantic restaurant in a given city, where you’ll shoot your big marriage proposal scene), submitting songs for the soundtrack, designing posters.

3. Give the prospective audience something other than the standard trailer or the standard movie Web site. Create a blog in the voice of your hero, or shoot a series of video confessions recorded by your villain. Make a fake instructional movie or public service announcement that links in to your plot. Ian Schafer, who runs the marketing agency Deep Focus, suggested to me that one opportunity the Net presents to filmmakers is creating a sort of trail of breadcrumbs that the audience begins to follow, which leads them naturally to the start of the movie. (Ian’s agency has done campaigns for 'Kill Bill,' 'Lucky Number Slevin,' and 'Pan’s Labyrinth.')

4. Whatever promotional material you put on the Web, make it easy for people to e-mail links to their friends, or embed audio and video in their MySpace pages or blogs. (Director Lance Weiler calls this the “embed and spread” strategy.) You may even want to offer some sort of prize or incentive for the people who turn out to be the biggest promoters/spreaders of your content: free t-shirts or copies of the DVD or simply a thank-you in the credits.

5. Your target audience can’t be “everyone.” Who’s going to be most interested in this project? Naval history buffs? eBay sellers? Cancer survivors? Teenage boys? Once you’ve figured out your target audience (or audiences), start communicating with the blogs or Web sites where that audience congregates online, and figure out how you can get some coverage. (And most importantly, a link to your site.) Maybe you can give them an exclusive clip, do a Q&A with them, or work with them to run a contest, with free digital downloads of your movie, or a free soundtrack CD, as prizes.

6. Be first. The first to shoot a Bollywood zombie musical. The first to make a series of episodic videos set aboard a cruise ship traveling around the world. The first to get invited to go to the International Space Station to make a doc. Being first gives you a major marketing hook – a reason to reach out to journalists and other influecers who can help spread the word about what you’ve done.

7. Look for partners with deep pockets who will help showcase your stuff – a video-sharing Web site, cable VOD service, set-top box company, or other business that is looking for content. They can help you attract attention to your work; you give them content and cred. You may need to give them bonus material, extras, or simply work with them to help promote their site or service – but these partnerships can pay off.

8. Get into a film festival. Director Joe Swanberg said that film festivals can help generate buzz – especially when you take every opportunity to talk to people about your movie, hand out fliers, do Q&As after screenings, sit on panels, and meet the media and industry reps who swarm to events like SXSW, Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca, etc.

No doubt about it – eight is an odd number for a list. What are strategies #9 and #10? Drop me a note at, or post a comment below.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

At SXSW: Robert Rodriguez, Harry Knowles, and 'Grindhouse 101'

Here at SXSW...lots of good panels yesterday about Internet video, next-gen TV, and other digital stuff. Will try to post some impressions...

But this morning, I'm at the 'Grindhouse 101' session. Robert Rodriguez and Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News are reminiscing about the movies of their youth. Harry remembers seeing lots of blaxploitation films as a kid -- his parents considered him some sort of psychological experiment, apparently. Robert recalls going to a drive-in with multiple screens, and watching snippets (without sound) of movies like 'Aliens,' 'Boob Tube,' and 'Jaws.'

Rodriguez says the clips he's showing today haven't yet been reviewed by the MPAA -- that happens next week. So everything could change.

Harry and Robert agree that Quentin Tarantino has seen a lot more grindhouse movies than the two of them -- and owns prints of many of them. They plug the QT Fests, held each year in Austin, with Hillbilly Night, Revenge Night, White Trash Night (all Burt Reynolds films), Sexploitation Night. Robert does a pretty good Quentin impression.

Harry credits Quentin and his fests for literally "changing the taste of cinema in Austin."

Robert says watching Quentin's scratched-up prints of old grindhouse movies was a totally different experience from seeing the plain, bland, cleaned-up DVDs of the same movies. He tried to emulate the authentic aesthetics with 'Grindhouse,' employing a red wash, for instance, when Quentin's character goes nuts. "Any time you can put something new in your tool box as a gave me a whole new paintbrush." They used red washes, emulating an old red faded print, the red creeping across the screen. "In some sections, I turned it green. It looks like the print went bad, but it looks really great -- what a fantastic accident," Robert says.

"I used the digital to make it look like what I thought it should've looked like back in the day."

They also played around with dropping out the soundtrack, and then bringing it back in to accentuate a dramatic moment. Rodriguez talks about the "missing" pieces of his film's second act -- he never filmed that part, because it has always bored him. It's the "missing reel." Let the audience figure out what happened...

Rodriguez says he started writing 'Planet Terror' (his half of 'Grindhouse') 11 years ago, and showed it to Harry -- but the script never went anywhere. He always thought zombie movies would come back -- and of course, they did -- but he never got a chance to make his... until now.

They show some trailers from grindhouse movies, like 'Green Slime' and 'Crippled Masters'... and then an exerpt from the 'Planet Terror' half of 'Grindhouse,' which looks wonderfully aged -- and gory. Afterward, Rodriguez jokes that the gruesome demise of a dog might not make it past the MPAA, even for the R rating he expects to get.

"Grindhouse cinema to me now just means freedom," Rodriguez says. "That became the catchphrase on the set... at some point, you've got to shoot. Someone would say, 'The light's in the shot.' We'd say, 'It's a grindhouse movie, so what. We'd just keep shooting."

Sorry, but I have to duck out, just as they start showing the trailers that were submitted for the 'Grindhouse' trailer contest... but the first, 'Hobo with a Shotgun,' is hysterical.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Links: Disney's 'Frog Princess' ... Blu-ray vs. HD DVD ... and More

I'm heading off to SXSW this weekend, to see a few movies (hopefully) and also moderate two panels: New Media Goes to the Movies, and Building an Online Fan Base. Say hello if you're in Austin.

A few links to stories worth reading:

- Disney said more at its shareholders' meeting this week about its plans to get back into hand-drawn animation, at least for one film, 'The Frog Princess.' Here's the LA Times coverage.

- Sony Pictures ImageWorks is shipping 100 of its visual effects employees off to New Mexico, according to the LA Times. Interesting quote from the piece:

    "It's an indication that the bricks-and-mortar infrastructure that we have long enjoyed is not completely rooted here," said Kathleen Milnes, president of the Entertainment Economy Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Pacific Palisades. "That should serve as a wake-up call."

- According to Nielsen VideoScan, sales of Blu-ray discs are outpacing HD DVDs, as of February 18th: 65 percent over 35 percent. From the story:

    VideoScan declined to draw any conclusions from the numbers, but starting about two weeks after the release of Sony's PlayStation 3 videogame console, which includes a Blu-ray DVD player, the high definition format steadily grabbed market share from HD-DVD. Sony, which created the Blu-ray format, released PlayStation in the United States on Nov. 17.

- I somehow missed this fun Wired News piece about a silent film revival, which appeared last month.

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New Edition of 'The Future of Web Video' is Out

Just wrapped up a major update to my book, 'The Future of Web Video,' barely in time for the South by Southwest Film Festival, and some other fun events I'll be involved with this spring.

What's new? There's updated info about the iTunes Store slowly opening to independent content and YouTube's plans to start sharing revenue with creators; updated stats and forecasts; changes to the overview of sites that help indie producers make money; and new interviews with Metacafe co-founder Arik Czerniak, filmmaker Lance Weiler, and Kent Nichols, the co-creator of the popular "Ask a Ninja" video series. If you don't have a copy yet, either in annotatable paperback form or as a bevvy of fast-downloading digital bits, now's the time.

The new table of contents is below.

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

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The MPAA's Annual Report, Video on the Xbox, and More

- In advance of next week's ShoWest gathering in Vegas, the Motion Picture Association of America has released its annual report on movie industry economics. (A PDF of the press release is here.) From the NY Times coverage:

    The average production cost of a film made by [an MPAA] member company rose about 3.4 percent to $65.8 million in 2006, according to the report, while the marketing cost fell slightly, to an average of $34.5 million. (Association executives noted that the production cost figure does not include money contributed by outside investors who frequently underwrite the expense of Hollywood films.) The domestic box office rose about 5.5 percent last year to $9.49 billion, while theatrical admissions rose 3.3 percent to 1.45 billion, and the worldwide box office rose about 11 percent to $25.8 billion.

Variety offers a thorough analysis of the numbers. Some interesting elements from that:

    > Spending on online marketing is growing
    > So is the number of movies released each year (607 in 2006, an all-time high)
    > There's a correlation between people who have a lot of technology in their homes (game consoles, DVD players, high-def TV) and people who see a lot of movies. (Seems to me this could be purely related to household net worth, rather than home theaters generating a desire to see movies in theaters.)

- Microsoft is clearly trying to promote the Xbox's video offerings, if this piece from Sunday's NY Times is any indication. Dave Itzkoff writes:

    In late November Microsoft began expanding the library on its Xbox Live network, a broadband service available by subscription to Xbox 360 owners. In addition to the video-game trailers and playable demonstrations that the network has traditionally offered, you can now find an eclectically selected collection of films and television shows offered for downloading to a console’s hard drive: for a few dollars you can view “Mission: Impossible III” or “Chinatown” or the episode of “Chappelle’s Show” with the blind white supremacist, on your television, just as if you were watching a DVD or a video-on-demand channel.

    ...This month XBox Live will offer a new view of the corpulent form of Eric Cartman when it becomes the first outlet ever to offer an episode of “South Park” in high definition.

    While Microsoft acknowledges that most consumers are buying Xbox 360s primarily, if not solely, to play video games, the company also sees an opportunity to use film and television content to draw an audience that doesn’t fit the stereotypical gamer profile.

    “The original Xbox was probably the domain of that testosterone-fueled male in the household, and while we love him to death, we also want his little brother and sister and mom and dad and their friends to be able to enjoy it,” said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business division.

- Viacom's CEO disses YouTube at an investment conference in New York, and says a deal with the video service Joost will give the company more control over its content, according to the LA Times.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

John Lasseter Takes the Reins

Laura M. Holson's story in Sunday's NY Times paints the clearest picture I've seen so far of John Lasseter as a strong, opinionated, and very hands-on leader at Walt Disney Feature Animation. It's a great read. Holson writes:

    ...The first filmmaker to run Disney’s animation operations since Walt Disney died in 1966, [Lasseter] said he wants to reclaim the studio’s golden era.

    Since those early days, though, almost everything has changed. On the Disney campus, the creative culture is tattered still from years of cost-cutting and political infighting. And in the world at large audiences have moved on. The sweet wholesome tales of Mickey Mouse and friends don’t have the same relevance for a generation raised on violent video games, distracted by 500 cable channels and preoccupied with Web diversions like MySpace.

    “I’m not sure it’s a trivial challenge,” said Jim Morris, a Pixar producer who is working on the forthcoming “Wall-E.” “As charismatic as John is, he can’t do everything.”

Disney's forthcoming 'Meet the Robinsons' was extensively retooled under Lasseter's guidance, and the director of 'American Dog' was edged out. Lasseter also isn't stingy with his feedback on new Disney rides for the theme parks.

Of course, Walt Disney was known for having strong opinions -- and he prodded his employees into producing great work. Could Lasseter do the same? I think the only thing that could prove problematic for Lasseter, over the long term, is that his name isn't on the door.

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Google's CEO: Old and New Media Have Different Views on Content's Value

The Wall Street Journal's Riva Richmond covers a talk by Google CEO Eric Schmidt in New York yesterday. Doesn't sound like he's trying to make nice to big media. Richmond writes:

    Traditional media argue their content has a certain intrinsic value, while Google says "prove it," [Schmidt] said. "That's often a difficult conversation."

    "Ultimately, product value is determined if people view it," Mr. Schmidt argued. "They vote with their clicks, they vote with where they go."

    Asked by a member of the audience whether Google is "arrogant," as charged by some in traditional media, Mr. Schmidt said, "I'm sure we're arrogant."

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Monday News: Slow Going for Biggest Digital Cinema Group ... United Artists Reborn ... YouTube's Second Silent Era ... More

- The organization responsible for deploying digital cinema equipment to the biggest group of US theaters -- those owned by Regal Entertainment, AMC, and Cinemark -- has adopted a new name and announced a timeframe for conversion. The new name is Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, according to Variety, and thep plan is to start converting theaters in 2008. Ben Fritz writes, "That will put it two years behind competitors Christie/AIX and Technicolor, which already have started deploying d-cinema systems, primarily in smaller and independent exhib chains."

DCIP is now independent from National CineMedia, the public company that it was once part of. It's jointly owned by Regal, AMC, and Cinemark. Seems like a big focus for DCIP will be finding a way to allow studios to deliver movies to a theater via a number of different channels: hard drive, satellite, secure land-line, etc.

The AP also has coverage.

- MGM clearly has a PR person working overtime. The LA Times has a profile of CEO Harry Sloan, and the NY Times had a story yesterday about Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise's efforts to revive United Artists, part of MGM.

- The Wall Street Journal has a piece about silent movies getting new life on YouTube. Camille Rickets writes:

    On YouTube, one user has rescored the 1902 French film "Le Voyage Dans la Lune" by Georges Méliès -- considered by many to be the first science-fiction film -- with an electronica soundtrack. A synthesized, thumping beat and keyboards accompany the story of a fantastical trip to the moon. The contemporary techno music -- which seems particularly well suited for a century-old film that imagines the future -- gives the work the feel of an abstract art piece or music video.

    "Nosferatu," the 1922 Muranu vampire classic, is one of the most frequently re-scored by professionals and amateurs alike. The most interesting amateur "Nosferatu" rescoring on YouTube is a series that adds sound effects -- footfalls, a creaking coffin lid -- and a modern-classical score that includes synthesizers and the occasional electric-guitar chord. The result prompts viewers to watch the clips as they would a modern horror movie.

Here's a rescored 'A Trip to the Moon' and 'Nosferatu'.

- The LA Times calls iFilm an edited YouTube, and offers a look at how the Viacom-owned site operates.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

`If I Were the Oscars...'

The debate continues online about how the Oscars could've better handled (and even profited from) viewers' desire to share clips from the show online this week.

One cool idea from blogger Jeff Jarvis is having Net users select the best moments from the show... now *that* would be a cool highlight reel.

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YouTube working with smaller content providers

From today's NY Times: 'Google Courts Small YouTube Deals, and Very Soon, a Larger One.' Miguel Helft writes:

    ...[M]ost of YouTube’s licensing deals have been done quietly. It says it has firmed up more than 1,000 partnerships with content owners ranging from the Sundance Channel to small independent video producers.

    Without specifying how many of those deals have been signed since their site was acquired by Google last fall, YouTube officials say they are adding more than 200 media partners a quarter.

    “We are creating channels on YouTube for each of these content owners,” said Jordan Hoffner, the head of premium and information content partnerships. “Those who do deals with us will have an opportunity for monetization.”

    ..Those with channels on [YouTube] now include Hollywood Records, Hilary Duff’s label; the YES Network, a New York-based sports television network;, a home-improvement site; and the Ford Motor Company.

    Mr. Hoffner said a small team at YouTube had been busy courting partners. He would not describe the specific financial terms of the deals — nor would the partners — other than to say they typically involved splitting advertising revenue between the content owner and YouTube. For now, that sort of revenue is small.

Of course, YouTube in 2007 has also been talking about ways to split ad revenues with anyone who uploads content.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Thursday News: Blockbuster May Buy Movielink ... Walt Mossberg on Vid Sites ... Cuban on the Oscars ... and More

- The Wall Street Journal reports that Blockbuster is in advanced talks to buy Movielink, the movie download site founded by five of the major studios that launched in 2002. The Journal pegs the acquisition price at about $50 million. Sarah McBride and Matthew Karnitschnig write:

    [The acquisition] would help Blockbuster compete against its main competitor, Netflix Inc., which unveiled its own movie-download service in January. Blockbuster is still stinging from the strategic mistake it made in initially ignoring the shift of consumers to Netflix's DVD-by-mail rental service.

    Blockbuster's management is under intense pressure from its board to quickly turn around the business. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, a major shareholder who led a successful proxy fight against the board two years ago, now sits on it himself with several allies and has been pushing for radical changes.

    Blockbuster Chief Executive John Antioco has said he believes the company needs to be able to offer a "triple play" of rental options -- in stores, online mail ordering and through downloading. Movielink would give the company the last piece of that puzzle at relatively low risk. Management has concluded that creating its own platform would be considerably more expensive, according to people familiar with the situation. "This is the fastest, safest, most economical way to get into this business," one of these people said.

This'd be a good deal, I think, for both Blockbuster and Movielink. Movielink has never been well-promoted, which is something Blockbuster may help fix. And when I bumped into Movielink CEO Jim Ramo at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, he acted like time was running out (while telling me that time was in no way running out.) The site has reportedly been for sale since last year.

- The Journal's Walt Mossberg looks at Web video sites. He concludes:

    ...My favorite is, run by a team made up of a former systems administrator for the NHL, and a former TV news reporter and producer. (not to be confused with a similar-sounding site called hosts a bunch of these new Web TV series, and also helps them attract funding, sponsors and advertisers. Anyone can upload a show.

    One of my favorite shows available on is called "Goodnight Burbank," a comedy series about the squabbling that goes on behind the scenes at a local TV news show. Another is "Alive in Baghdad," news reports from Americans and Iraqis on how the war affects average Iraqis. "Cube News 1" is a series about life in the office cubicle. Other shows I've enjoyed on include "HotRoast," "The Ministry of Unknown Science" and "Josh Leo."

- Mark Cuban has some ideas about how the Oscars should be using YouTube, rather than pulling their clips from it. He suggests using lots of short clips on YouTube to drive viewers to But the big problem is that the Oscars' main source of revenue, as I understand it, is their TV broadcasting deal with ABC... they haven't yet started selling digital downloads of the show, or really figured out how to monetize it in the realm of new media.

- From the Hollywood Reporter: 'Hollywood too often misses the moment.' Interesting to think whether the very same argument Steve Bryant makes about the Web could've been made about television in the 1940s and 1950s.

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