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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Video interview with Jaman CEO

Robert Scoble recently did a 30-minute video interview with Gaurav Dhillon, CEO of indie film marketplace Jaman. I've embedded it below.

I'm going to be chatting with Gaurav on Monday afternoon -- so if you have any questions you'd like me to ask, e-mail me (address at right, under 'About Me'), or post a comment below.

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Technicolor Article in Business Week

I wrote about Technicolor's digital cinema strategy in the current issue of Business Week.

From the piece:

    The shift from film to digital will be a crucial test for Technicolor, a storied Hollywood name that invented the cameras, lenses, and film-processing techniques that made possible classics like The Wizard of Oz. In time, all theaters will likely get their movies in electronic bits, beamed via satellite, stored in a theater's computer servers, and shown with high-resolution digital projectors. That will cut out the current process of making 60 pounds of film and shipping it to multiplexes in battered metal cans. Technicolor is the world's biggest supplier and distributor of those film prints, with a revenue stream estimated to be worth about $900 million by Screen Digest, a London research firm. That business is expected to vanish slowly over the next decade, which is why the company is so focused on making the transition to digital.

    But Technicolor, which was bought in 2000 by Thomson (TMS ) of France for $2.1 billion, is up against an aggressive new entrant, Access Integrated Technologies (AccessIT), as well as Digital Cinema Implementation Partners (DCIP), a joint venture of the three biggest theater chains, Regal Entertainment (RGC ), AMC Theatres, and Cinemark (CNK ). This summer could be the tipping point in the digital transition, as the number of U.S. theaters capable of showing movies in digital form finally exceeds 10% of the 35,000 U.S. screens.

This was originally a longer piece that got a bit more into the nuances of digital cinema financing, and I plan to post that version here in a week or so, once the Business Week story has had its run.

But here are some of the interesting issues that I touch on (and a few I don't) in this shorter piece:

    - AccessIT has been the most aggressive player, in terms of outfitting screens for digital cinema
    - But Digital Cinema Implementation Partners will decide what equipment gets installed in 14,300 screens owned by Regal Entertainment, AMC Theatres, and Cinemark; that company could choose to work with Technicolor, AccessIT, or do its own thing
    - So far, many digital releases have been delivered via hard drive to theaters. But AccessIT CEO Bud Mayo says his company is already delivering about 60 percent of its content via satellite, and plans to be at 100 percent before 2007 is out.
    - Most theater chains pay a portion of the cost of the digital cinema equipment that gets installed, but some are still taking a hard line about not paying anything. National Amusements president Shari Redstone told me that since the studios are the ones who save money, by not having to produce and ship thousands of film prints for each release, she isn’t paying anything for the 120 systems Technicolor is installing at her multiplexes during the current one-year test. “We’re not charging more for tickets, and we’re not getting any additional benefits,” Redstone says.

Clearly, it'll be a challenge to turn a profit building and operating a digital cinema network...

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Two iPhone pieces from Variety

I was hoping to avoid contributing to the orgy of iPhone hype this week, and in fact have summarily been deleting PR pitches that begin, "If you're planning to write about the iPhone..." I got at least a half-dozen of those.

But I failed.

I spent this afternoon working on a piece for Variety about what the iPhone means for media companies and content creators, which is here. I hope it's sufficiently skeptical...since I try to hold Apple's feet to the fire for operating a closed-loop system with the iTunes Store and the iPhone/iPod.

From the piece:

    If the phone is a hot seller, that could nudge more media companies to do deals with Steve Jobs' company -- or find a way to circumvent the tight link Apple has forged between its devices and iTunes, its online media marketplace.

    Apple's newest product will play a selection of 10,000 free videos from YouTube, as well as video podcasts offered for free on iTunes from outlets like CNN and HBO, plus movies and TV shows sold on iTunes by suppliers such as Disney, Lionsgate, NBC and ABC.

    But like the video iPod before it, the device won't play content sold by sites including Amazon Unbox, Movielink or CinemaNow, which offer movies in a Windows Media format that Apple doesn't support. Apple also doesn't allow content marketplaces other than the iTunes Store to sell content "wrapped" in Apple's FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) technology. That restrictive policy guarantees Apple a high degree of loyalty among iPod and iPhone users but has recently brought scrutiny from European Union regulators.

There's another piece, by Michael Schneider, about how everyone in LA is coveting an iPhone as the new status symbol.

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Couple links: XLNT Ads, Starbucks, The Film Department, Jaman on AppleTV

I'm down in Mountain View at Under the Radar today -- lots of interesting company presentations. Coolest so far: XLNT Ads, an agency for user-generated advertising.

Some links worth looking at today:

- 'Starbucks Sticks With Film-Promotion Plan', from From the piece:

    The Seattle coffee chain plans to announce today that it has picked "Arctic Tale," from Paramount Classics and National Geographic Films, as its second movie venture. The film is about a walrus pup and a polar bear who grow up and find their frozen environment melting underneath them.

    Starbucks's much-anticipated entry into the film business last year ended up a disappointment for the company. The chain marketed the uplifting spelling bee tale "Akeelah and the Bee" in its stores by printing hard-to-spell words on cup sleeves and asking baristas to tell customers about the film. Executives have conceded that the movie's ticket sales came in lower than they had hoped for.

- From Anne Thompson/Variety: 'Gill and Sacker Launch New Film Department.' The opening paragraph:

    As the movie business slowly moves away from the outmoded inflated big-studio model, momentum is starting to shift to the stand-alone indies that are in a position to deliver to the studios high-quality mid-range commercial pictures for a price. Of course that's easier said than done. And many folks are having the same idea at the same time. So will ex-Miramax and Warner Indie Pictures exec Mark Gill and partner Neil Sacker, ex of the Bob Yari Group as well as Miramax, be able to pull off their new financing and production co. The Film Department, which they've raised $200 million to launch?

They plan to make about six films a year, at $10 to $35 million a piece.

- Jaman has figured out how to get its indie movies onto AppleTV, reports Om Malik.

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CEO Hired for NBC/News Corp. 'YouTube Killer' ... and More on NBC's Future Plans

I hate to keep using the term 'YouTube Killer' to describe this venture, since it really sets it up to fail... but you probably know the project I'm talking about: the joint venture between News Corp. and NBC to create a new video site, in partnership with AOL, Comcast, MSN, and CNET.

They've just hired a CEO: Jason Kilar, a veteran of and Disney.

The upside: he is young (36). The potential downside: the venture will be based in LA, and it won't launch until "later this year," according to the release. That's sorta vague. (Update: the internal goal for launch is September.) And Kilar's experience is mostly in e-commerce: selling actual physical goods like DVDs and CDs. Clearly, though, he must know how to manage software developers after almost a decade at Amazon.

We'll see how this goes. I'm sure it will be, uh, fun to report to a board of directors that includes Peter Chernin of News Corp. and Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal.

More from PaidContent. Om Malik reported yesterday that the joint venture is trying to raise $100 million, and not having much luck so far.

From the release:

    "As a team, we have a unique opportunity to create great customer experience through the combination of innovative technology and high quality content," commented Mr. Kilar. "In the process, I believe we can play a significant role influencing how consumers find, discover, and participate in premium content over the web. This is a big, inherently fun mission with which I'm proud and very excited to be associated."

    Mr. Kilar began his career at the Walt Disney Company, where he spent two years with Disney Development Corporation (1993-95).

    He received his M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School in 1997...

Update: Coincidentally, just after I posted this, I had a chance to sit down for a quick coffee with a PR exec from NBC Universal. She mentioned that NBC is getting ready to open a "product lab" out here in Silicon Valley, with the goal of developing relationships with interesting tech companies. It'll be staffed by just one person to start with. NBC also may take a minority stake in some companies through its Peacock Equity Fund; one early investment was the ad serving network Adify.

She noted that the NBC/News Corp. joint venture site, which is yet to be named, will eventually sell shows (a la iTunes), but probably not at the launch. Right now, iTunes is the only place where NBC sells its content.

Another interesting tidbit from our conversation: while NBC is the fourth-ranked network right now according to Nielsen, it occupies half of the spots on the iTunes list of top 100 TV shows. ('The Office,' and 'Heroes' are well represented.)

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From Web Video Summit: Dina Kaplan of

I'm at the Web Video Summit in San Jose (right now sitting in a panel on "San Francisco-Style Video Innovation").

I moderated a panel this morning on video production for the Web, and got a chance to chat a bit with Alex Lindsay of Pixel Corps beforehand; he was one of my panelists, and I found him in the speaker lounge just before our session. And a plug for later: I shot some video with animator M dot Strange, which I hope to post here soon.

I also had a chance to sit down for a few minutes with co-founder Dina Kaplan. Some rough notes:

- Kaplan divides Web video into three categories:

    1. Viral video (YouTube dominates here)
    2. Friends and family video sharing
    3. TV shows on the Web

Blip is focused increasingly on that third category. She mentioned shows like Galacticast, The Burg, Goodnight Burbank, and Feed Me Bubbe, all of which I need to check out.

- Kaplan said she has been surprised at the role Blip has begun playing as "new media talent agents." When shows hosted by Blip get an offer from mainstream media, the company's executives wind up helping connect creators with attorneys, get them headshots, help them deal with contracts. She also said that some creators had turned down these mainstream deals -- they wanted to retain ownership or control.

- I asked her what was going on with Blip's initiative to hook up sponsors with video creators. She said that Blip is constantly out talking to media buyers, trying to convince them that underwriting video series or advertising on individual videos is something that makes sense for them. The company has sold sponsorships for Amanda Congdon (Dove) and Ze Frank (Dewar's).

- Can sponsorship work for a series of videos that target a niche-ier audience? Maybe, Kaplan said. They're trying to package together several shows on a particular topic to collect enough viewers to be of interest to advertisers. (Kaplan was squishy about how big an audience you need to get onto an advertiser's radar screen.) Kaplan said Blip is working on sponsorship deals for the "top 5 percent" of their content producers; anyone else can sign up to have plain old advertising inserted. Blip works with ad insertion companies like Brightroll, ScanScout, PoDaddies, and

Her big concern, she said, is "proving that [sponsorship] works - that corporations can sponsor videobloggers, that they'll get the impressions they're expecting, and that people will click on their ads."

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Why Isn't TiVo/Unbox Taking Off?

I had lunch in San Francisco yesterday with Macrovision CEO Fred Amoroso and the company's chief evangelist, Richard Bullwinkle.

As is often the case with these lunches, the best discussion happens after the dishes have been cleared, after my lunch companions have gotten their marketing messages out, and after the coffee has arrived. I asked Richard, who used to be TiVo's chief evangelist, why the combination of TiVo and Amazon's Unbox didn't seem to be taking off.

Essentially, months before Apple started selling AppleTV, Amazon and TiVo got together to make it possible for users of Amazon's Unbox download service to have movies sent directly to their TiVo boxes. All you need is a TiVo Series 2 or 3 device, connected to your high-speed home network. Unlike AppleTV, you don't need to buy a new dedicated device to bring Internet content to the TV.

Problem #1, according to Richard, is that 20 percent or fewer of TiVo's users have connected their box to a broadband connection. That's strange, he said, because running the phone banks that TiVo boxes dial into to get program information and advertising is one of the company's biggest operating costs. Why isn't there an incentive that TiVo offers -- maybe a free wireless adapter, or one month of free service? -- to get people to conect their TiVos to a broadband network?

Second, while both companies are promoting the offering on their Web site, there hasn't been any high-profile promotion beyond that. Contrast that with Apple's hype and advertising around AppleTV.

Third (and this was my contribution to the coffee talk), you'd think the studios would want to work with -- and possibly co-promote -- Unbox, just so that Apple/iTunes doesn't wind up as the only game in town for movie downloading. They need multiple marketplaces, each with the ability to connect with the TV set.

Your take?

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How Disney/Pixar is Using Blogs to Market 'Ratatouille'

Pixar's 'Ratatouille' opens on Friday, and the company has an outside marketing agency working to build buzz among bloggers. They got in touch with me via e-mail today (two days before the release) to try to generate some coverage here.

It succeeded, but only because I think this kind of outreach is important for all filmmakers/studios to understand -- and I don't think you need to hire a marketing agency to make it happen.

An earlier post here about the movie shows up on Google when you search for "Pixar Ratatouille" (on the fifth page of the results.) My e-mail is pretty easy to find, and the PR associate simply dashed off a casual e-mail with some links to promotional content about the movie. She was very up-front about what she was doing ... which is of course crucial.

Here's the e-mail, in its entirety:


    My name is Jen [last name deleted] and I am working with Disney●Pixar on their new film RATATOUILLE. I work with the studio to distribute content online and I came across your post on the film. Thank you for supporting the movie! I just wanted to touch base and update you on some of the new assets that are available for RATATOUILLE that I thought you and your readers may find of interest.

    I have included below, some of the new content for the film:

    · Two rough animation tests called: “Emile’s Workout” ( and “Emile’s Magic Trick” (
    · See 9-minutes of the film here -
    · Images for the film can be viewed and downloaded here:
    · Many more videos are available on the official on the official YouTube channel:

    If you would prefer streaming links for any of these videos, I’d be happy to provide those to you as well. Just make sure to let me know what format you prefer.

    Also, would like to be included on distributions for future Disney films? We have many exciting projects coming up and I would love to work with you in the future. Please let me know and I will make sure to include you.

    If you have any questions, or if there is anything else that I can provide you with, please don’t hesitate to contact me. RATATOUILLE opens in theaters THIS FRIDAY, June 29th!

Your thoughts? This strikes me as very savvy...

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Private equity funds keep pouring into Hollywood

From this morning's NY Times: venture capitalist Thomas Tull and his financing entity, Legendary Pictures, will invest $1 billion in a set of Warner Bros. movies. From Brook Barnes' story:

    The deal, which the companies plan to announce today, extends a partnership forged in 2005. At the time, Legendary, whose participants include AIG Direct Investments, Banc of America Capital Investors and Falcon Investment Advisors, invested $500 million in a group of Warner films. The deal included some flops but also yielded the surprise hit “300” and the blockbuster “Batman Begins.”

    The new five-year agreement, arranged by Dresdner Kleinwort, a London-based investment bank, calls for Warner and Legendary to jointly finance up to 45 films. Included are movies like “Where the Wild Things Are,” an adaptation of the classic children’s book; “The Losers,” based on a gritty comic book; and a remake of “Clash of the Titans.”

Interesting detail in the story -- the relationship was apparently strained last summer, after 'The Lady in the Water' and 'Ant Bully' flopped.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

From Variety: 'Indie Films Crave Great Reviews'

Anne Thompson shares some juicy insights for indies from the recent Seattle Film Festival. From the piece:

    The Web has affected the film biz in many subtle ways, but it hasn't yet replaced the branding that occurs via theatrical booking and critical reviews. A local movie critic with a following drives people to see indie movies in a way that nothing else does -- at least so far.

    Those points were brought up during two panel sessions at the recent Seattle Film Festival.

    The most heated debate at the indie digital distribution panel was between Amazon Unbox exec Roy Price and two filmmakers in the audience who argued that "Who Killed the Electric Car?" was only an Unbox hit because it had already played in theaters.

    Price insisted it would have been just as big a hit without a theatrical release. He believes passionately in the future of Internet DVD sales and downloads and early believers building a movie into an Internet hit via social networking, viral marketing on sites like MySpace, and an ardent fanbase. "Movies don't need theaters to succeed on the Internet," he declared.

The example of a success so far that they cite: 'Four Eyed Monsters,' of course.

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Monday Links: Fox Enlists Indie Band to Help Promote 'Live Free or Die Hard' ... Sequels Sag ... Hollywood and the iPhone ... More

- First Fox asked the band Guyz Nite to pull a music video from YouTube, since it used clips from the first three 'Die Hard' movies without permission. Now, they've paid the band to repost the video as a promo for the next movie in the series, 'Live Free or Die Hard.' (Video appears below.)

This is an example of how studios will increasingly rely on fans to promote their movies to niche audiences online. The big issue is, things will get chaotic as studios seek to pull some videos that they don't like, while promoting those they do. You'll hear that conflict in the quote from the Fox spokesman below.

Maria Aspan writes:

    “It’s a testament to the way that fan-based culture works,” Jim Marsh, 28, who uses the stage name Guy Manley as the band’s lead singer, said in a telephone interview on Saturday. “Creating a viral video is something that’s incredibly difficult. It’s really the people that are the most passionate who succeed.”

    On Friday night, Mr. Marsh and the band’s four other members attended the Radio City Music Hall premiere of the new “Die Hard” film, at the invitation of Fox. (The Guyz Nite members rented a limousine and showed up in costume as their band characters.) Yesterday, they were scheduled to tape an interview for possible inclusion with their video on the “Live Free or Die Hard” DVD.

    “We aggressively protect our intellectual property, but look for, welcome and support creative voices on the Internet, and in this case we really liked what they had done and we supported it,” Chris Petrikin, a spokesman for Fox, said in an e-mail message. “We felt it would be a win-win if we approached the band and worked with them to make the video official and above board so that we could help to promote it.”

- Speaking of sequels, the Wall Street Journal says that the 'Third Time's No Charm for Summer Blockbusters.'

- From the NY Times: 'Hollywood Seeks Ways to Fit its Content into the Realm of the iPhone.' Laura Holson's lead:

    The iPhone doesn’t go on sale until Friday, but Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, is already changing the perception of the mobile phone, from a quick way to call a friend to a hip, media-friendly device. In doing so, he has forced mobile phone and Hollywood executives to react by chasing hungrily after the newest thing or face being left behind.

- Finally, here's an MP3 podcast I recorded recently for the guys at FreshDV, mostly dealing with alternative distribution options for film- and video-makers.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Everything's coming up roses

A new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, "Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2007 - 2011," predicts that despite the disruptions caused by new media, things are looking bright: average annual growth will be 4.9 percent. From ZDNet's summary:

    In the United States, digital cinema, with its superior images and ease of distribution, will reinvigorate the box office to the tune of $11.7 billion by 2011, the report said.

    ...The proliferation of digital cinema--expected to reach 40 percent of all U.S. screens by the middle of next decade--will shorten theatrical runs as studios push for wider releases and bring DVDs to market sooner to benefit from film ad campaigns.

    Movie theater owners, long opposed to shortening the DVD release window, may continue to resist this strategy, which they believe cuts into box office revenues, but "digital distribution will minimize the potential adverse impact of a quicker home video release," the report said.

    Digital 3D screens will have an impact later in the decade, as the number of available screens grows enough to allow wide releases of 3D films now in the production pipeline for 2009.

You can buy the full report for $995, or chunks of it for $95.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

WSJ on Piracy ... Next Week's Web Video Summit

- The Wall Street Journal covers summer movie piracy, including illegally posted versions of 'Ratatouille,' 'Sicko,' and 'Hostel: Part II.' Merissa Marr and Sarah McBride write:

    Weinstein Co. has sent private investigators out to hunt for the culprit who leaked its coming Michael Moore documentary "SiCKO," after it appeared online last week. And director Eli Roth recently blamed a weak opening of his horror sequel "Hostel: Part II" on the prerelease availability of pirated copies online.

    While not unprecedented, the availability of these movies online may suggest that the studios are still losing some significant battles in their war on piracy. After a surge in piracy a few years ago, including leaks of movies like "Hulk" weeks before its theatrical release in 2003, the studios seemed to successfully crack down, setting up metal detectors at prerelease screenings, cutting back on screener DVDs, and instituting tough security procedures at production labs.

    Now, as the studios desperately try to build buzz for their movies in one of the most crowded summers ever, they may have opened themselves up to a greater risk of prerelease piracy with tactics such as holding numerous prescreenings of their movies.

Disney apparently held 800 sneak previews of 'Ratatouille' last weekend, and the pirated version may have come from one of those, infiltrated by someone toting a camcorder.

- Next Wednesday and Thursday is the Web Video Summit in San Jose. I've got one guest pass to it, and I'd like to give it to a CinemaTech reader who:

1. Will use it, and
2. Is willing to send in a blog post about (at least) one of the sessions that we can post here.

So send me an e-mail if you're interested: kirsner at

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tools and Resources for Video Creators, from Metacafe

This seems cool: a new area on the vid-sharing site Metacafe called Metacafe Studio, which offers all sorts of tools and resources for video creators, including a production school.

Here's the full list of new features on the site, from today's press release:

    · Production School - Tips including over 50 instructional videos covering all topics of video production from lighting to editing

    · Production Resources - Directory with links to hundreds of the best resources available to online video creators, including copyright-free music, editing software, special effects tools, stock video footage and more

    · Producer of the Day - Spotlight on highly-ranked Metacafe creators and their most popular videos

    · MetacafeUnfiltered - Video series hosted by Will Video for Food’s Kevin Nalty and featuring profiles of Metacafe’s most interesting video creators

    · Producer Rewards Showcase - Access to all submissions to Metacafe’s Producer Rewards program, with an interactive leader board displaying top earners from each week, month and all-time

    “Metacafe already offers producers the most inclusive and lucrative payment program in the online video industry,” said Erick Hachenburg, Metacafe’s CEO. “Now, Metacafe Studio improves producers earning potential by providing them with a clearinghouse of information designed to help producers of every skill level improve their videos, get exposed to the largest possible audience and reap the rewards.”

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iPhone Will Offer 10,000 YouTube Vids

That's the latest news to get iPhone fans salivating. From the release:

    ...YouTube has begun encoding their videos in the advanced H.264 format, and iPhone will be the first mobile device to use the H.264-encoded videos. Over 10,000 videos will be available on June 29, and YouTube will be adding more each week until their full catalog of videos is available in the H.264 format this fall.

Before this, Verizon had been the only mobile carrier making YouTube vids available on its phones. (AT&T is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone...for now.) Apple is only recommending that you download YouTube videos, though, when your iPhone is connected to a WiFi network, since download speeds when connected to AT&T's network will be slooooow.

And if all this iPhone hype is getting to be too much, here's the Onion on even more cool things that iPhone can do.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

'Four Eyed Monsters' on YouTube: $23,000 So Far just put out a press release with some info on how well 'Four Eyed Monsters' is doing on YouTube. (Earlier post is here..) You'll remember that YouTube is hosting the full-length feature, and that Spout is paying the filmmakers $1 for every new user who signs up for their online community. It'll be available until August 15th, and the upper limit on Spout's generosity is $100,000.

From the release:

    The campaign has raised $23,644 to date and will continue through the YouTube run.

    "In one week on YouTube, Four Eyed Monsters was seen many times over by more than the amount of people who saw it in two years of traveling to over a dozen film festivals and self-distributing the movie," says Arin Crumley, co- creator of Four Eyed Monsters.

Actually, with YouTube, I'd note that you may know how many people started playing the movie -- but I suspect the site hasn't shared data with Arin about how many people watch 10 minutes of it, or the whole thing.

(So far the movie has racked up 500,000 "views"... but as with all YouTube content, it automatically starts playing when you visit its page.)

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Tuesday: 'Sicko' removed from YouTube ... Michael Moore OK with Piracy ... and More

- Cinematical has the definitive posting about Michael Moore's new doc 'Sicko' being posted on YouTube in 14 segments. (It was posted to BitTorrent, too.) The first few segments of the movie were seen by about 3000 people.

From the Hollywood Reporter coverage:

    "Every filmmaker intends for his film to be seen on the big screen," Moore said. "This wasn't a guy taking a video camera into a theater. This was an inside job, a copy made from a high-quality master and could potentially impact the opening weekend boxoffice. Who do you think benefits from that?"

    When asked about accusations that he may have leaked the film himself for publicity purposes, Moore scoffed at the notion:

    "Oh no. The (Weinstein) brothers are devastated."

But here's some video of Moore saying he's OK with piracy, as long as the person isn't doing it to make a profit. In the video, Moore says, "I make these books and movies and TV shows because want things to change, and so the more people who get to see them the better."

- On another topic, here's an LA Times report on niche programming at movie theaters during the daytime (mostly for kids). Piece focuses on Bigger Picture, a digital movie distributor in LA.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Advice for Indie Filmmakers: Peter Broderick Video Q&A

If you've been to a film festival or two, you've likely seen Paradigm Consulting founder Peter Broderick speaking or moderating a panel; often, his focus is on digital filmmaking and do-it-yourself distribution. (This month, he'll be at the LA Film Festival and next month at Outfest.) Peter was formerly president of Next Wave Films, which in 1999 launched the first initiative to finance digital features.

This interview is in three segments. I've tried to indicate the topics we cover in each one.

Part 1 (8:00 running time)

Topics: The Cannes Film Festival, and whether attendees in 2007 were thinking about digital distribution channels. Broderick's favorite film at the festival. IFC's First Take multi-channel releasing strategy, and their acquisitions at the festival. Also: iTunes, Jaman, and Joost.

Part 2 (15:10 running time)

Topics: Film financing, including Internet-based efforts by documentarian Robert Greenwald,, and Also: Peter's recommendations about the best way for filmmakers to sell DVDs online.

Part 3 (8:50 running time)

Topics: How to market indie films online. Creating various versions of a film for distribution. The shift from selling DVDs to digital downloads. Also: 'The Secret,' Breakthrough Distribution, Joost, AppleTV, and affiliate programs.

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Sunday/Monday links: Cellphone entertainment ... Blockbuster picks Blu-ray ... Digital cinema overseas

- Interesting piece in yesterday's New York Times about producing content for cell phones. Much of the focus is on ESPN's efforts.

Funny how everyone mentions the small screen as being the main limitation of working on a cell phone -- for me, it's the slow or stuttery frame rate.

- Blockbuster Video says it'll carry primarily Blu-ray high-def discs from here on out. From Forbes:

    Since late 2006, the movie rental company has offered both formats at 250 stores across the country. Both formats were given equal billing, but Blockbuster soon realized that Blu-ray outsold its competitor by 70%.

    Blockbuster will continue to rent the HD DVD titles it already offers and may expand its HD DVD inventory in the future but, for now, the company has placed all its chips on Blu-ray.

I still am not sure this is the HD DVD death knell everyone will assume it is. (I certainly can't remember the last time I was in a Blockbuster, and the one near my gym closed last year...)

- Variety has a report on the digital cinema roll-out in Europe.

- My Boston Globe column yesterday covered the use of artificial intelligence in videogames.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Late Notice: 'Tron' and 'Star Trek II' playing in Santa Monica w/ directors present

Just a quick link... if you're in the LA area, here's an option for Sunday evening: a double feature of 'Tron' and 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.' 'Tron' director Steven Lisberger and 'Star Trek II' director Nicholas Meyer will be there for a discussion, too.

The Aero Theatre has dubbed 1982 (the year both films were released) as "the greatest year in geek cinema." Pretty cool.

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Panel on 'What's Next?' at Sun Microsystems, with Vint Cerf, Dan Scheinman, and others

Dropped in briefly on a panel discussion held at Sun Microsystems yesterday, as part of an executive conference organized by the Paley Center for Media (known until recently as the Museum of Television and Radio.) The panel was titled, 'What’s Next?' The whole event was closed to the media, save for this one panel.

The description read:

    What is the next killer app and where will it come from? This discussion will explore the innovative culture of Silicon Valley and how new technologies are nurtured and developed into new business ecosystems.

The cast of characters:

    Moderator: Greg Papadopoulos, CTO & EVP of Research and Development, Sun Microsystems
    Catalysts: Vinton Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google
    Bradley Horowitz, VP of Advanced Development, Yahoo!
    Philip Rosedale, Founder and CEO, Linden Lab (Second Life)
    Daniel Scheinman, SVP and General Manager, Cisco Media Solutions Group

Some of the remarks that caught my ear...

Scheinman: "In the media business, the consumer is moving to the center of the world. We're moving from a Ptolmeic conception of the world to a Copernican conception -- and the sun is the user." Scheinman also suggested that we're moving toward an Internet where content that you're interested in "can find you," rather than requiring you to hunt for it.

Rosedale said Linden Labs is "building the most flexible and open platform that we can," allowing users to create great stuff.

Papadopoulos: "You've got to let people innovate on these platforms, sometimes in ways that may make you uncomfortable."

Cerf: "In the media world, when cost structures collapse, it's scary. Take peer-to-peer exchange. The music industry and movie industries got distressed. Then BitTorrent's technology got licensed by the studios, because it made it cheaper to distribute content. ...You have only two choices, as Darwin dictates: adapt or die. Adapting is really important."

Cerf: "There is a new participatory flavor to entertainment that we never really had before. I can't tell you how to take advantage of that. But people are going to want to have more involvement in the way they're entertained."

Cerf: "Technology won't render irreleavnt classical television, radio, movies, newspapers, or magazines -- but the environment in which they're going to be used will change -- and you'll have to adapt to that."

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Friday, June 15, 2007

New Trend: Posting Deleted Scenes to the Web to Promote Movies

'Knocked Up' is only the latest movie using deleted scenes to try to spark online interest. From the Wall Street Journal:

    In recent years, deleted and outtakes scenes have become an important weapon in movie studios' arsenal, encouraging consumers to shell out extra cash for deluxe DVD editions. But as online video reshapes the entertainment landscape, studios are trying something new: throwing deleted scenes online earlier, hoping that they will build buzz for their new releases and quietly letting fans trade them on video-sharing sites.

    The new marketing approach has been used only for a handful of comedies. Many surplus scenes from "Borat" appeared online before it came out last fall, but now the practice is spreading. New Line Cinema says it will post outtakes from August's martial-arts comedy "Rush Hour 3" online to promote the release, and Columbia Pictures says it's considering posting deleted scenes from its R-rated coming-of-age comedy "Superbad," also in August.

    "It's a little something subversive for the Web audience," says Russell Schwartz, New Line's president of domestic marketing. "They're seeing something they shouldn't be seeing."

The strategy can generate all kinds of blog buzz.

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Could new RealPlayer spark legal action?

RealNetworks' forthcoming RealPlayer 11 has a lot of nifty functionality that lets you download video from the Web...then you can watch it offline, on an iPod, or on a DVD you've burned. But media execs are already worrying about its impact on their business.

I wrote about the coming clash for Variety yesterday. Here's a snippet from the piece:

    Calling to mind Sony's earliest demonstrations of the Betamax videotape recorder, [RealNetworks CEO Rob] Glaser illustrated how the software works by pulling a David Letterman interview with Kevin Spacey from the Web site. "We're enabling consumers to enjoy digital entertainment whenever and wherever they want," Glaser said, speaking at the Digital Hollywood conference in Santa Monica. The new software is scheduled for release later in June. Glaser said this was only his second public demo of the software.

    "This is aiding and abetting piracy," fumed one network exec, who requested anonymity. "We make our content available on our site for viewing on demand, and if people want to download and own that content, they can buy it through iTunes, or they can buy the DVD."

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

From Tuesday night's talk: Slides about digital distribution opportunities

A few people have asked whether there's video from my Tuesday night presentation at the Apple Store here in San Francisco, which also included a number of filmmakers, video-makers, and entrepreneurs talking about their experiences with digital distribution... I'm not sure whether/when any video will be posted. Apple had some issues about shooting in the store, though I saw at least one person in the audience with a video camera.

But here are the slides from my talk. They'll probably make no sense without my narration, and they include a few QuickTime movies that won't play on SlideShare, but there is some data in there that you may find useful.

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Cine Gear Expo: Next Week in LA

Just back from another one-day round-trip to LA (yes, I've sworn those off before).... sorry I won't be in town next week, too, when Cine Gear Expo happens. There's always an interesting mix of cinematographers hanging around...and a series of seminars and master classes. If you didn't go to NAB, at Cine Gear you'll get a chance to see the 4K Peter Jackson short, 'Crossing the Line' that he shot with the Red Digital Cinema camera.

On Saturday, June 23rd, according to an e-mail I got from the Digital Cinema Society, there's another event at Cine Gear focusing on 4K production, post, and projection. From that message:

    DCS members are encouraged to attend an exploration of 4K for Production, Post, and Projection. Various samples acquired in 4K RAW with Dalsa cameras, edited in HD with Apple's Final Cut Pro, then conformed using EDL into the final project for color correction and creation of the DCP will be projected in 4K via the Sony SXRD Projector. Following the screening, James Mathers will moderate a panel made up of Cinematographer David Stump, ASC, Dalsa's Rob Hummel, Sony's Andrew Stucker, Denis Leconte of Pacific Title, as well as Directors Anurag Mehta and Joe DiGennaro. Find out the benefits and challenges of Digital Filmmaking at 4K resolution.

    The time slot is 10-10:45 AM on Saturday, the 23rd at the Wadsworth Theatre. Note: You must be registered for the Cine Gear Expo - Free of Charge Until June 15: here.

If you go, please *blog about it!*

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ditching Cable for AppleTV and Joost writer Farhad Manjoo cuts off his cable subscription and experiments with the programming available on Joost and AppleTV/iTunes. His conclusion: neither is yet a viable replacement.

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YouTube will start testing home-grown video-filtering software in July

That's according to this story broken today by the Wall Street Journal. Kevin Delaney writes:

    YouTube Partner Development Director Chris Maxcy in an interview said the company was building its own video-fingerprinting technology, after concluding that existing technology from other providers wouldn't meet its needs. Video fingerprinting is based on the premise that any video content has unique attributes that allow it to be identified even from a short clip -- just as a human fingerprint identifies a person.

    YouTube and other video-sharing sites hope the technology will spot television shows and films posted by consumers without the content owners' permission, so the sites can remove them or share advertising revenue. Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt has said that fingerprinting technology is key to resolving copyright battles between media and technology companies over online video, such as Viacom Inc.'s $1 billion suit against Google filed in March. Some media executives have accused YouTube of dragging its feet in implementing such technology in order to profit from copyright infringement as long as possible, a charge the video site has denied.

Disney and Time Warner are involved with the test; YouTube CEO Chad Hurley says the company will open up the fingerprinting technology to all content owners by this fall.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

What's So Scary About iTunes?

Why do Sony, Fox, Universal, and Warner Brothers opt not to sell their movies on iTunes?

Three big reasons:

1. They worry about Apple being the only game in town, as far as digital distribution; on the music side, Apple controls more than 70 percent of the download market. That kind of dominance gives Apple the power to dictate price, and all kinds of other deal terms, to their suppliers.

2. They worry about encouraging consumers to stop buying DVDs. DVDs are the studios’ cash cow – they brought in almost $25 billion in 2006. The studios are also hoping that high-def DVDs will keep consumers shelling out $25 for a physical product that they can own – as opposed to $14.99 for a digital download.

3. Apple’s Steve Jobs isn’t making studios happy with his anti-DRM crusade. Remember, studios have always been more aggressive with copy-protection on DVDs than the music industry has been with CDs (you need special, illegal software to rip a DVD onto your laptop).

The transition from DVDs to digitally-delivered content is going to be painful. Consumers aren’t willing to put up with punitive DRM constraints, and they’re not going to pay the same price for a digital file as they did for the DVD.

But do I believe that there are going to be lots of new opportunities in the digital world that didn’t exist in the world of DVDs and videotape? Absolutely. Studios have just been slow in chasing them. There are classic movies people are dying to see – if studios would only clear the rights and make them available online. People would be willing to pay 99 cents to buy scenes from their favorite movies to store on cell phones and video iPods – if studios would sell them. If studios offered some of their best behind-the-scenes footage and making-of featurettes (the stuff that appears on DVDs as bonus material), film fans and wanna-be directors would buy those.

Studios simply haven’t put enough digital product out there, with innovative pricing models, for fear of cannibalizing DVD sales and antagonizing big DVD sellers like Wal-Mart and Target. That’s fostering piracy, and it’s allowing Apple to emerge as the dominant player in digital distribution.

If the studios really want to help create a strong rival to iTunes, why aren’t they giving exclusive content (like celeb interviews) to’s Unbox, or packaging a free download of the soundtrack with a purchase of a digital movie file? Why aren’t they promoting Movielink, a service they created in 2001 but have since let wither, or CinemaNow, which is majority-owned by Lions Gate?

Here’s the LA Times article that got me thinking about this…

…and also in the news today are some hints that Apple will start renting movies on iTunes this fall. (Stories in Forbes and the Financial Times). Would rental make it easier for more studios to play with iTunes? Yes, particularly if Apple is willing to let them offer movies for rental only. Retailers wouldn’t feel threatened, since they’re not in the rental business. But it’d be time for Netflix to start sweating…

As for Apple and iTunes...why not open the gates to indie content while the studios dither, rather than letting other sites (like become the go-to destinations for lesser-known but high-quality films?

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Up Next for Pixar: 'Wall*E' in 2008, 'Up' in 2009, 'Toy Story 3' in 2010

Variety has the news.

Interestingly, Disney will release a hand-drawn feature in 2009, 'The Frog Princess,' co-directed by John Musker and Ron Clements (who previously brought you 'The Little Mermaid.')

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A Little Blog Love: Steve Cohen's "Splice Here"

I've been doing some writing about the history of non-linear editing... and just stumbled across a blog maintained by Steve Cohen, Splice Here. Steve is the editor who helped introduce Avid's non-linear editing system to Hollywood, and cut the first studio movie on the Avid, 1993's 'Lost in Yonkers.'

Two other editing blogs that I need to add to my blogroll (in the right-hand column) are Scott Simmons' Editblog and the American Cinema Editors Tech Web blog (which may have gone dormant.)

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For your analysis: Most popular indie fare on Amazon's Unbox

I think I've posted this list before -- a run-down of the 100 most-popular CustomFlix downloads of independent content on Amazon's Unbox service. But I wound up talking about this with a friend at dinner last night -- what sort of "long tail" content people will pay for online -- so I went and took another look today.

The top-seller is 'The Gentleman's Guide to Seduction,' a 30-minute instructional video for guys who'd like to do better with the ladies. (On Amazon's primary list of video downloads, it is actually doing better than studio movies like 'Fast Food Nation' and 'For Your Consideration.')

Also in the top 10: the feature film 'Intentions;' the doc 'Bookwars,' about Manhattan's homeless booksellers; doc 'The History of BSD Software'; feature 'The Guardian' (not the one with Whitney and Costner); and 'Introduction to Qi Yoga.'

One problem I've noticed -- with a lot of CustomFlix content, the sample video is basically the opening credits rather than a trailer, which doesn't give you a great sense of what the movie is about. Same isn't true for studio releases.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Time Mag: 'Why Pixar is Better'

Short piece, well worth a read, by film critic Richard Corliss on the forthcoming 'Ratatouille.'

My favorite quote in the story, by director Brad Bird:

    "For better or for worse, Pixar is always gonna throw itself in the deep end and try to figure out a way to not drown. I love that about this place."

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

BAVC Innovation Salon: Podcast and Video Clip

Didn't get a chance to go to 'Strange Collision' last month, a conversation about the intersection of creativity and technology here in the Bay Area. It included panelists like Stu Maschwitz from The Orphanage, Tim Partridge from Dolby Labs, Kevin Arnold from IODA, Lincoln Dean Hershberger from Electronic Arts, and animator M dot Strange. It was organized by the Bay Area Video Coaltion.

But the podcast is here (mp3 format), and M dot Strange was kind enough to point me to the very entertaining video intro he made for his part of the panel discussion.

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First Feature Film on YouTube: 'Four-Eyed Monsters' (and more Saturday news)

- The first (legal) feature film is up on YouTube, all 70 minutes of it. The experiment involves YouTube, the online filmfan community, and `Four-Eyed Monsters' directors (and stars) Susan Buice and Arin Crumley.

Here's how it works -- watching the film is free, but before it plays, you get a one-minute message from Susan and Arin explaining that if you go join sign up for, the site will pay them $1 for every new member they bring in, up to $100,000. Susan and Arin also ask viewers to post any video responses to the film on YouTube, and promise that they'll interact with viewers there for the next week. (Update: film will stay on YouTube for just one week.)

So this is basically a "bounty" business model, with an underwriter (Spout) promising the filmmakers a bounty for new members they can bring in. 'Four-Eyed Monsters,' of course, has already been on the festival circuit, already played theaters, and is already available for purchase as a DVD or a DRM-free digital download.

I'm embedding the film below. This is the first time you'll hear, on YouTube, the words "and now, the feature presentation..." (But probably not the last.)

Here's the official press release.

- The Visual Effects Society is holding its 2007 Festival of Visual Effects in Beverly Hills this weekend. If you can't make it in person, their list of the 50 greatest visual effects films of all time is well worth a look (here it is in PDF form. As is the teaser video with clips from many of the movies. I love the mix of classic films and recent ones...

The Wall Street Journal has a piece about the VES' top 50 list, in which Joe Morganstern writes:

    Special effects don't have to be big to be special. The vast -- and vastly expensive -- motion-capture process behind "Polar Express" (a film wisely omitted from the VES 50/51 list) largely failed to capture emotions, and not just in the case of the glove-puppet-like faces; even the train of the title seemed inert. Yet the fleeting apparition of an almost incandescent train in Steven Spielberg's remake of "War of the Worlds" is a stunning effect, because the train represents escape from fearful danger. In Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter," a film set in a town that has lost its children in a bus accident, the depiction of the bus plunging from a road into an icy river is technically modest, and visually removed; the whole thing is seen in extreme long shot. Yet it's anything but remote. The moment is, in fact, shattering, because we're watching what we're watching, a school bus with its precious cargo slowly sinking beneath a sheet of ice.

    Looking at it another way, the more we bring to special effects, the more special they become. Heavy-duty digital genius wasn't needed for the moment at the end of John Boorman's "Excalibur" when the sword is flung back in the lake and received by a hand which, rising above the waters, submerges once again. For many of us, that image epitomizes the Arthurian legend (and maybe even evokes "Camelot," Richard Harris, Richard Burton, Lerner and Loewe and JFK.) Similarly, the effects in Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" are, by the filmmaker's choice, almost homespun -- a few digital creatures and embellishments, yes, but also puppets, painted sets and a monster who, quite discernibly, is an actor wearing a fantastical costume. Yet the cumulative effect is intense, for all of these excursions from literalism are part of a seamless whole that uses reality as a starting point. The end point, and the whole point, is magic.

- Could Amazon be mulling a purchase of Netflix? looks at the possibility, noting:

    Amazon could potentially address some of Netflix's subscriber-growth troubles by marketing the service to its large user base. It could also seek to improve [Amazon's download service] Unbox by combining it with Netflix's download service—should that model begin gaining significant traction with consumers.

- Another great BizWeek piece asks, How Big Will the iPhone Be?

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Canadians Not Worried About Internet TV, Eh?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

What the "Future of Television in Canada" report actually says is that the Internet and television will "settle into a co-existence with one another as they evolve to fulfill different roles." Linear TV may be best for live programming like sports, while on demand will work best for movies and niche content.

Here's some coverage from the Hollywood Reporter and from The Globe and Mail. The report was issued just ahead of the Banff World Television Festival, which begins this weekend.

You can download the report, prepared by the Nordicity Group, here.

- Two other notes on upcoming events...

Looks like there will be a great crowd at this coming Tuesday's Apple Store event in San Francisco, where I'll be talking about 'Digital Distribution for Film and Video.' What's especially cool is that there will be a few filmmakers and video producers in the crowd, as well as some representatives from sites that support digital distribution; we'll hear from them a bit during the session, and then hopefully there will be schmoozing at a nearby bar afterwards. It's June 12th, 7 PM at the Apple Store in Union Square.

I'll be moderating a panel June 27th in San Jose at the Web Video Summit, focusing on production values. It's called "Lights, Cameras, Sound: How to Get Great Results." It's a topic I'm very interested in, and I'm looking forward to it. On the panel are Barry Braverman, author of "DV Shooter," Alex Lindsay, founder of Pixelcorps, Jennie Bourne from, and Chuck Olsen, a vlogger and correspondent for "Rocketboom."

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Is Porn Industry an Indicator of How Quickly Mainstream Movies Will Go Digital?

That's the question I had reading this piece on the front of USA Today's business section. (Yes, I'm in a hotel.)

The "adult content" industry is seeing DVD sales plummet because of free and paid content on the Net. From Jon Swartz's piece:

    Steven Hirsch, co-chairman of Vivid, one of the world's top adult film producers, predicts DVD sales will largely be replaced by content sold on the Internet. Three years ago, 80% of its revenue came from DVD sales. Now, it's 40%, he says.

    "DVDs are dead," says Extreme CEO Rob Black. "The Web is where things are happening." The company is selling video clips on its website before they go to DVD.

I wonder if the major studios are ready for that kind of quick shift in viewing habits -- and whether they're thinking about using lots of free content to rope viewers into subscriptions and paid downloads, as the adult industry is doing.

(And if you want to read more about the impact of the Net on the porn industry, the venerable New York Times ran a piece earlier this week, which noted that "Internet revenue, while growing modestly, is not compensating for the drop in video sales and rentals.")

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An Emerging Issue: Capturing and Storing Flash Video

Think back to the 1970s (if you're old enough): there was no way to capture and replay anything that aired on TV. When Sony's Betamax videocassette recorder was introduced, media companies got a little upset. Two of them, Universal and Disney, sued Sony all the way to the US Supreme court to keep people from recording shows and movies off the air. (They lost.)

A new version of RealNetworks' RealPlayer software is beginning to spark a similar conflict: it allows you to store and later play back any of the Flash video you encounter on the Web. (Flash is the format used on YouTube, Brightcove, and many other sites, intended to stream content to your computer temporarily -- but not allow you to store it. Flash is most likely the dominant format in which video is delivered online today.) RealPlayer allows you to create a personal playlist made up of any of the video you encounter on the Web, whether it's in the Flash, Windows Media, QuickTime, or Real formats. The tagline is: "Find the Web video you want -- and Real it in." (Of course, there is already software like Tubesock that allows you to store's just not marketed by a company as big as RealNetworks.)

Some of the debate over capturing Flash (and the other formats) has been playing out on Andy Plesser's Beet.TV site. Here's a post headlined, 'It's War: Brightcove's Jeremy Allaire Says New ReadlNetworks Video Player is Illegal Piracy.'

Adobe, which developed the Flash video format, and is working on a software program of its own to allow Flash video to be stored and managed, isn't wild about the new RealNetworks player, either.

And here's an Information Week article on some of the legal implications.

Two of the big issues media companies worry about: if users can store and replay Flash and other formats, how can we keep tabs on how many times our content is being played? And, secondarily, if that's content that we're hoping to support by integrating advertising, how can we insert new advertising every time it is played if the content is being stored and played back with software we don't control?

This is going to be a hotly-debated area for the next couple years, but something tells me that media companies might have to concede that with digital video, not every play is going to be trackable, and not every play is going to present a fresh opportunity to insert ads ..... just as was the case with the VCR when you recorded that episode of "Diff'rent Strokes" and watched it over and over again.

When I hear Jeremy Allaire of Brightcove using the words "illegal piracy" to describe what the new RealPlayer is doing, I hear echoes of the way that Universal execs Lew Wasserman and Sid Sheinberg (and later, MPAA chief Jack Valenti) responded to the VCR.

Your thoughts?

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

For Indie Filmmakers: How to Sell DVDs Online

I had drinks in San Francisco this evening with Jamie Chvotkin, who is the founder of, a site that helps indie filmmakers market their DVDs. (Here are the details of how the site works; basically, you send them DVDs and they take a $4 cut from every unit sold.)

I had lots of questions for Jamie, who I'd bumped into once or twice at South by Southwest and other events, but my main focus was this: what are filmmakers doing to move discs on FilmBaby? Later, we talked about some of the new sales channels FilmBaby is developing with partners like Netflix, Google, CinemaNow, iTunes, and Urban Outfitters.

I asked Jamie about some of the site's best-sellers. His answer: documentaries perform best.

The site's best-seller is 'Heavy Metal Parking Lot, a 16-minute documentary (with two hours of bonus material) shot in 1986 at a Judas Priest show. That movie, Jamie says, was already "an underground cult classic" before it came to FilmBaby. He estimated they've sold more than 8000 DVDs through the site. (By my math, at a $19.95 per unit price, that's more than $125,000 in the filmmaker's pocket.)

'The Star of Bethlehem', a Christian-themed astronomy doc, has also done well, selling about 2000 units on the site. 'Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories' also sells steadily. Filmmaker Mike Shilely "tours colleges constantly showing the film, and he's really great at working the local press to get coverage," Jamie said.

His theory is that docs sell better than features on the site because if someone is interested in a topic, they're willing to give the movie a try even if they've never heard of the filmmaker. 'Dark Water Rising' appeals to both animal lovers and people interested in the Katrina disaster: it deals with animal rescues in the wake of the killer hurricane. 'Art of the Bow', a three-hour instructional film for upright bass players, is priced at $79.95 -- and about 400 copies have been sold on FilmBaby.

Features are a tougher sell. 'Fishing with Gandhi / Cow Monkey' is one of the site's better sellers, about two brothers who set off to hunt Big Foot. Every copy is autographed by the filmmakers, Jamie said. "They also have a funny trailer, and it's clear that the production values are good," he added. That title has sold a few hundred copies.

That got us talking about trailers. "You need a great trailer, and most indie filmmakers have no idea how to make a trailer," he said. (I pointed out that most Hollywood directors don't make their own trailers; they hire movie marketing shops that specialize in trailer production.) Jamie said filmmakers should at least resist making a six-minute long trailer. He said 'Star of Bethlehem' has a good one.

Jamie emphasized that it's a filmmaker's responsibility to think creatively about how to generate interest in her project. "You need a promotional strategy, a game plan to get your film out there." Posts on message boards and blogs are helpful, but so is mainstream media coverage; when Gilbert Gottfried does a guest spot on Howard Stern's show, his DVD sales on FilmBaby skyrocket. Think of online distribution as a grocery store, Jamie suggested. "The reason Pringles sell is because that company advertises them," he said.

Jamie said FilmBaby is trying to create lots of other opportunities for filmmakers. He has just started to send a list of all the new DVDs added to his site to Netflix, and Netflix has bought a few for its members. (Jamie made it sound like Netflix has bought fewer than 10 titles so far, but the program just began.) Netflix seems to like DVDs that have a wholesale price of about $12, he said, and they buy a minimum of about 40 copies. Filmmakers don't see any kind of rental royalties after the sale.

A deal with Super D helps make FilmBaby's library of 2000 titles available in 2400 retail stores, as retailers choose to order them.

FilmBaby is just beginning to sell content on Google Video, starting with a video from impressionist Frank Caliendo. Jamie says the volume isn't all that high -- at $8.00 for download-to-own, and $2.10 for a day-pass, Caliendo is making about $250 a month. "He's probably making thousands a month from his audio content on iTunes," Jamie said. He's planning to digitize the entire FilmBaby library and put it on iTunes. This summer, FilmBaby may start offering a "digital only" plan, for filmmakers who aren't interested in selling DVDs.

FilmBaby will also have a first batch of titles up on CinemaNow this July, according to Jamie; that service is planning to add about 15 new FilmBaby movies a month. Later in June, the 'Ask a Ninja' compilation will start showing up in Urban Outfitters stores, thanks to a deal FilmBaby arranged.

Jamie agreed when I suggested that it'd be helpful if we had a break-out hit -- an indie movie that sold a million copies as a digital download, or a DVD sold online. "That'd be great for the indie film community," he said, "whether they sell them through us or CinemaNow or iTunes [which still isn't open to indie content, though Jamie has been in discussions with them.] It'd be a shot in the arm, especially for filmmakers who are skeptical of the do-it-yourself distribution routine."

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Brash Mission: Turn Films Into Hit Videogames

Whoa: a new firm, Brash Entertainment, just raised $400 million in funding. Brash's strategy is to create hit games from movies, TV shows, and music franchises. Here's Variety's coverage... GamaSutra...and here's the Wall Street Journal piece.

The Journal's Nick Wingfield writes:

    [$400 million] is a whopping sum in the games business, where attempts to create major companies are rare because of tough competition from an array of well-entrenched publishers and developers like Electronic Arts Inc., Activision Inc. and others. Brash says it has cut deals with five major Hollywood studios, licensed 40 film properties, including Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.'s "Saw" horror series, and is actively developing 12 games.

    Brash's bet comes as at least one big company -- EA, the world's largest games publisher -- is increasing its development of original games and lessening its dependence on Hollywood properties, which can come with high licensing fees and other restrictions.

    But Brash believes the growth of the games market has created room for a new player, particularly one with a special emphasis on translating movies into high-quality interactive entertainment. To make a mark, Brash will have to demonstrate it can consistently make top-notch games, rather than the hastily pumped-out titles that have tarnished the image of movie-based games in the eyes of consumers and Hollywood executives.

    "Across the board, they [movie-based games] haven't met industry expectations," says Mitch Davis, chairman and chief executive officer of Brash.

Here's the official Web site. The founding team includes the exec producer of '300' and Davis, who was recently CEO at Massive, an in-game advertising firm that Microsoft bought last year.

One of the biggest barriers to actually making good games from movie and TV franchises (and this won't surprise any of you who've worked either in game development or with Hollywood studios/TV networks) is that you don't get the material until far too late in the process. You don't see enough scripts, concept sketches, or rough footage. So either you wind up with a game that appears well after a movie or TV show launches, or you get a half-baked game that doesn't seem in sync with the actual movie or show.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

This Moment in History

Wendy Levy of the Bay Area Video Coalition asked me to moderate a panel discussion yesterday at the Producers Institute for New Media Technologies, a 10-day workshop where documentary film- and video-makers explore ways to tell stories in other media -- videogames, cell phones, interactive kiosks, or virtual worlds like SecondLife.

The more I thought about this group of creators, I wanted to put this particular moment in history into context.

So I started by showing this film, made in 1895 by Thomas Edison and William Heise. This was about a year after Edison's Kinetosocope movies were first shown to the public in 1894.

Then I showed this video, made by Judson Laipply in 2006. (Astonishingly, even though this is the most-viewed video on YouTube, about 90 percent of the audience said they hadn't seen it before.)

Watch them both, and then think about what they have in common...which we'll come back to in a second.

They both feel to me like new media being born. No one quite knew what to put in front of the camera, what would hold the audience's attention. The cinema didn't really develop into a medium for modern dance... and Internet video may not develop into a medium for short-form, physical comedy like "Evolution of Dance." But I think this moment in history is going to be shaped by creative people who figure out what works both artistically and commercially on YouTube...on cell videogames and virtual worlds.

I'm amazed at how much these two clips have in common: No dialogue. No cuts. A camera frozen in place. Both dance-oriented. Both involve shooting a performer who hails from another medium (Annabelle Whitford was a vaudeville performer...Judson Laipply is a motivational speaker who tours college campuses.) How much was the budget to produce each of these? Judson told me that the cost of his was exactly equal to the cost of a DV tape; Whitford probably got paid to perform at Edison's studio in New Jersey, but I'm guessing that making "Serpentine Dance" was not a very pricey proposition.

Our conversation yesterday at the Producer's Institute touched on lots of topics that creative people are concerned about, among them:

- How do you maintain control over your work once you put it on the Internet, if other people want to put it in contexts you don't like, or re-edit it? Or can you maintain control?
- How do you draw an audience to your work?
- How can you measure the size of the audience you reach on the Net?
- Where are the good examples of substantive, socially-relevant content being seen on the Net?
- Where will financing come from (this, actually, was something I discussed afterward with a filmmaker from Buenos Aires)?

The subtext of the morning's conversation, to me, was that in 2007, new technologies are offering a fresh sheet of paper to people who want to use images to tell stories. You can take advantage of that, or you can ignore it and keep doing what you're doing.

But anyone willing to experiment and learn and take risks -- young or old, part of the establishment or an outsider -- is going to shape what these new media become.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

From LA Times: 'Advertiser cash flows to indie film projects'

This'll be an interesting read for all you indie filmmakers out there: `Advertiser cash flows to indie film projects: Companies seek a bond with audiences beyond product placement.'

Lorena Muñoz writes:

    In what could be the latest trend in the financing of independent films, Unilever brand Dove has agreed to invest $3 million — about one-fifth of the budget — into "The Women," the first theatrical movie by Diane English, the creative force behind the hit television series "Murphy Brown." Gatorade, the sports drink maker, quietly put up $3 million for the production of "Gracie," a story about a girls soccer team that is coming out this weekend.

    "With low-budget movies you have to have different ways to create marketing efficiencies and leverage your ability to fund them," said Andrew Shue, producer of "Gracie." He said the seed money from Gatorade enabled him to raise an additional $7 million from a hedge fund. "This is absolutely something in the future for these kinds of movies that are smaller budget and under the studio threshold."

    Independent studio Lions Gate has been discussing potential producing partnerships with several corporations.

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Upcoming Panel on Podcasting and Hollywood, from the PGA San Francisco

The San Francisco chapter of the Producers Guild of America and Baycat are putting on a panel discussion this coming Tuesday, June 5th, called 'Where Do Podcasting & Hollywood Converge?' It's open to members of the PGA and non-members as well.

Panelists include Leo Laporte, host of "This Week in Tech"; John Furrier, CEO of; Emily Morse, host of "Sex With Emily"; JD Lasica, president of the Social Media Group; Oscar Grimm, director of; and Nick Quesada, host of Baycat's podcast. Moderating is John Gilles, former vice president of G4TV.

The event is Tuesday, June 5th at the Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts & Technology, 2415 Third Street, Suite 230. It starts with networking at 6:30, and the panel begins at 7:30. It's free, but you need to RSVP no later than June 4th: e-mail, with your name in the subject line. Sadly, there's no Web site.

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China to get 2,000 new digital screens

A Chinese joint venture will build 2,000 new theaters capable of showing digital content, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Currently, there are about 3,000 screens total in China, less than 200 of which have digital projectors.

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