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Friday, November 30, 2007

Netflix Users Will Get Fresh NBC Content, On DVD or Online

Pretty cool.... NBC will make some of its most popular shows available on Netflix the day after they air. Netflix subscribers will be able to stream them on the Web site (with no commercials), or get a DVD sent through the mail.

Here's the Netflix announcement and a story from Silicon Alley insider.

This is part of NBC's strategy to build an Internet distribution business without Apple, with whom it has been feuding.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tongue-in-Cheek Marketing for Pixar's Next Project

What do you do when a company is just at the top of its game?

I think you just stand back and learn.

Here's the Web site for Buy n Large, a fictional Wal-Mart-like retailer that seems to play some sort of role in the forthcoming Pixar movie 'Wall*E,' due out next summer.

There's no mention of the movie at all.... but lots of pages with lots of hidden gags. You can even buy real Buy n Large t-shirts, neck ties, and coffee mugs, to show your allegiance to the corporate megalith.

Here's the early trailer for Wall*E. No official site yet, but that's OK. (I only wish Apple made their movie trailers embeddable.)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New documentary on William Castle

William Castle was one of the great innovators (and promoters) of mid-20th century Hollywood... the man who brought you joy buzzers beneath theater seats (in 'The Tingler'), skeletons flying above audiences (an effect he dubbed Emergo), and interactivity (a fake vote in 'Mr. Sardonicus.')

Now there's a documentary about Castle called 'Spine Tingler,' and I can't wait to see it. It played recently at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, where it won the audience award for best documentary.

Here's the trailer:

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blockbuster CEO Watching Movies on His BlackBerry

Pretty cool... Blockbuster CEO James Keyes seems to grok the concept that people want to watch movies on mobile devices, and he's even worked out a way to get Movielink titles onto his BlackBerry (with a little help from his IT staff.)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Assessing the stagnant set-top box market

Tom Krazit of CNET has a good piece looking at the failure-to-launch of the Internet-connected set-top box sector. He focuses mainly on Apple TV (I wish there was more talk about others who've tried to bring Net-top boxes to market, like Akimbo, Vudu, TiVo, etc.)

Krazit writes:

    With Apple TV, Apple fulfilled its usual goal of coming up with something sleek and quiet that people wouldn't necessarily mind putting in their living rooms, and the device seems relatively easy to set up and use.

    But it doesn't come even close to fulfilling the promise of Internet-delivered video: the ability to watch anything I want, whenever I want it, without having to pay for all the useless channels I never watch. Nothing does yet, unfortunately, so I make do with the 250-plus channels I now get plus my digital video recorder.

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Three Great Reads: Andreessen, Hirshland, Goldstein

If you haven't yet read Marc Andreessen's post, 'Rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley's Image, I recommend it. (Andreessen is the serial entrepreneur who helped start Netscape, Ning, and Opsware.) Try to filter out some of the Silicon Valley "we know the future best" rhetoric.

The one place where I think Andreessen is wrong, at least about today's world, is in the willingness of venture capitalists to invest in new content ventures. What we've seen so far are investments in sites that are trying to aggregate lots of content, or build communities, like, JibJab Media, and Not really in people creating individual series, feature films, or docs. Many VCs are still scared at having to put money behind a creative group and hope for a hit.

Mike Hirshland, a VC with Polaris Venture Partners (an investor in JibJab and Heavy) has two really great posts on that topic, titled Investing in Digital Content: The Problem with the 'Hits' Model and Investing in Digital Content: When it Actually Does Make Sense. Hirshland suggests that things may be changing, in terms of VC funders and digital content:

    While I certainly agree that most content plays are a bad fit for VC investment because they require investing alot of capital in the risky proposition of generating a hit, I think our panel’s preoccupation with the “hits” aspect of traditional content led it to miss an important point: the emergence of the digital [platform] is changing the rules and allowing some content business models to fit within the venture model."

Hirshland was referring to a panel at the recent NewTeeVee conference in San Francisco.

(Another worthy read: Patrick Goldstein on the need for screenwriters to be more entrepreneurial.)

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John Lasseter Red Carpet Interview: Disney/Pixar Animation Update

IESB has a video interview with John Lasseter, the head creative honcho at Pixar and Walt Disney Feature Animation. He talks about 'Enchanted' and 'The Frog Princess' ("It's so exciting to have hand-drawn animation coming back")...says Disney will soon return to releasing new cartoon shorts (the first will feature Goofy explaining how to hook up a home theater system)...and plugs 'Wall*E,' the next Pixar release, describing it as Pixar's first science fiction film.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The VFX Work Behind 'Enchanted'

Disney's 'Enchanted' is one of those movies where the visual effects shots play simply as magic ... without calling unnecessary attention to themselves. VFXWorld has a piece explaining how director Kevin Lima worked with Tippett Studio to make it happen.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving Linkage: Blockbuster Kiosks, Streaming Video Piracy, Speed Racer, Vudu

- Blockbuster is gonna try putting automated movie rental kiosks into Papa John's pizza joints and Family Dollar stores. DVDs will rent for just a buck, cheaper than at Blockbuster's traditional outlets, and they can be returned to any kiosk -- not just the one they came from.

- Slate has a great piece on a new kind of online movie piracy. Dan Morrell writes:

    As the MPAA has focused on BitTorrent downloading, however, a newer, more popular kind of piracy method has come along. BitTorrent is out. Streaming video is in.

    Before it was shuttered by European authorities in October, the British-based TVLinks—which offered links to hundreds of pirated movies and television shows—had become perhaps the Web's leading destination for illicit streaming video. If you've never heard of it, you're not alone: A LexisNexis search found only four mentions of TVLinks in major news sources over the past year. The Pirate Bay, one of the most popular torrent Web sites, was cited more than 300 times. The lack of hype didn't stop the site's spread. According to Web traffic analyzer Alexa, TVLinks passed both the Pirate Bay and TorrentSpy in global traffic rank this August. At the height of its popularity, TVLinks ranked 160th in global traffic, near the level of the New York Times.

- Looks like the Wachowski Brothers are taking the green screen approach with 'Speed Racer.'

- To help market its $399 set-top box, Vudu is throwing in high-def copies of two of Universal's 'Bourne' movies. (Here's more on Vudu.)

- My mother-in-law asked me on Thanksgiving for my advice on whether she should buy "a Blu-ray." When I mentioned the format war, she didn't seem aware of it, and she didn't seem to have much recognition that HD DVD existed. She and my father-in-law are big Netflix users, and Netflix offers movies in both Blu-ray and HD DVD, so I told her the only possible problem could be if HD DVD wins, they'd need to buy a new DVD player in a couple years. Just a data point...

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Apple Flubs Its First Direct-to-iTunes Release

The Ed Burns movie 'Purple Violets' is the first direct-to-iTunes movie release.

I covered it here on CinemaTech and also in Variety.

But unfortunately, even though Burns was promoting the movie on NPR today, and even though the official release date is November 20th (that's today), the movie still isn't for sale on iTunes at 4 PM Eastern... though you can pre-order it. (Update: I just tried to pre-order it, and got an error message that I couldn't do that, either.)

The movie has gotten some nice placement on the iTunes Store home screen, and on the main Movies page. But why wouldn't iTunes start selling the movie at 12:01 in the morning? Or even noon Pacific time? How many potential purchases are they missing by having national (free) publicity for the release on NPR, but not making the movie available?

This is a promotional blunder that's reminiscent of the way Google Video mishandled the release of their first direct-to-Google feature film last year, 'Waterborne.'

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`Why are striking writers so intent on getting a cut of Internet profits?'

That's the question LA Times writer Joseph Menn asks in today's paper. The answer is that digital media revenues are poised for explosive growth ... and the Internet-connected TV in the living room could mean that writers don't earn as much as they once did for TV and cable broadcasts...and consumers may not spend as much on DVD purchases and rentals.

From the story:

    "The real winners from the writers holding out are the people in five or seven years," said analyst Laura Martin of Soleil/Media Metrics.

    Exactly how entertainment will be delivered in the future is a matter of speculation. "In 10 years, there will be a monitor on the wall in the family room, and it will be connected to a box -- maybe an Xbox, maybe something else -- and I'm going to watch [content] on demand," said Richard Wolpert, an L.A. investor and former chief of strategy at RealNetworks Inc. "That's not going to be delivered over cable, it's going to come over Internet protocol."

    Bypassing broadcast and cable delivery could wipe out a big chunk of residuals that writers now collect when their material is rerun. Wolpert said that explains why the writers are so intent on staking a claim to all new modes of transport into the home.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

WSLD: What Should Lucasfilm Do?

Over the weekend, I watched 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' with my niece and nephew, who own the whole Indy series on DVD. (My nephew, 5, does a mean imitation of Short Round, from 'Temple of Doom.')

One thing I noticed: Lucasfilm still offers none of its movies, neither 'Indy' nor 'Star Wars,' as a digital download. You can't buy them on Movielink, CinemaNow, Unbox, or iTunes. Interesting strategy from a company that prides itself on being in the technological can either buy the DVDs, or hunt for an illicit digital version on the peer-to-peer networks.

Here are two questions to ponder: why wouldn't Lucasfilm release the 'Indy' trilogy online in advance of next year's new installment, 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' (out May 22nd, 2008)? And if they did, what might they do to promote it?

    - What if they offered three or four great clips from each movie, which bloggers and Web site publishers could embed? (The clips might be followed by a post-roll ad promoting the availability of the full movie.)

    - What if they offered "sides" from a few famous scenes, which savvy users could edit themselves into: imagine your kid sister running from the giant ball at the beginning of 'Raiders.'

    - What if they added 'extras' and 'bonus material' to the download -- something few studios have done with their Internet releases.

    - Or what if they experimented with a slightly lower price for the download-to-own version, to see if fans would respond? IE, could you sell a million downloads at $6.99, where you might only sell half a million at $9.99?

    - What if Lucasfilm partnered with the guys who made a shot-for-shot remake of 'Raiders,' and released it free on YouTube or another video-sharing site, with an intro from George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, promoting the availability of the originals. (The trailer of the remake is here.

What would you try, if you had the 'Indy' movies in your catalog?

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

3-D Revival Story in Wired, Focused on 'Beowulf'

Wired Magazine used to be the place you read about trends and new technologies it often seems like they're chasing stories a year or two after the mainstream media.

In the current issue, Frank Rose realizes that:

    More than 50 years after its first run, 3-D is staging a comeback — this time in digital hi-def. Once a nausea-inducing fad, it's now touted as the biggest gun yet in Hollywood's ever-growing arsenal of f/x. When Beowulf comes out in November, it will premiere on nearly 1,000 3-D screens — the most ever.

It includes quotes from two of Hollywood's biggest proponents of 3-D filmmaking, James Cameron and Steve Starkey (Bob Zemeckis' producing partner.)

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

New made-for-the-Web series: 'Butterknife'

Matt Dentler of SXSW writes about the new made-for-the-Web series from Joe Swanberg, 'Butterknife.' It's sponsored by, and stars real-life spouses Ronald and Mary Bronstein as husband-and-wife.

Right now, Joe has a production blog, and he has posted a preview of the first season.

Joe mostly makes feature films, but his earlier Web series, 'Young American Bodies,' was sponsored by

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Will Writers Guild Strike Help Online Content Sites?

The Wall Street Journal says that sites like,,, and may be able to work with Writers Guild members during the strike. Journo Sarah McBride wonders if this strike could help digital media in the same way the 1980s strike helped cable TV.

From the piece:

    The companies may have trouble recruiting Writers Guild of America members, largely because of confusion over what writers may and may not do while on strike. Some writers believe strike rules preclude them from writing for anybody, even if it isn't studio content. But a spokesman for the guild said the rules don't prohibit members from writing for new media for companies that haven't signed agreements with the guild. "We encourage members, however, to consider trying to cover their new-media services by having the employer sign a made-for-new-media agreement," the spokesman said, "and we will continue signing such agreements even during [a strike]."

    Online video companies are hungry for more professional material than what typically arrives in over-the-transom videos. Looking ahead a few years, the future of online video could lie more in series of clips, much like episodes of television shows, rather than one-off clips. "Advertisers like buying episodic things because it's predictable," says [CEO Keith] Richman of Break, which is aimed at men ages 18 to 35.

    ...A number of sites stress their association with Hollywood bigwigs., created by actor Will Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay, is already benefiting from the labor action, with several new skits spoofing the strike. Through their publicist, Messrs. Ferrell and McKay declined to comment on how the strike affects traffic or material on their site.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Monsters, Aliens & IMAX

DreamWorks Animation says it will release a trio of 3-D movies that will be among the first to take advantage of IMAX's new digital 3-D projection system, starting in 2009.

From the press release:

    The IMAX 3D releases will include 'Monsters vs. Aliens' in March 2009, 'How to Train Your Dragon' in November 2009 and 'Shrek Goes Forth' in May 2010. A fourth DreamWorks Animation title, 'Kung Fu Panda,' will be released in IMAX’s 2D format in June 2008. The IMAX 3D titles are expected to be among the first presented with IMAX’s digital 3D projection system, which is scheduled to be launched beginning June 2008. This is IMAX’s first multiple 3D picture deal with a Hollywood studio. The 3D titles also will be simultaneously released to conventional digital 3D theatres. Paramount Pictures will be the exclusive distributor of the pictures.

Here's the Dow Jones coverage of the deal. From that story:

    [IMAX co-CEO Richard Gelfond] added that DreamWorks and Imax had talked about various film projects before, but the timing never worked out. "Since we had so much lead time here, and they're so committed to their 3D strategy, it just made sense for both of us to do a deal at this time," he said, adding it was Imax's first multi-film deal.

    DreamWorks had planned to release the original "Shrek" movie in Imax 3D in 2000, but the idea proved to be several years ahead of its time. The release was cancelled due to financial issues gripping Imax and the exhibition industry back then.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

AccessIT Hopes to Digitize Another 10,000 Movie Screens

Few people understand AccessIT's approach to raising money for digital cinema conversions, and the company's stock has been slipping all year... but the New Jersey company has just announced that it hopes to digitize another 10,000 movie screens, starting next year. So far, AccessIT has installed digital cinema gear in 3,750 screens, in what it dubs "Phase I."

The company anticipates that doing the next 10,000 will take about three years.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A New DIY Manual for Indie Filmmakers

Hunter Weeks, director of the documentary '10 MPH', has just published a most excellent manual for other do-it-yourself indie filmmakers (it's especially geared to first-timers.) It's available for free on his Web site, or for 99 cents as a PDF/printable download.

From the introduction:

    We had no formal training in making films and very little understanding of how the industry worked. This obviously meant we didn't have any connections either. But we could tell things were changing and felt we had the ability to jump in and figure it out. This spirit is one that many filmmakers share. It's a desire to do something more than the ordinary - to create something that will ultimately have an effect on people. After three years, I can honestly say I think we're figuring it out and it's a whole heck of a lot of work. But, the rewards are just enough that it leaves us hungering for more and just certain enough that we're on the path to whatever it is that we're supposed to be doing.

Hunter is also now experimenting with a Radiohead-style, "name your own price" program for the downloadable version of '10 MPH.'

His next doc, '10 Yards,' is about fantasy football. There's already a site up to promote it. Smart.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

In Variety: "Studios' Digital Dilemma"

I have a piece in Variety this week that is basically a state-of-the-market report on digital downloading of movies. It argues that Apple is becoming the Wal-Mart of this new medium -- and that that has big implications for studios and independents. From the opening:

    Like Wal-Mart, Apple seems to be flexing its muscle to dictate terms to studios and indie producers. iTunes is a digital "big box" store to be reckoned with, and the choices Steve Jobs' company makes and the conflicts it faces will likely shape the way movies are consumed over the next decade.

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AMPAS on Archiving

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just issued a report on archiving digital material. From The Hollywood Reporter's piece:

    We are already heading down this digital road ... and there is no long-term guaranteed access to what is being created," said Milt Shefter, who is the project leader on the AMPAS Science and Technology Council's digital motion picture archival project. "We need to understand what the consequences are and start planning now while we still have an analog backup system available." In fact, the council already has identified instances where digital content could not be accessed after only 18 months.

Variety also has coverage. David S. Cohen writes:

    The document, distributed to a variety of filmmakers and decisionmakers with a letter from Academy prexy Sid Ganis, calls for industrywide cooperation in creating storage and archiving systems that are even better than film, and in establishing unified standards for what is archived and how.

Hmmm... no sign of the document on the AMPAS site. Why not share this report openly, so that we can all work together on solutions?

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Note to NBC: Putting Video on the Net is Not Enough ... It Actually Has to Work

NBC's spat with iTunes has been well-publicized. The result is that new NBC shows are no longer available for purchase on iTunes.

Having missed a few recent episodes of 'The Office,' I first visited iTunes ... before remembering that they weren't for sale there. (I've bought two or three episodes of the show from iTunes in the past.)

Then I went to, which offers recent episodes for free, supported by advertising.

The only problem is that they are utterly unwatchable. After four attempts on two different days, I couldn't get the videos to play at anything better than what looked like one frame per second.

I noticed today on the NBC Web site that others have the same problem. "I can't get the full episodes working either. Tried IE and Firefox to no avail. :(" wrote a user named Matt. " has been totally lame all day. nothing's working," wrote another user.

Someone who seems to be an NBC employee posted the helpful advice, "To get the full episodes to work you have to refresh the page tben you have to close the page or try getting the video back. NBC is very sorry for you difficulties and wishes you the best."

Hmmm... is it better to sell episodes for $1.99 on iTunes, or offer them with advertising in a way that no one can actually watch them?

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A Big Idea: Letting Audiences Pick What Plays at the Local Cinema

I'm intrigued by the possibility of local communities being able to program at least one of the screens of their neighborhood multiplex. It's an experiment that hasn't been tried much, if at all -- but think of the audience loyalty you'd get if ticket-buyers were helping to nominate and select the movies that played at the cinema.

Donald Ranvaud of the Rain Network, the biggest digital cinema operator in Latin America, talked about this possibility last fall at Digimart, during a panel I moderated. (Video is here.) He talked about the cinema becoming a sort of "jukebox." But he wasn't very specific, and he didn't respond to my e-mails asking for more details.

So I'm glad Variety has now done a story on Rain's initiative. From John Hopewell's piece:

    ...Beginning early next year, Rain's novel TOD [theatrical-on-demand system] will allow moviegoers, grouped in online YouRain Internet film clubs, to recommend what films play when and where over Rain's digital cinema network.

    Virtual cinema club members can also refer wishlists to friends, and, exploiting YouRain's social networking system, let other people know what films they're attending.

    ...Films will be rented from rights holders on a revenue-share model, he added. Digital cinema already eliminates print costs. With Internet networking marketing hot and hip movies, TOD will also slash advertising costs, Lima argued.

Pretty cool... but I wonder if you'll have to charge people to participate -- perhaps making them buy a ticket or two in advance -- to make sure they actually show up to see the movies they vote for.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Forbes on Movie Marketing

Great piece by Louis Hau on how studios are using the Net to market movies...(Thanks to Anne Thompson for the link)

It says that studios aren't yet devoting as much money as other advertisers to Internet marketing, but that young audience members say now that Internet info influences them just as much as TV ads and in-theater previews.

From the piece:

    According to consumer exit surveys conducted during [the] opening weekends [of 'Superbad' and 'Resident Evil'], more moviegoers cited the Internet as a motivating source of information than any other media, [Columbia Tristar exec Dwight] Caines said. Of the Superbad audience, 73% cited the Internet, 72% cited TV commercials and 67% cited in-theater previews. For Extinction, 64% of respondents cited the Internet, 56% said TV commercials and 55% said in-theater trailers.

    Search marketing was part of the Superbad campaign, which entailed buying the names of troubled celebrities as keywords and placing text ads for the movie that read, "Are you Superbad?" In a first for the studio, it also built a widget consumers could embed on their blogs or Facebook pages to view video clips and to get screensavers, ringtones and other related content.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

How does digital content figure into a possible Writers Guild strike?

The Wall Street Journal has a great piece today about how the future value of content distributed on the Net is playing a big role in the looming strike by the Writers Guild of America. Rebecca Dana and Sarah McBride write:

    The issue of compensation for digital distribution has helped bog down contract talks for months. Writers believe they got a bum deal years ago, when they made an agreement covering their payments for works distributed on videocassette and, later, DVD. That deal was made in the early days of the VCR, when the full potential -- and multibillion-dollar windfall -- of the medium wasn't well understood. The DVD issue remains so contentious that the writers have so far insisted on revisiting it in the current negotiations -- a move that Nick Counter, president of the studio alliance, last night characterized as "a complete roadblock to any further progress."

    Now the writers see Hollywood charging hard at another new medium: the Internet. Digital distribution is growing fast, with studios racing to start sites that throw TV episodes online quickly after they air or seeking creative ways to adapt their shows for mobile-phone use. Consumers can also purchase downloaded movies over the Internet via services like Apple Inc.'s iTunes. The current contract for writers pays them only if the viewer in turn pays to watch the show online. Extra content created expressly for the Internet isn't covered under the contract, with compensation for such digital use being worked out case by case.

    But the many experiments only underscore the uncertainty of digital distribution's future. "We're trying to create an economic model now for the various creative people to participate in, but nobody knows what the business is," says Steven Katleman, a partner at law firm Greenberg, Traurig LLP's Los Angeles office where the clients include writers. "Nobody knows what it's going to develop into when it matures."

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Today is 'Say Something Nice About Hulu Day'

Though Hulu isn't yet open to the public, there are some easy ways to poke around the site (reported by NewTeeVee.)

Can I just say, I like the interface?

Here's an episode of 'The A Team' for your viewing pleasure...

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