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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Two from the LA Times

Two pieces on the digital media future that ran in the LA Times this week:

'Hollywood hits the stop button on high-profile Web video efforts' and 'Digital technology and dollar signs' (an op-ed piece I wrote.)

From the first piece, by Ben Fritz and Dawn Chmielewski:

    Conceived with great fanfare, big media's attempt over the last two years to capitalize on the Internet video phenomenon embodied by YouTube and "Saturday Night Live" digital shorts has fallen victim to recession-triggered cuts and inflated expectations about the advertising revenue they would command.

    "It's very similar to what happened in '99 and 2000, where everyone saw gold in the hills," said Mika Salmi, the former head of digital media for MTV Networks and now a technology venture capitalist, in reference to the first dot-com boom. "The reality is that it's much harder to make money than everyone thought."

It mentions the recent shut-down of 60Frames Entertainment, Disney's Stage 9 Digital studio, and earlier failures like NBC's DotComedy Web site and SuperDeluxe.

Meanwhile, in my piece, I argue that perhaps Hollywood hasn't been experimental enough with the Web, or taken users' behavioral changes seriously enough. (The top talent in Hollywood still wants to make feature-length, big budget content for cinemas, I'd argue...not short clips for mobile phones.)

From that piece:

    Many in Hollywood still deride the wacky, user-generated videos that occasionally turn into viral hits on YouTube, the top website for video viewing. And it's true that one of the most-watched videos ever uploaded to the site is titled "Charlie bit my finger -- again!"

    But a number of young creators -- many of them working outside of Hollywood's orbit -- have been feverishly experimenting with new ways to tell stories and generate revenue. An office worker in Connecticut created the catty entertainment commentary show "What the Buck" on YouTube, and suddenly found he was making more from the site's "partner program," which offers creators a cut of ad revenue, than he was at his desk job, which he promptly quit. Lance Weiler accents his suspense films with cellphone and Web-based "alternate reality games" that enable players to explore the story and interact with characters after they've left the theater. Robert Greenwald, a Culver City-based documentarian, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars online to support his left-leaning films and Internet videos on such topics as the mortgage crisis and the war in Afghanistan. And Gregg and Evan Spiridellis are building a new kind of animation studio in Venice, where they produce a series of viral videos about current events and politics, and sell subscriptions to a vast collection of customizable digital greeting cards. This month, they'll debut their latest video for President Obama at the Radio and TV Correspondents Assn. Dinner in Washington.

    Business models for content on the Internet are still evolving. But it's already becoming clear that $100-million movies like "Land of the Lost," or even $10-million independent films, may not represent the future of the industry. And new technologies like YouTube, the iPhone and next-generation gaming consoles are opening up all sorts of new, creative possibilities. The artists and business people who will succeed in this new environment are those who are paying attention to the changing behaviors and tastes of this new digital audience -- rather than trying to ignore them or, worse, explaining why they are wrong.

Your thoughts?

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