Diary of a Film Startup Post 18: New Year Update

By Roger Jackson

Previously: How KinoNation Works

What a difference a year makes. This time in 2012 I was working for an humanitarian assistance NGO, just back from a village solar power project in Tajikistan, and about to fly to West Africa to set up a veterinary aid project in Mauritania. That contract ended in July, and by August I was fully committed to online film distribution and KinoNation. Quite a contrast.

We’ve been on a “coding sprint” throughout the holidays to hit our planned “soft-launch” later this month. Klaus and our software team have been doing what developers in start-ups do -- writing code into the early hours. I usually work past midnight, but there’s always a twinge of guilt when I get up and see the emails that have flown back and forth at 4 in the morning.

Klaus now has the cloud-based encoding system working beautifully. Once a film is successfully uploaded, it’s now automatically transcoded to a great looking Preview version for each of the video-on-demand outlets. It pops-up on their web dashboard, along with trailer, IMDb page, synopsis and sales pitch. And then the outlet Selects or Declines the film according to their programming criteria. If they choose Select, the film is transcoded to their custom specs, packaged with their metadata, and automatically delivered.

I haven’t been entirely idle on platform development. I spent Christmas and New year writing the rather complex spec for the KinoNation Metadata Module. This is the super-set of data that we have to collect for every film. It’s several hundred data points all told, hopefully structured in a way that’s simple and fun for filmmakers to input. It’s all the obvious stuff, of course. Movie title, genre, running time, director, writer(s), producer, talent, synopsis, poster art, etc. But there’s also a ton of not so obvious data. For example, we need the filmmaker to provide timecode to define all the chapter breaks, so when someone buys the film online (known as Download to Own or DTO) there’ll be chapters, just like a DVD. But wait, each chapter needs an image, and what’s on the screen at the chapter break point probably won’t be the screen grab you like. So we also need timecode for each chapter screen pull -- and we have to build an online toolset that makes it super-easy for filmmakers to enter. And of course all these hundreds of data points have to be customized and mapped to each and every VoD outlet, who want the metadata in different sequences, different formats. As I said, it’s complex, but once this is built (it’s being coded now) it should be uber-efficient; ultimately, machines do this type of work -- spitting out bespoke packages of film+metadata to dozens of different VoD outlets -- way better than humans.

This week we’ve sealed a deal to get ALL films submitted to KinoNation on to Amazon Instant Video (AIV). And while it’s already possible for filmmakers to get movies onto AIV via CreateSpace by submitting a DVD, we’ll be able to deliver much higher resolution video files to Amazon, all automated. Plus, every KinoNation film on AIV will be eligible for Amazon Prime. AIV is a “transactional” video-on-demand service, where films can be rented or purchased. Whereas Prime is Amazon’s subscription VoD service, more like Netflix. Both great services, growing rapidly, with expansion both in the US and globally.

Amazon pays 50% of transactional (rent or buy) revenue to the filmmaker, plus a flat fee for every time a film is watched on Prime. So that’s exciting. Really great to have a prestigious outlet where we can more or less guarantee placement for a film uploaded to us, subject to it being full-length, with an IMDb page, and of course no porn, hate speech, etc. At the same time, we expect to be “live” soon with Hulu, iTunes, Google Play, SnagFilms, Viewster, YouTube Movies...and many outlets around the world.

Finally, great films continue to be submitted to our Private Beta. Now’s a great time to show us what you have.. Keep them coming.

Next Up: Post # 19: Searching for Green Card

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.