ALL Entertainment Should Increase The Current Value Proposition

Chris Dorr's recent post on MoviePass helped me recognize the world as it truly is today.  It wasn't MoviePass that I needed to recognize.  It was that the same thing that allowed Independent Film to flourish is the same thing that is now spurring on innovation everywhere.  Once filmmakers stopped asking for permission to tell their stories, the floodgates opened to a far more diverse approach to culture generation.  To the powers that be the end of permission looks like anarchy, but to the leaders to come, this is the stepping stone to necessary change.  And we are seeing that now. MoviePass, for those yet to explore it, is essentially the Netflix of Theater-going: One price for access to an all you can eat buffet.  MoviePass also has made a history of getting the stakeholders seriously bent out of shape.  From the onset, MoviePass did not see a requirement to ask for permission to innovate.  And they got shut out by the theaters subsequently as a result.  But they found a work around and sustained. Now they have found a better way, and people are getting riled up again.

The first thing that bothered people about MoviePass was that the theater owners were not consulted.  Unfortunately civil behavior falls by the wayside in the charge to innovate.  Remember when you had to call everyone for a group meeting?  And now you just send a group email.  No one wants to move slow any more.  They prefer to just get it done.  Since MoviePass is paying the theaters for the tickets anyway, why is it such a big deal -- particularly if more people are now going to the movies, buying more popcorn, and shelling out for parking.  Doesn't everyone win?

Oftentimes we know not what we do when we step ahead in line.  Where does this path of efficiency lead.  Virtually all social media and online activity serves one god: the mighty one of data mining.  The aggregation of all our likes, wants, connections, and routes is generating new wealth and multiple hands into our wallets.  Is it really theirs to take?

James Shamus, my former partner and head honcho at Focus Features, pointed out in his recent conversation with Christine Vachon at IFP's Independent Film Week (if you didn't tune in, you can watch it here, or read FilmmakerMag's 12 Tips here):

"Every time you click — on a “like” button, or a download link — you are producing. You’re producing “exhaust data,” information about yourself that is then used to market to you and others like you. Filmmakers need to be aware of this new model. Other people are monetizing it now, but they don’t have the same relationship to film culture” as the previous generation of distributors."

Does the information about our wants, interests, and desires belong to us?  Are others free to take it?  Do they need to ask permission?  What if they just use it, and don't display it?  What if by using that information, they make our life better, or at least appear to be better?  Do people care?  Should they?

As evidenced by people's use of Facebook, Twitter, and many many other social media sites, I honestly don't think most people care about this sort of data mining privacy issue (which is not to say they shouldn't).

I also think many people LOVE the efficiency that comes from data mining . Honestly, if no one is now pairing film goers with discount dinner deals in the neighborhood, do we want to stop them from ever doing so?  If data mining improves the value proposition of movie going, thus increasing attendance and generating wealth for the creators, their supporters, and many folks in between should we be shutting it down.  Shouldn't increasing the value proposition of entertainment be something that all movie people want ?

You can count that many new services are being developed that aim to this, and I think theaters should encourage it as it will make moviegoing more enticing.

As a filmgoer, I tried MoviePass while I was still living in NYC.  I shared my thoughts on the future of film business with them, and the company gave me a free trial membership. I am obviously already an avid moviegoer, but the MoviePass model increased even my attendance and reduced the value of things like Netflix. Why have a hamburger at home when you can have a filet minon in a palace.  Because I felt that I had saved money, despite being tight with my cash, I coughed up for popcorn and other delights.  I had about 7 theaters accessible to me that took MoviePass (prior to this new credit card thing they announced) and it got me to the theaters at least twice a week. The theaters all got paid the full price possible from my ticket — I saw that they regularly input $15 because they could.

I totally get the frustration about not being consulted, but I think Chris Dorr's article is right on: permission is not the business policy of today.

We in the film industry need to come up with ways that are not capital intensive that improve the value proposition of cinema. I think the easiest way to do that is to build more social events into movie going — audience needs to transform into community. Audiences need to be curated as much as films do. Ultimately increasing the social value and utility of movies is one of the services that film festivals play — as do community theaters.

There is huge value in community, well beyond ticket sales. As data mining demonstrates, it can generate wealth.  MoviePass seems to realize that. I bet MoviePass can be moved to become a real ally of community theaters, as well as movie goers. Ultimately everyone wants to increase theater attendance — and that is the only way that I can think of that the MoviePass business model can work (and if it does, doesn't everyone win?).  Filmgoers will get a better experience, theaters will sell more tickets & concessions, and MoviePass has direct access to the customers.  Winwinwin.  Yes?

When Did I Sign Up For This “Audience Development” Thing?

By Chris Dorr

Peter Kafka of the WSJ recently interviewed Robert Kyncl, the man who heads up the channel initiative at YouTube.  Robert was asked what he had learned from his experience at YouTube thus far.  He states:

“Lesson one: Audience development is equally as important as great content. By creating fantastic content and spending zero time on audience development, you are certain that you will not succeed on YouTube. You have to focus on audience development as much as you focus on creating content.”

Kyncl goes on to discuss how the task of TV programming and marketing have to be combined in the new world of on demand content viewing. Kafka then asks who is supposed to do audience development, the content creator or YouTube. Kyncl responds:

“The content creator… As things go more and more on-demand and less linear, the prime-time flow expertise is less needed. You have to learn how you program in an on-demand world, which is a much different skill set.”

What is remarkable here is that Kyncl states that this new category of “audience development”, which was the responsibility of the TV channel, now resides with the content creator (and not with YouTube).  Imagine you have just created a prime time TV series and the network  informs you that you are responsible for getting your audience to show up. You would think they had lost their mind.

Yet here it makes total sense.

You see, YouTube, as well as other Internet services, are built on a distributed network.  They are not mass media networks built on a centralized model.  On a centralized (mass media) network, a passive consumer is constantly being reminded what shows are coming up and when to watch. On a distributed network (the Internet), an active viewer grabs what she wants, when she wants it, from a large constantly changing selection. On a platform like YouTube, the service may not be even aware of everything that is available at that instant, let alone what will be available tomorrow.  The platform brings you access to the whole globe in an instant.  But you have to get the people of the globe to take notice and take action on your behalf.

Thus, it falls to the content creator to take up the task of gathering and holding onto her audience. The good news is that content creators can have a direct relationship with their users on YouTube.  The bad news is that it is their responsibility to create and maintain those relationships.

The necessity of audience development falls upon larger companies like Machinima as well as any small team that creates an original web series or individual film. Now everyone can become a creator, a publisher.  But they also have to become programmers, marketers, and experts in “audience development”.

This is a whole new world for people who have previously concentrated on creating great stories. Now they need to entice people into their stories, get them to stay around and get them to come back.

This will be a very difficult transition for those who have worked within the legacy mass media business of networks and studios.  It will require the unlearning of accepted practices as well as learning new ones. It used to be that great content from creators and great promotion and scheduling from the network brought success. No more. Now the creators have to do it all.

Who will successfully navigate these uncharted waters?

Chris Dorr  consults with media and consumer electronic companies on digital media strategy and business development. His clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media, Accedo Broadband, Beyond Oblivion and A3 Media Networks.Chris created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca, and worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact Chris at chris@digitaldorr.com or follow him at @chrisdorr

This post originally appeared on DigitalDorr on October 11th, and is reposted by permission of the author.

Ted's note: Tribeca just did a post on 10 Filmmakers Who Use Social Media Well (to engage and develop their audience.  You might want to check it out here.

 

Can Indie Film Achieve a Network Effect?

By Chris Dorr

In a recent post entitled Networks And The Enterprise, Fred Wilson explains how his firm Union Square Ventures invests in networks. He included this line.

My uber goal of writing this post is to explain that the wired and mobile internet is a global network and it powers all sorts of smaller networks to get built on top of it.

These networks connect people with each other.  Each network gains value as more users join and as each user contributes value to the network which in turn becomes available to every other user. As he points out with respect to one of their investments,

Every time a new participant in the ecosystem joins the Return Path data network, their systems and tools get smarter, making the service more valuable for everyone. That’s a classic network effect and it is very powerful.

Achieving a network effect is the holy grail within the world of technology.  The network grows in size, power and value.  Kickstarter, one of the companies funded by Union Square Ventures, is approaching this holy grail.

James Cooper has just published an ebook entitled Kickstarter for Filmmakers: Prepare and Execute Your Next Crowd Funding Campaign. (Excerpted on HopeForFilm here, and here).

Every filmmaker who has thought even briefly about using Kickstarter or other crowd funding platforms to raise money for a film should spend the $1.99 and read it immediately.

Cooper provides an overview of the state of crowd funding for film and then uses the crowd funding campaign from his own short film Elijah the Prophet to provide examples of what worked.  He also takes the reader through the various stages of a crowd funding campaign and highlights keys to success.

What I find most remarkable is the level of detail he provides on his own campaign.  He tells us which team member brought in how many dollars through their efforts and the number of people who contributed that no one on the team knew and how much these strangers contributed. In other words, he provides complete transparency into what his team did and how they did it.

It is worth noting that Cooper has done something that is really quite unusual within the film industry.

He actually provides real numbers.  There are no approximations and no spin. He simply says here is the data and here are my conclusions from that data. And by doing so, he provides real value to all independent filmmakers.

Now I ask you to imagine, what if there was really a network of independent filmmakers who did exactly what Cooper did and then did it repeatedly over all their projects? 

I mean the kind of network that Fred Wilson suggests in his blog post.  One where every participant provides knowledge to the network that every other participant can access.

This is a model from the  technology world that needs to borrowed by the indie film world and used to transform the way indie film is created, financed, distributed and marketed.  I would also argue further that it even needs to transform the way indie film is discussed.

Primarily indie film is viewed as if it is a disparate group of individuals who battle all odds and surmount great obstacles to finally get a shot at the brass ring.  Each filmmaker is seen as the lone auteur who has climbed the mountain.  At festivals each spin their tale of triumph as they court audiences.  It makes for great copy (and is often true) but does it help move independent film forward?  I am not sure. To me, it is not sufficient. Something more needs to be done.

Independent film needs a new metaphor.

Instead of a group of disparate individual,  indie film has to be seen as a network. One which is powered by the wired and mobile Internet.  A network with participants who add value for each other participant.  To paraphrase Fred Wilson, each participant in the ecosystem needs to help the services get smarter and therefore make it more valuable for everyone who is part of the ecosystem.

This requires transparency and the sharing of real details–by everyone.

James Cooper has created a model of how to begin.  Others need to follow his example.

Then indie film might begin to achieve a very powerful network effect.

And every independent filmmaker will benefit.

This post was originally published Aug 30th on Chris' blog DigitalDorr here.

About Chris Dorr

Chris Dorr consults with media and consumer electronic companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media, Accedo Broadband, Beyond Oblivion and A3 Media Networks. Chris created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. Mr. Dorr has worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact Chris at chris@digitaldorr.com or follow him at @chrisdorr

"What is the Golden Triangle and Why Should Filmmakers Care?

Chris Dorr returns today with another guest post. Much of the most important innovation on the web today occurs within what some call the Golden Triangle.

The three sides of this triangle are social, mobile and real time.  Though the poster children for this triangle are Facebook, the iPhone and Twitter, this innovation extends far beyond these three companies.

This triangle is creating a major shift in how people experience the Internet.

Now many people are;

1.  Always connected to the Internet,

2.  Constantly connected to their social graph and,

3.  Perpetually acting as a bridge between the virtual and physical world.

People have the Internet in their hands as they move about the real world and they are breaking down the old distinction between our "virtual" and "physical" worlds.

This process will accelerate as more people buy smart phones, which they are doing at a rapid pace.

So why should filmmakers care?

Filmmakers, distributors and theater owners want to bring people into theaters to see their films.  The golden triangle continuously spins off new tools that enable them to do so at a low cost.

So here are three suggestions;

1.  Encourage people to bring their cell phones to the theater. (And use them there!),

2. Improve wireless access within the theater. (So these phones are easier to use!) and

3. Before and after each screening use the theater screen to enable people to communicate with other people in the theater and their friends outside the theater. (About films in general or the film they are about to see or have just seen.)

In other words use these digital tools to enhance the social aspect of the film going experience.

That's right, create a better social experience--a key reason most people go to see films in a theater in the first place.

Chris Dorr has been a movie producer, studio executive and creator of online and mobile services. He consults on digital strategy and business development. Find Chris at www.digitaldorr.com.

In This Digital Age, What Is A Filmmaker?

Today's guest post is from Chris Dorr. Isn't it curious in this age where more moving images get created and distributed digitally that there is this group of people who still call themselves "filmmakers"?  It seems a term that is so archaic, so analogue, so yesterday's news. But is it any of these?

I think filmmakers look for three opportunities that truly define them as filmmakers.

They are:

1.  The ability to tell a visual story from beginning to end, without any interruption, as a complete, continuous experience.  This is what separates them from people who create stories for TV as most TV series are produced with commercial interruptions or different viewings (episodes) in mind.

2.  The chance to have an audience gather in a theater and watch this visual story together, as a shared experience in time and space.  In the course of a film's distribution it may be seen in a lot of different settings, public or private, but the filmmaker is making the film with this key audience in mind.  This is the primary target of all his/her imaginings.

3.  The opportunity to see his/her film with an audience.  Filmmakers want to physically experience the film with an audience. The filmmaker wants to see if they laugh or cry when he/she intended, if the audience got the point--to see if their film really succeeded at reaching another human being.  As every filmmaker knows who has done this, it is a genuinely scary moment.

So each of these opportunities really goes to the heart of what is most essential about calling yourself a filmmaker.

Think of them as a set of principles about the relationship between the creator of a film and the audience for which it is intended.

And here is what is most surprising as we move from the analogue past to the digital future.

These opportunities are not disappearing into the analogue past.

In fact, they are just beginning to open up.

Chris Dorr has been a movie producer, studio executive and creator of online and mobile services. He consults on digital strategy and business development. Find Chris at www.digitaldorr.com.