There Is No Online Rental Business

As I write this The Weinstein Company's top rental on YouTube is Michael Moore's SICKO, with a whopping 151 views.  In reading PaidContent's article on the TWC/YTube alliance, you can't help wonder if there IS any business to be had in online rentals.  Is the online one-off transactional content-rental business completely non-existent?  And if so why?

I think we are starting to move away from the impulse buy mentality. It just doesn't fit with the world we are living in.  Even with the convenience of online rentals, there is not enough value in it. If we are going to offer films in a single transaction, we need to offer more than the film.

My netflix queue, or rather my family's queue, is almost 2500 strong, including the WatchInstantly.  I know what I want.  I know what it is on the queue.  I also have at To Watch list at home that is close to 500 titles.  I recognize that those that don't try to earn a living in the film biz may not have such a robust list, but who in their right mind would rent a film that might be mediocre, when for twice the rental amount they can have unlimited streaming for the month.

A world of surplus and access require a different business model from one of scarcity and control.  Single transactions -- without a richer context -- are an old world model.

If we build a social world around that film, it may be enough to jump me from my already planned choices of viewing.  If we build a ramp of consistent discovery to that film, it may divert me from what I already scheduled.  If you offer me additional rewards for my viewing, I may opt in.  But if you ask me to fork over my hard-earned cash, all you give me is a film, particularly if it is not guaranteed to be great, and you ask me to watch it all alone, I will go elsewhere.  And evidently everyone else is too.  Well, everyone other than those 151.

Addendum: The failure of TWC titles to gain traction on YouTube has caused much reflection.  What other factors contributed to the dismal performance?  Scilla Andreen blogged the other day that the fit between content and platform was off.  What else?

Addendum 2/10/11:  LA Times reported a few days ago that downloads in US are up 40% to $385M/yr.

What Is The #1 Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Film Aside From...

Today's guest post is from IndieFlix founder and CEO Scilla Andreen.

What is the #1 most important thing you can do for your film aside from telling a good story?

It’s not what you think and it’s often taken for granted. I believe the answer is to honor your film and the people who support it by having meaningful engagement in everything that you do.

Yes, it sounds broad and vague and it falls into the category of listen to your gut, but when applied to each and every action you take it becomes a highly, customized, sharpshooting tool that prioritizes your time and money.  It will act as your compass on your filmmaking journey.

I am a filmmaker turned distributor out of pure necessity. I had to start IndieFlix because I couldn’t fully comprehend standard distribution. No matter how many times it was explained to me it felt wrong. I would nod yes and wait for that aha moment but it never came. I didn’t understand how indie filmmakers would ever make money?  We launched IndieFlix in 2005 with 36 films and now have a growing library of over 2500 films.

I spend much of my time experimenting with different ways to create meaningful, audience engagement that can be converted into meaningful revenue. The key operating word here is “meaningful”.  If we don’t include this element in our work all of our efforts and energy is for naught. Now that I have adopted this policy I learn something new everyday. I have gone from hurriedly getting hundreds of films up and selling on all major platforms to spending more time listening to feedback, analyzing data and noticing what works and what doesn’t.

I created a movie game called Film Festival in a Box that has evolved into a movie club based on honoring the filmmakers and respecting the desires of the audience. I didn’t rush and it went from concept to market in less than 6 months. Slowing down seems to move things along much more efficiently. Each film has it’s own path and we must honor that path and be realistic in our expectations. Go ahead and dream big but do the research and don’t assume. Filmmakers must be smart and have a good team. Ask for help. Share your needs. Collaborate.  People will come out of the woodwork to assist. This is one of the most exciting times to be in our industry.

There now exists an abundance of free information, tools, technology and delivery platforms available to us. We’re bound to find some success right?  Wrong.  It’s all about the choices we make and how we use these tools to connect the dots.

Here’s a great example. The Weinstein’s deal with Google: they took proven, quality content and made it available for practically nothing on one of the world’s busiest platforms, YouTube. The Michael Moore documentary Sicko, has a meager 151 paid views and is currently the most-rented Weinstein movie in the past few months.  Surprising?  Not really, peddling Weinstein films on YouTube is like selling Prada shoes at Wal-Mart.  I don’t think it’s a good fit at all, just as I wouldn’t want to go to Denny’s for sushi. The offering of the content doesn’t fit the platform.  YouTube is free. Why would anyone pay for something there?  So, do the research and make choices that are right for your film.  Honor your project. Honor the platform.  Respect the demographics.

Think about meaningful engagement for yourself. Does having tens of thousands of fans to share every step of your process feel meaningful or are you exhausting yourself trying to keep the beast fed?  Honor the relationships you create. Keep it manageable.

I think that a smaller group of “meaningful” fans, friends or followers who believe in you is a much more effective way to build long-lasting, measurable audience engagement.

We are all so inundated. Let’s slow things down and adopt the less is more approach.  Let’s be better listeners to others and to ourselves. Quality over quantity is powerful and much more viral. So, circling back to honoring your story, the art of filmmaking and the way in which you share it with others is like eating your meal slowly appreciating every bite and savoring all the different flavors.   That is something to experience and talk about. That is meaningful.

What do you think is the #1 most important thing you can do for your movie aside from telling a good story?

Scilla Andreen (CEO/Co-founder award winning producer, director and Emmy nominated costume designer, Scilla has deep roots in the entertainment industry and is a popular speaker, juror and tireless champion of independent film. In 2004 Scilla co-founded a next generation film distribution and discovery site founded on the principles of community, promotion, syndication and transparency.