Dec 18 | Author: Roger Erik Tinch
After having attended The Conversation and the International Film Festival Summit, as well as having read numerous articles and taking part in numerous discussions, I’ve been thinking about what 2009 might bring in terms of film distribution and consumption. Here’s a quick and dirty download of my thoughts as we head into the new year:
Bringing online content to the TV
Whether it be Netflix Watch Instantly, Amazon Video On Demand or iTunes the online film space is not without a lot of choice. However I think the most successful of these options will be those that make it easy to bring content to your television set. Since Microsoft recently overhauled the Xbox LIVE experience, literally dubbing it the “New Xbox Experience” or NXE, I’ve been hooked on the Netflix application that allows me to view any film that’s currently in my Watch Instantly queue. It’s such an easy idea that extends the value of both products without asking me for extra money. Plus I get a sense of no-risk comfort in watching films I might not otherwise give a chance if I had to pay-per-view.
This year though we’ve seen the trend of set top boxes, such as the Roku or the Blockbuster MediaPoint player, created specifically to deliver this streaming media. I just don’t think people are willing or able to add yet another box on top of their already cluttered TV in addition to their DVD/Blu-ray player, gaming console, TiVo or cable company provided DVR. Faced with this inundation of devices most will end up viewing this media on their laptop which I guess is suitable to some. For most the key is to utilize already existing components, like the TiVo, the above mentioned Xbox, or hopefully nextgen Blu-ray players, to bring that online content to the living room. The Netflix/Xbox and TiVo/Jaman partnerships are the first step in making this happen, the synergy of which will help connect the fractured content landscape in 2009.
Physical media will not die
Speaking of Blu-ray and DVDs I don’t agree with the consensus that it’ll soon be tolling the death knell. Online video is strong in rental, but I don’t know many people who have bought-to own digital films. There’s something very satisfying about owning a tangible version of your favorite movie. I had a great conversation with experimental filmmaking legend Craig Baldwin during the 2008 festival about the idea of “physical artifacts”. For some psychological reason the idea a film exists in a compact package, or artifact, you can lend or add to your bookshelf is far more powerful then the notion that you “own” it on a hard drive, a digital void that’s out of sight. That’s why companies like The Criterion Collection go above and beyond to make the physical packaging just as beautiful as the screen presentation because the film as it exists on screen is tied so closely to the amaray case it exists in after you’re done watching. It’ll be interesting to see how successful their new Online Cinematheque is since they are stripping away that tangible component. If that seems like too much of an esoteric stretch then let’s look at it in a more nuts and bolts way.
Most recently THE DARK KNIGHT, selling 10 million units, and MAMMA MIA! THE MOVIE, selling 2 million units in it’s first day, have done huge blockbuster sales amidst a grim economic backdrop. The fact that these films exist in HD on iTunes hasn’t slowed down their plastic disc counterparts. Now I’m not saying online distribution won’t succeed, I’m just saying it will succeed, but only in the rental realm. Instead of popping on down to your local Blockbuster you’ll instead power up your Xbox or TiVo and order something while in your pajamas. Actually I predict the rate of rentals increasing due to the easy access and the spontaneous nature of having it right at your fingertips. Physical media will coexist right along with digital media, but each for different purposes. One to own and one to taste test.
Short form content is online king
Duh, right? Then why are companies still trying to push for feature film distribution through widgets and the like? Who wants to watch a two hour movie on a 2-inch by 2-inch size player? Go to what’s this year’s success story, Hulu, and see what the top 20 viewed videos are. Most are between 10 – 20 minutes with a smattering of 44 minute episodes. The first feature film doesn’t show up until #27 with the THE FIFTH ELEMENT. The fact that a big Hollywood film on a popular video site that’s being shown for free can’t even break into the top 20 reveals a lot about our viewing habits.
The Wild Wild West of the web is a 50/50 affair. 50% of it is spent looking for specific content while the other 50% is spent just exploring the frontier. It’s this latter half of our online habit that distributors rely on to try and hook you into viewing their film. Hence sticking a film widget or library widget on a website sidebar hoping for you to click and view, but that just doesn’t happen, not when your initial 30 minutes of surfing the web can turn into a 2 hour investment. The best way to work with this is to show the first 5 – 10 minutes and if the viewer wants to see more then give them the option to purchase the rest either by finishing it online or downloading to a TV set top box. I saw a great interview with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings at The Conversation where he said that most customers viewing a “Watch Instantly” film online who make it past the 5 minute mark end up finishing the film. (Interesting to note that Amazon Video On Demand only allows you to see the first 2.5 minutes before demanding that you pay.)
So what can you as either a distributor or consumer take away from the above blatherings? Ultimately it’s all about harnessing the speed, accessibility and virality of the internet to bring home viewing content back where it belongs: on the T.V.
Now of course all of this is just my opinion and I’m sure 2009 will have plenty of surprises, especially from that Steve Jobs fellow and his damn Apple TV product he’s still figuring out. So a year from now if I’m wrong then feel free to gloat, but if I’m right then let me know what part of your forehead I can stamp ITYS.
In the meantime please comment away, would love to hear your thoughts as well.
(Photo: MC MECHANIC – HAND FIXING HAND – by Shane Willis)