Indie Film needs an Open Internet

Recently I watched the new movie IN YOUR EYES on my large screen TV in HD.  I paid $5 to rent it from Vimeo and stream it on my Apple TV.  The movie was very good and the experience was seamless.

The idea that you can rent a movie on the Internet and watch it on your TV is still a very new one, especially on a mass scale.  How long have we been doing this? A year? 5 years, tops?

And it is remarkable for those filmmakers who create and sell their movies online using platforms like Vimeo.  In the past, to sell a film to any audience, they had to rely on a series of gatekeepers.  Now they can sell direct–which means they keep a larger part of the revenue.

When I pay $5 to Vimeo, 90% or $4.50 goes back to the filmmaking team responsible for the film.  Traditional gatekeepers take from 30% to 70% of the revenue and hold onto all the information about the customer.

Here is the promise of the Internet.  It reduces the friction and cost within the artistic economy. 

The customer gets direct access to the content easily at a reasonable price.  The creative artist gets to the consumer easily and keeps the lion’s share of the money paid for his/her work.   Both sides win; one through reduced prices and the other, through higher revenue.

Yet all of this is now at risk.

In the coming months the FCC is going to decide where they really stand on the issue of net neutrality.

What is net neutrality? Let’s quote from Wikipedia.

Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.”

If the FCC decides that paid “fast lanes” can be created on the Internet, net neutrality will cease to exist.   Data will not be treated equally. ISP’s will be able to charge whatever they want, without restriction. Discrimination will rule.

When you create a fast lane for web services that can pay more dollars to get their content delivered faster, web based services that don’t (or can’t) pay will watch their services degrade. 

This means that the great experience I had renting and watching IN YOUR EYES would be threatened.  It means that it might be a bad one–not a great one. And why would I rent another independent movie directly from the filmmaker when the experience is so bad?

And this is why net neutrality rules that protect the open Internet are vitally important to any filmmaker.

The Internet will be the major engine of growth for independent film over the next decade and beyond. It will become the main way that most filmmakers will reach their audience and get paid for their work.

This is why all the organizations that support independent filmmakers should support net neutrality.

These film organizations should signal their support by joining together and speaking with one voice about the need for an open Internet.  They should recommend that the FCC stand up for the principles of real net neutrality.

Let’s start the list: Film Independent, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Independent Feature Project , Los Angeles Film Festival, Sundance, San Francisco Film Society, South by South West and the Tribeca Film Festival.

Who else should we add? I am sure I am missing someone important.

And what leader from among these organizations will pull them all together?

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at chris@digitaldorr.com or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • Joel Valle

    The book the Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of information empires by Tim Wu; is a must read for any content creator. It demonstrates how history is repeating itself with these recent events; we now have more power to stop it, but we need strong leadership.

  • chrisdorr

    Joel, thanks for your comment, I could not agree more. Here is the link to Tim Wu’s book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Master-Switch-Information-Empires/dp/0307390993 It is a must read.

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  • Brad Wilke

    You can add the Seattle International Film Festival to that list, too!

    • chrisdorr

      Thanks Brad, will do.

  • halfmac

    We all need an open internet, not just us film types.

    • chrisdorr

      How right you are!

  • Svatos

    I remember when Blu-Ray came around, I thought, this will never catch on. The internet is a beautiful open empire of high quality streaming! Physical media is obsolete. The big ISPs and corporations will clearly see this, and will do the right thing.

    How wrong I ended up being. That saddens me.

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  • http://www.filmbusinessresearch.com Michael Franklin

    A stimulating topic, for sure net neutrality is crucial to independent film as well as for areas and issues too numerous to mention. The most interesting point raised here I think is how does the industry move from the “promise of the internet” to the growth envisioned. Traditional gatekeepers do not just mediate audience/retail relationships, but through finance and evaluative tools provide the resources to make movies in the first place. How does a filmmaker create content of such quality to create consumer demand, exploitable via dis-intermediated channels without market finance (and its attendant binds)? It is unlikely that the effective pre-buying films 1-2 years out via crowdfunding will provide more than a small % of a budget – so the key is how innovative tools can be made to work with incumbent elements. I look forward to more posts on this issue. @filmbizresearch

    • chrisdorr

      Michael, you make very good points. We are clearly in a phase where the old/current model of film finance is under stress and new ones are emerging but are still not robust enough to relieve the stress. So we will need more innovation to make them more robust. It is unlikely that the old model will simply survive as it has has been., which is why traditional gatekeepers will have to innovate as well.