The Movie Studios: Blinded by Piracy

When a bull enters the ring, the matador pulls out a red cape and waves it in front of his eyes.  Predictably the bull goes mad and charges toward the cape.  He leaves all his better instincts behind. 

We all know how the bullfight ends. Not well for the bull.

Replace “bull” with “major movie studios” and replace “red cape” with “piracy” and you have in a nutshell the bind within which the movie studios have placed themselves.

All they can see is the red cape. 

When they need an explanation for any of their myriad woes—bring on the red cape. When they try to think about the opportunities that the Internet might bring them—bring on the red cape.  This obsession with the red cape blinds them to anything new, anything innovative, any thing that might help them invigorate their business.

The red cape was on display recently on the Cannes Panel: Studios Fight Piracy While Indies Embrace Digital Future, reported on by Anne Thompson. The panel featured a lot of back and forth between Ruth Vitale, the executive director of CreativeFuture and Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse about distribution and piracy. One exchange is particularly illuminating.

Vitale, warming to her subject, said that people who download illegally are putting money in the pockets of criminals, the Russian mafia, and felons… That money “could have gone back into making more movies and TV shows,” she said. “They’re in drugs, child prostitution.”

Like I said, the red cape really causes the bull to get a little irrational. Vitale would have us believe that anyone who illegally downloads a movie is funding the drug and child sex trade. Really?

She then goes on to say that filmmakers should stay away from VHX or Vimeo because they do not use DRM that is approved by the studios. 

I guess Joss Whedon and Kevin Spacey did not get the memo.  They are releasing movies that they own on those platforms today.

Fortunately Tim League was on the panel to help calm down the rhetoric and focus on reality.  As Thompson writes:

 League thinks the solution is to “make the experience of going to the movies compelling,” he said, “to engage with young people and get them excited about foreign language films. I admire edgy engaging films and market them to young people, which puts us in the digital space. We worked with BitTorrent to promote ‘The Act of Killing,’ which has new sophisticated product bundles next month with DV extras as a package with a link to where to download the movie in a legal fashion with a credit card. We have email addresses. We’re not sure if we’re promoting to people to pirate it. Sometimes if our films show up on Bittorrent we high five because it means it cares!”

League and Vitale represent two paths within the film industry.

Vitale articulates the studio position.  She believes that piracy is the defining issue of the Internet.  It is the red flag that shapes every approach the studios take towards the Internet and blinds them to any other approach. They believe that they must convince young people to see the error of their ways and swear off piracy.

I say, “good luck with that”.

League represents another approach.  Find out where your audience is and engage with them on their own terms.  Don’t ask them to change—“make the experience of going to movies compelling.”

If this requires the movie studios to change their business model—change it. If this requires the movie studios to engage directly with their customers—engage directly.  If this requires the movie studios to get on BitTorrent–because that is where millions of film fans live—get on.

Vitale heads up an organization that has the name Future in its title.   Yet, it is focused on the past.

League heads up an organization whose name refers to an event deep in the history of the United States.  Yet, it is aimed at the future.

The red cape blinds the bull. The red cape of piracy blinds the movie studios. 

We all know how the bullfight ends.

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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?

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How Cable TV Invented Crowd Funding

We assume that crowd funding first appeared when Kickstarter launched five years ago.

We may be wrong.

You see, the cable television business invented crowd funding a long time ago, when they created the basic cable bundle.

The basic cable bundle is really a work of genius. 

Charge every cable subscriber for each channel that comes with the basic cable bundle even if they never watch it.

So the crowd funds all the channels in basic cable.  We all get to participate.  Think of it as democracy—without the right to vote.

And the genius of the bundle does not stop there.  The subscriber has no idea what they pay for each channel because they are sold on the notion that they get such a great deal with the basic package it does not matter. 

The implied logic is as follows: if each channel was not in the bundle—some channel you really love would be much too expensive and beyond your reach. At least that is the sales pitch.

So the crowd funds the basic cable bundle but has no idea how its money is spent. 

Think of it as “blind” crowd funding.

This plays out in a fascinating way with sports on cable.

It is widely assumed by cable analysts that 50% of your basic cable bill goes to sports related programming, ranging from ESPN to live games from the NBA, NFL, MLB, etc.

Assume your basic cable bill is $60 per month.  Therefore $30 per month goes to support sports programming—whether you watch sports or not.  So that is $360 per year that you spend on sports.

There are approximately 100 million basic cable subscribers in the United States. A pretty large crowd, when you think about it. 

$360 per year x 100 million subscribers equals 36 billion dollars.  Clearly crowd funding can yield large numbers.

So the basic cable TV “crowd” funnels 36 billion dollars per year into the sports industry. This gets passed through a variety of intermediaries, including (but not limited to) ESPN, the broadcast networks and regional sports networks. This flows through these intermediaries to the sports leagues, individual teams and the players.

This is a beautiful thing for everyone involved.

Except, perhaps for the individual cable subscriber who does not watch any sports.

And they turn out to be a very large part of the crowd.

It is estimated that only 20% of those people who subscribe to basic cable actually watch sports on a regular basis. 

This means that 80% of the cable subscribers in the United States pay $360 per year for programs they do not view. 

Put it another way– US consumers currently spend  $28.8 billion per year on a product they do not use.

No wonder the cable and sports industries love this style of crowd funding.  That is a lot of extra cash.

The logic of the basic cable bundle means that ESPN makes money off the people who are not its customers.  This is also true for each sports league as well as each player. 

I would love to have this crowd funding mechanism for my business.  

Where do I sign up?

It is a recipe for getting rich—which is what sports television, the sports leagues and sports stars have done as a result.  The crowd gives its money through the basic cable subscription and it races up through the funnel to all of them. 

When you read that ESPN is making billions, that Donald Sterling’s Clippers are worth a billion dollars and hear about the latest NBA star signing a multimillion dollar contract—remember this—your $360 per year makes all of this possible—whether or not you watch a single game.  

I would like to thank you on behalf of everyone involved. Know that you an essential partner in this effort and that your contribution is deeply appreciated.

Cable TV perfected crowd funding long before Kickstarter was an idea and sports won big.  And we, the crowd, did not even see it happen.

We should give them some credit for being so sneaky, smart and ahead of the curve, don’t you think?

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Pay by the Size of the Screen? Not Likely

This was recently reported by Variety.

“DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg thinks the windowing model of feature films will become a “pay by the inch you watch.” During the Entrepreneurial Leadership in the Corporate World panel at the Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Katzenberg explained what he thinks is the future of scheduling and distributing feature films.

“I think the model will change and you won’t pay for the window of availability. A movie will come out and you will have 17 days, that’s exactly three weekends, which is 95% of the revenue for 98% of movies. On the 18th day, these movies will be available everywhere ubiquitously and you will pay for the size. A movie screen will be $15. A 75” TV will be $4.00. A smartphone will be $1.99. That enterprise that will exist throughout the world, when that happens, and it will happen, it will reinvent the enterprise of movies,” he told the crowd.”

Katzenberg is right that the current windowing release model will collapse and movies will be available everywhere ubiquitously either concurrently with a movie’s theatrical release or very soon thereafter. That has already started to happen with independent releases.

He is wrong that people will pay more based on the size of the digital screen.

Mr. Katzenberg needs to understand his own customers.

If you are a subscriber to Netflix you can watch on any screen of any size for the same monthly price.  There is no additional charge to see Netflix on your TV. 

It is more expensive to see a movie in a theater because of the real estate costs associated with owning and maintaining a large physical property.  We also get to experience the movie on a very large screen.  As filmgoers we understand this.

The world of digital is completely different. Here, the costs are much lower and will continue to decline.  A movie studio can deliver me a movie over the Internet more cheaply today than 5 years ago, and will be able to do so more cheaply 5 years from now.  

I decide to watch a movie on my TV, my laptop, my tablet or my smart phone based on a number of different factors just as many other consumers do. Time of day, convenience, whether I am viewing it with others or by myself, the list goes on. 

And I know that the cost of delivering the movie to me on each one of these digital screens is the same for the company that delivers it.

Why should I pay more?

Consumers will not take kindly to any movie studio that decides to charge them more to watch on their TV than on their phone because it will try to break (and therefore ignore) the habits that we have already developed.  Habits we fully embrace. 

Netflix created simplicity for its customers by making sure they could watch on any screen at any time at one price.  They have set the bar for all others—including the movie studios.

If movie studios want to innovate their business model, they must be ahead of the digital curve–not behind it.

As they say, the horse is already out of the barn.

They might as well face it.


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The Audience Fund for Indie Film

“If you’re gonna make it, LEARN HOW TO SELL IT!”

Bob Lefsetz

Platforms, like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, VHX, Vimeo, Tugg and YouTube are designed for indies who are prepared to reach their audience through “direct distribution”.

It is not the responsibility of the platform to get your audience—it is yours.  Each platform gives you tools that help you achieve success but in order to succeed you have to aggressively use them.

This approach is fundamentally different from licensing your film to a traditional distributor, a method I would call “indirect distribution”.

Most filmmakers do not understand the difference between “direct” and “indirect”. This gap in understanding holds many (if not most) indie filmmakers back.

How can this gap be closed and indie film dragged into the 21st century?

Let’s imagine an audience fund for indie film. 

We start with 1 million dollars.  We want to underwrite direct distribution for up to 15 films that will be released roughly over the same year period.  We will put in between 50K to 100K per movie.

Filmmakers must have skin in the game so we require a few things from them.

Each filmmaker must bring a minimum of 25K to the effort, preferably through a crowd funding effort.  If they come with 25K we give them 50K, if they come with 50K, we give them 100K, a 2 to 1 match.  So each audience building campaign has a range of 75K to 150K to work with.

They have to commit a substantial amount of their own time to the audience gathering effort.  It has to be a central part of their job during their film’s release.  (For this we allow a modest filmmaker fee as part of the budget.)

We require that these filmmakers learn and use every tool of every platform they need to use.  We design a boot camp that educates them quickly and thoroughly.  (Best if they already use some of the tools and this boot camp is about intermediate or advanced work.)

We bring in experts to advise and implement the campaigns that each film requires.  People like Caitlin Boyle, Sheri Candler, Jon Reiss, Marc Schiller, Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky.

We also bring in companies outside the world of indie film like Collective Digital Studios or Maker Studios who understand the YouTube ecosystem and people who get where the Internet is headed like John Borthwick or Andy Weissman to connect our filmmakers with the latest in social media thinking and practice.

We require that the filmmakers write publicly and often about how they are building their audience.  They must blog about what they see, what they learn, what works and what does not.  

They need to tell us where they experience success and where they find failure.

We stipulate that they collaborate with the other filmmakers supported by the fund.  They must promote each others work. They must share information about the strategies they plan to implement and how the implementation is working (or not).  They must act as resources for each other.

We stipulate further that all the filmmakers share the numbers. How many email addresses did you collect, how many tweets or emails did you send and respond to? How much money did you spend and how much did you make? 

This all has to be shared with each other as well as the public at large.

Why all these stipulations and requirements?

This is a fund that aims to fundamentally change the way indie filmmakers think about their audiences and how they distribute their films.

A few filmmakers have used the models that this fund will support– but not nearly enough.   This fund intends to amplify the work of those that are funded and create models that many others can follow.

As Bob Lefsetz writes,

“The point is people have plenty of money to give you, you’ve just got to find a way to make it palatable.  That’s Amanda Palmer’s genius.”

This fund will create and support some new Amanda Palmers in the indie film world.

Who is in?

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The Indie Film World Needs 100 Amanda Palmers

The challenge presented to each indie filmmaker is the same.

How do I get my work discovered?

Typically, an indie film travels to success with the aid of a small group of usual suspects.  The 2012 version of that trip is laid out in Anne Thompson’s, $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System.

Thompson covers the circus that is the film festival circuit, where distributors show their new films and filmmakers woo festival audiences, critics and distributors with their latest projects.  It is an insider game that moves from Sundance to Cannes to the Academy Awards.

Harvey Weinstein knows this game better than most.  He understands how to appeal to festival insiders at Cannes and woo the members of the Motion Picture Academy.  He knows that his success depends on his ability to shape the value of a movie by appealing to elites and through these elites find the masses. 

He serves as the filmmaker’s promoter, singing the film’s praises to all the right people.  Then he pushes the film into the marketplace positioned for box office success.

Mr. Weinstein and others like him extract a large amount of rent for their efforts.  If the film succeeds–the distributor succeeds financially, but not necessarily the filmmaker.  In some rare cases money trickles back to the filmmaker, but as they say, “don’t hold your breath”.

This is the classic middleman model within a classic insider industry.

Today, outside the confines of the traditional film industry a new model is emerging.  It is based on the premise that one does not “promote a film”.  Instead, one “builds an audience”. 

It relies more on building a bond with an audience than bonding with film festival insiders or prominent film critics.  Here there are no classic middlemen and no insiders.

This model uses Internet based tools and platforms. So you might crowd fund your movie on Kickstarter, sell your movie from your own web site with VHX, or organize a screening using tugg.

These platforms are free or charge a nominal fee. Money flows back to the filmmaker without the extravagant extraction of rent.

Austin Kleon identifies the attitude and approach that shapes this new model in his book, Show Your Work! : 10 Ways To Share Your Creativity And Get Discovered

He writes:

“If you want fans, you have to be a fan first.  If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community.  If you’re only pointing to your own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong.  You have to be a connector.  The writer Blake Butler calls this being an open node.  If you want to get, you have to give.  If you want to be noticed, your have to notice.  Shut up and listen once in a while.  Be thoughtful.  Be considerate.  Don’t turn into human spam.  Be an open node.”

A node exists on a distributed computer network where all nodes can connect directly with each other or route through other nodes to connect with an additional node. There is no central node through which all must pass.  This is the essential design of the Internet.

When human beings use this network, everyone can connect with everyone else. The mass media world does not operate on this network.  In that world of insiders, gatekeepers and middlemen one must seek permission to connect.  Rent is extracted at every possible turn.  

An open node world not only rides on this new network, it also creates new norms and new opportunities for human interaction.  As Kleon indicates in his book, these norms and opportunities are still being defined and explored.

If Harvey Weinstein is the poster child for the indie world of traditional gatekeepers and extractors of rent, Amanda Palmer is the poster child for the world where artists of all types work at “building an audience”.  Though she is a musician, indie filmmakers could do well to follow her example.

If you spend time following her on twitter, receive her emails or read her blog posts, you will see that she practices everything that Kleon preaches.  She deals directly with her audience and she points to others, (musicians and visual artists alike). She listens to her audience and responds to them.  She even connects members of her audience to each other.

One could argue that Amanda Palmer and Harvey Weinstein are very much alike. Each is larger than life, always ready to project him/herself upon the world like any classic promoter.

Yet Palmer follows the norms and expectations of an open Internet model and functions as an open node.  Weinstein follows the norms of a mass media architecture where the views of insiders matter and shape what the audience is allowed to see.

One exists in world of transparency, the other in a world of constant spin and PR.  One “builds an audience” while the other “promotes”.

Palmer speaks to anyone who wants to listen and listens to anyone who wants to speak to her. Weinstein speaks to an inner circle. Listening, not so much.

They are creatures of the world they choose to inhabit.

Weinstein’s world is very familiar and well defined.  Palmer’s world is new and its outlines are just beginning to emerge—it is changing every day—but it principles are not hard to grasp.  Austin Kleon lays them out for us and Amanda Palmer practices them for anyone to see.

It is often said that the indie film world is in a state of crisis.  People insist that there are too many movies and too little money. They argue that the audience for independent film is disappearing. 

All these explanations look in the wrong direction.

Filmmakers are too enamored with a world that is defined by a middleman, insider culture.  With every film, they hope to be among the lucky few that are discovered, are welcomed inside, get promoted and somehow–get saved.  

It is not their fault.  This is the world into which they were born.

They don’t see that something new is being born.

A world in which their work can be discovered.

Filmmakers need to see that they can create this new world. Not alone but in concert with each other. Each can be an open node.

Indie film has only one real Harvey Weinstein.  And that is OK.

But to solve its crisis it needs 100 Amanda Palmers. 

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Two Distribution Scenarios for Successful Indie Films

Here are two scenarios.

Scenario A

Your film gets into Sundance. Audiences love it and distributors swarm all over you.  The film gets nominated for multiple Academy Awards and it grosses over $20 million dollars. You never get a dime.

Scenario B

Your film gets into Sundance. Audiences love it but no distributor offers you a deal.   You build your own audience one person at a time using all the tools the Internet provides. As a result of two years of hard work, you earn $500,000.

You are an indie filmmaker. Would you rather have $500,000 in your pocket or nothing?

In scenario A your hard work ceases when you finish the film and a distributor picks it up.  In scenario B your hard work starts long before the film is finished and continues long after it is done.

In scenario A, you have no business control.  In scenario B you are totally in control.

In scenario A, you take on no risk.  In scenario B you take on all the risk.

You get a shot at fame or a shot at fortune.  You get one or the other—not both.

These are not abstract scenarios or simple what ifs pulled out of the air.

They are based on real films in the real world.

What drives you, fame or fortune?  The chance of fleeting celebrity or real income?

What is the plot of your film’s journey?

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The Denial at the Heart of Indie Film

It is almost a cliché it is so true.

The Internet changes every part of the media world.

No media creator or company escapes from this reality. 

There are two groups of people within this world.

Those who deny the change and those who acknowledge it.  (Sort of like the climate.)

Yes, it is that simple and that stark.

In the indie film world, the deniers are winning.

I just had a great conversation with Scott Macaulay on his recent blog post on copyright.

We both brought up Indie Game The Movie.  This film is the model for anyone who wishes to use the Internet to finance, market and distribute an indie movie. 

Any independent filmmaker can adopt the model.  

Sadly, few are doing so.

Scott refers to the movie’s producers:

“We ran a story in last year’s Winter issue detailing how they did what they did and in my Editor’s letter I encouraged people to do the same… A year later, I decided to write an article extolling all the people who were following their approach… and, crickets. I started early, reached out to people, contacted Sundance to see who the big self-distributing DIYers at the festival were. And came up with hardly anyone.”

The editor of the largest indie film magazine in the United States offers to profile any movie heading to Sundance that directly reaches out to its audience and not one filmmaker bites.  All Scott got back was silence.

When Scott wrote about this,

“Most didn’t want to go on the record with saying that they just didn’t feel they wanted to do that work.”

Not go on record?  Did they feel a sense of shame for not wanting to do “that work”?

Pioneers are unusual in any field.  Yet when pioneers are demonstrably successful fast followers appear.

These followers adopt the new model and use it. Some even innovate and broaden the model.  This creates a virtuous cycle of innovation that lifts everyone.

While there are a few pioneers, there seem to be no fast followers in the indie film world. 

No cycle of innovation exists.

Instead, most indie filmmakers are trapped by a denial that stunts the growth of their films, their careers and the indie film community itself.

Indie film needs a cycle of innovation.

Where to begin?

As with climate change, stop the denial.

Posted in Distribution, Independent Film, Innovation | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

When TV Viewers Get Control

Netflix released the second season of the House of Cards Friday February 14, 2014.  All thirteen episodes were immediately available.

My wife and I viewed 5 of them in one afternoon.  We plan to complete the season within the next week (or not). 

Like other Netflix subscribers we choose how and when we watch the new season.

This is called “binge” viewing.  It seems an odd word to describe this phenomenon.  As in “binge” drinking for example. We immediately picture someone who gives into his worst impulses and has no control.

Curiously it is just the opposite.  Why?  Simply put, the viewer controls the experience.

This option breaks the standard release pattern for new “TV” episodes. 

The standard pattern forces you to wait for the right moment on the right day for the episode to magically appear.  The control resides with the linear network—not with you.

We are also watching True Detective on HBO, a show that runs for 8 episodes, released one at a time.  You can’t see them all at once, even if you wanted.  You are not in control.

Let’s try a thought experiment.

Assume that House of Cards and True Detective are novels.  

Can you imagine buying them and being told that you had to wait to read the second chapter or the chapter after that?  That you have to wait ten to fifteen weeks to complete the narrative?

No you cannot.

You properly see them as unified stories, with characters and themes that deepen over time.  When they work—they grab you and refuse to let you go.  You do not want to put them down. 

Or put them down as little as you can— your schedule permitting.  And it is your schedule that shapes the experience. 

Is it all at once, without a stop or just an episode here, an episode there, as you meander to the end?  Is it somewhere in between?

You decide.

Many people see binge viewing as a stunt cooked up by Netflix. Others see a temporary fad that will fade away when we all return to the “regular” experience of TV.

They are wrong. 

The opportunity to see all the episodes of a “TV” series returns us to an experience that predates the creation of TV—when we curled up with a book, silently reading at our own pace, with our own thoughts, under our own control.  

This is an experience that human beings really treasure, young and old.

This is also the unintended consequence of whole TV seasons being released on DVDs.  Surely you remember when you first experienced that rush of seeing The Sopranos from one episode to another without interruption. 

You thought, “Why can’t I get this experience when I first watch Sopranos on HBO?”  

Netflix took the next logical step and added originals to give viewers this experience from the beginning.

The traditional networks thought that DVDs and the Internet were just another way to make incremental revenue for the shows released on their linear networks.  They didn’t realize they were doing something more profound and disruptive. 

They (re) created (old) new consumer habits.  Habits we have always enjoyed–just not on television. And by doing so, they laid the groundwork for the gradual decline of their own linear networks.

Human beings do not want to watch a scripted series when the network says they must. 

We want to curl up with great shows like House of Cards and True Detective just as we might a good book–when it calls to us and when we have time.

This is where TV is headed—where the linear schedule exists just for people who do not want to control their own lives.

Are you one of those people who longs to have someone else control your life?

I didn’t think so.

All the TV networks need to catch up with their customers.

Give us a great TV series we can curl up with.


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We Own Our Own Copyrights

The simplest distinction often tells us all we need to know. 

In the music and film worlds there are artists who own the copyrights to their work and those who do not. 

The music industry just honored Paul McGuiness, the long time manager of U2.  The Edge and Bono praised him with these words:

“We own our own master tapes, we own our own copyrights…we were designed to survive and we were designed for something much harder: we were designed to survive success. And Paul, it was your design.”

When a large record label signs a new artist the label owns the copyrights and the master tapes. Most artists live under this regime throughout their lives.

The movie business uses a similar model. When you make a film for a movie studio or they release the indie movie you have worked so hard to make—the studio owns the copyright.

Control comes with copyright ownership.  Control over everything.  If the artist owns the copyrights—she/he is in control.  If the studio or label owns them–they are in control.

U2 did not own the copyrights to their work when they started as a band.  They had to fight for them once they became successful.  Success brought them the leverage required to fight and win back control.

U2 believed that control was important for their continued creative and business success.

George Lucas followed a similar path. Fox financed the first Star Wars movie and owned the copyright.  When it was successful Lucas decided to finance the sequel himself.  As a result, he owned the copyright.

When his distribution deal with Fox came up for renewal, Lucas got back the copyright to the first movie.  Only then, would he let Fox distribute the Star Wars sequels.  He had leverage and used it.

U2 and George Lucas acquired their own copyrights and bet on themselves.

Today, more musical artists and filmmakers can do the same. 

In the past, you could keep your copyright only if you achieved monstrous success and gained leverage.

Today that leverage lies close at hand and can be found before success arrives. 

But you have to take the time to notice that leverage and use it.

Take these six artists as examples:  Aziz Ansari, Zoe Keating, Joshua Oppenheimer, Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky and Amanda Palmer.

All of them have created movies and songs that they distribute, market and sell.  

And they own them.

Study these creators and the strategies they employed. Everything they have done to connect with an audience lies within your reach.

Each leveraged some combination of the following: Bit Torrent, Facebook, Indie GoGo, iTunes, Kickstarter, Tumblr, Twitter, VHX, WordPress and YouTube.  (And some others I am sure I forgot.) 

These tools do not require you to sign over your copyright.

If you want real leverage you must combine these tools.  One tool by itself is not sufficient.

That combination can yield significant results. 

No one teaches artists how to do this.  No film school prepares its students for this work. You have to learn on the job.

You might have a manager, a lawyer, a web developer, a digital marketing expert or distributor assist you, but if you want to bet on yourself,

Design for success.

Own your own copyrights.


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