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.
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.