Above the common question “How long is a short film?*” should be the more significant question, “Why a short film?”
Good short films are enjoyable and moving, with stories that can have an impact as strong as good feature-length films or powerful TV series. You can laugh, cry, and be inspired watching a good short film.
But, why a short film? Long considered a sad attempt to mimic the more robust and legitimate feature length film, shorts have often been given … well … short shrift.
Those were the old days.
Today, the entire environment of content, what I term “The Blended Screens,” is changing.
May 26th was a uniquely exciting (and perhaps exhausting) day for TV lovers. At midnight, Netflix released a brand new season of Arrested Development – more than seven years after the show was cancelled by Fox. The show’s return represents a key component of Netflix’s emerging original content strategy and is the fourth show released by the over-the-top streaming service this year (at a total cost of more than $150M). As such, I thought it would be a good opportunity to pause and evaluate the economics of this strategy and hypothesize what success might look like. In doing so, we can also better understand the role of original content (is it intended to drive net adds, reduce churn, stabilize content costs etc.) and the impact of their controversial decision to release entire seasons at once. This will also tell us about Netflix’s future and management’s POV on this future.
The Value of Netflix to the Consumer
Though inexpensive on the whole, Netflix’s service does not offer materially cheaper entertainment than that of traditional cable TV, costing approximately $0.0024/minute versus cable’s $0.0035/minute.
This is interesting for two reasons
1. Despite being commercial-free and infinitely more flexible than live linear TV (in terms of time, content and screen), Netflix is unable to command a price premium for its entertainment service
2. Average time spent watching Netflix per user is up more than 10% year-over-year. However, with prices still $7.99 a month, Netflix has not benefited from this increase in customer value (directly, at least, as it would improve word-of-mouth and perceived value). Increases in both the quality and size of its content library content quality is no doubt a major driver for increased usage, but this has contributed to a 16% increase in quarterly licensing costs ($1.355B in Q1 2013).
This matters because it means Netflix may have limited means to raise prices – and when it does, they will still lag customer value growth. As the instant decapitation of Qwickster demonstrated (among many other lessons), Netflix’s customers really do control the relationship.
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It is a great time to be a lover of television. Content, for one, has never been better. Not only have many declared today the “New Golden Age of Television”, some such as Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott, have gone as far to ask questions such as if “anyone thinks The Artist (which had recently won the Academy Award for Best Picture) is better than Mad Men?”. The rise of digital distribution and portable, media-focused devices has also fundamentally increased potential “demand” for this content. The ability to watch content whenever (and wherever) we want means that we can watch more shows than was realistically possible when we were tethered to 2-3 hours of “appointment TV” per night (and we could watch only one show per primetime slot). Not only does this save older shows, such as The Sopranos, from irrelevancy after airing, it opens up the creative medium. Hyper-serialized shows such as LOST and Game of Thrones would not be possible without the ability for viewers to easily catch-up on a missed episode (or “marathon” past seasons). Digital-only distribution (such as Netflix’s House of Cards) has further freed creatives to pick scene lengths or runtimes based on the needs of the story, rather than the need to cut to a commercial break every 4-7 minutes or fill out an hour-long timeslot.
Market behavior clearly illustrates the New Golden Age hypothesis. Movie stars are increasingly moving to the TV screen (from Ewan McGregor or Zooey Deschanel) and many TV stars are bigger celebrities than most movie actors (such as Kim Kardashian, regrettably). TV budgets have also exploded. Game of Thrones costs upwards of $60 million for a 10-episode season and many hour-long dramas at the Big Four broadcasters can cost $40-75 million per season ($2-4M/episode). Content has also become an increasingly important differentiator for cable networks such as HBO and AMC, which traditionally focused on films and one-off specials, but are now defined by and dependent on hits such as Girls and The Walking Dead.
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STFU ZACH BRAFF
Why is there controversy about projects such as Rob Thomas‘s VERONICA MARS and Zach Braff‘s WISH I WAS HERE going to crowdfunding for the money to make their projects?
The surge in Perks-based Donor Crowdfunding over the past few years was primarily built on the concept that creative projects dreamed up by common folks with more ideas than money could go to each other rather than impenetrable banks or brokerages. The popular site Kickstarter (one of many) started in 2009 with the premise that such ideas, ones that were still good ideas even though they didn’t have a promise of likely profitability, could be brought to the public to allow the average person to help make the ideas into reality by donating money. This is a broad concept akin to what wealthy benefactors would do in ages past, when they became “patrons of the arts” by providing money so artists could create works of art.
When looking at what I’ve termed “The Blended Screens” — the destruction of all the different ways that used to define what we were watching (it was a “movie” because it was shot on film and shown in a movie theater; it was a “TV Show” because it was shot on tape and broadcast by a TV station; it was “Home Video” because it was burned to VHS tape or DVD or Blu-Ray and shown on a machine in the living room; it was a “Web Series” because it was carried over the Internet and watched on a computer; etc., etc., etc.) — it becomes clear to me that THIS IS THE SECOND ‘GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION.’ Continue reading
Production is morphing into … what? Is it “filmmaking” if there’s no film? Are we “taping” a program if there’s no tape? Are they “films” or “movies” it they are viewed on a smartphone? Is it “Television” if it’s streaming online on demand?
The technology of production and the delivery methods are no longer pertinent to defining what creators do. We create. We no longer create things clearly defined as “TV shows” or “Movies” or “Web Series.” What we create is now going out on all of “The Blended Screens.” Some have called it “content” but I think that term is weak and too broad.
For me, I’ve decided it’s all “story-making” and that’s what I choose from now on.
MICHAEL R BARNARD PRODUCTIONS logo
How will independent filmmakers fully embrace digital distribution for maximum value? It’s a new world, and the old methods cannot be squeezed and twisted to work in it. There will be a new approach to bringing indie films to the audience.
Old Movie Theater
I call it the UNIVERSAL FILM ACCESS POINT.
As filmmakers, we need to grasp how to reach our audience and let them know our film exists, and communicate how the film might interest them. This used to be the jurisdiction of distributors, but that old world is in turmoil and may be dead. With filmmakers scrambling to figure out the theoretical pathways of DIY, DIWO, rent-a-distributors, four-walling, etc., they find themselves needing to grasp some basic marketing concepts.
Here’s what I think specifically about MARKETING LOW-BUDGET INDIE FEATURE FILMS (NARRATIVE FICTION).
This is an effort to help visualize the numbers needed for this new world of filmmakers becoming responsible for their own direct distribution.
Most people don’t think much about branding, and when they do, they take a look at a logo, think of it as “a brand,” and move on.
But a brand is so much more than a logo. It is the entire perception, the emotional feeling evoked, of a company, person or product. The brand is a product of diligent, consistent and focused marketing efforts.
Did the Pythons have the indie film biz in mind when creating their masterpiece, Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Aside from the buffoonery of this so-called business, what else could have inspired the great scene, “I’m not dead”?
REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION
“This from the man himself, Jon Reiss, in response to the many wonderful posts this week from Michael R. Barnard, Lucas McNelly and Dennis Peters regarding the PMD.” ~ Sheri Candler Marketing & Publicity
Right now, the indie filmmaking community is grappling with the new concept of a role called PMD, the “Producer of Marketing & Distribution.”
The confluence of the collapse of the indie film biz, scores of digital distribution options, and the ascent of social media has resulted in an incredibly strong and vibrant online community of filmmakers, especially on Twitter and Facebook and, of course, on various blogs. This online community is, in my opinion, more effective and vital than all of the panels and seminars about indie filmmaking that I’ve heard of and attended over at least the past decade.
And it is currently focusing on the PMD role.
By the way, throughout August I am raising funds to make an award-winning comedy short film.
Continued from FREE IS NOT WORTH THE PRICE, PART 1
We are now feeling the impact of that un-analyzed, self-serving desire, “I want it FREE.” The impressionable college generation coming of age at that time threw away moral discernment in the face of the “free on the Internet” mantra and nearly destroyed the music industry.
Yes, the Internet itself must be free. The recent announcement by the FCC that it is switching its official support from the old era of broadcasting to the current era of Internet access is welcome and profound news. The Internet needs to be freely available for the exercise of democracy.
The New York Times reports on the malaise hitting the very-important-to-Hollywood trade papers, especially Daily Variety. [“Trade Papers Struggling in Hollywood”]
Daily Variety is suffering the fate of many news publishers (even the New York Times), but attracts attention because of its reactions to its problems. This important trade paper recently fired staff critics, now favoring freelance critics. The paper is also one of the first to duck behind a paywall.[definition: “paywall”] You can no longer read the entire paper online free.