Windowing & Piracy

Another year, another bogus analysis of piracy in indie film. The latest is this gem from Adam Leipzig (who I actually like a lot), and Entertainment Media Partners in Cultural Weekly. The report came out just before Sundance, but I was too busy to even take a look until now. Adam does a pretty good job of showing the numbers for indie films at Sundance this year – how many applied, got accepted, possible budget ranges, etc. I like it when anyone tries to explain data in indie film, so kudos for this.

The problem comes when he starts to analyze piracy’s impacts on indie film. He shows a lot of lost revenue, but his calculations are based on a pretty interesting assumption – that 5% of illegal downloaders would have purchased the film at $3 per transaction. There is no evidence, or even theory, presented as to how he arrives at this percentage. But my bigger problem is the logic – let’s just pretend for a minute that 5% of the 12M+ people who illegally downloaded Whiplash would have purchased the film for $3 meaning $1.825M in lost revenue (per the infographic)… well, that assumption leads to another, that there would be a mechanism for them to actually make this purchase. But that wasn’t an option for anyone who pirated Whiplash (he doesn’t offer transaction dates, so let’s assume most of the piracy occurred early in the film’s release). If they wanted to pay $3 for the film instead of pirating it, they couldn’t.  There was no button, no availability, because of old-fashioned windowing practices. This is true of every film on the chart.

What the study actually shows is not that piracy hurts anyone, but rather that millions of dollars are lost each year because of antiquated business practices. If pirates could buy the films for $3 they might, and if 5% of them did, the business would see millions in new revenues. In fact, for the 14 films from Sundance 2014/5 that he studied, that’s over $6.5M dollars lost because of a crap business model. Seems to me that if we studied this a bit more, we might focus less on piracy and more on getting rid of windows.

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Branded Documentaries Workshop at UnionDocs

Branded content has become a big story. I’ve been working for awhile now with many different companies exploring film and new media partnerships, and increasingly, I’ve been working with some of them on documentary films. Most notably, I recently helped Patagonia with the distribution and marketing of DamNation. It was a team effort, and I learned a lot, perhaps as much as I offered in advice. Now I get the chance to share that knowledge in a three day workshop at UnionDocs, and I’ll be joined by several other experts in the space. There’s an early bird discount until this Friday (Feb 27, 2015) as well.

I’ve given a shorter version of this talk at IDFA, Sundance and IFP Week, but this is the first chance I have to spend a few days with filmmakers giving in-depth advice. We’ll cover a bit of everything: what is branded content? How does it work? Are you selling out? How do you keep creative control? What are the pros and cons? Can it help you have a bigger impact with your film? How do I break in to this work? We’ll talk about this and more.

From the UnionDocs website: This seminar is a theoretical and practical intensive course designed for documentary filmmakers looking to develop their skill sets in the emerging field of branded content. Branded videos are on the rise, as clients are looking to engage with their customers through creative collaborations. Filmmakers can learn how to build a sustainable practice for financing their own works.

Designed by UnionDocs in partnership with Mathilde Walker-Billaud, the seminar will explore new business models for documentarians. It will offer technical tools and strategies for working with clients while developing and maintaining a creative voice. The course is designed for graduate students and professionals in documentary and media arts (the audience is limited to 14 students).

This seminar will bring together five guest instructors who are thinkers and practitioners from different disciplines: producers, marketers and strategists, entrepreneurs, documentarists and filmmakers. The goal is to expose a small group to a broad range of creative approaches to branded documentary, including audience engagement, online and cultural marketing, fundraising strategies, digital innovation and production/distribution.

Here’s the breakdown of each day, and guest instructor bios are on the website – and seriously, these are some awesome people. I can’t wait to learn from them as well:

Each day will explore one topic with one or two guest instructors:

Friday – The filmmaker as an entrepreneur
The first day of the seminar looks in-depth at the ways we produce and distribute films. How innovative is the branded documentary model?

AM: Brian Newman
PM: Marc Schiller

Saturday – New strategies for brands
The second day of the intensive focuses on content and cultural marketing. How do the brands implement successful marketing campaign and generate audience engagement with the help of artists and filmmakers?

AM: Adam Katz

Sunday – The final cut
The third day explores the creative execution of branded content. What is the impact of brands on the process?

AM: Harrison Winter
PM: Trish Dalton

Register here.

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Launching the Transparency Project

At the Sundance Film Festival in January, we announced The Transparency Project – a new initiative to shine some light on the hidden data around what indie films are making in revenue from various sources. We can all find box office, but the numbers for what’s being made on VOD, at festivals, in community screenings – all of this is relatively hidden. This project, an initiative founded by Sundance and Cinreach now has multiple nonprofit partners and numerous for-profit partners. I’ve been working as a project consultant on this for over a year, so it was awesome to finally launch it and be able to speak about it publicly.

Want to learn more? I recommend you check out the Transparency website, read this great article from Filmmaker Magazine or this one from Thompson on Hollywood. We hope to launch a beta of our data analytics tool soon, so sign the pledge on the website and get early access to the beta test.

This is an iterative project – we’ll shape it based on feedback from the field. There’s a link on the site to send us feedback, but if you know me, send me your feedback directly, as all of us want to keep making this project better. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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