Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Media: State of Play 2009

It's been a while since I posted about the state of media - how we create, receive and make money from making stories.

In that time:
  • the mainstream has disintegrated (at least for me) (*)
  • the noun I use to describe watching a movie or a DVD is changing; I've started to saying
    I'm watching a 'show' or an 'episode'. I suspect someday I be saying I'm watching a file; the activity is being detaching from something physical like a tape or a disc.
  • the US writers' strike led to the creation of internet shows like Dr Horrible's Singalong Blog
  • someone I know has filmed a web-series
  • editing software and vid-cams are so widely available now that I have one.

(*) I no longer watch TV. I now have to have careful conversations with people when discussing shows like Lost and Supernatural to make sure we're not revealing spoilers to each other, because we're out of sync with our viewing.

And check out this comment from an anonymous commenter on Kung Fu Monkey, describing their set-up for downloading shows. Key quote:
If I'm out with friends and they recommend a show or movie to me, I can go to a public search engine with my smart phone, enter in the name of the film, and when I get home, that movie will be waiting for me to watch in blu-ray perfect HD.

... I'm a reasonably well-seasoned techie in my early 30's, and I set this system up in a weekend with a terabyte of storage for under $600. That means in 1 year, 18 months tops, the price will have halved, the installers will be polished, the software will STILL be free, and this sort of thing will be taking off in homes all over the country.
So, yeah, the situation has shifted.

Obviously, distributing and replicating shows is basically free.

Creators are now producing their own high-quality material, independent of major studios. Leverage, a heist show was shot and post-produced using domestic equipment. It has no major studio financing. It was successful enough to get renewed for a second season on TNT, a legitimate, well-thought of network.

Revenue? Well, that's still the issue - Leverage (I assume) is earning money through screening on TNT - and the basic rule still applies: the moment you release something, it will be available for free on the internet. If you're in this to make money, you need to confident of making it before that happens.

We have entered the era of DIY stories, pulled by readily available tech, and pushed by market forces and outmoded business models.

Bill Cunningham, over at Pulp 2.0 lays out a bunch of relevant links, which I summarise here.

Ted Hope over at Truly Free Film provides a list of 38 problems with the American independent film scene. Here are the ones that stuck out for me:
  • Too many leisure options for film to compete without further enhancing the theatrical and cinematic experience.
  • Too many "specialized" films opening to allow such films to gain word of mouth and audience's attention.
  • Too many films available and being distributed to allow films to stay in one theater for very long, making it more difficult to develop a word of mouth audience.
  • Distrib's abandonment (and lack of development) of community-building marketing approaches for specialized releases (which reduces appeal for a group activity i.e. the theatrical experience).
  • Distrib's failure to embrace limited streaming of features for audience building.
  • Reliance on large marketing spend release model restricts content to broad subjects (which decreases films' distinction in marketplace) and reduces ability to focus on pre-aggregated niche audiences.
  • Recession has reduced private equity available for film investment.
  • No new business model for internet exploitation at a level that can justify reasonable film budgets.
Recently, some of my friends (Winged Ink) have been telling me about how Kristen Hersh runs her music career now - from home, communicating with fans via the internet and providing them with customised products. It's very much in the spirit of the 1000 True Fans model. That fits with this article by David Byrne, describing a spectrum of business models that musicians can apply.

The 360, or equity, deal, where every aspect of the artist's career is handled by producers, promoters, marketing people, and managers. You achieve wide saturation and sales, while becoming a brand, owned and operated by the label.

The standard distribution deal. The record company bankrolls the recording and owns the copyright to the recording; the artist gets a royalty percentage.

The license deal. Similar to the standard deal, except the artist retains the copyrights and ownership of the master recording.

The profit-sharing deal. The artist gets a minimal advance from the label, and they share the profits from day one. The artist retains ownership of the master.

The manufacturing and distribution deal. The artist does everything except manufacture and distribute the product. The artist gets absolute creative control.

The self-distribution model, where the music is self-produced, self-written, self-played, and self-marketed. CDs are sold at gigs and through a Web site. Promotion is a MySpace page. Within the limits of what they can afford, the artists have complete creative control.

For me, the key quote from Byrne's article comes here:
Radiohead adopted this DIY model to sell In Rainbows online — and then went a step further by letting fans name their own price for the download. <snip> ... As one of Radiohead's managers, Bryce Edge, told me, "The industry reacted like the end was nigh. They've devalued music, giving it away for nothing.' Which wasn't true: We asked people to value it, which is very different semantics to me."
Stories, created in a bunch of different ways, released into the wild, and then valued by the audience according to a business model that you decide on.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

For me, seeing that Tower Records had closed it's last store in New York made me realise that I am now officially getting old.

Eventually I will get an ipod and all that but it will be unwillingly. Despite all the advantages of the digital download era I am someone who craves the artifact. I want the object with the pictures and the notes, and the fixed play order that the artist has decided.

While I think it's nice that a musician is tailoring her product to her customers, I prefer the artist to actually make some decisions and for me to interpret and evaluate their decisions. The appeal of interactivity is clear, but for me it becomes a bit more like a game and a bit less like an art work.

Final thought: the cultural impact of digital diversity. As you know I have been lost in the 1970s recently on my blog, a time of one TV channel in NZ and limited radio. This narrowness has A LOT of negatives, but it is community building because everyone shares the same media event. I think it goes beyond music and film and even extends to sport. One reason the All Blacks are on the wane is surely that they are no longer the only game on the tube. Hell, there was even a time when an All Black game that went into extra time would bump the news down the schedule!

hix said...

I've often thought of your 'I want the physical artifact' reasoning. I tend to balance that against my 'Isn't producing 10,000 CDs an immense waste of physical resources?' enviromentalism (but those two concerns aren't directly opposed to each other).

Your point about diversity vs narrowness is dead-on. Choice leads to a lack of commonality. Choice destroys the mainstream, because it allows us all to find our own niches.