Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Production. Distribution. Exhibtion. And Context.

Production, Distribution, Exhibition. The basic entertainment business model. By the 1920s, the movie industry had figured this out and moved to become vertically integrated. One company doing it all. The Paramount Decision of 1948 sidetracked this notion for awhile. But these days the movie studios (distributors) are owned by large media conglomerates (exhibitors). There is still some illusion that production is in the hands of the creators (directors, actors, indie filmmakers) who can create product independently, but few fall for that illusion any more. If you are a creator you are at the mercy of the distributors and exhibitors.

The age of broadband and the internet have added a wrinkle. Now, anyone has the means of production, distribution, and exhibition at their fingertips. Anyone in the world can declare themselves vertically integrated. Mini-DV camera, Final Cut Pro, broadband connection, website, and away we go. You control it all. You are the movie studio. Word Processor, Dial-Up Connection, Blogspot or Typepad, and you're set. You control it all. You are the publishing house.

Sort of.

Production. Check.
Exhibition. Check.
Distribution. Maybe.

Distribution is still a problem. You can register your website or blog with every search engine, every blog listing, send out e-mails, tell your friends, whatever. But if no on visits your website, then no sees your movie or reads your blog. Sure there are plenty of tools for promoting your stuff. But that's why distributors are so important. They get your material in places people go. But who are the distributors in the web wilderness? You can post your short film on or some other similar website. But you won't make money. And most people going to ifilm are looking to download the Super Bowl commercials they missed, not your latest 10 minute opus. If you're lucky enough to become a brand name, have the hit viral video, or have your work selected out of thousands of entries to be an Amazon short film, then you've made it . But the odds are about the same as making it into Sundance. And you're back to square one. What's missing?

Context. Three stages to vertical integration aren't enough. We need four. The fourth stage is context. You can make that short film, distribute on websites, exhibit it digitally on someone's computer screen. But you need context. By context, I mean the conditions under which someone on the internet will choose to watch your film. After all the paradox of choice shows us that when we have too many choices we have difficulty choosing at all. A lot of people may browse the net, but how many people go to ifilm looking to check out some cool short films, and of those how many will be drawn to yours (regardless of its quality)? They need a reason to watch your film. They need context.

Context isn't an issue at the movie theater because even in NYC I only have 30 choices or so. There are more choices on TV and through Netflix, but that's what brands are for. ESPN. MTV. HBO. Will Ferrell. Ang Lee. Horror. Action. I have ways to narrow down my choices. But on the internet, if you're an unknown I'm not going to go find your film. Your film needs to come find me. This is true on cell phones and handheld devices as well as on computer based browsing.

I'm not sure what the solution is here, but two possibilities come to my mind. One is an AdSense model to entertainment (and this would obviously expand beyond movies). I go from website to website, do searches, read blogs, etc. and EntSense (or whatever) bombards me with entertainment choices based on my interestes. Entertainment as advertising. Of course, when I'm shopping I may not want to stop to watch a short fim or listen to a new song. But then again I might. The second choice is entertainment destinations--brand name locations where I know I'll find what I'm looking for. Like TV Channels. I remember Channels a few years back on Nestscape--didn't seem to work. Brightcove posits a channel based model, but when they mention thousands of possible channels I see the paradox of choice again and not enough viewers to make money. It depends, in part, on how the channels are set-up. Perhaps a community based model can build up around shared tastes in entertainment of all types and media. A MySpace for entertainment? A Flickr for all media? Who knows? If anyone knows of other possibilities already out there or has ideas for possibilties, please post them. But no matter what the solution, if you're looking to for a business model for entertainment, production, distribution, and exhibition aren't enough. You need context.


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