Distributing pictures and making a decent return has always been a multi-diciplinary project. In the 80’s it was about making ancillary-products, 90’s VHS and DVD and now? This online game has thrown everybody and so the innovators try and fail, the cynics sit on the fence and say it will never work and alot of us hope for the best.

After having read Lawrence Lessig Remix where he often mentions our hybrid/mush-up culture the pieces started to make sense. We need to use all tools available to us in order to make/sell/profit our picture in order to make another one. This panel was conducted at the recent SXSW festival wiht some big names in the US so-called nu-media distribution game.

From a great new site I found called Magnet Media. Ive used again only excerpts so chech it yourself and become wise - nobody is gonna do it for you!

Th Panel was: Efe Cakarel, Graham Leggat, Peter Becker, Sara Pollack

This first paragraph already touches on this hybrid idea but at the same time it is also talking to the vast online networks and how these should be combined to make moving from one place to another easier. For example and a very simple one at that is GRAVATAR where you upload one Profile pic and then it uses that pic for any network you join. in other words you dont have to keep uploading friggin pictures, another example is PING.FM except for status updates. The point here is if you can have a so-called “multi pass” system to watch films or shorts or read news consumers would be more enthusiastic to join the party.

Becker continued: “With Hulu, you’re seeing them use the internet to recreate TV, with commercials. And it works! We’re making money from Hulu…and it’s not insignificant, the checks we cash from them every month. But with Hulu, we’re essentially recreating commercial TV. But inherently that’s not enough. But we have this “recreating TV” model. Then we have the model that’s unintrusive commercial support. And I’m curious to see if that will pan out, financially and culturally. And then there’s the option to see if we can make paying for content frictionless if not making content free. [It’s less about the price and more about the convenience.] Even if you only have to pay $3…if you have to put in your credit card again, that’s annoying, cumbersome and time-consuming. The model has to be something closer to E-ZPASS. If I buy a pass, I can use it in tollbooths in different cities, in different states, and it all just taps my credit card. Online, it’s basically the same technology. I’ll have a user identifier that’s associated with my PayPal or Credit Card account, and roam the internet freely and consume whatever sort of content but not have to fill out a bunch of different forms as I go to sources and sites. If I had to predict, that would be a smart thing for someone (more technically savvy and smarter than me) to develop.”

In order for this system to work it has to generate (and ultimately sustain) cash. I love the metaphor of the ants!

Leggat then addressed the monetization question that Becker raised with a very visual, cinematic example. “As to this point of how money is to be made. The pay-per-view model is going to be the dominate one, I believe. There may be others. But the sort of rush to progress…it always seems to me to be like a massive army of ants marching across the dessert –voracious tiny creatures chewing their way through everything– and that’s how the online video distribution looks to me right now. And when you see that scene where the ants come to a river, they just pile in, [ignoring self-preservation] and many of them drown! But then some of them climb on top of the others and they discover ‘Hey! We can swim!’ That is what we’re waiting for in the online video monetization process – is the ant that can swim. There needs to be an evolution [with distribution practices offline and online…] sort of mutant thing that allows us to be both land and water, amphibious. So that we can be in theatres and online – both, simultaneously, surviving.”

I showed a clip of Sara before and I think here in lies a great deal of potential. You-tube (YT) uploads 24hrs of video every 5min or something ridiculous like that, so the network is so dense that if you have nominal hit here you have a huge watching audience immediately. Hats off to YT, hats of to Google (they own YT at a loss every year so far!)

YouTube’s Sara Pollack was up next. She recently launched the YouTube Screening Room, allowing independent filmmakers to rent their films for whatever price they choose, for different durations of time. “I’ll talk on how YouTube views it’s future, and a bit less about what the future for film distribution is, because Peter and Graham have both described it so well. The EZ PASS and Pay-Per-View models are clearly getting traction, and needed for this to be successful.”

“First, let me ask the audience: are people here aware that YouTube recently started make films available for rent? We’ve been working with filmmakers from the beginning…distributing short films, web videos, and helping them earn ad supported revenue. But for independent feature films the ad revenues do not ever earn the kind of money that you’d need to see to make back your budget. Certainly for us experimenting with ‘paid’ is a big move…one that I’m incredibly excited about. For certain types of films, it makes more sense. However, there are a few things that people need to keep in mind.”

“First, films have to be made for much less money – and that’s interesting to see. I don’t know if people saw that Paramount announced their $100K film division recently, Insurge? I think that’s telling. The second thing is that success in distribution takes promotion. There are too many films out there, there are too many filmmakers. So that’s just the reality. So let’s start with lower budget films to make sure we make back our money. And then we have to recognize that most film releases are incredibly excpensive! Studios are still spending millions of dollars in P&A to drive people to theatres. So with teh internet, promotion costs much much less – but most people aren’t spending anything on promoting their work online. Sometimes, there’s an unfair expectation people will just find out about it through ‘word of mouth.’ And this is a place where theatrical and online releases are similar. It does require just as much blood, sweat and tears of filmmaker DIY promotion not just to industry-centric events …but to locally-centric and content-related communities, where you can start to meet the fans of your films that will be using social networks to spread the word for you.”

Becker answered, “I totally agree that people are spending more time online, consuming more video content online. But it’s not necessarily true that they’re spending more time watching feature films online. The one thing we don’t talk about is duration. We never think about the fact that the film as it evolved was designed for a ‘night out’ – and 2 hours turned out to be the right time so that you could have dinner and enjoy an evening out…you could sit in a theatre comfortably for that duration, and enjoy yourself. And it may turn out as we change the distribution that that duration is not necessarily sacrosanct. On YouTube 6 minutes is an eternity unless it’s really compelling! On an average blog when I’m reading, 3minute videos can seem long! So are we going to be watching on our we’re not going to be watching 3 hour scope movies with subtitles on our phones…but probably not. Probably not even on our iPads. Where are we going to be watching films on mobile devices? On the subway? Absolutely! I see people all the time on the subway watching TV. But I think we need to talk about duration. Longer is not necessarily better. 110min is a long YT video.”

And here is the crux of the matter - aah it tastes so good.

Leggat responded, “We have to look at this issue in context. The issue is not ‘how do we find an online-only system?’ It’s, ‘how do we create a mixed economy where by you have companies doing many things where the whole is bigger than the sum of it’s parts?’ We’re not looking for an online-only-experience . We need to continue to support the other aspects – going to film festivals, going to opening weekends, watching films on TV…but how do we add this one piece in that doesn’t have to be a silver bullet to cover [all our overhead and the entire film budget], but so that it also doesn’t kill other other things that have worked so far?”

There was more discussion about how the indie filmmaker may eventually competing with both Criterion Collection and Warner Brothers, and how daunting that will be.

Pollack countered by saying that the YouTube tastemakers (who have “millions of followers” ) were the most successful promoters – and were often doing a better job than YT’s own ‘official promotional’ strategies….and that’s key to the distribution of work: embracing evangelists. She also said there was a massive movement recently for “web originals” – and noted that the digital media companies that started producing these online series a few years ago had been “definitely struggling” but that the current data was impressive, showing that “there’s a huge appetite for real entertainment online… not just a funny YouTube video that somebody sends you, but original creative video series produced exclusively for the web.” She said they were beginning to really take hold as consumer habits, and that YouTube is doing a lot to support this trend.

So its all up to as the film maker to make it work, test new models. I’ve said before, play your film everywhere, burn copies and sell them to street vendors to re-sell. Do it all because you might find the next NETFLIX!