YouTube has come a long way since its birth in April 2005 and since people learnt how to get more views on Youtube, but what does its meteoric rise mean for the worlds of film and television?
When a young man posted a video of himself in a San Diego zoo in early 2005, no-one could have predicted it was the beginning of a revolution in on-line content.
Whilst what would become YouTube had antecedents (such as iFilm) it was a combination of timing and Silicon Valley connections that really sent it into the stratosphere, culminating in its acquisition by Google in October 2006.
Its explosive growth over that year and the sheer amount of copyrighted content being uploaded led to speculation that it would be sued out of existence.
That didn’t happen, largely because Google had the money to legally defend itself, but also because the first media corporation to take legal action (Viacom) had their claims of copyright infringement struck down in 2010.
Although they can still appeal, it looks like YouTube’s official takedown policy and their large legal budget will cover them on this front.
Perhaps more interesting is the partnerships that the site has engaged in with more traditional media organisations like the BBC and CBS (the latter who are owned by Viacom).
YouTube has become like a default TV station for the entire web.
…streaming 4 billion online videos every day, a 25 percent increase in the past eight months,
…According to the company, roughly 60 hours of video is now uploaded to YouTube every minute, compared with the 48 hours of video uploaded per minute in May.
A lot of this is copyrighted material, but a newer generation are growing up with the site as a regular outlet for films, television and music, but also as a launchpad for memes, funny animals, activism and all kind of weird and wonderful stuff.
Katzenberg’s analogy with sports is astute and the discussion of the release window also hints at the underlying tensions that are still ongoing between studios and exhibitors.
Whilst the conversation about home entertainment and video on demand is often dominated by Netflix and local sites such as Lovefilm (UK) and Hulu (US), YouTube is perhaps the most fascinating VOD platform for the future.
The sheer scale of content, infrastructure and legal bills paid by Google, are likely to make it an interesting barometer for the state of the film and TV business over the next decade.
Drive represents a very interesting example of a wide release.
It is essentially a stylish genre movie (LA noir crime drama) with arthouse pedigree (Nic Winding Refn) that stars two hot young actors (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan) alongside an experienced supporting cast (Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman).
Although originally a studio project set up at Universal, it was eventually put into turnaround before being financed independently.
Festival buzz, generally great reviews and a hot young cast meant that the distributor opted for a wide release at 2,886 cinemas.
But on opening weekend in mid-September when it came in third behind The Lion King 3D re-release and Contagion (on its second week of release), people realised it wasn’t connecting as they hoped.
The post-mortem on widely-read industry site Deadline cited the fact that young males are a more unpredictable demographic than they used to be:
“…young guys who used to be Hollywood’s target audience are just not consistently (and indiscriminately) going to the movies anymore. The reason is either financial or too many other entertainment choices. That was the gist of internal conversations inside studios all summer when uncompelling fare like Conan The Barbarian, Fright Night, Cowboys & Aliens, and Green Lantern fell short with young guys. ”It didn’t dawn on us they weren’t coming to the malls,” one perplexed exec told me. Instead, adults did.”
“Some people thought it should have done $20M the first weekend, but they are crazy! Even with the great reviews and Cannes pedigree, it’s still an ‘arts-ploitation’ film. It’s out there in a new genre. It’s really a polarizing film but in a good way. The pacing, music, style, and violence creates heated debate and reaction. The people that love it, really love it and talk about it. But it’s too extreme for many.”
Berney is right – what made Drive such a critical and festival favourite was probably what put off average mainstream audiences.
But only to an extent.
Drive cleverly fused traditional genre elements with considerable artistic flair and obviously the theatrical run didn’t conform to expectations, but why do I get the feeling that this is a film which could have a long shelf life ahead of it?
Not only are Gosling and Mulligan captured in their youthful prime but it is perfect for late night home viewing and also has a killer soundtrack to boot.
So Drive clearly has a fan base, if not one as large as the films financiers had hoped for.
How could the UK distributor (Icon) tap into the Drive love for the home entertainment release?
Previously studios had to pay substitutional sums of money to market research firms so they could track release expectations.
Whilst they still do this, a quick search on Twitter over opening weekend (either through a basic search of the film’s title or relevant hashtag) yields valuable data and insights (although one should be careful to treat it as a sample of the wider audience).
In terms of reactions to Drive we know that Russell Crowe was upset that Ryan Gosling didn’t get an Oscar nomination and that Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) is an absolute master of 140 characters as they are both regular tweeters.
Ryan Gosling didn’t get an Academy nomination? There’s some bullshit right there.
When it comes to home releases of films it is perfect, as it is a very cost effective way of getting the word out about a particular release.
Twitter is particularly powerful as it has a large user base, lots of influential users in the traditional media and messages can be quickly be duplicated and spread (“retweeted”).
Why is this important?
Well, the biggest single challenge any filmmaker faces is getting their work talked about in order to be seen by a larger audience.
This applies to a teenager who has just uploaded his first film to YouTube or the most experienced A-list director.
Like the video made in a bedroom with 4 views, the $100 million film opening on 3,000 locations could always do with a bigger audience.
If you create something good or distinctive, social media can be a powerful ally in building buzz.
Word-of-mouth has always been an elusive but easily recognisable phenomenon in cinema.
Films like Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Jurassic Park, Titanic, Slumdog Millionaire, Avatar and The King’s Speech all became huge hits because they somehow connected with an audience at the cinema.
Home entertainment sales were a slam dunk because they already had the publicity of being huge hits.
But what about films that initially failed at the box office?
But where it can be really effective in the modern era is for quality films that aren’t obviously ‘commercial’.
A black comedy about UK suicide bombers was never going to break box office records but Four Lions (2010) was a quality film that was loved by those who saw it at cinemas (in fact the UK distributor underestimated demand on the opening weekend).
But when it screened on UK television the actor Riz Ahmed (@rizmc) tweeted along to the broadcast.
@Rizmc star of British film Four Lions will be doing a live commentary on Twitter as Channel 4 airs Four Lions on 9pm on Sunday.
For the UK distribution people this would provide valuable insights if they decided to put out another edition of the film at a later date, either on another disc or via BD-Live (which up to now has been thoroughly useless).
Time is often the best judge for any film and in the case of tweeting along to Drive last night, it not only reminded me of how good it was but the value of seeing it on Blu-ray.
It was one of the first films to be shot with the Arri Alexa digital camera and even Janusz Kaminski (Steven Spielberg’s DP and a die-hard advocate of film) has admitted he was deeply impressed by the imagery put on screen by Newton Thomas Sigel.
The tweetalong reminded me what of how great the film looked and allowed me to spread the word via a very powerful social platform.
Could this be the year of a magic box that simplifies the home entertainment experience?
This week saw the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where numerous companies display their wares and issue a blizzard of press releases in the hope of creating awareness for their products.
But there is a missing piece of technology that looms large over this year’s CES, mainly because it hasn’t been released yet.
What if a company could unify the TV and Internet experience for the average user?
THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE
Over the past few years the rate of technological change for the consumer has been dizzying.
Not only has there been the introduction of high-definition television but there has also been an explosion in more powerful mobile devices and applications.
However, despite the ability to time-shift and view sharper images the fundamental experience of sitting down in front of your TV and watching a film or show hasn’t actually changed that much.
You still have to juggle at least two remotes, navigate a tricky user interface and occasionally experience your box freezing as it struggles to absorb all the digital information hurled at it.
It can be hard to generalise, but let’s start from the proposition that the vast majority will some form of digital widescreen TV.
If you don’t, then it will be hard to watch anything in the UK from April as that’s when they finally switch off the analogue signal.
Then let us assume most people have some form of digital TV – be it a basic Freeview setup (one off payment for a box or PVR) or premium services like Sky (satellite), Virgin (cable) or BT (digital phone line).
Nearly all of these services have some kind of recording or on-demand capability which allows you to time shift your viewing.
But if you think the current landscape is by any means straightforward, then you should think again.
The acid test is to go to your main TV and describe the services attached to it.
When you have finished, then compare it with family or friends and you’ll not only be swapping tales of multiple remote controls and horrible user interfaces but you’ll find it hard to keep track of what everyone’s setup is.
…he very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
Since 2006 Apple have regarded their current TV efforts as basically an extension of iTunes, with digital downloads of TV shows and movies.
But broadcast TV has proved a much harder proposition.
The problem with innovation in the TV industry is the go-to-market strategy. The TV industry has a subsidized model that gives everyone a set top box for free. So no one wants to buy a box. Ask TiVo, ask Roku, ask us… ask Google in a few months. The television industry fundamentally has a subsidized business model that gives everyone a set-top box, and that pretty much undermines innovation in the sector.
Then came the key bit:
The only way this is going to change is if you start from scratch, tear up the box, redesign and get it to the consumer in a way that they want to buy it. But right now, there’s no way to do that….The TV is going to lose until there’s a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem with the industry. It’s not a problem with the technology, it’s a problem with the go-to-market strategy….I’m sure smarter people than us will figure this out, but that’s why we say Apple TV is a hobby.
This was a classic Jobs tactic of stating facts and whilst hinting at the future.
Five years previously at the D3 conference in 2005 he talked about the difficulty of getting video displays on iPods just months before Apple unveiled a (yes, you guessed it) video-enabled iPod in October of the year.
When asked at the same session about the possibility of an ‘iPod phone’ he laid out the challenges:
Apple Inc. is moving forward with its assault on television, following up on the ambitions of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. In recent weeks, Apple executives have discussed their vision for the future of TV with media executives at several large companies, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple is also working on its own television that relies on wireless streaming technology to access shows, movies and other content, according to people briefed on the project.
In the recent meetings with media companies, the Apple executives, including Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, have outlined new ways Apple’s technology could recognize users across phones, tablets and TVs, people familiar with the talks said. In at least one meeting, Apple described future television technology that would respond to users’ voices and movements, one of the people said. Such technology, which Apple indicated may take longer than some of its other ideas, might allow users to use their voices to search for a show or change channels.
This basically confirms what many technology writers had long suspected, but until Apple unveil a dedicated TV some fascinating questions remain.
What if they can truly turn apps into what are effectively TV channels?
What if iOS devices can become the remotes that don’t suck and seamlessly integrate with the (future) Apple TV?
Part of Apple’s original strategy for the iPod was to create a ‘digital hub‘ around the home computer which Jobs revealed way back in 2001:
By making the computer the hub around which they built iPods, iPhones and iPads Apple tapped right into a huge market as the halo effect of these mobile devices drove Mac sales and vice versa.
This virtuous circle is precisely what has driven Apple’s phenomenal growth over the last decade.
Could a TV be the final part of an overall home hub strategy?
In fact, you could argue it is the last frontier in the home just waiting to be conquered.
Imagine getting rid of all those channels you don’t ever watch and throwing away those clunky remotes.
iOS devices are effectively pre-built remotes and with Siri enabled voice commands it opens up a world of possibilities in the long term.
As for premium programming, the main drivers for pay television are movies and sport.
Apple already have plenty of films on the iTunes store and via apps like Netflix and Lovefilm.
When it comes to the major studios Disney have already put their chips firmly with iTunes, whilst their rivals (Sony, Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount) have signed up to UltraViolet, which is essentially a digital locker strategy.
The pace of change puts media companies that make TV shows and program TV channels in a dilemma. On one hand, they hope that they can increase their profits by selling new services on new devices. But they are worried that a proliferation of new services could undermine the existing TV business, which brings in more than $150 billion a year in the U.S. in advertising and consumer spending on monthly TV subscriptions from cable, satellite and telecommunications companies.
Could 2012 see Apple provide the elusive magic box and disrupt the TV business like they did to the music industry?