iTunes video and the future of distribution

30 12 2007

Ira DeutchmanTwo recent news items and a fascinating podcast interview with Ira Deutchman have combined to get me thinking about how Steve Jobs and Apple can have a role in the future of filmmaking rather than tagging along on the sidelines.

The Financial Times had an article a few days ago about an about-to-be-signed deal between News Corporation and Apple in regards to renting Fox Films through the iTunes store.

In a deal struck between the maker of the iPod gadget and News Corporation, the parent company of The Times and owner of Fox, consumers will be able to rent the latest Fox DVD releases by downloading a digital copy from Apple’s iTunes platform for a fixed period.

It is understood that Apple has been trying for months to persuade Hollywood studios to sign up to a digital rental model, in which subscribers would be able to download and view films for a set period, but until now no studio has agreed to a deal. Studios are understood to have had concerns over issues such as pricing and piracy.

I would assume, by the way, that Disney is soon to follow.

I’m going to omit any discussion on how this reflects a change in Apple’s business model that’s been a-long time comin’. Most people don’t want to own films. The main reason why they buy DVDs and download films for storage is so that they can watch them whenever they want without a trek to a video store. But that ground has been over covered by many bloggers much better than I. Instead, I’d like to combine it with another news story, one from last month. In an interview with George Sirois on 411Mania, among a zillion others, Ed Burns described how he was releasing his new film, PURPLE VIOLETS, directly to iTunes, rather than take any number of half-assed theatrical releases.

We got a couple of half-assed theatrical offers, but the last couple films I’ve done I’ve done that and, you know you do all this publicity and then the movie’s released in New York and LA, and maybe Chicago and San Francisco, and if you’re anywhere outside of those four major cities, your audience can’t find it. So, we’re gambling and we’re gonna be the first film that is released exclusively through iTunes. It’ll be available for four weeks exclusively, and the idea is we’ll promote it the same as you would a theatrical release and we’ll see what the numbers are. If the attendance, if the downloads, which we expect to be a much higher numbers than the attendance, I think it’ll be the way I would go in the future for small movies like this. You know, and then we’ll do more festivals than you might normally, so you can hit kinda smaller markets for the theatrical experience, but for everyone else it’s available, kinda like what people do…

Then, just this morning, I was listening to a fantastic interview with Emerging Pictures CEO Ira Deutchman on the usually interesting TCIBR (This Conference Is Being Recorded) from The Workbook Project, a really interesting website which has, as its slogan, “An Open Source Social Experiment for Content Creators.” Deutchman, who is somewhat of an articulate visionary in regards to distribution, makes a number of really great points about what is broken with theatrical distribution today, much of which has been said before. On the other hand, he talks about the things that Emerging is doing to move in new directions. With digital distribution, his company has set up a series of monthly screenings of films that play simultaneously in all of the 40 theatres that they have deals with, called “Undiscovered Gems” in which unreleased films are run. Deutchman also is interested in creating “events” for distribution, allowing press to get excited about a film that would normally disappear into the vast morass of unreleased or small released projects.

But What If We Put Them All Together?

We know that Apple has now accepted the idea of a rental model for some of its films. We also know that they distribute music and movies for free, when prompted. If you look at podcasts, for instance, most of them are free I would note that they have worked with studios to allow free downloads of episodes of “The Office” and others for TV Academy members and readers of the Hollywood trade newspapers. All we needed was a passcode.

What would happen if they moved just slightly further and started looking towards sliding scale rentals? In fact, what if they decided to become the corporate sponsor of something like Emerging’s “Undiscovered Gems” or took on that task themselves. In a flash, Apple could become a film distributor for films that don’t have other distribution channels. In short, they could become a broadcaster. Singlehandedly, they could become a viable channel for all types of popular and niche films and television. We wouldn’t have to disguise them as video podcasts anymore (and house them on our own servers). In one bold stroke, Apple could become the dominant force in independent (for now) film distribution. Rather than simply being a retailer (the way they are with the record, film and television distributors) they would be a distributor.

And maybe that’s where it’s all going anyway — back to the days when the film distributor and retailer were one and the same (until the Paramount Consent Decree of 1948 outlawed the ownership of movie theaters by the studios).

And that, my friends, is probably studios like NBC/Universal are out to kill iTunes That is a future that they don’t like at all.

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3 01 2008
Music Distribution Problems « H o l l y n - w o o d (Norman, that is)

[…] we move out of the top tier of films and start adopting a more Internet friendly distribution mode (see my post on this), it’s going to be harder for good indie filmmakers to rise above the chaff of both […]

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