The End of a Piracy Era – Kickass Torrents’ Big Take Down

An incredible story is emerging about the take down of arguably the Internet’s biggest torrent listing site, Kickass  Torrents. On July 19th the site went offline as alleged KAT mastermind Artem Vaulin was arrested in Poland under orders from the United States.

Full coverage of this is happening over at TorrentFreak, but I wanted to chime in on this as piracy is something that I’ve written about over the years.

I am not 100% against piracy, as I have said many times. In my opinion one of the driving factors behind movie piracy is the inflexibility of the movie industry to serve it’s customers. I live in Japan. Sometimes our release window is months (in the case of Oscar-nominated Joaquin Phoenix film ‘Her’ it was more than a year) after domestic North American release dates. This often comes down to local distributors and the fact that movie distribution runs much as it did in the days of sending prints by steamship.

When I raised the question at an industry forum about why we can’t abolish these windows I was told ‘it’s not logistically possible’. To which I replied that the pirates seem to be able to do it for free, so telling me that billion dollar corporations can’t do it seems a bit silly. Some filmmakers agree.

But I’m also a filmmaker (I recently received my MA in Film – yeah me!) and I appreciate that piracy is damaging to the financial outlook of a film, especially an indie film that is already running the risk of losing wide swaths of money. But I still argue that piracy stems from desire to consume. If we offer a better, easier, more instant way of consumers getting product then a large chunk of piracy will disappear.

Yes, there are people who pirate for pirate’s sake. And piracy has become incredibly easy….which is another point to the failings of the entertainment industry. NetFlix understands this: the goal is to make it easier to buy than pirate. People want easy. But people also want fast.

Finally, the fact that companies like Apple and Facebook cooperated in the bringing down of Artem Vaulin is concerning. Apple refused to assist in a case of domestic terrorism, but when it comes to jeopardizing their bottom line of movie and music sales via itunes, they’re all over it! As a shareholder in both Apple and Facebook, I see this as a worrying trend that will erode the public confidence in both of these brands. Vaulin’s ‘crimes’ are most definitely economic in nature, as opposed to violent. He also was a Ukrainian citizen living in Poland. That he was arrested under a US extradition order is also worrying. America seems to have no problem with banks foreclosing the homes of veterans, or indeed Wall Street types walking away with billions of government money. But don’t threaten the profit statement of corporations.

It is another case of imposing a rule without a solution. I don’t support piracy, but, I also think that equal, economic, assess to entertainment should be the goal of these companies, not simply clamping down and doing nothing.

We likes numbers! Breaking down some distribution scenarios

Adam Leipzig over at Cultural Weekly talks my language… numbers!

Leipzig breaks down a couple of different scenarios for a low – he says ‘micro’, but here in Japan his number ($400k) is medium budget! – budget film as far as traditional or direct distribution. It’s good reading if you like to see simulations and numbers (which I do).

Of course, the problem with articles like these is that they are VERY subjective and your mileage might vary incredibly. So they are best taken as theory, not practice.

Quagmire: Europe’s Digital Single Market plan

Variety has a further article about the proposed changes to Europe’s content and copyright laws (called DSM – Digital Single Market).

Everyone is up in arms about it. Well, almost everyone.

Producers don’t like it because it cuts out pre-sales to many small territories. Pre-sales, historically (I hate to say ‘traditionally’) were a way of funding films in advance of completion. The issue seems to be that because Producers want the same (if not more) money from each territory only a big company will be able to afford buying the rights for all of Europe.

Crazy Idea #1: If your film was truly worth it then a small company could issue a promissory note that a bank would loan against. Loaning against receivables is common in other industries.

Small distributors don’t like it because, well, they are small and regional and can’t hope to serve all of Europe.

Crazy Idea #2: Producers could find many small distributors and let them work in the area they are good at. Contractually limiting distributors to regions is, again, commonplace in other industries.

The only people silent on this are the big boys like Amazon and NetFlix. Everyone else’s inability to innovate a new solution to distribution is playing right into their hands.

Great article. Stay informed.

The battle is on for the very small screen

Exciting (for me) article over at Fortune magazine. Delving into the success of sites such as BuzzFeed that are fast-establishing dominance in the internet video world – over broadcast TV competitors.

It comes down – in part – to gathering metrics and paying attention to those metrics!

Some of this has been explored in books such as Contagious, by Jonah Berger, but it’s handy for those of us in this space to have an article specifically about online video.

Great reading for any content maker / filmmaker in these times.

BTW if you skip it because you think you’re a ‘creator’ and not a businessman, please proceed to your nearest government agency for a handout. Filmmakers have to be businessmen. Sorry.

Numbers! Actual numbers! Four filmmakers reveal distribution details

It’s very hard to get actual numbers out of ANYbody in the film business. I have yet to figure out exactly why this is… perhaps it is because 90%+ of filmmakers are in the red? Not sure.

But anyway, over at FilmmakerMagazine.com they have the first of two articles were some indie filmmakers reveal how well – and HOW – their films did when it comes to distribution.

Of course this article can’t be seen as any kind of scientific report – the sample size is painfully small and we are still in a high trust mode when it comes to the actual figures. Also, if they were willing to share I am guessing that these films are on the ‘success’ side of the equation.

All those caveats aside, I applaud these filmmakers for being so open. Can’t wait for part 2!

Knocking down the walls of territories… a good thing or death to indies?

I’ve not been silent in my opinion that the concept to geo locking releases is hated by consumers. It comes about because a different company is responsible for each territory and some may take longer than others to release a film in their area (for whatever reason). Geo locking is (in my opinion) the #1 factor that drives piracy – people want a film (or worse TV show) they have no other access to.

So in Europe there is a plan afoot to put an end to this and to create Europe-wide licenses. Great, right? Well, now we see the flip side – pre-sales. As detailed in this article from the Hollywood Reporter, many mid-budget films rely on pre-sales to numerous territories to generate cash to make the film. Hence the term ‘pre’ sales – the film isn’t made yet.

There seems to be the feeling that if licenses are now Europe wide the combined sticker price is a) going to be lower than splitting it up and b) few companies will be able to stump up enough cash, thereby reducing the buying pool to bigger concerns who are probably making their own product and thereby less likely to buy from outsiders.

Faced with the possibility of, on one hand getting what they wanted, producers have come to the shocking realisation that there is no such thing as a free lunch! Whereas before the geo system was the reason that smaller areas were not getting films, now the absence of geo locking seems to be that smaller consumer interests will not be catered to.

I have to call ‘bullshit’ on this. I’m sorry.

What is now being said is that this is another move by multinationals to strangle the little guy. That prices and budgets will be driven down. That films for niche audiences will not get sold. That smaller communities will not be considered in programming.

In other words, the same shit that producers have been complaining about will continue. Which I find hard to believe. Maybe it will get worse for some and better for others. Maybe the consumer (who? what?!) will be happier because the film they want to see they can see right away and the piece of shit low budget dredge fest will not be available.

What irks me is the inability for producers to see that this is a natural extension of the current situation and if you want things to change then propose a solution. Perhaps another distribution method, or finance method, needs to be looked at.

When Amazon.com started growing other bookstores had a chance to take them down. The reason they didn’t? In essence because they could not re-tool their distribution from shipping to their stores to shipping to the customer.

Right now every producer gets a hard on for selling to Netflix/iTunes, which is the modern equivalent of getting a cinema distribution deal. i.e. nothing has changed, ever, in the cinema world.

I don’t have a solution, but, for the consumer – who is whom we should be servicing in this ‘film business’ of ours – will be better off. Or at least the majority will be. We need to focus on the customer. If we do that right then the profits might come but just because there is a gap in the market doesn’t mean there is a market in the gap.

Distribution is a fact of life. It is a free market economy. Prices go down for the majority and up for the minority. And you are not owed a living.

Sorry, I’m rambling.

Here’s your article.

Ancient Vulcan Proverb: Only Netflix could go to China

[Letting my Trekkie colours fly]

Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings has said that ‘Netflix wants to reach 200 countries in the next 2 years’. Considering it is at 50 now that is going to be no mean feat!

Over at Reuters they have an article that delves deeper into the attempt to get into China. China is a huge market (double the number of internet users as America, and the spread is growing), and already watches legitimate online content (29 million views per episode for ‘Sherlock’). But can Netflix overcome the home grown company advantage?

It’s an interesting read. And you should start subtitling your films now.

IndieGoGo and Vimeo partner to help indies

IndieGoGo has been a leader in film project crowdfunding, and now they’ve partnered up with Vimeo. In exchange for being the preferred video platform for the crowdfunding site, Vimeo will pump up to $1M – mostly through matching funds – into projects raising funds on the site.

 

The Hollywood release model fuels piracy

Over at TorrentFreak they – once again – point the Hollywood’s antiquated release model as a primary cause of piracy.

The MPAA came out and said that there were lots of legal sources for digital content. True… but not CURRENT digital content.

TF has the numbers and details. Great read, but it will not change the patterns of Hollywood. Sadly.

Can all indie’s learn from the Duplass Brothers?

They quickly became indie darlings, but, it was the Duplass Brothers’ deal with Netflix that really opened the doors for them. Tribeca Films examines the long(ish) term impact of their decision to license early instead of looking for traditional distribution.

For sure the decision has worked out well for the brothers, who recently announced a 4 picture deal with Netflix but can the same come through for others.

What we have learned, or should have learned, by now is that in the indie world their is no model. There are only tiny lifeboats and piling into them only sinks them for those coming after.