Tag Archives: Sundance Film Festival

YouTube’s rental experiment wasn’t a failure

This piece looking at results from YouTube’s rental experiment illustrates the short-sighted thinking that handcuffs content companies:

Ouch! We’re talking about 1,422 total views, or $5,673.78 for all of the rentals at $3.99 apiece. If Google is giving the filmmakers roughly two-thirds of the take — and I’m going by other digital-media standards, since the site isn’t publicly spelling out the royalty payouts — each of the five productions will walk away with just hundreds of dollars for their role as video-sharing pioneers over the weekend.

I put this paragraph in the “trading analog dollars for digital pennies” genre. It’s catchy. Reasonable on first glance. But when you dig deeper, it’s ultimately ridiculous.

That $5,673.78 figure isn’t the key. The big deal — and the hope — lies in the 1,422 views. That’s 1,422 chances for filmmakers to have their work seen. That’s 1,422 more chances than they had before. The value of those views lies not in financial rewards (although that would be nice), but as a counter to an artist’s great enemy: obscurity. Isn’t that why film festivals exist? To show off work? To create the possibility of engagement? To create the possibility of landing theatrical distribution? How is YouTube’s effort any different?

Here’s the broader problem with this type of bottom-line analysis: digital income will almost always be lower than traditional income because digital audiences are smaller and empowered. They don’t have to blindly accept what’s given to them. They can pick and choose. They can sample. That’s a powerful set of tools. It means control rests solely in consumers’ hands.

Consumer control is the essential truth of digital content. Until that’s acknowledged — and until businesses are built to work in conjunction with this truth — content companies will spin their wheels, lose money, and whine incessantly.