Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What's The Value in Online Video Beyond Money?

While I really shouldn't blog when I'm having a weird day (don't ask), I promised readers that I would address an issue from the comments...

So, RickM writes from my Green screen piece:

Here's what I find depressing. I was blown away by "Prey Alone." It looked great, action editing was superb, the story had a terrific twist. It had everything, it was a homerun. But take a look at the director's IMDB profile -- he's done nothing since. And you've linked to countless pulpy shorts on YouTube that look similarly great and have 500 views in five years (Prey Alone was made in 2004). Search google for links to this superior free entertainment and you'll find two (to the official site). TWO! It has 2000 views on YouTube. Where is the audience? How could this have led nowhere for its makers? As I said, depressing...
Let's address a couple of issues right off the bat:

-- You're equating the number of views and audience size with value for the producers. While I understand the thought process there, I would caution against stepping into an obvious sandtrap.

-- You're also equating small of views with leading nowhere for the filmmakers.

Let's use Saint & Mather as examples here because they're available. And we have several measuring sticks when it comes to value (beyond money) from online video (or D2DVD movies, or any sort of media project). There are several streams of value when it comes to creating, producing and distributing an online video project:

The Number of Views/ Who's watching:

Certainly, having a lot of people watching your video at the outset is a pleasant boost to the ego much in the same way that "festival darlings" used to be. However, you also have to factor in the demographics of who watched the video and where. Who watches is just as important as how many (something you see in television all the time).

Since Saint & Mather are commercial directors one can surmise that their agents sent the link to the video to dozens of advertising agencies around the world. People who are in a position to give them commercial jobs (Just like Ridley Scott and other high profile movie directors do in between feature films).

The two could be happily raking in the cash by making commercials, joining crews on TV series, they could be quite happy being paid to develop a movie or two -- or not. We don't know. I do know - they have representation, they used local funding and tax incentives to make their movie, and their movie was distributed worldwide via the web and possibly other media (DVD sampler reels, etc...).

That's a win.

But let's say this didn't lead to jobs but to just 2000+ people who watched the short movie, liked it and said so...

(also understand this movie was on their website,,, and I'm sure others. The 2000 number is an extremely low reference, and I think actual numbers would range in the 10's of thousands)

The Publicity value:

I just Google searched "Prey Alone" and came up with 792,000 hits on the subject. Let's discount a third of that as unsuitable and come in at 550,000 (+/-) for actual related hits about this short movie. That's quite a few hits - see?

Bottom line: People are talking about this movie - the subject, how it was made, the people who made it - all of the topics publicists and agents dream of for their clients. It seems that everyone who's seen it has talked about it in some way, shape or form - both online and in magazines.

Not too shabby for one 15 minute short film.

The Brand Value:

Saint & Mather have other commercial work up on their site and how to contact them. Let's put this another way - every online video is someone's first. I stumble across new stuff all of the time - only it's not new it's just new to me. People send me links. I recognize titles and names. I try new things from people whose work I've enjoyed before. I bookmark sites and add their feeds.

And I am not alone in this.

Online video never dies. It keeps on representing how good you were when you made it.
(That's both a good and bad thing)

The Experience Value:

You will find that in this business there are people who talk about what they are doing, and those who get it done. The more you can do without supervision - and demonstrate that you are capable and independent and yet willing to work with the team - the better you are.

That comes from doing it - a lot.

If you want to push yourself there's no better way than for someone to say, "We can't afford that," or " You can't do that," and then you go off and show them it can be done - and how. You can do that through online video. You can get better, stronger, faster...

Does that mean you're going to "win" every time? Hell no, it means you're going to fail - a lot. But you are going to get better because you will have an audience that WILL tell you how they feel about your work, where it worked and where it didn't. Think of it as defending your thesis day in and day out.

The Educational Resource Value:

On that note, there is an umbrella factor we are forgetting here regarding online video - it serves to educate. At my fingertips I now have access to tons of data and reference when it comes to making my own media. When I pitched my movie to Drew Bellware I told him exactly what kind of movie I was developing by linking video clips within my pitch document.

Used to be you had to go home and edit tape to bring in to a client to demonstrate the concept. Now it all happens online... and the more people who add to it the better. Unless it's more of the useless cat videos.

I can conceive of a time in the next year or so, when all of the material that is taught in film school is available online in real time. That someone can utilize online tools to learn to make all their movies and media...

The Social Value:

Making and sharing media performs a valuable social function. Just ask Iran.


The fact I'm writing this post five years after a 15 minute short film has "aired" should be argument enough that Prey Alone hasn't led to nowhere. Maybe it hasn't led to the two directors being handed the keys to the feature film kingdom (with its many virgins dressed in white), but it's certainly not the fail that your comment implies.

You also have to understand that things are changing, morphing, evolving and the monetary aspect will evolve with it. The audience for online video is growing every day. From old shows finding their way onto the Hulu brainsuck to new stuff like The Mercury Men .

Be a part of it.
Grow with it.
But most of all... just do it.

(Did I really just end this thing with a Nike slogan?)


Andrew Bellware said...

Um. Those aren't virgins.


I checked...

Unknown said...

Great response Bill, thanks. You're right about the views, there are 60K+ on Atom, and I'm sure it's elsewhere. Still seems low when you look at some of the crap that gets two million views on YouTube. I do hope these guys are raking cash as commercial directors. I guess my point of frustration stems from the fact that there is some really good work going online, and it just gets lost in the noise. As we're breaking free from the network and studio model of distribution, it does bring into relief that there is some value in an edited "feed" of content. D2DVD has been a good one as far as pointing out the pulpy stuff, so thanks for that as well.

...And you're welcome for the rant bait.

Chris Kirby said...

A bit late to the conversation here, but the Irish duo, Saint & Mather, were hired to write and direct the comic book adaptation of Lost Squad for Rogue Pictures. They were hired based on PREY ALONE.

They wrote a script and shot some test footage but the WGA strike and the sale of Rogue to Relativity Media derailed development. Relativity are going to let the option lapse.

Cunningham said...

Chris -

Thank you for the update. It proves my original point that there is value in online video - in this case both monetarily and career-wise.

S&M made a name for themselves and "went to the show."

Chris Kirby said...

I believe I've found a new video from Saint & Mather here -- . Click on the preview for THE MECHANICS. Many of the same actors from PREY ALONE appear in this clip.

VERY cool stuff.

OT & FWIW -- If anyone is going to Comicon this week, I'm setting up at exhibitor booth C04 with Lost Squad books for sale. Come by and say hi!

Chris Kirby said...

Looks like the Mechanics is from 2006. I had not seen it before and thus thought it was new.

Still it's a cool example of green screen work.