November 2, 2009 Jill

Rob Mills turned me on to a very important interview with Eric Garland of Big Champagne, who has been monitoring trends in filing sharing for almost 10 years. In the CNET interview, Garland puts what he knows in the context of the future of the film and music industries. He has a lot to say about the kind of business models that will help media companies survive.

On who’s engaging in file-sharing:

…even Mom and Pa Kettle are getting to the point where they say if it’s not on, let’s just fire up the computer and watch it. If they want me to wait six months, I’ve got other options. And people don’t really have a conscious or qualms about that, or at least it’s mitigated by their feeling that they are entitled to keep up with the Jones’. It is the Twitter, real-time Internet expectations.What we’re seeing is a tremendous pile-on of feature film and television content, led by TV worldwide. In terms of growth, it is eclipsing the sharing of these little music files. I mean most of the new adopter activity, most of the increase in terms of people, transactions, and downloads is coming on the video side.

That means that this year or next year is going to be Hollywood’s year to really start to lose audience–not just at the fringes but in regular middle-American living rooms. They’ll lose them to the other box, to the smart box.

On how the music industry blew it:

Everything that the customer demonstrated that they wanted starting with the original Napster was diametrically opposed to what the music industry needed. Everything that the distributor or the (bandwidth providers) wanted was diametrically to what the music industry wanted. In other words there was no place to hammer out a marketplace that would work for both sides. Customers would say “I want MP3s” and the music industry would say “We can’t do MP3s because we have to have (digital rights management).” The customer would say “deal breaker!” The customer would say “I want every piece of music ever recorded. I want access to everything, everything I can remember dancing to no matter what year I went to prom and I want it right now.”Napster said sure. The music industry said “We can’t do that. We can only license these titles.” Deal breaker.

The customer said “I want to eat all I want at one low price that feels like free.” The music industry said “No my friend, it’s a dollar a track.” There was no point of agreement. Hollywood conversely, is very different.

On whether the subscription model Hulu is considering is a viable revenue model:

Absolutely not. What you have is a very effective antipiracy tool in Hulu, and I’m specifically drawing on the numbers and not just citing anecdotal evidence. People really do prefer the Hulu experience. So you actually have cannibalization, for once, of a pirate market by a legitimate market. You have a legitimate market stealing share and audience away from a pirate market. Put that behind a subscription wall and they’ll just go back.

On the new reality:

growing a sector is a privilege and not a right. There is no right size. There is no correct or God-given size for any sector. Why do we get to make movies that cost $300 million to make? Because we have found venues where people will spend more than $300 million on the result. If people spend only $50 million then the price of a movie must be $49 million or less. …

I know people are tearing out hair and spinning in graves, but maybe “Transformers” has to be made for $75 million next time. Oh my God, what am I saying? Put the words back in your mouth. That is just a pretty plain faced observation. One outcome might mean that in the Digital Age the return on investment on a major International tent-pole franchise is not a billion dollars. It’s a quarter of that or a third. Therefore we have to get our costs in line with the market value.

On the future of copy (or content) protection:

We now have the benefit of hindsight. We have watched an industry go through this. I think we can say with some confidence we know how this unfolds. What will happen is the studios will exhaust every available remedy and there will be a series of evolutions, meaning they will exhaust one remedy and a new one will present itself. These things will be pursued in tandem. They will pursue technological intervention on the Internet. This goes to the study at NYU that basically says this has had no effect. Ultimately, because they are spending a lot of money and not getting results, they’ll become disillusioned with these vendors. They’ll clean house. But something else will present itself……

They will have to chase legal remedies, legislative agendas, all the way to what they view as being the end of the line before they say “OK, so this really is the landscape we’re stuck with. As much as we didn’t want it, this appears to be it. Now we have to just dive in and make businesses that work here.”

But my message to media companies is they don’t have that kind of time anymore.

Follow Big Champagne on Twitter. Read their blog.

The phrase “film industry’s burgeoning meltdown” is used in the intro to this interview.  Garland is trying hard to prevent Hollywood for suffering a fate similar to the music industry’s.  But it sounds like he’s meeting a fair number of road blocks.  I think we can all see a shakeout coming.  Big players are going to fall.

Bad news for some can be good news for others.  There’s opportunity coming.

Clinging to the old won’t work. We’re going to need new ways of doing business and who better to come up with them than people with creative minds? That’s you.

Comments (2)

  1. beau

    I’m sure he’s a smart guy, but that bit about Transformers is grating to the ear. Transformers was the highest grossing movie of the year. His comment makes him sound like he knows nothing about the business. Is he just repeating points from Chris Anderson’s book Free? I recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s review of that book here:

  2. admin

    I was with Malcolm Gladwell on Free till I read Free. Anderson has some pretty compelling things to say. I don’t think Garland is quoting it. He’s spent ten years studying file sharing aka P2P aka torrent downloading. He’s not an expert in the film biz, his expertise is in how people are accessing media today. And it’s not always by paying for it.

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