We’re finally right in the midsts of the digital media distribution inflection point. Several key trends that have pushed us along include: 1. the ubiquity of digital media and computation, 2. widespread adoption of high-speed internet connections in middle-class households, 3. dramatic improvements in video codecs (H.264), and 4. the popularity of viewing video on the web, fueled by sites like YouTube and Joost. We’re also at a point where a critical mass of media caretakers, rights owners, and media makers are seriously exploring the avenues available for them for digital distribution. There is no shortage of players who are trying to take old media business models and cash in on digital distribution (e.g. Jaman , iTunes , et al.) as well as a whole legion of start-ups experimenting with more interesting business model variations (e.g.Jalipo, Caachi , et al.) and then there are some folks who are thinking more along new lines (e.g. Participatory Culture Foundation , Renew Media , et al.).
Brian Newman, Executive Director of Renew Media, spoke last night at Filmmakers Workshop about Renew Media’s Reframe project. He suggested that independent filmmakers and distributors should make their films available through Renew. It’s a chaotic space with lots of activity and everyone is asking the same question that no one else can honestly answer: how are media makers going to make a living in a world where the value of content is dropping and the price of attention skyrocketing? While Renew Media does not have the answer, they are offering one approach to addressing the issue. According to them they support media artists and advocates on their behalf, connects audiences with independent films and contributes to the media arts through innovative programs and direct financial support.
Renew Media is a not-for-profit organization established in 1990 by the Rockefeller Foundation with the goal of supporting the creation, distribution, and awareness of independent media in all forms and to connect those works to a broad audience and soon they will be launching Reframe, providing a platform that supports curatorial acitivities and digital distribution. Reframe will help independent filmmakers, artists, distributors and archives by digitizing their content in order to make independent media easier to find. Much of what Reframe is digitizing will be available to the public for the first time. They are doing this by talking small percentages of the transaction fees while offering generous royalties to media owners (specific details are available on their site).
Reframe is building a website that will help viewers easily find titles, filmmakers or distributors, as well as browse to discover new works and they will have collections that are curated. They are not a distributor per se, they plan is to make content available through multiple distribution and delivery channels. Their arrangement with filmmakers and collections is non-exclusive, you can continue distributing media directly or through other outlets. One thing independents will really benefit from is free (video) or low-cost (film) digitization, this is to help archvives that have precious assets that are sitting on shelves rotting away (videotapes, especially older formats, have rather short lifetimes).
At first, titles will be available through Amazon’s DVD on Demand and Unbox digital download services, allowing users to purchase or rent titles. For each title you can set various purchase and rental prices to accommodate, for example, the educational market and personal purchases. consumers. This all sounds good on the surface, but lurking under the shiny surface is the world of DRM (Digital Rights Management).
Thus the partnership with Amazon Unbox is problematic. The terms-of-service of this video-on-demand service are among the worst that unwitting consumers have been suckered into, in which you’ll surrender your rights to privacy, the integrity of your personal data, and control over your own computer. If you’ve not already read it, now would be a good time to read “Amazon Unbox to customers: Eat shit and die” by Cory Doctorow.
Fortunatelly, Brian said they are also talking with other digital media distribution entities, like the Participatory Culture Foundation, whose Miro player just came out of beta. The idea is that if you place your content with Renew, you can opt in to each of the media distribution options. Nothing is “forced” upon you in terms of how your media gets out there. If you don’t want to help bring forth a DRM-induced Orwellian media nightmare, you’ll probably opt out of things like Amazon Unbox and go with a more rational distribution option. Why is DRM a problem for independent filmmakers? Does it not prevent theft of intellectual property? The movie studios are using it, why shouldn’t independent filmmakers do the same? I’ll try to provide my answer that question in a future post. Stay tuned.