How the Brony Documentary Makers Should Handle Filesharing
The fandom that surrounds My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has been discussed here on the blog before with the show’s creators and network rightfully being praised for their interaction with it. This was doubly evident once it became known that the show was attracting fans that were, well, far outside the show’s intended demographic. The result was the coining of the term ‘brony’ (bro+pony) and the proliferation of these fans throughout the internet and beyond. Bronies have since spawned many websites, forums and even conventions dedicated to their favourite show.
The phenomenon spurred the creation of a documentary about it after actor John de Lancie became acquainted with it thanks to a role on the show. As with many contemporary projects, a Kickstarter campaign was launched and it quickly reached its initial funding goal. Subsequent stretch goals resulted in a grand total of $322,022 being raised from 2,621 backers.
It was therefore with some dismay (and sadness) that the producers noticed that the completed documentary was available on internet filesharing sites almost immediately after its release to Kickstarter backers:
You may have heard that we are shutting down production. For clarification, this refers to canceling plans to invest more time and money into releasing a disc with additional material and segments that have already been shot but didn’t make it into the film. We have many great stories that just didn’t fit into the flow of what we were creating with the film but thought the Brony community would really enjoy seeing. Because the piracy within the Brony community is rampant and pervasive we’ve come to the conclusion that investing any more time and energy would be not be worthwhile.
So with additional work on the documentary being stopped due to ‘piracy’, how could the brony documentary makers respond to this in a way that not only enables them to continue the additional work, but also attract new fans who may be willing to pay for it?
First and foremost, this does not mean that they should neglect the people who have funded it through the service. Those that donated with the recognition that they would receive rewards have a legal right to what they were promised. That said, many commentators on the post announcing the stoppage were vocal in their support for an additional campaign to fund the extra features.
That does not make a lot of sense insofar that it is taking another drink from the same trough. Although backers are willing to pay for additional extra features, why would you need to pre-sell it to them? Surely those that will donate will buy them once they are completed? The vast success of the original campaign already proves that the demand exists. In any case, the additional costs that Kickstarter imposes would only serve to lower the funds available to create the features in the first place.
Fix the Downloads
The documentary was made available to all backers who donated more than $30 as a digital download. Since then, it has been released to the general public in three DRM-free formats. The reason it has been made available so quickly is that manufacturing takes time, and the producers (naturally) want the film to be out there as soon as possible.
The only problem is that the download is just the film, nothing more and nothing less. Did I mentioned it costs $12.99? Yeah, that too. Why is that a problem? If you are faced with a choice for something (legality aside for a minute), would you rather cough up $12.99 or $0.00? You’d plump for the latter I’m sure. Here’s a screenshot of the torrent as of writing:
All told, you’re look at under 400 people being involved with this torrent. That’s well below the 2,621 that backed it, and certainly a pittance of the 5,000+ that attend the BronyCon convention. That suggest that the numbers involved are relatively small compared to the size of the overall Brony community. The legal method also does not account for cases like this:
Understandably there are costs associated with digital downloads but there is a convenient way to eliminate those that are discussed further down.
As part of the Kickstarter campaign, the rewards included a copy of the documentary on physical media (Blu-Ray and DVD). Those are (as of writing) being produced by the fabricator. However, there is (as of writing) no listing on Amazon (or eBay) for the disc and there is unlikely to be one until it is finished.
The problem with such a situation is that with a release date that is not readily apparent, potential viewers are unlikely to know that it will be available on physical media unless they do some research. Amazon has the ability to feature products for pre-sale, why wasn’t the documentary installed there before now?
Although the main issue is that viewers are moving away from physical anyway, there is an apparent failure on the part of the producers to adequately think out their release plan. As noted with Wreck-It-Ralph, releasing a film in digital format prior to the physical media will do you no good whatsoever. That’s not to say the discs should not go ahead, but that an effort but an extra effort will likely be required.
How to Help the Brony Documentary Make Money
With all the above in mind, it’s time to look at ways that the situation can be improved for everyone involved.
Why not put it on bittorrent?
The first question to answer is why shouldn’t the film be available in bittorrent? There are numerous advantages; namely the elimination of any costs associated with hosting, as individual users do that. They also pay for the bandwidth too, so there’s two significant costs immediately eliminated.
So if your major costs are removed, any monies you do receive will be almost total profit, right? Yes! Of course. So the simple solution is to find a way to extract money from people who view the documentary via bittorrent. Why not include a donation link in the video? Why not include the film’s website where you can sell them things?
Sell Some Merchandise
Right now there is not a single shred of merchandise available relating to the film. Yes there are copyright issues surrounding the My Little Pony show itself, but not the documentary surrounding it. The film has a distinctive (if unremarkable) logo that could and should be plastered on t-shirts, hats and everything else that companies like to flog these days.
Shows like Adventure Time have been excellent at providing fans with things they desire and represent the contemporary way of connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. Why don’t the documentary makers consider this? Fans have already paid for the film, why wouldn’t they also pay for merchandise supporting it?
Reaching outside of the fandom
The documentary has garnered some media attention but that alone will not attract non-fans and non-bronies alone. People who are not intently interested in the topic matter are unlikely, maybe even unwilling, to cough up money to view it. The advantage of it being freely available is that anyone can watch it, with the result being that people outside the brony sphere are much more likely to either become involved themselves or at least take a more positive attitude to the phenomenon.
Larger audience for conventions and festivals
Films usually require large audiences to achieve success and one of the ways they accomplish this is through festival and convention screenings. Such events are sometimes accompanied by the presence of the filmmakers themselves. If the film is freely available online, such screenings will be more popular (fans always like the personal dimension), raising the profile of the film and greatly improving the opportunity to make money.
It’s always disheartening when something does not turn out as anticipated. It happens to everyone and this documentary is no exception. The important thing to remember is that when faced with a situation like this there is more than one way to respond. The music industry found out the hard way that taking a hard line is certainly the one to avoid. Thankfully the producers do not appear willing to go down that road, but it is nonetheless disheartening to see them not consider the many proven alternative that are available to them.