If the events of the last 15 years have taught us anything, it’s that young people in particular, really don’t give a damn about copyright. What it stands for, why it exists, and the purpose it serves are so lost on the youth that they often act as if it isn’t even real. Unfortunately for one upstart streaming website, the corporate parent of Nickelodeon begged to differ, and wasn’t afraid to sue to remind them either.
Writing for Forbes.com at the end of June (and escaping my attention until know), Merrill Barr postulates that Nickelodeon were wrong to alter their marketing plan for Book 3 of Legend of Korra after the Mexican arm of the network inadvertently let a few episodes from the season get loose on the internet, and are beholden to internet ‘pirates’ as a result. I say that’s poppycock.
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.
Via: All Movie Photo
Brown Bag Films CEO Cathal Gaffney recently published a piece in the Irish Independent with the terribly misleading title of “Giving Up Yer Aul Sins of Piracy May Protect Irish Jobs“. Far from being focused on “piracy” (although we’ll get to that in a minute), it’s a superb overview of the Irish animation landscape and how much it currently means to the Irish economy. Go read it now, I’ll wait.
For a long time there was a stigma of sorts around Irish animation being accepted in a serious way by Irish people themselves, and Cathal’s piece attempts to put paid to the idea that animation is a kiddie thing; a fun job with suitably “fun” revenues and rewards. Far from it, the Irish animation industry has grown from nothing to industry powerhouse through the smart use of international partners, tax incentives and their own creative talents.
While the article may not have a whole lot of meaning for readers abroad, if you want to know how Irish animation has gotten to where it is, there is no better comprehensive explanation.
Now, back to the “piracy” thing.
At the end of Cathal’s piece is this paragraph:
Piracy remains a real problem in Ireland and a threat to the growth of these companies. Piracy (of content and software) is not considered a real crime in Ireland but I wonder if the people who feel a sense of entitlement towards pirated content would feel the same if they knew it could cost Irish jobs. I believe the futile attempts at collecting the TV licences should evolve to see a tax on the ISPs addressing the wholesale theft of content.
It’s the only one in the entire article that deals with the subject and even them it seems tacked on (if you read the article you’ll see why the title is misleading).
The first question is whether “piracy” is a real problem in Ireland and whether it does threaten these companies. The country is only 4 million people and has a broadband penetration rate that trails the EU average quite significantly. Surely the UK market with 60 million people, a far higher percentage of people with broadband access, a common language and only a short plane ride away would be the bigger worry, no? Naturally the article isn’t aimed at British readers, but it seems unfair to pin the blame on groups who are likely to account for only a very small proportion of the viewing audience of Irish animation products.
We’ll come back to the sense of entitlement later, but the matter of how people would feel about “piracy” costing jobs is a delicate yet complex aspect to the whole problem. Unfortunately there exists a disconnect between what people view in their living rooms and how that content is actually produced. Yes, people who know people in the industry will be aware, but for everyone else, they are unlikely to know or even care where the content is produced. This is especially true in Ireland, where a significant chunk of televised entertainment is imported from abroad.
To further complex matters is the inevitable discrimination that exists when consumers are faced with a choice. In the case of televised content, is choosing to watch a British-made TV show considered wrong because it is at the expense of an Irish show produced with Irish labour? To extend the concept further, what if I get my coffee at Starbucks instead of the Irish-owned Insomnia Coffee or better yet, the local independent cafe? Am I a bad person for choosing the international chain over the national one? If I choose the national chain, I’m actively denying the independent cafe revenue.
And how do American animators feel about a show being broadcast in their country but is made in another? Since it’s taking a spot that could be occupied by an American show, that has a direct impact on the American animation industry and employment therein. Who’s to say which country’s industry takes priority? It’s an economic concept that is extremely difficult for many people to grasp, let alone for companies and governments to manage.
Coming back to the entitlement issue; it’s very, very important to distinguish between “entitlement” and “demand”. Entitlement is something that is something that people feel they are owed, such as clean air. No-one should feel entitled to free content. We have become accustomed to it, sure, but that vast majority of consumers have been proven time and again to be willing to pay for content.
Now whether their “demand” for content is being met is an entirely different matter. I freely admit that I downloaded the superb Nickelodeon show, The Legend of Korra from the good ol’ Pirate Bay but hear me out before you judge me.
Did I try to watch it online legally? Yes. I watched the first episode on Nick.com, fell in love with the concept and subsequently went back and watched the original Avatar:The Last Airbender series on Netflix. By the time I was finished with that, Nick had pulled the first couple of episodes of Korra from their website. So now I’m in a pickle. I can’t jump into the series halfway through, I’m not getting cable for just one show, and it will be quite literally years before the show is available on DVD or Netflix.
So what are my options here? How is Nickelodeon catering to my demands as a consumer? How are they extracting revenue from this loyal viewer? Are they favouring consumers over cable companies? The simple answer is that they are not on all three counts. I will in all likelihood purchase the DVDs when they are eventually released, but would I even consider doing so until I have seen the series? Probably not; it’s the same reason I declined to purchase the Avatar DVDs for a long time. I didn’t think I liked the show until I actually watched it.
So I downloaded Korra, I watched the episodes in glorious 1080p HD resolution as opposed to a compression-plagued Flash stream and I’m as big of a fan of the show as ever. Am I “entitled” to view the show? No. Is Nickelodeon “entitled” to my money for doing so? Yes! But only if they make it clear and obvious to me that they want it!
Lastly, Cathal raises the idea of a flat tax on ISPs to account for illegal downloading. (We’ll skip over the concept of the TV license; Americans would storm the Capitol if congress attempted to impose a tax on simply owning a TV). Besides the fact that collection agencies have been shown to act against artist’s interests again and again and again (that last one is just plain mean), it simply goes against basic capitalistic tendencies to forcefully divert money from the public to special interests.
The vast majority of internet users don’t engage in copyright infringement, nor do they engage with criminal elements who are actively profiting off stolen content. (That’s another important distinction; consumers who simply want to see and/or share the entertainment they love versus people who actively want to profit from it). It’s comparable to taxing car owners to offset the business that UPS and FedEx siphon away from the Post Office. Ireland isn’t France, if the Post Office has a problem, they need to compete. Be open later, deliver letters on time, offer services that UPS and Fed Ex don’t. In other words cater to consumer demand!
All the sectors of the creative economy are currently going though the wringer when it comes to selling their wares, but consumers are still the same. They want to see things, they want to read things, and they want (and will) pay for it. Will the fragmentation of the market affect the revenues to be earned? Absolutely, but there is little to be gained by simply pointing the finger at “pirates” and making everyone pay for something they might not buy in the first place.
What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comments below.
Yoinked from: Robot 6
Admittedly I’m not really an “otaku” or into much Japanese media besides anime but thankfully a few people I know or follow on twitter are, so it’s a shout out to Faith Erin Hicks for the tip on this article.
Posted on the Robot 6 blog over on Comic Book Resources is a surprisingly balanced analysis of exactly why things in the anime industry are in a state of flux at the moment. The entire post is definitely worth a few minutes of your time, even if you’re not really into anime or manga.
The gist of it is that thanks to the internet, so-called fansubs of anime series’ are being made available (through illicit means) well before established companies or even the rights holders can do the same.
The post takes a good look at this and why certain companies (such as ADV and Tokyopop) have gone south in recent years, namely being forced to market content that otherwise wouldn’t be economically viable as well as being restricted in terms of adapting to new delivery systems.
What it comes down to is this: It doesn’t matter how much it costs you to make a product; you can only charge what the market will bear. The way out of this is to offer the iffy manga and anime at a low cost, which generally means digitally, and put the premium content onto physical media at a premium price. If people just want to get their weekly fix of some second-rate anime, but don’t want a special edition to treasure forever, well, let them watch it via streaming media, sell some ads, and make some money you wouldn’t have otherwise. This also solves the other structural problem in the anime industry, the delay in getting shows to foreign markets, because digital is obviously faster than physical distribution. Just as water seeks its own level, consumers will find what they want. The only question is whether they get it from publishers or pirates, and publishers have a lot more choice than they realize. Most of the people watching bootleg anime won’t pay $30 for it anyway—that’s not a lost sale. But put it online, throw in some ads, maybe paid memberships for the hard-core fans who want higher quality and fresher content, and now that anime is making money from new viewers.
This is the crux of the issue. The reluctance of studios and networks to adapt to the market in order to better serve consumers is the real reason people are becoming “pirates”.
The important lesson is that consumers will do what they want. You can educate them, coerce them and entice them. But at the end of the day, if they can get something that you are either unwilling or unable to provide, they will look to other means, even if it means becoming a “pirate”.
This scenario contains lessons for the American animation industry. Being as expensive and complicated as it is to produce, is it wise to stick to the old, established ways and watch as your customers leave you behind? Why are shows like My Life as a Teenage Robot only coming out on DVD now? Why are they still not online (in the legitimate sense)?
These are all questions that studios and animators should be asking themselves. Are you catering to the changing market, or are you clinging to the old ways? Is that downloaded short film a lost sale? Or is it a sign of an under-served consumer?
The anime industry is just one of many that is undergoing similar issues, they are not unique. What is interesting though, has been what anime companies that have responded have done.
Smart localizers are catching on. Crunchyroll, a former pirate site that has gone mainstream in the sense of going legit and paying its content providers, seems to be doing quite well with streaming anime. Digital Manga has formed the Digital Manga Guild, which publishes enjoyably trashy yaoi manga digitally for less than the cost of a print volume and keeps prices low by using amateur translators. Viz is making the boldest move of all, putting Shonen Jump magazine online at a relatively low price and posting episodes of the top six series in within two weeks of their Japanese debut.
This ultimately means that:
The speed scanners will still beat them to it—for now—but…..manga and anime fans are basically decent and like to support the creators. Given a legitimate, inexpensive alternative, and a bit of education, many if not most will do the right thing.
This is true of any consumer. They are all for the most part, decent. if they weren’t, we would have seen at least on major studio go bankrupt by now. Be nice to them and they will reward you in return.
The Robot 6 post concludes with this great quote:
….by charging champagne prices for a beer product, anime and manga companies are sinking their own ship, and they don’t need the pirates to do it for them.
American studios take note.
Tip of the hat to Tim Cushing over at Techdirt for pointing out that the Beatles have joined together with the recording industry group Music Matters to create an animated video rallying against file sharing or “piracy”.
The interesting twist? The guy in the video discovered The Beatles because someone was “sharing” it out in the street. The video is also embedded on YouTube for all and sundry to share and embed. I can almost smell the irony from here.
The video itself is by a guy called Lee Gingold, who was not linked to by Music Matters leaving me to fend for myself by visiting Google.
The video itself is OK, but is on the whole, unremarkable. If you listen to it without the sound, it turns into another Flash cartoon with the pencilly look and some über simple character movements.