5 Thoughts On The Dreamworks Ptch Announcement

Via: GigaOM

Late last week, DreamWorks announced their latest venture, a mobile computer program app that melds together photos, music, slideshows, mobility and sharing all into one. Christening it “Ptch” and taking a leaf out of just about every startup going these days, it is nonetheless unique to see a movie studio release an actual, honest-to-godness piece of software that apparently has nothing to do with their core business of selling movies and TV shows.

With that rather astonishing aspect to consider, here’s 5 thoughts on DreamWorks Ptch announcement and what it means.

1. DreamWorks must become a technology company

Amid over at Cartoon Brew muses about Ptch being a tool for DW to evolve in “different and unexpected directions” and he’s absolutely right. This is no doubt only the first salvo in DW’s shift from simple animation studio to an animation-centric technology company.

The unstoppable collision of art, entertainment and technology necessitates it. The future of DW as an independent studio is tenuous at best given the rapid shift in how content is created, marketed and sold. The traditional business model of box office grosses and DVD distribution is crumbling and it has clearly behooved Jeffrey Katzenberg to start looking in new directions (we’re told to expect an announcement within the next fortnight regarding distribution). Adapting a focus on technology will undoubtedly help in that regard.

2. The consumer approach is novel, if risky

DW isn’t alone in adapting a focus on technology, Pixar has long had a second revenue-generating division in its Renderman and associated software that are available commercially. The difference is that the Emeryville outfit is focused more so on the enterprise and business-to-business end of things. Sure, a regular consumer could purchase Renderman for their own use, but they aren’t the target customer.

DW, on the other hand, is gunning for the ordinary guy (and teenager) in the street with Ptch. While this can obviously create a large amount of value a la Instagram, it could also backfire as Google knows all to well with its ventures. Having said that, DW does have an experienced hand in Ed Leonard and the idea of Ptch itself does seem different enough from existing offerings that should give it a leg up in the marketplace.

3. There is of course an ulterior motive

While it is nice to think that DW is releasing Ptch as a nice little startup-esque service to gauge interest and provide something cool for consumers, the reality is naturally grounded in business. As Leonard himself explains in The Guardian’s excellent review:

Our DNA is rooted in content owners, so we’re trying to do this in the right way and make sure we respect content owners’ rights,” he says. “We really want this to be an opportunity for the content guys to make new revenue.”

If you read that right, you’ll get a hint that Ptch is more than just a pretty app, it’s a tool to gauge how DW can make the transition into the next generation of film marketing, i.e. directly to consumers. As Lenord himself notes in the Guardian piece, the notion of allowing users to download, remix and share their own creations using DW’s artistic creations is very much on the cards. (Read my post on something eerily similar that DW’s enterprise technology chief Kate Swonborg said a few months ago). Bear in mind that if that is the case, DW can stand to glean a lot (a lot) of really useful data about consumers that they can use to better their output.

4. What about the competition?

Leonard was smart in getting J. Katzenberg to agree to a separate business unit within the company as it gives them the necessary wiggle room that corporate structures don’t normally provide. Where does that leave competitors though?

Disney has long has trouble getting their internet strategy together (and apparently have a long way to go, if my efforts to watch the really cool Gravity Falls on Disney.com are any indication). Sony and Blue Sky haven’t announced anything yet but the former is likely to be hamstrung by the corporate parent’s influence and conflicting divisions (hey kids, remember the Walkman?) while the latter, as a division of FOX, may be too focused on being a studio to get into the technology game.

5. Good move/bad move?

Ultimately, this is an interesting, risky, unnecessary, innovative and potentially defining release for DreamWorks. The success or failure of Ptch will largely determine which direction the company goes in the near future. It’s existence as an independent entity won’t rest on Ptch, not in the slightest, but what DW learns from it will provide plenty of experience to enable them to make decisions with regard to it. If it succeeds beyond their wildest expectations, we may see DW start to emerge as the market leader, potentially overtaking Disney. If it fails, you can be sure they’ll have another crack at getting it right. Either way, its encouraging to see the company innovate with en eye to the future.

Start Your Animation Studio In 6 Easy Steps!

The inclusion of this ad is explained at the end.

Yes! Start your very own animation studio is 6, yes, 6 easy peasy simple steps! Soon you’ll be on your way to Walt Disney-esque fame and fortune, or John Textor-like infamy and ridicule (if you prefer). Why have a boring office job, when you can be making cartoons! Funny, hilarious, maybe even serious ones! Your adoring public is awaiting! Don’t delay! Start today!

OK, enough of that nonsense and onto more serious things. Yup, animation is certainly booming. Everyone and their Mum seems to be getting into the business; either starting a studio or setting out their stall over on YouTube. So it should come as no surprise whatsoever to see that borderline spam site eHow (no, I won’t link, even Google will only help you begrudgingly) has a nice [snicker] guide to setting up your animation studio in 6 steps. Let’s deconstruct it.

Here’s the pitch:

Animation services are in high demand right now. Not only do film makers use animation services to create animated movies, but they also use them for special effects. Computer and video game manufacturers also utilize animation services to enhance their products.

Totally true, right? That’s why the industry as a whole has been expanding over the last 15 years. Then we get to the hook:

With such a high demand for animation this is an industry that is in desperate need of additional service providers, because of this you can turn your artistic abilities into a six or seven figure business.

That’s right, you too can build a $10 million business in one of the most competitive industries in the world.

From here, we go into the actual 6 steps. Step 1:

Find a niche for your animation business. You can focus on animation for commercials, animation for computer games, animation for video games, CGI animation for special effects or you can focus on producing animated shorts or features. The focus that you select will impact which supplies and equipment you use for your new animation business.

Hmmm, that’s a wee bit vague, but then again the industry is quite broad. Let’s see what step 2 says:

Buy equipment. You will need a quality computer system with extra hard drive space to store your animation, digital cameras, lighting equipment, animation paper, cellulose, paint, pencils, general art supplies, drafting tables, light tables, sound equipment and editing equipment. You will also need to buy enough licenses for your animation software to facilitate the size of your animation staff. Some animation software products that can be used include Toon Boom and Xara 3D.

A.K.A. Buy some stuff! Computers! Digital! 3-D!!!

Hire and train your staff. This is a step you can skip if you will be starting out as the only employee in your company. However, when you grow to hire a staff, you will need to make sure that each individual understands the code of ethics associated with your business. You will also need to make sure each is trained in the animation software the business uses. Fortunately, many animation software companies offer user training programs for employees to take advantage of.

Yeah, you probably should train yourself first, and you’ll probably want to hire trained staff so, y’know, they have a clue about what they’re doing. Then again, you could always hire interns

Develop a demo for attracting new clients. This demo needs to demonstrate your full range of animation services. Get the demo down to under three minutes long, while still keeping the images crisp, entertaining and cohesive.

Soooooo, spend money in the hope of acquiring business. Hmmm, surely you would start off small and build a reputation through hard work and excellent customer service and content, no? No? You’d rather blow all your seed capital on a demo that won’t earn you any experience points? Okie dokie then.

Acquire licensure and insurance. You will need professional liability insurance, commercial property insurance, a business license and a copyright for all intellectual property.

Very important these, especially the copyright, which you must acquire despite being granted it automatically. Also don’t forget to register and trademark the shit out of any names, logos, mascots, t-shirts and/or answering machine messages so you can sue the crap out of some poor sod and be rightfully compensated.

Launch your animation company by pitching your services to a target market. For example, set up a website to promote your services, purchase television and radio advertisements, or set up meetings with computer, video game and movie production studios to pitch your services. You may also benefit from hiring an agent to promote your services for a ten percent fee.

I love this last one. Basically it pulls the old “build it and they will come” schtick, which we all know works out well for anyone who’s tried it. Yup, nowhere does it talk about capital; where to get it, how to raise it and how to put it to work. In other words, the green stuff that enables you to do all the above.

The bottom line and reason for this post? The ad at the top gives a clue; people buy this kind of scammy advice! They buy it all the time! They see the dollar signs and the promise of a quick buck, and they get in there and have a good go at screwing up the industry for the rest of the folks busting their backs to make a living, or spend all their free time hustling to get new work.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the news reports of Pixar and Dreamworks’ mutli-million dollar grosses to convince greedy folks that yes, there is money in animation.

Who ultimately gets hurt (and yes, people do get hurt), it’s the actual animators and artists these clowns hire (or not) and either don’t pay them, or promise “exposure”. Let this be a warning: know thy enemy, he is the person who read those steps and attempts to hire you.