Teens today are the first generation to watch less television and attend fewer movies than their predecessors, as they turn increasingly to their computers and handheld devices, noted participants at a New Online Portal panel, which kicked off the Toronto International Film Festival’s first day on Thursday.
But that doesn’t mean they’re watching fewer movies. That bald reality raises not only the specter of piracy for the establishment, but also the scent of opportunity for those willing to embrace online portals, noted panelists Romen Podzyhun, founder of the Canadian short film channel Movieola, Jaman’s Kathleen Powell, Peter Bradley of Azureus and Pierre-Alexandre Labelle of Universcine.
Today there are 45 sites where movies can be accessed, noted Podzyhun, and just as young people are destined to become the mainstream consumers of tomorrow, this number will surely grow. Filmmakers and online entrepreneurs are grappling with how best to build a viable industry to serve this burgeoning community.
While the business model remains in flux, the panelists agreed that there are more varied and democratic means to make money for online portals than via traditional venues.
Bradley pointed out that filmmakers using his subscriber-supported Vuze service are able to set their own prices, while Powell noted that a lot of it depends on the audience and the content itself. Users may appreciate the choice of either being able to purchase content ad-free or receiving that same content gratis in return for viewing the ads.
France is a much more strictly controlled market than North America, noted Labelle. A myriad of inter-professional agreements dictate the schedule of legitimate online and SVOD releases. He noted that the most commonly used business model in Europe now is online rentals. "Our approach is different," he said. "We have a different relationship with filmmakers. They’re busy producing and distributing movies, and they want us to promote them online."
When a film is downloaded on Universcine, he said, 60% of the gross is given to the filmmaker, though this ratio is on a trial basis for now. "That is subject to change," he said. "If in a year it’s not working, we’re not making money, then we may lower it."
Piracy continues to plague the industry, though online encoding means that it’s easier to break a DVD lock or smuggle a camera into a theater than it is to pirate from Jaman, said Powell. "I can almost say it will never happen because of the type of coding we do."
And when pirated copies of films appear online, there have been innovative attempts to jam the Internet pirates. One method is flooding the web with false bootlegs that are actually advertising, as Michael Moore’s people did when Sicko appeared online. But Bradley argued that you can’t outrun these people. "It’s a game – someone will hack it," he said.
Powell believes that most users will continue to pay for legitimate fare, if only because of its superior quality.
Looking to the next five years, the panelists predicted that due to the efforts of the likes of IBM and Motorola, eliminating "the last three feet" – the distinction between the computer in the office and the television in the living room – will shortly become a reality. They also called for the elimination, or at the least streamlining of digital rights management – a clunky barrier that even the music industry is moving away from – as well as the narrowing of platforms and, best of all for filmmakers, what Bradley termed "the ultimate democratization of content," in which the next success like the Blair Witch Project could occur online.