Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Great White Hope of Indy Animators: Part 3a


First off I want to take moment to thank everybody for their great, insightful comments so far. It’s great to see a dialog like this going on in our little corner of the media/entertainment universe. And I also want to thank Mark Mayerson of Mayerson on Animation and Amid Amidi at the Cartoon Brew for plugging this discussion on their blogs. As a result of their mentioning me I imagine I have some new visitors to my humble site, so feel free to make yourself at home while you’re here. Chime in with a comment, watch some of my crappy animation, read a tutorial, click on a link, have some fried cheese. Whatever makes you smile, we’re cool with it. We’re cool. ;)

Now with all those pleasantries taken care of, let’s get back to our topic. :) In part one of this little series I made (or should I say re-iterated) the case that putting your hope in ad-revenue sharing sites as a viable means of earning decent money for your short films was a fool’s dream (I think the same is true of mobile phone content, but that’s another post). In part 2 I talk about the value that end user audiences put on visual media, making a case that even though the numbers may not be big, there is a track record for individual viewers assigning some kind of monetary value to this stuff we make. The problem has come around to gatekeepers and what to do with them. Let’s discuss…

First up, in the comments on my last post Gary made a very good point…

Getting around the current gatekeepers means starting your own direct sales web site. Yes? To make that viable, you’d have to draw together a stable of short producers to create a line of shorts that would attract and maintain a sufficient audience. And you’d need quality control. Otherwise, you’d get a flood of newbie crap. Thus, you’d need a content submissions procedure, and that means that you would become a new gatekeeper.

We avoid the gatekeeper only to become a gatekeeper.

Indeed. The problem isn’t so much with all gatekeepers as a species. They are a somewhat necessary evil in this game for reasons Gary notes. However, the way they go about it has some problems. The problem I see in gatekeepers is in their overtly global approach. Their actions are a product of basic equations that are based upon some faulty assumptions. Here’s the most common equation:

Content has no value except to draw eyeballs to advertise to. Thus, the more eyeballs the better because I can charge higher ad rates for a bigger crowd. The best way to get as many eyeballs as possible is to offer something that everybody can like. Thus anything that anybody could find issue with is out the door. Controversy is a money loser. Additionally, anything that has no track record of prior success is out. Innovation is for adventurers.

This equation-think has brought us to the current landscape. Nothing new there. However the faulty assumption that underpins this whole think is that content has no value except to draw a crowd to advertise to. But we just saw in Part 2 that in some way content does have value- to end consumers. A few gatekeepers out there are indeed thinking along these lines. Their thought equation looks a bit like this:

Content does hold value for individual end users. So the way to make money is to get these end users to express this value monetarily. Since tastes vary so widely the best way to harvest the greatest potential inherent end user value is to offer as many content choices as possible and let the customer decide.

This is the Amazon/iTunes/”long-tail” equation. Not many others are thinking along these lines yet, but they will. The longer iTunes chugs along and makes cash for Apple the more others will want to play in this new thought equation. Yet I think there is still yet a flaw in the ‘long-tail’ mentality. Namely the sheer size of the infrastructure needed to reach such a vast audience demands a wide, global approach to gather in a critical mass of profitability. As stated above- Since tastes vary so widely the best way to harvest the greatest potential inherent end user value is to offer as many content choices as possible. This assumes that you can’t possibly target any potential audience profitably (and thus deliver value content with less infrastructure overhead), so don’t target any audience at all- which I believe is a kind of intellectual laziness. It requires less forethought and patience (but a lot of money and technology) to construct a machine to throw a hundred-thousand darts at the board in the hope that you score a few bulls-eyes by caprice. But what if you could find that there are markets for distinct types of media? And if so, can these people can be reached with an economically feasible delivery strategy while still remaining profitable? Does such an easily targeted audience exist?

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