Peter Csathy is CEO of Manatt Digital Media Ventures,
“Disruption” is an over-used word in the entrepreneurial and technology worlds. But, it certainly isn’t in the world of media. Gone (or going fast) are the worlds of content ownership – both physical (DVDs) and digital (iTunes downloads). Subscription services, social and sharing are the new normal. Adding to this, over the past decade, consumers value content – from an economic perspective – very differently than they had before due to piracy, unbundled $0.99 singles, and initial unsuccessful efforts to build differentiated customer experiences. As a result, the vast majority of artists and content creators — both on the film and music side — find it increasingly difficult to finance their works, let alone drive demand for, and monetize them.
What are artists and content creators to do amid this daunting reality? Turn it on its head, experiment and capitalize on it, that’s what! Welcome to the new Share Economy, in which media-centric online services finally are beginning to harness the true potential of the web and connectivity. It is this Share Economy – which empowers Airbnb, TaskRabbit, 99designs, Lyft, and scores of others identified on new Share Economy aggregator Peers.org — that gives hope to new sources of artist and media financing (via crowd-funding) and new modes of music and film demand generation (via crowd-sourcing and direct distribution). The Share Economy offers an additional bonus and opportunity – artists can leverage these new services to mobilize their audiences and drive real social impact and change.
For filmmakers — particularly indie filmmakers whom I frequently advise — the new world order has not been kind. Traditional indie theatrical releases are virtually a thing of the past. The neighborhood multiplex is now essentially exclusively the domain of the blockbuster Hollywood “tent-pole” movies. Have you seen this summer’s release slate? As a result, compelling “smaller” stories that would have been made and inspired are D.O.A. due to a lack of funding. Those fortunate indie stories that are developed frequently find no audience to see and hear them. It is crisis mode. The most well-respected and connected indie filmmakers – including Academy Award-winning producer Geralyn Dreyfous (Born Into Brothels) and acclaimed filmmaker Daniel Karslake (For the Bible Tells Me So, Every Three Seconds) — confirm this.
Pioneering crowd-funding service Kickstarter offers a glimmer of hope. Certainly Zach Braff succeeded using it to side-step the traditional motion picture financing model and raise over $3 million to make his new film Wish I Was Here. Spike Lee is now following his lead. But, Braff and Lee are name brands with a passionate following. Very few indie filmmakers have that luxury.
Mass distribution of films –- reaching an audience at scale — remains highly problematic due to the theatrical “squeeze.” This is where new Share Economy services like Gathr, Tugg, and Yekra fit in. LA-based Gathr selects films with passionate like-minded audiences in mind (typically social causes) and empowers individuals (so-called “captains”) to champion them and use Kickstarter-like methods to crowd-fund local screenings across the country in theaters with excess capacity. Once a local Gathr organizer sets a screening date and venue, the network goes to work and potential movie-goers pre-disposed to be moved by the film’s message plunk down their credit cards to reserve tickets. Those cards are charged only if the relevant Kickstarter-like “tipping point” is reached. Gathr’s first movie Girl Rising — produced by The Documentary Group and mobilized by its network — has generated $1.5 million to date. It’s a big success in indie film circles, and its grass-roots fueled theatrical run continues. The film’s success beget further success, subsequently landing it distribution on major cable, resulting in even more monetization.
The proliferation of OTT and virtual MSO services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Google/YouTube, Hulu, Vudu, Verizon, Intel and inevitably AOL, Yahoo! and Apple (yes, Apple) should fuel more monetization of these smaller films. Those services rabidly compete with one another to fill their libraries with differentiated content. That rising tide should lift all filmmaker boats.
Moreover, overall film production costs continue to plummet due to the continuous onslaught of new technologies. This trend is a boon for democratized filmmaking. Case in point Olive, a “small” film that stars Gena Rowlands and bills itself as being the first full length feature film shot entirely from a smart phone (coincidentally, Olive likely will harness some of these new services identified above to find its audience).
How about the music world? How can new Share Economy services help artists survive to write and sing another song in this day and age? Check out LA-based StageIt<http://www.stageit.com/> which offers artists a direct distribution platform to find an audience and monetize it. Artists use StageIt to schedule and stream not only intimate live performances (frequently from the road or their homes), but also simple slices of their lives – all for a fee set by the artist. Fans can support these artists even more via virtual “tip” jars. Think about it. This nascent direct distribution model offers an entirely new kind of revenue stream to counteract others that are drying up. In other words, it offers hope. Also check out LA-based Gigit<http://www.gigit.com/>, which offers musicians a new marketplace for live gigs – an Airbnb for music events, if you will. The service offers a succinct way to discover and book artists, bands and DJs
Another very cool music-focused service is Detour by blue-chip VC-backed London-based company Songkick. Like Gathr, Detour leverages the virtual Kickstarter-like crowd-funding world to drive physical venue-based demand – this time for live music performances by the bands you love. Blind Pilot’s next tour not scheduled to come to a concert venue near you? Then re-write the band’s itinerary and incentivize them to come to you! Mobilize the like-minded masses in your city, reach your tipping point, and revel in the event YOU made happen. And, don’t forget the live streaming of concerts and festivals around the world. Start-ups like LA-based IROCKE, NYC-based Livestream, and Bay Area-based EvntLive offer virtual concert venues, all for a fee that is frequently shared with the artist.
The Share Economy is not all about virtual participation of course. Its power of virtual connectivity can mobilize real physical community and lasting purpose in this frequently disconnected and ADD world. Music festivals offer such a refuge, and Bonnaroo perhaps best embodies this. Bonnaroo (produced by NYC-based Superfly) effectively and authentically leverages social media to drive attendance and forge connections even before the first artist takes the stage. Festivals have become our modern-day community escapes, and you can now find them in virtually every major city (I myself am organizing a major music festival in San Diego for the Fall of 2014). This ever-growing list, of course, requires an ever-growing roster of musical talent. This too is a boon for artists.
And, here’s the beautiful part. These new media-focused services in the Share Economy also give artists and content creators more power than ever before to promote their causes, promote other social impact-focused Share Economy organizations like New York-based Purpose), and mobilize their like-minded audiences to make a difference – to drive meaningful social impact and positive social change. There are three bottom-lines here – the artist’s (via creation and monetization), the fan’s (via engagement and enjoyment), and society’s (via mobilization and impact). That’s a potent combination never before possible.
Now it is.
Media image via Shutterstock
Peter Csathy is CEO of Manatt Digital Media Ventures, a digital media advisory and venture capital firm, and is a frequent guest blogger for TechCrunch, The Huffington Post and others. He also blogs at Digital Media Update. Csathy’s career spans both digital media/technology including pioneering music service Musicmatch and “traditional” media (including Universal Studios). He also advises artists and social impact organizations in the Share Economy. Check out the presentation summary and vote at the Panel Picker page here.