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Friday, 20 January 2012

Thoughts on Video File Sharing

Let me preface this by saying that, while I don't claim to be an authority on this issue, I do have some valid experience. In the past I've resorted to what some would call 'illegal methods' to get hold of clips for various reasons. Some of these were British shows (most of which I'd purchased on DVD anyway) and some were American and impossible to get hold of any other way. Do I consider what I did to be contributing to a larger piracy problem? Not really. I paid for the British shows, either via my licence fee or via the DVD costs. I wanted the clips on my computer to watch and make music videos for my own pleasure. I'd already paid once - twice for those programmes I'd watched on the BBC and then bought the DVD of. As for the American shows (I might as well say we're talking specifically about Guiding Light, the now defunct soap), there was no option for me to watch it any other way but on YouTube or by downloading the clips. There was no way I was going to miss out on the storyline that had gripped me. Equally, a current Spanish show, Tierra de lobos, has caught my attention. If I don't watch the clips via the Internet then I don't see how I can watch it. Is that just hard luck on my part? Well, with the Internet as powerful as it is, companies need to start using their brains.

Let me take an example of a show that's doing it right. Venice: The Series is a web-series currently showing its third season. Unlike many Internet-based shows I've come across, Venice charges a subscription for each series and did this from the start. It ruffled some feathers but since the fee is only a few pounds in UK money, it's more than affordable. For that you get ten or so episodes of, I'd say, average twenty minutes each. (Another good thing about a web-series is that it isn't constrained to tell a story in so many minutes - the time variants always fit the arc of the episode.) I've been paying for Venice from the start and, as far as I can tell, Crystal Chappell and her team have done everything right. They established there was a market for the show (building on the success of Chappell's last storyline in Guiding Light), they assembled a fantastic cast and they created a business model that meant the show would effectively pay for itself and guarantee it a chance at longevity. In a recent interview for the Lesbian News blog, Chappell explained: "We’ve sort of cultivated an audience that needs to come back, thankfully, and we use a lot of social media to promote it -- like Facebook, Twitter. They seem to be there. Originally it was supposed to be, and it still may be, a dual platform show with sponsorship and subscription but it’s enough to cover…it’s covered itself, it’s paid for itself for the past three seasons and it’s a show that costs about $125 thousand dollars a season; so it’s not an inexpensive show." There you go: it's working and people are happy to pay for it.

There is one main reason why traditional media is failing to battle piracy: they're not making enough of their content widely available or, when they do, they're being too greedy about it with extortionate fees. The Venice model is a good one to follow because they're focused on the quality of the show and what the viewers what. I realise that for bigger companies there has to be a profit in there somewhere, but I think they've lost sight of the fans and what they want. It's why the future is wide open for people like Crystal Chappell.

Oh, and one final thing: Venice offered the first episode free as a taster. Try before you buy is definitely worthwhile and it will usually champion quality.

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