Monday, July 04, 2005

4th Generation Media

All right, on a break, so I'll pop this down, if only to get the idea locked down as originating here before somebody else writes my damn book. (However, everything on this site is under Creative Commons, so feel free to do whatever the hell you want with this. Just don't walk on Hammes' copyright.) It's still pretty rough -- you'll get to see it evolve.

In his bookThe Sling and the Stone, Col. Thomas Hammes USMC expands on the idea of the evolution of warfare. (Let's ignore the discussions of the validity of the "generation" model he uses, that's for the warfare guys to parse out).

Warfare, as the model goes, evolves, each "... evolutionary step of warfare requires a preceding evolution in political, social, economic and technical structure of the society using it." He takes us from 1st gen warfare, where the rise of the nation-state and the resultant armies created massed firing lines; through 2nd gen, where defense became king ("Artillery conquers, infantry occupies"); to 3rd gen, warfare of maneuver, to what is widely considered 4th Generation Warfare -- the warfare of insurgency. Hammes, in his excellent book, analyzes the evolution of insurgency warfare in its rise to the pre-eminent form of war in the Twentieth Century -- the only form of warfare, where an militarily inferior force can defeat a superior opponent. And has done so. Repeatedly.

I'm paraphrasing like a bastard, but 4th Generation Warfare moves past direct destruction of your opponent's forces (1&2 Gen) and even past 3rd Gen, where one attacks the opponent's command, control and logistics, and instead takes the fight directly to the political will of the opponent. Most importantly, the 4th Gen army is not bound to the traditional battlespace. 4GW is trans-national, highly networked, and is not bound by the army of maneuver limits on a battlefield.

Now, this made me think about the media. Specifically, the rise of the internet, broadband, DVD, P2P, BitTorrent and personal branding, vs. the big media conglomerates. What is the "battlespace" we're referring to?

The traditional "battlespace" the BigCons are used to fighting for are the mainstream media dollars. They fight each other, using tactics of maneuver, to try to control more and more of a dwindling traditional media delivery system. First they fought for ratings among three networks, or box-office. Then they fought for ratings among seven, ten, a hundred -- now they're bringing in big legal guns to control the "new front" of internet file sharing. (Enjoy fighting that two-front war, boys...)

They are, however, not just fighting a losing battle, they are fighting in the entirely wrong battlespace.

An effective 4GW army projects its force past the battlefield in order to directly affect the political will of the opponent.

An effective 4GM entertainment source projects its force past the mainstream media distribution system in order to directly connect with its audience.

(*for expansion later -- The real battle of the future is not for control of the audience's access to entertainment, but for the audience's perception of where entertainment comes from.)

There are two contexts here. 4GM as a way of describing how small independent entertainment sources propogate -- and 4GM in describing new media in its antagonistic relationship with the BigC's.

For example, in the first context: like 4Gm, 4GW consists of little cells of individual interests, loosely networked but each acting essentially independently. When it suits them to team up, they team up. When it's more efficient for them to form other alliances or separate, they do so. But crucially, the don't really compete. Each cell has its own strategic goal, its own operational plan, and adopts whatever tactics they see other cells using and succeeding with.

But the basic thrust of the idea I'll be developing in that second context is that the BigC's are analogous to the DoD -- enamored of high-tech and power, believing if they can just get advanced enough, they can beat that pesky insurgent army. But as has been shown again and again over the last seventy years, that's just not the case.

To apply the metaphor directly, 4GM is outside BigC's OODA loop (observe/orient/decide/act). Crush Napster, and Kazaa arises. Crush Kazaa, along comes BitTorrent. Smack BitTorrent, and something more ingenious will come along. Much as in insurgent warfare, the problem with being the big dog in this fight is that the more you win, the faster you cull the inefficiencies from your opponent's forces. The more you win, the faster you force your opponent up his evolutionary chain.

The crucial problem here is that every BigC is fighting a two-front war. One, in which it must band together to regain control of media distribution -- essentially trying to funnel the battlespace back into a shape they can handle -- and then continuing their fight with each other over the shares of that marketplace. 4GM has one goal: connect to the audience. Once it's extremely streamlined production cycle is married to a viable economic system, it has an unparalleled advantage.

Now, up until this point, 4GM has been limited in its economic scope. I believe there are three reasons for this: a.) anyone with a lick of business savvy sees there's gobs of money to be made in the BigC world, and has fled there for the last decades, b.) anything in the TV or movie business requies a LOT of start-up capitol and c.) the pipeline for direct connection to the audience hasn't existed before now. And by pipeline, I mean both the way to get the product TO the audience, and the way to get the money FROM the audience.

Personal brands are now more important than corporate brands -- or at the very least, more efficient. Nobody -- and I say this full-knowing the outcry from some suited friends -- goes to see a movie because it's from Paramount. Or Fox. Or Warner Brothers. Or Sony. Not a human on this planet says "Well, I wasn't going to go, but it's a Paramount flick." People go to movies because the media campaign -- usually integrating strong personal brands, hey, look at that -- has convinced them this particular project from the studio is worth their time.

Now, I hear you saying, "Yes, yes, this is all old news, entertainment's decentralized, it's a global entertainment system, blah, blah", but I'm not really trying to do anything different in that discussion. My point is more that once you move the current discussion of emergent media into the 4th Gen model, it creates a framework for both analysis and execution. Right now, new media is fighting with 4th Gen TACTICS. By applying this framework, we may be able to work out a STRATEGIC and OPERATIONAL LEVEL of planning for DVD, P2P and broadband entertainment.

Warren Ellis, Joss Whedon, Penny Arcade, etc. are all using 4Gw tactics. It's time to grow up, expand -- and conquer.

********************************************************

And, not to be a quisling against the revolution, but this framework could be the guide for the BigC's to understand that they don't need to be fighting the new media, they need to be aggressively adopting its methods -- but can only do so by making a massive evolutionary step in their understanding of what it is to "win" in modern media. But what's weird is that"winning" means doing something which, in a capitalist society, is in theory at least desirable: becoming more efficient and better-connected to their consumer.

A quick thought on that: At least, in the BigC world, movies make a certain common-sense. You want to see a movie, you pay X dollars. some %of X goes to the moviemakers. However, we all know that the secondary DVD market on movies is now what's driving the business. Its superior profit margin has been estimated at, conservatively, 4-to-1.

TV is incredibly obtuse. TV networks survive off advertising, where they earn money by measuring the consumer as a metric of success. TV studios (in the pre-DVD days) made money off of syndication, or in plain language the perceived secondary-market value of those shows as measured by the already one-step-off metric of ratings. Bloody hell.

The simple, hard-ass center of the new media revolution is that, in order for a show to show a profit on TV in the old model, it needs to stay on the air. To stay on the air, in order to generate enough perceived value for advertisers (for the network) and syndicates (for the studio), a show needs, regularly, ten million consumers a week. Five or seven on a smaller network.

In order for a show to create a profit on DVD (the fat pipe model of the present), it needs one million consumers.

There are a whole lot more risks one can take down here when you only need a million consumers. My proposal, actually, is that the better new media model (as the pipeline broadens, and the BigC's lose more and more control over both distribution systems and the perception game) is of an insurgent, cell theory of entertainment. (*cable TV is a primitive form of this. Discuss).

It makes more sense for a BigC to cultivate a large number of small, streamlined productions, each of which cultivate a passionate (insurgent) fan base who will make multiple purchases of the entertainment product, than to continue to try for the largest common denominator. In effect, the first BigC who gives up will win. And win big.

All right. First shot across the bow. Rip it apart.

64 comments:

kinesys said...

My god. So the new business model would be to create a brand that sidesteps television altogther.

To create serialized miniseries Like say, GF, and put them out on DVD without going through television at all. It would even cut out standards and practices and sponsor pressure if you could produce the show without outside capital. Hell, you could conceivably make more money with a show that airs on cable and has a loyal dvd following. Which is why those Soprano people are rolling in dough and making the kind of TV that they want to.

Fuck the networks. Fuck them in the asshole with a big rubber dick. Yee!

aap said...

Excellent post.

FallenRanger said...

Here's irony (as I understand it)

Programs to DVD would require a means of advertising. TV still represents the big (not necessarily biggest) medium to get the word out. Imagine a situation (much like we're in now only nobody has the balls to admit it) where the purpose of putting 1 episode or 1 season on TV would be to advertise the future DVD box sets. And how do these DVD program length advertisements pay for themselves.

By regular advertising.

I think there is a anime series which is doing something like this. I'll have to find out which one.

Chuck Lawson said...

Excellent article... Might as well throw Tim Minear in there with Warren and Joss -- it looks like he's settling nicely into a model of using half-a-season on Fox to sell 13 episode DVD sets...

Failing that model, Fallenranger is right that the trick is how to effectively get attention without conventional TV.

What we really need is to get some coherent means of "tastemaking" on the 'net -- blogging is a good start, but we need ad-hoc networks of people who share similar tastes, recommending new media to each other.

Bill Cunningham said...

Excellent encapsualtion on the thin discussions we've had in this area John. Bravo.

I'll have more to contribute after I digest this, but let me say this:

You're right on about there being a Direct 2 DVD model for TV, and that it's reachable by the indie community. The problem is that now there is a huge proliferation of TV DVD product on the shelves (very much like when Marvel FLOODED the market with reprints back in the eighties/nineties). So not only does there have to be new business models, but new distribution/sales models as well. At least until bittorrent becomes more viable and can support commercial enterprises.
What about Infomercials? There are those who may laugh at the thought, but there's millions of viewers on that Home Shopping Network.

Aric Blue said...

You expect me to understand that post after drinking most of a twelve pack and watching fireworks?

Happy 4th everyone! I'll try to read it again when I'm fully sober. I'm confident it might make sense then.

Montcalm said...

I've lived this world for a few years now, so I can speak with some comfort about the issues at hand... first: advertising. You can definitely do that. Get a multinational, show them your demographics, they'll buy a spot for about the same as primetime on a smaller network. It doesn't pay the bills entirely, but it gets you closer.

Of course then you have to worry about the "pirates", who'll strip your commercials and re-distribute your work for fun. You can't win that war, but if you play it down, the advertisers will never know.

Another great idea someone had was to sell each episode for a nominal fee, say $1. Depending on what you're making, that can cover off the cost of your production, and maybe pay for the next. But you really need a million viewers to splurge. Tricky stuff. Subscriptions work too, but you need to prove yourself first.

I myself feel that if you could show your audience you don't suck in the first ep, offer a subscription service for the rest of the season (really, $20 for a season is dirt cheap) and then anyone who buys the subscription can buy the DVD boxed set for the difference between what they paid and what it sells for otherwise... hell, paired with Amazon, there's your future distribution model.

Then again, proving yourself hurts. Convincing the commons may be even harder than getting greenlit by a network exec :)

As for the bigger picture... I seriously doubt NBC et al will ever get into the nichecasting biz. CBC didn't want to touch it, and they have more flexibility that way. There will always be a big market for mass-appeal crap, and that'll demand traditional broadcasting. But you can supplement it with nichecasters who target specific audiences very profitably, probably all under the financial oversight of a pre-existing media corp that got wise early.

Witness Veggie Tales. Find the audience, cater to them first, reap the rewards.

Craig @ Frequencysite said...

I wish there was a way for, say, sales of a legal DVD of the Global Frequency pilot to give a chance for a second pilot to be made, or maybe more based on those initial sales. If the internet fans got word of this, it may drum some things up.

I showed the pilot to a friend of mine and her husband today, and they both loved it. And told me to pass along that "Miranda Zero HAS to be in it if they make any more." Well, I don't think you'll argue with that ;)

CaBil said...

For Anime reference: There was once a fairly large market for these sort of products called OVA (origina video animation) but the upfront money disappeared, unfortunately. Which was a shame, since the amount of money to make an OVA was pathetic, 40-80K for a half hour...

The question is whether or not you can recreate the dynamics of indie movies as indie tv. Can you get professionals to work for non union jobs for TV?

Also one of the interesting discussions over with people interested in "The Long Tail" aka exploiting niches is when TV is no longer on TV, is it still TV? The 30 minute block becomes immaterial. How long does a TV show have to be then? As long as needed. Imagine a TV show that can expand and contract. For instance, an issue of GF the comic was basically an extended hand to hand fight scene, which probably would be a 10 minute episode, whereas others could be easily expanded out to movie length.

The question remains is start up costs and initial recognition. Do you ask your team to get money on the backend? How do you get people to watch your show? Then again, that is an age old question, just because you are on TV doesn't mean people will watch your show, especially when the network does minimal advertising. Ask Tim Minear over at the Inside for the latest example of that...

There is of course an tiered model, pricing your product to match individual interest. As an example...

Have free downloads with advertising, or low rez downloads for free. Have a tip jar.

Have no advertising versions or high rez versions for a minimal cost.

Have DVD quality episodes to be purchased and bought via websites, with extras, additional scenes, script pdfs, etc, for even higher prices...

(Going to try to use a similar model for a friend's fiction novel, as an idea...)

Thoughts

Anonymous said...

Nice peace...Are we talking about the Long Tail here? I believe the dvd medium will be shorter lived than asumed here, network media is better portable en movable (iTunes, podcast, mobile tv) Sports will remain big on TV because most people want to see it live and on a big screen.
Also the audience wants to be more interactive with media, games and movies will integrate more and more...and what about IPtv and Google video/tv search and paying system?

Capastorm

FallenRanger said...

Okay, the anime I referred to in my earlier post was called Risky Safety. Shot in ten-minute episodes, the first was made available for free download by AN Entertainment in 2003.

Following the anime thought for a moment lets examine what is a very close model for 4th gen media.

Anime costs vary but its cheapest price is US$85,000 and at its most expensive (series, let's leave Steamboy and Ghost in the Shell alone for a bit) is US$300,000 per episode.

This, in Australian dollars, equals a lot more money. To the tune of: AU$403,100.

Madman Entertainment, which is the Australian distributor of anime DVDs, makes approximately AU$50,000,000 per year. Profit.

Now bear the following in mind:

1. Outside of the Internet, we don't have advertising for this genre. If we do, it’s miniscule at best.

2. We don't have an anime cable TV station for distribution.

3. Despite the growing interest, we still don't have the wide range of anime available to the US.

4. Our conventions for such media are few and centralised to capital cities.

5. This example is based on a populace of 20 million people and uses one narrative medium WITHIN a genre.

The point: With little advertising behind it, we are observing TV seasons being released on DVD with no exposure to television and making gobs of money from it.

(There will be a margin of error due to the fact that Australia doesn't create the anime, only distribute it. But considering that we are looking at a fraction of sales, not counting international sales, the case for a series surviving and thriving on direct to DVD is very plain.)

And this medium got noticed by groups of dedicated fans that translated the dialogue and distributed it to others.

There is a case to be made for Ultraviolet (The British TV Series about vampires not the American failure or the upcoming movie with Mila Jolovich) being a good pilot episode (all six episodes) to hook viewers into buying more from the Internet but math doesn't fill the belly unless you're a chartered accountant.

Which I'm not.

So I'm getting something to eat.

Mr Rogers; When you actually get some time, would you be kind enough to share your thoughts regarding pilot episodes for TV series. I assume they'll require modification to usher in this glorious age.

Gareth said...

Since I'm someone who knows almost nothing about tv show economics, could someone explain to me why you can't sell tv shows in the same way as you sell music?

I'm thinking you'd use traditional tv channels as advertising for your show (like letting radio play singles to make people buy albums), then put all the episodes in a season on iTunes-type-thing for download as soon as possible. Fans of the show would buy the whole season straight away, generating word-of-mouth for the rest of the episodes that are still to be aired on normal tv.

Sizemore said...

And once you've bypassed TV completely instead of worrying about those damned pirates ripping off the content and distributing it for free why not concentrate on adding something they won't want to pirate.

All it would take is to shoot a couple of extra scenes per episode - it's what happens on porno shoots. One shoot results in two products: a soft core and a hard core version.

So shoot your hardcore version for the kung fu monkeys because we WANT to see that gun pointed at the head at the end of the show.

But also film a sequence where the hero pulls out a bible instead and God steps in and sorts out all the plot threads. Add some 'Support our Troops' tags to the cars and Stars & Stripes pins to the lapels of the good guys. Maybe imply the 'bad guy' is being punished for being gay or liberal.

Then you sell THAT version to everyone who doesn't live in San Francisco, LA and NYC.

OHIO would eat that shit up and PAY through the nose for it.

Take that money and throw it straight back into more hardcore (ie intelligent) shoots always remembering to film a creationist subplot or something to add to the red states’ DVDs.

Just a thought...

That Girl said...

To solve some of the problems, couldnt every show only last one season on the networks/cable. After which, first season would come out on DVD and all subsequent seasons? Wouldnt that give more time to more shows? And in their "off-peak" time, networks could air back-season shows (season 1 while DVD season 3 is released). Just asking, i know nothing about this. Seems like that would take care of some of the problems you mentioned, inclding production costs.

Bill Cunningham said...

Rando thoughts following the thread of the comments, Re: anime and other products - then what's needed is a new MARKETING paradigm. How do you get the product in the consumer's hands in the most cost effective way possible? Certainly both the the anime and the Christian video markets have a different marketing model - those LEFT BEHIND videos didn't need traditional stores to pick them up, but when they did it was gravy.

Another implication of all this has to do with the guilds and unions - how do they fit in? Short answer - they don't if the writer is also the creator/producer and controls the distribution of the product. Why would a creator accept the MBA and become an employee for the company when they could be the creator and own the store? With 4GM this is certainly possible. This has of course been happening with comics for years - it's now shifted to higher end media.

Polter-Cow said...

Oooh.

Granted, I think a lot of this went over my head, but it sounds very cool.

DougBot said...

There's a saying in comics circles that instead of getting the single issues, you'll wait for the inevitable trade.

TV is becoming a lot like this. Rather than watch a couple of episodes, I'll get the DVD. I never watched Firefly on Fox, but I grabbed the DVD once it had been recommended to me by enough people. The BBC America airing of MI-5 is about 15 minutes shorter than the original BBC series, so why watch that when you can get the DVD?

But how to move to that channel? That's the question. What about a return of the variety/anthology show? As Rocket J. Squirrel once said, "Now here's something we hope you'll really like." Four or five shows sharing one block of TV time, if you like it, go out and buy the whole set.

There's also the fansub option, I guess. Anime fans have an entire network devoted to fan translations and subtitling of shows that don't have US distribution deals. This is perhaps a unique market, since I don't think there's an equivalent anywhere else. Unless there's some dedicated group of souls poring over dictionaries to bring all the Law and Order spinoffs to Japan or something...

Vlad said...

Hey, only SOUTHERN Ohio would eat it up. Up here in the Cleveland area (where we overwhelmingly voted for Kerry) we're generally smarter than that.

Strega said...

In order for a show to create a profit on DVD (the fat pipe model of the present), it needs one million consumers.

Can you break the figures down a bit more? I'm just curious; I get that the equation is basically
(# sold)x(price)=(production costs)+(profits)
What percentage of that has to be profits to make it work? How big is the budget in that model?

Jameson said...

Overall, I can't add much that hasn't already been added (except, "Very well said," and, "Bring it on!") but I have actually been thinking about this part myself for a while:

My proposal, actually, is that the better new media model is of an insurgent, cell theory of entertainment. (*cable TV is a primitive form of this. Discuss).

I've been thinking, with the advent of "time-shifting" (TiVo), the value of prime time real estate diminishes more and more. Nobody watches "West Wing" at 9 on a Wednesday. We record it and watch it when we want.

So, it seems like an easy, untapped distribution channel would be to buy up a few cheapo late-night infomercial blocks on cable and broadcast your show/movie in that time slot. It's just a matter of reaching your audience and telling them to set their TiVos for 3-4am on channel 691. (Which awareness is the same challenge for the D2DVD model and others discussed above.) The viewer uses technology he already has and loves - no installation necessary; nothing to drive to the store and buy; no bandwidth concerns. You reach a large audience quickly, and with things like TiVo Suggestions, etc., an audience might find you accidentally - the same way they might stumble upon a recommendation on a blog.

What you do with that audience once you've built it is up to you. You've showed them your wares, and they're on board. The smart people can tell you how to make that into a profit.

Jean-Paul Cardier said...

Here is my question: WHere is my question:

Is it possible to currently build a small niche oriented TV show over the internet? Broadband adoption by the consumer is spiralling upwards. Hosting costs are falling. Can you have a show built for TV and shown on the net?

I haven't done any research, and most likely somebody is already doing this. But it seems that if you have the seed capital, and can afford to produce the shows it could work. You could do something similar to Modern Tales, where current show is free, and archives are subscription based. You could shoot extras, maybe extra episodes and collect them on DVD. Add in assorted swag and it's conceivable. I don't know if it would be profitable, but the possibility exists.

The problem is puncturing the "web inertia" barrier to the net at large. I like a lot of other folks found out about Global Frequency through Nodwick, a web comic link. I already happened to own the GF graphic novel. If a given piece of web fun isn't covered by a popular site, it's hard to find an audience. Many webcomics are this way. There are tons that I find out about after the creators are working on them for years. This would be death for a small budget show. You would have to find purchase relatively quickly. It's an interesting concept.

AnthonyDe said...

Here's something that will blow your mind, Star Trek fans are way ahead of the curve. They've been producing their own shows online and on DVD. Not professionals, but fans are doing this.

Starship Exeter

Hidden Frontier

Craig Perko said...

As I see it, the biggest difference right now is that we have "4th gen" distribution capability, but only "3rd gen" advertising capability.

This is to be expected, since we're still in a bit of an early adopter phase. That means that we can expect 4th gen marketing to evolve pretty quickly in the next decade or so.

But it also means that, until it does evolve, we're stuck with our primary market being the early adopters, who are not exactly the meat of the market.

The place to apply 4th gen methodology is to MARKETING, not DISTRIBUTION.

At least, that's what I think. :)

Doctor Memory said...

My advice in three simple words:

"Talk to Steve."

It's pretty much the worst-kept secret in the tech industry right now that Apple's next big initiative is basically "iTunes for Video": a video store to go along with the iTunes Music Store, and a new version of the "Airport Express" wireless dongle with a builtin digital video (h.264) decoder that will let you stream video from your laptop or desktop to your TV over wifi.

(N.B.: when I say "talk to Steve", that means, in your case, using some Big Name Hollywood Producer cred points and actually Talking To Steve.)

Apple cut a reasonably good (not great, but not horrible either) deal with the indy music labels for access to iTMS -- the time to start negotiating with them for indy access to iVS is yesterday.

Obviously, iTMS hasn't put Sony Music out of business, and iVS (or whatever it's called) isn't going to shut down Paramount this year. But so far they're the best game in town, and the time to lay the groundwork is now. Start small: once you've proved that people will pay $3 for a 10-minute short, it's just a matter of time and momentum before you can start getting funding for 30-minute episodes. And once you hit that point, you're off to the races.

(Regular readers of slashdot and boingboing will, at this point, be insisting, loudly and repeatedly, that Apple is satan and that FairPlay drains your precious bodily fluids while you sleep. There's nothing you can do but ignore them, sorry.)

Hell's Kitten said...

I read most of this post and skimmed a lot of the responses - partially because I'm lazy, but mostly because a lot of what was said read "blah blah blah" to me. There's a whole lot about this issue and industry that I don't understand, so I won't even bother pretending that I do. I'm just a fangirl.

There seems to be a flaw in all of this that I can't get past, and it's this: While considering industry economics and feasibility, you seem to have forgotten individual economics.

I'll try to explain as best I can, and maybe you can set me straight.... I pay about $100 a month for cable and cable modem. Sure, it might be high, but it works and hasn't broken down on me. Yet. So, for that monthly cost, I can't even count the number of TV shows and movies that I've watched and... somehow... got on my computer....... From watching and really liking those TV shows, I went out and bought a bunch of them DVD. Which can be really quite expensive. Farscape, for example, cost upwards of (and over) $100 for one full season on DVD. I would never have paid that much for a season of TV that I (1) hadn't already seen and (2) wasn't already sure that I'd want to see again. And that's just one show. Which, by the way, had a fairly good run on TV before *ahem* someone in authority decided to yank it. If I had seen just the pilot episode of Farscape - or, insert any show like Deadwood, Firefly, etc. - that alone would not have been enough to convince me to put any subsequent monetary investment into it. Especially when I can find other things to watch for "free" with my subscription to cable and the internet.

Could you imagine shelling out $75 for Enterprise based on just the first episode? *shudder* And what about all those other failed shows that really, truly did deserve immediate cancellation and bitch-slapping of whoever thought them up? And the same can be said for comics. (Yes, I am a big geek fangirl). I can't recall how many times I picked up the first issue of a new comic only to have regretted spending a whopping $2.50 on it in the first place. That disappointment translates to the trade paperbacks / graphic novels. I would never pay $15-30 for comic book anything that wasn't already proven; be that proof through a writer that I adore or a story I've already read.

I can't be unique in this perspective. I can only imagine that spending good money only to find that it's absolute crap is something that Average Joe will not cotton to.

So, unless side-stepping television results in incredibly cheap DVD sets or subscriptions, it almost seems as though you need to air the show on TV to gain an initial audience. And that audience either has to like the show already or adore your work in general if you expect them to continue to throw their money at it. (In my world, there are only three people I would blindly throw money at for their work, two of which are Warren Ellis and Joss Whedon.)

Sure, you may reach your "hard core" following just fine and dandy, but I think you'd be missing a whole lot of potential fans.

Well that just got a whole lot longer than I intended. Sorry. So, what am I missing here?

Rogers said...

not missing anything at all. one of the reasons I make the argument for the BigC's to adopt this model is that they're in the best position to adapt the existing saturation system to the cell structure. A true 4GM revolution requires a lot of building from the ground up.

(please also note that the above post is not meant to be the sum total of ideas on this -- it was just the codification of applying 4GW concepts to media)

I'd like to think that what you're paying for, with your hundred bucks a month to cable, is CHOICE. A choice not readily available elsewhere unless you're a BitTorrent gnome. Are you watching a hundred hours of TV a month? Are you? Well then, good god, woman, get out of the house more.

The idea is to align the economics of 4GM with already perceived value. And, as you point out, be willing to suck up a loss-leader. Or restructure the pilot process.

A lot will depend on whether, as the field progresses, we figure out that pay/per/ep or free pilot, pay for the boxed set (or hell, free series, pay for the boxed set, which is the current model and seems to work quite well) is the optimum sustainable system.

Gordon Pitt said...

I have to say it's funny you mentioned all this because after seeing what writers like yourself, Tim Minear and Joss Wheldon have had to deal with trying to get your amazing shows to us I find that the internet may be the way to go.

I mean we want seasons of shows like your Global Frequency not just 4 eps or so like Wonderfalls, Firefly etc. It's actually worse in some cases cause you really get into a show and then have it ripped away because studios don't know how to win.

Maybe the internet is the place where you can all do the shows you love to do.

Just wanted to throw my two cents in.

Oh and thanks for the web site I'm really just starting out and I find your site a great help.

GM Doug said...

Can I check here - but are those season box set prices, that folks talk about, fixed? Don't your stores have BIG sales every once in a while?

Over here in Scotland (Edinburgh to be precise and yes it IS still up and running after the G8 demo on Monday) we've got RIGHT NOW two major stores HMV and Virgin running massive sales. DVDs for some Movies (and I'm talking classics and some big films +2 years old) are touching £6 which in US is about $10.

Meanwhile I can pick up a box set of the shelf of say Babylon 5 for about £40 which is about $75 - but if I go on line that price drops even further. Wait for a sale and you could be talking £25 etc etc.

Most not all box sets for TV serials range between £35 and £45 per set. But if the show isn't expected to sell well they can come out as little as £20 to £30 a set.

Now I never seem to see massive Sales in the US when I'm on vaction - could it be the prices are kept artifically high?

And if so.....

If you have a show - Call it GF for ease of reference. And you've got box sets ready to go out the door for 13 episodes for $40 - does that not massively under cut the going rate on the market and provide another usp (unique selling point) - here's a TV show that's a bargin.

What all of this 4GM stuff does make me think of is going out and trying to find people with the skill sets I need to get my own private projects off the ground. I've actually got a comedy sketch show all written up. All we need are actors, directors, production folks, camera crew, editors, DVD producers. Using the traditional model I need to sell the show to the likes of the BBC (we aren't avantgarde enough for them) or one of the other UK broadcasters and then have them put money up and shoot the show etc.

But using 4GM model, I could go out and recruit people to take over the skill sets I don't have. They'd be asked to do a specific job for me effectively freelance and then I'd have a package ready to go to sell market whatever all the while owning the idea/property.

Now if I've missed something here please tell me. But isn't that the whole Self publishing model that comics use? Isn't that how builders get houses built - bring in contractors?

If there's ever an time someone needs to sell the idea of 4GM then surely a perfect example is Image Comics? And last I saw they were doing okay (relatively).

Assistant Atlas said...

Honestly, I don't think I've ever learned more from a single blog post than I have from this one. You managed to congeal many of the scattered thoughts I've had about the relative idiocy of the network tv business model-- and then go much further.

I won't comment on the problems I see, as they've already been well-covered by many of the comments (to wit, it's a sort of chicken-and-egg problem with production/marketing/distribution). And again, potential solutions abound in both your post and the comments. For example, if one of those 'personal brand' people like Joss Whedon created a web-based tv show, people would watch. And they'd pay to do it-- whether by buying DVDs, clicking/viewing ads, or getting a subscription.

My point is-- gee whiz you're smart. Need an assistant?

Bestest regards,
Assistant/Atlas

PS- I plugged your very excellent Global Frequency here and added KFM to my links list. Keep up the good work and best of luck reviving GF.

Bill Cunningham said...

More Random thoughts:

What about DVD sets on demand (following the publishing on demand model)?

Websites for downloading shows or buying the DVD sets, that are advertising driven...

Advertising and product placement on /inside the DVD...

and obviously, this is never going to happen until that magical moment when someone makes money at it...

Joe Helfrich said...

Hmm. Interesting.

First of all, please do expand on the "audience's perception of where entertainment comes from" aside. Possibly the most interesting part of the whole post, and you leave me hanging like that.

"...4GM has been limited in its economic scope. I believe there are three reasons for this: a.) anyone with a lick of business savvy sees there's gobs of money to be made in the BigC world, and has fled there for the last decades, b.) anything in the TV or movie business requies a LOT of start-up capitol and c.) the pipeline for direct connection to the audience hasn't existed before now..."

4GM is shaking of some of it's limits. There's still gobs of money to be made in the big media infrastructure, but there are enough people who either 1) have tried and failed to get into that world, or 2) don't care to try, that are now looking for other methods. (Note that people might fall into those categories for any number of reasons; I don't assume that anyone in those groups is there simply because they can't cut it in the big media world.) The pipeline is built to get the media out. The question is how to do it securely, and get the money back securely. If we're lucky, we'll be able to modify the current pipe to do that. If we're unlucky and have to build a new one....well, that could take a while.

So that takes care of one and a half of your limits on 4GM. The startup costs are still a problem; production is becoming easier, but that doesn't mean that eveyone can do it well, and I don't care how well you can edit your digital video on your Mac, a single DV camera isn't going to let you run a decent shoot. Talent costs can still be huge.

"There are a whole lot more risks one can take down here when you only need a million consumers."

There's still the question of how to get those million consumers ready to buy your first offering. You can't depend on getting a shot at a regular TV slot, and using that to grab your audience; even the Joss Whedon's will only get so many of those.

"(*cable TV is a primitive form of this. Discuss)."

ESPN. MTV (back when it showed videos.) Lifetime. CNN. Niche marketing's first application to television. Find out what the audience isn't getting enough of and make it available to them, 24/7.

"It makes more sense for a BigC to cultivate a large number of small, streamlined productions, each of which cultivate a passionate (insurgent) fan base who will make multiple purchases of the entertainment product, than to continue to try for the largest common denominator."

In truth, I don't think any of the big companies will ever do this. But other people will do this, and eventually one of the giants will get wind of it and be smart enough to buy them and (most importantly) NOT SCREW WITH THEM. For an example, done both right and wrong, see Disney's relationship with Mirimax. The fun part will come when one of them gets smart enough to then spin off the old movie studio/parent company, balancing the whole Time Warner/AOL travesty.

Comment on the discussion at large to follow.....

Joe Helfrich said...

kinesys: "Which is why those Soprano people are rolling in dough and making the kind of TV that they want to."

Well, that and HBO charging out the ass for the DVD sets. Just because it's not broadcast doesn't mean there's no big media company pulling the strings. Also, it *might* be easier to get a pitch through the doors at HBO, but they don't buy nearly as many.

bill cunningham: "You're right on about there being a Direct 2 DVD model for TV"

But when you go direct to DVD, can't you throw off the TV limits? Why hold yourself to a 42 minute hour? Stick with the basic concept of "episodes," but if the story you want to tell is 68 minutes long, take 68 minutes.

"At least until bittorrent becomes more viable and can support commercial enterprises."

Bittorrent's a protocol and it was designed specifically to be as simple as possible; I don't think there's any way to commercialize it reliably, any more than you could commercialize HTTP. There are tracker sites that are invite only, and probably some out there that charge for access. But once the file's out there, it's only a matter of time before new trackers are posted.

Now, slap an optional authentication method on RSS, and maybe you've got something. Bandwidth could still be a bitch though.

montcalm: "first: advertising. You can definitely do that."

With the advent of timeshifting and the fast forward button, I think advertising in television is going to undergo a change. Possibly a step backwards to the days when a show was "sponsored" by a corporation. Though check out a soccer broadcast some Saturday afternoon; they add a logo to the stat box, and occasionally mention "brought to you by blah" at the changes, probably for an additional fee. If that could be done unobtrusively (and most of the television watching public has adapted to the watermarks) it might work as well. Embedding also bypasses stripping the commercials, or at least makes it more difficult.

Gareth: "...could someone explain to me why you can't sell tv shows in the same way as you sell music?"

Well, there's no reason you couldn't, but the problem is how to get the time in the first place.

Jameson: "So, it seems like an easy, untapped distribution channel would be to buy up a few cheapo late-night infomercial blocks on cable and broadcast your show/movie in that time slot. It's just a matter of reaching your audience and telling them to set their TiVos for 3-4am on channel 691."

Now that's a damn interesting idea. Hell, there are plenty of national channels that show infomercials in the overnight hour. Or cut a deal with one of the big companies to buy blocks on "local" stations all over the country. Get enough, and it would probably be pretty cheap per station.

Doctor Memory: "(Regular readers of slashdot and boingboing will, at this point, be insisting, loudly and repeatedly, that Apple is satan and that FairPlay drains your precious bodily fluids while you sleep. There's nothing you can do but ignore them, sorry.)"

I resemble most of that remark.

It's true, I want this stuff without DRM. Yes, that makes it easy to redistribute. But I want to be able to play it on my desktop, on my laptop when I travel, on my iPod video or portable video player, on my office laptop when I'm stuck in late at night waiting for a code release.

Will there have to be a compromise? Probably. But where you draw that line will establish the viability of your plan. But I will pay for non-DRM materials if it's worth paying for. I've been known to grab shows from a tracker site when I miss an episode, or want to rewatch one. But I also buy the DVD sets when they come out.

GM Doug: "Now I never seem to see massive Sales in the US when I'm on vaction - could it be the prices are kept artifically high?"

Your prices actually seem awfully high. Mass market offerings of major network television series are generally less than that. Buffy Season 5 officially lists for $60 US according to Amazon, but big box stores such as Best Buy sell them for $40, for 22 hour-long episodes, with commentary on select episodes and a small selection of extra features.

So let's assume Best Buy makes $10 on the $40 sale price; $10 per unit for materials to produce the box set and $5 per unit for royalty payments. I'm probably overestimating here (these numbers are blind guesses) so we'll say the studio gets $15-$20 US for each unit sold.

That's less than a dollar an episode.

"If there's ever an time someone needs to sell the idea of 4GM then surely a perfect example is Image Comics?"

Image is 4GM up to the distribution point. The studios work independently; they just banded together to hit Diamond with a blunt club and get concessions. But they still distribute through Diamond, into the Direct Market almost exclusively; my impression is that their book trade is not well developed, contributing to Bendis and Mack leaving the fold for the ICON imprint at Marvel.

Bill again: "Websites for downloading shows or buying the DVD sets, that are advertising driven..."

And here's the magic combo. Cut out the retailer, and the manufacturing process. Assuming my numbers above are even close to correct, $15-$25 to download a season. Give me the option of individual files, or ISOs that I can burn to dual layer DVDs with standard DVD transitions, integrated extras, the works.

Is it easier for those files to end up on tracker sites, and FTP sites? Sure. But someone would have done the work anyway.

All we need is someone crazy enough to try it, and a reliable way to get the word out.

Phillip said...

I kind of skimmed the last however many posts, but I thought that the best idea would be to start a series where you don't need to see every episode to build the characters. So you have the 45 minute long TV versions that you put on tv as advertisments for the DVDs or internet downloads! that include these 45 minute versions, but fill in the gaps with longer or shorter episodes (that couldn't posibly fill 45 minutes, etc). This way you sidestep the 3rd gen media with 4gen media while using the 3rd gen advertising. You'd still sign your soul to the satan of whatever network you're selling to, but they don't get all of the episodes. I bet I'm making no sense, eh?

Dave said...

Morgan Freeman + Intel today got together to form a corporation called ClickStar Inc. for the express purpose of distributing movies over the Internet before they go to DVD.

Montcalm said...

Joe: Not sure if you were in on any of the discussions I've had about this kinda topic on /., but your reactions are very well-reasoned. If you have a moment to read my take on this (from a few months ago, unfortunately), I'd appreciate your insights.

The thing I've noticed about this concept of 4GM (as it's evolved over the years) is that there are so many ways to go about it, and you can't be sure what will actually stick. Way back when I took my first crack at it, people were into watching Volkswagen ads online on purpose, so putting real spots on the show wasn't such a stinker. These days, definitely, in-line branding could be useful. There's a delicate balance you have to strike to keep people from "pirating" your work on principle, but still make money off it. Tricky stuff, but again, until someone hits the formula exactly, there'll be a lot of wreckage along the road.

This whole concept of 4GM is actually not that crazy, because I've had a few old-school producers and broadcasters chatting happily about an experiment like we're all discussing. As long as it doesn't cost too much and they can see the audience clearly, they're all for it. They just didn't like my open-source ethic, so we hit a wall.

What 4GM-ish productions are there out there anyway? RvB is one (tho in a limited way)... way back in the day Ninjai was heading in that direction... we need test cases!

m1k3y said...

Another excellent post Mr Rogers!!
I've added it to my wall-of-fame web posts.
Keep refining that 4GM meme..

Some random thoughts on the post and the comments.

First, there's two web-only t-shows worth mentioning:

systm from those ex-Screensaver guys on TechTV.. They'd tested the water earlier with the broken.. and now they seem to have quit their day jobs to do it full-time

The Scene - which is suprisingly engaging for a very low-budget show with not a lot of production value..
The length of its episodes seems to change according to the story being told.

Also, to continue the military-entertainment theme.. this article coins the phrase "if you can't be an early adopter, be a rapid adapter".. which seems to fit how I see people consuming TV these days, ie the new people suddenly discovering Firefly via DVD.. etc..


Also, is it worth saying Google Video? Seems like they're building just the platform needed..

Or Mark Cuban's activites of late??

Also, I mentioned you/G.F to David Fury last Friday.. and am making everyone read to the GF trades to understand how good a G.F tv show could be

RogerRmjet said...

But also film a sequence where the hero pulls out a bible instead and God steps in and sorts out all the plot threads. Add some 'Support our Troops' tags to the cars and Stars & Stripes pins to the lapels of the good guys. Maybe imply the 'bad guy' is being punished for being gay or liberal.
Then you sell THAT version to everyone who doesn't live in San Francisco, LA and NYC.


You could also shoot additional versions that cater to Black, Gay, Asian, and other stereotypes. But then again, some people might find that intolerant and offensive.

RogerRmjet said...

Great article and even better discussion. There's some excellent ideas being discussed here. One thing I would like to see is a legitimacy given to fan film productions that would allow fan film creators to benefit from their work (or at least help defray expenses). I think it would be great if Lucas, Paramount, and other corporate entities would allow a licensing plan specifically for fan films. Take, for example, the Starship Exeter project. After creating their first episode, they could then submit it to Paramount for licensing approval according to pre-set guidelines. If approval is granted, the creators can then charge for downloads and/or sell DVDs (Paramount could even help with DVD mastering and hosting), and then pay Paramount a 50% licensing fee. This way, the fan film creators can recoup some of their costs (which can be very high). Paramount can make some money, they still maintain control of the property, and they also benefit by keeping the Star Trek brand alive for future use. Everybody wins. The hurdle, of course, is getting the corporate entities to think in new directions. As with other ideas presented here, I believe it will take a small entity, such as a Joss Whedon, to take the first step.

Joe Helfrich said...

Montcalm: first off, I love the idea and the setting behind Dustrunners. How do I get in on the ground floor? Drop me a line at joe at jbhelfrich.com--couldn't find a contact email on the site.

I agree with a lot of your manifesto; in a few cases you're even giving away more than I would. I don't want to drag this discussion too far off of the original post, so if you want to discuss these, drop me a line. A few point by point comments though, which hopefully apply to 4GM models in general

Fundamentals: I'd like to see some way where support for the product gets you credit. No system is going to be perfect, which makes quantifying these things hard, but look at the browncoats program that's popped up around Serenity. But that's a show that's thrived on word of mouth. I bought that DVD set, having never seen an episode, based on friends raves. I've loaned it out to four people who also had never even heard of the series. And every one of us will go see that movie on opening day.

In a perfect world, would that get me some sort of swag? Yeah. But as soon as you quantify it, it becomes abusable, to say nothing of potentially a pyramid scheme. I'd like to see someone try though. Well, OK, Browncaots is trying with their point system, but I haven't kept up with that. So I suppose I'd like to see more people try.

Making the show: Recent events have proven you wrong--people *do* care about production costs. At least certain hard core fans do. See the effort to raise enough funds to support another season of Enterprise. That probably won't be the last time it happens. Problem is, you've got to have the fanatics addicted before you get that level of response.

DVD set: Is the "free" set for members a physical set, or burnable? Big difference in cost.

Copyright Infringement: Wow. I'd probably draw the fair use line somewhere short of redistributing, personally. That takes balls.

DRM: Hit the nail on the head. There are people out there who crack this stuff for kicks. They are willing to spend thousands of man and computer hours to break it.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Joe Helfrich said...

Knew I forgot something.

"Way back when I took my first crack at it, people were into watching Volkswagen ads online on purpose..."

Very true. There are comercials that people will go out of their way to see. But Madison Avenue is so locked up in what statistically works best, and what isn't going to offend anyone, that US advertising is both boring and repetitive. There's a reason Europe wins all the Cleos.

Put commercials in that people will *enjoy watching* and you won't have this problem.

"What 4GM-ish productions are there out there anyway?"

Webcomics are probably your best example. For the vast majority, the comic itself is a loss leader; they put that out there for free, and then get people to buy t-shirts and other merchandise to make their living.

Randy Mulholand, who does Something Positive, was tired of getting complaints when he went a week without updating, when he didn't even have a store at the time. So he issued a challenge to his readers: contribute enough money to equal my annual salary, and I'll quit, and make SP my job.

Much to his surprise, they did. He followed through. The year's just up, and he's apparently making enough money off the shops that he's able to keep it up--and launch two other comics.

Anonymous said...

Good post and lots of good comments, but to me it looks like everybody is
skirting the most important issue of all - BitTorrent and its P2P brethren.

The fact is that any media content eventually finds its way online to be
traded and distributed for free. P2P programs are getting more and more
sophisticated, and consumer bandwidth is going up. The average high-school
kid can and does use P2P today, and soon these applications will be good
enough to the point where your grandma will easily be able to find and
download her favorite soap opera collection. For free.

The amount of $$ this generation of P2P kids will be willing to pay for
content is relentlessly going down, partly because there is so much content
out there and partly because the cost of acquiring it is being driven down
to free. And free is a very low price.

Nowhere in the discussion above do I see anybody address this. Everybody is
assuming that you can monetize the creation of blockbuster shows via the
Internet, and that the only problem is to get people to pay attention.

I don't think that's the case at all.

I actually think getting attention is not particularly hard at the moment
(though it is getting harder with more content out there competing for mind
share, much like it was easy in the early days of the Web to get traffic but
is no longer quite so easy today). No, the really hard thing is to monetize
consumer's attention.

Yes, people will pay for good content, but my contention is that they won't
pay enough to sustain its production. Not unless you're one guy producing
your own cartoon and you're happy living on <$100K per year. Which is fine,
more then fine for starving cartoonists, but you're not going to sustain any
sort of viable production house on that kind of money.

You have to face it - for the consumer the cost of acquiring content is
relentlessly being driven down to zero. The only way you can fund this kind
of business is with advertising, and users are relentless about filtering
out advertising. (Mostly because the vast majority advertising is so
profoundly sucky and so profoundly intrusive - but that's another thread).

So it's fair to ask where is the money in the content business? Certainly
not in producing it.

I'm prepared to say this despite the evidence of big money in secondary DVDs
today. Tommorrow the DVD will be obsolete and nobody (bar the financially
insignificant number of obsessed fans) is going to bother getting the pysical
product when they have a 10Mbps connection to their home - or 100Mbps if you
believe Verizon.

Rogers said...

INteresting post. I think you;re overestimating the P2P factor -- not in that that's where it will eventually be, but the timeline. Mark Pesce figures 1% of Americans are savvy enough to download their TV content currently. I see a lot of stages between that and even 50%, and my argument is we start adopting new ideas and monetizing them so that as the model evolves, we're not starting from back here in the stone age.

KirbyMeister said...

You ever hear of something called the 'Street Performer Protocol'? It's basically a model in which people pay the production costs of some content, and then it's released [usually under either public-domain, or a CC-style license] to everyone online. Obviously there are some 'unknown quantity' problems, i.e. more unknown people would end up having to release some of the product before people start giving them money. However, the beauty of this model is that there is no worries about online piracy [the production costs are paid before the content is produced], and you can still release physical-media products later. I dont see this as overtaking webcomics anytime soon, as they already have a semiviable business model, but for costlier works [animation, live-action films, etc.] which usually require a production house this is an interesting model. Keep your eye on it.

And for the guy who said to make two versions, one for ultrafundies, and one for those who hate religion... what's wrong with religion? You seem a little against anyone who believes in a deity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the education.
Working on a potential solution for the deliver of indie video content.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the education.
Working on a potential solution for the deliver of indie video content.

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