Throwing baseballs through the release window

Morgan Freeman’s new film, 10 Items Or Less, is the latest to be made available over the internet just days after it debuts in theaters. Unsurprisingly it’s a smaller studio, ThinkFilm, that purchased the theatrical distribution rights when others wouldn’t touch it because of the plan for net release. This is how movements start, with small players taking chances and then bigger players testing the waters. Next summer could be huge in terms of coming around on the broken release window pattern. Just wait and see.

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Lonelygirl15 fouls the watering hole

The viral online campaign for The Blair Witch Project was both an outstanding success as well as the worst thing to ever happen to the marketing profession. The good was that it created a popular groundswell of interest in a movie that no one had heard of on a then nascient medium, the internet. The bad is that ever since then everyone has tried to replicate it, with very few of these repeats going well. Most simply involve company-paid trolls who post glowing reviews on message boards or sites that are supposed to be “fan created” but, unless that fan as a $50,000 marketing budget, just doesn’t pass the smell test.

So too, now the saga of LonelyGirl15 has salted the once-fertile earth of consumer generated content. If the reports are true – and they seem to be – that the teenaged cutie who’s the embodiment of every teenaged guy’s fantasies (which should have been a tipoff right there) and she is someone’s viral marketing project – then marketers everywhere are screwed. Moreso than merely paying bloggers for covertly mentioning brands and products, the abuse of legitimate consumer-generated content is something that simply can’t be recovered from. This isn’t just the killing of your own reputation, as is the case with accepting money for blog mentions. This is casting consumer suspicion over an entire media format. Whenever a video blogger now mentions a product or becomes a grassroots sensation the way LonelyGirl15 did the audience will now be wondering if it’s real or part of a corporate strategy.

You can never unring a bell and it’s hard to earn back trust once it’s broken. While the people who created LonelyGirl15 should be commended for doing such a fantastic job of reaching such a large audience and waiting so long before tipping their hand, we also need to hold them responsible for changing the climate for the rest of us. It’s yet another thing the rest of the online marketing community will need to overcome when trying to bring authentic messages to the audience there.

Making theaters Long Tail friendly

Amy G. at Contentious has a fantastic thinking-out-loud post up regarding making theaters more Long Tail friendly. Basically it combines on-demand movie scheduling (which can be accomplished with digital satellite deliver) with online scheduling (she uses MeetUp.com as a way to schedule viewings) and the results are fantastic.

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Lonelygirl15 fouls the watering hole

The viral online campaign for The Blair Witch Project was both an outstanding success as well as the worst thing to ever happen to the marketing profession. The good was that it created a popular groundswell of interest in a movie that no one had heard of on a then nascient medium, the internet. The bad is that ever since then everyone has tried to replicate it, with very few of these repeats going well. Most simply involve company-paid trolls who post glowing reviews on message boards or sites that are supposed to be “fan created” but, unless that fan as a $50,000 marketing budget, just doesn’t pass the smell test.

So too, now the saga of LonelyGirl15 has salted the once-fertile earth of consumer generated content. If the reports are true – and they seem to be – that the teenaged cutie who’s the embodiment of every teenaged guy’s fantasies (which should have been a tipoff right there) and she is someone’s viral marketing project – then marketers everywhere are screwed. Moreso than merely paying bloggers for covertly mentioning brands and products, the abuse of legitimate consumer-generated content is something that simply can’t be recovered from. This isn’t just the killing of your own reputation, as is the case with accepting money for blog mentions. This is casting consumer suspicion over an entire media format. Whenever a video blogger now mentions a product or becomes a grassroots sensation the way LonelyGirl15 did the audience will now be wondering if it’s real or part of a corporate strategy.

You can never unring a bell and it’s hard to earn back trust once it’s broken. While the people who created LonelyGirl15 should be commended for doing such a fantastic job of reaching such a large audience and waiting so long before tipping their hand, we also need to hold them responsible for changing the climate for the rest of us. It’s yet another thing the rest of the online marketing community will need to overcome when trying to bring authentic messages to the audience there.

UPDATE: More on this story, including confirmation of the identities of the people behind this here and here.

I admit it, I was upset

OK, Don makes a good point. If I’m going to boycott Disney movies than, in order to be consistent, I need to extend that to NBC/Universal and CBS/Viacom as well with their idioticly slanted tele-movies. I won’t be boycotting Disney and their movies.

My point still stands about the violation of the public trust, though. No company should do that and it makes me mad every time they do. The problem is that with the conglomerates owning everything and abusing their oligarchy it’s almost impossible to take a stand and not cut yourself off from the media entirely.

Don, congratulations on making a persuasive arguement on this matter. You pointed out the shortcomings of my stand and were successful in changing my mind. I wish the media world we lived in were a little more black and white but it’s not. And unlike most of our political leaders on both sides of the spectrum I’m not afraid to say I was wrong and back off a stance.

Take a minute and, if you believe in such things, pray to almighty God that He grant those leaders and all those in positions of authority to wisdom to guide us through these troubled times. Pray for those in harm’s way. Pray for those who will be harm’s way tomorrow and the day after that. Pray, on this fifth anniversary of 9/11, that we can make the world a better place for all God’s children.

Issue closed. We now resume our regular movie marketing coverage.

More thoughts on Disney, ABC and the “Path to 9/11″

Here’s what I had typed out in response to a comment on my “Boycotting Disney” post that I thought I would put here instead.

Don, that’s a fair point. The differences, I think, are this:

1) This was originally marketed by ABC as being drawn directly from the 9/11 Commission report. It was only after people started calling “bullshit” on some of the scenes in the film that ABC changed its tune and started saying it was “based on but with some differences” that report.

2) Theatrical films are more subject to the whims of distribution. As F 911 proved, movies often shuffle around and have their releases changed, thereby limiting their audience to what the market thinks it can produce. That’s not how broadcast TV works.

3) The message of this tele-movie is overtly poltical and is so in a decidedly unbalanced manner. Broadcast licenses are granted only to those who promise not to do this.

That last point is the most important, I think. I have no problem with people using art in any form to advance an agenda. I really don’t. You want to slam the fast-food industy? Have at it. Want to criticize X government of engaging in genocide? More power to you. But ABC and the other broadcast networks have a duty to not take sides politically but to present the facts as they truly exist so as to create an educated and informed electorate. Instead of sticking to that they created a partisan political document in an election year. And it’s not like the facts are that hard to stick to, even allowing for some amount of dramatic license. It’s not like this is a research project the network had to get into from scratch using 200 year old letters and records. It happened five years ago.

The easiest device used by marketers, including political ones, is to play to the emotions of the audience. By taking the outrage and sadness of 9/11/01 and nudging people to associate those feelings with Democrats ABC has made what I feel to be an overtly political statement and used the public airwaves to do so. They were content with with the show as it stood until people started calling them on the inaccuracies it contained and only then did they try to tone down the blame game the movie engaged in.

Again, it’s the abuse of the public airwaves, a trust that’s supposed to be used by the networks to advance the discussion and inform the public, that’s most upsetting to me, not the content. If this had been a theatrical feature film from Disney I wouldn’t have nearly the problems that I do. That’s also the case if they had broadcast it on one of their cable outlets.

I hope that clears up my feelings, Don and everyone else.. I certainly am not going to hold everyone accountable 100% to history when they’re trying to entertain, which is largely what Michael Moore does. But I am going to ask a conglomerate corporation not to abuse its public outlets – especially one that’s associated with a news source like ABC. I don’t think that’s asking too much.