Virtual attendance

Brook Barnes’ piece (The New York Times, 2/2/10) on whether or not, with so many films being available on-demand at the same time they debut at Sundance and as buzz pops up in everybody’s email inbox instantaneously, is well worth reading.

But pulling back from the microcosm of the film industry and looking at the bigger picture, it’s worth considering whether or not physical, in-person attendance at any industry trade show or event is necessary.

Having run programs myself where contacts were tuned in to what was happening at an event without actually being there, I can say there are pluses and minuses to trying to be “virtual” and yet still get the most out of these events.

On the one hand saying that a team of people will not be in-person but still be following – and amplifying in whatever manner the program is set up to do – the messages coming out of the event seems pretty simple. You don’t have to pay for airfare, lodging or anything else that goes along with such attendance. And in some respects they’re able to follow the overall conversation more closely since they can be receiving inputs from a broader spectrum of people than they would be if they were limited to where in the physical space they are at any given moment.

On the other, though, there are downsides. Personal contact with important people is absolutely more valuable than an @ reply on Twitter or a comment on a blog post. And while the breadth of the conversation that can potentially be covered increases, it’s probably a wash in the end since the whole point of not attending is that the person doesn’t lose a day of their regular duties. It’s not like they can sit there hitting “refresh” on a Twitter hashtag search all day and do nothing else.

I’m not coming down on the idea of virtual attendance. It can be a valuable strategy for influencer relations and audience building. Social media allows for those who aren’t able to be in an actual location to still participate in the conversation and, potentially, add to the value attendees take away with them in the same was as if they were actually there. That’s huge.

What’s important to keep in mind is that, with social media broadcasting available either options carries with it the same substantial amount of research that must be done beforehand. Who’s going to be there that the attendees should try to connect with? What’s the official conference Twitter handle? What’s the agreed upon or recommended hashtag, category or other label? Attendees need to be armed with the answers to these questions whether they’re going to be on the ground or still in the office.

Even more important is the idea that, because virtual attendees are going to be expected to not drop everything else they would do in a day they need some filters…some assistance. That’s where agency partners, in-house specialists or someone else comes in and provides that “Here’s the wheat, here’s the chaff” perspective, allowing the point person – the one who’s supposed to be paying attention to the event’s goings-on – to be their best. That’s what we do.

ICG Publicists awards nominees announced

The publicists and promotional departments for a number of films are included in the nominees for the ICG Publicists awards which were announced (Hollywood Reporter, 2/1/10) the other day.

Campaigns for Avatar, 2012, Couples Retreat, The Hangover, Paranormal Activity and The Proposal are among the nominees, which also extend into the television and other entertainment industries.

There are some here that make sense and some that don’t, but it seems like there are a couple of key omissions. The campaigns for Up in the Air, Crazy Heart (which gets points for happening really quickly), A Serious Man, Up and Moon all were among my favorites of last year and I think show more in the way of innovation than some of the nominees. I’m not certain these comply with ICG union rules but they certainly deserve to be looked at more seriously.

Put Sundance 2010 in the books

Sundance 2010 ended last weekend, with most of the media heading home in advance of the end of the festival once the majority of the anticipated press screenings and other debuts had taken place and the feeling that the fizz was lessening started to settle in. It was fun, on some level, to watch a bunch of movie blog writers who live in California get there and complain about walking half a mile in six inches of snow, to which my reaction was a resounding “Wimps.” ‘Cause I’m hardcore.

But now that we have the benefit of hindsightt it’s a good time to look at how the festival was perceived and what resulted. Yes, this is part of the obsession with sales figures that Patrick Goldstein questions in a great Q&A with LAT writer John Horn but, as Horn says, lacking any other yardstick sales is the only true measure we have.

By that measure this year’s festival was a moderate success, at least to my eye. While the buying started, according to Brook Barnes (New York Times, 1/29/10), gingerly it proceeded at a steady if moderate clip, which is a good thing. There were some traditional deals cut, some non-traditional deals made and generally it seems like everyone’s progressing in a non-hurried and non-panicked manner, which is probably a good thing.

But was the fest a success artistically? Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter, 1/28/10) weighed in skeptical of how “recharged” or “renewed” the spirit of the films in competition actually were, saying they seemed to play it safe more often than not and didn’t push boundaries in the way one might expect festival entries to.

I wasn’t there and so didn’t see the movies themselves obviously. And the problem is few people outside of Sundance attendees will ever see them. Even those that did get theatrical distribution deals will be limited, in the main, to New York City and Los Angeles arthouses with possible expansion to Chicago and a couple other major metro markets.

Can you imagine if Sundance rearranged itself into a distribution network, with theaters across the country that played these films for people everywhere? Or as an on-demand and online channel where films were available to anyone at anytime? Or as a DVD distribution house that fed you a new movie every week at random and then provided an online community for people to come and discuss the movies with others who had seen the same one? Then run a small-scale festival as more of an industry convention where panels and discussion groups can happen.

The one take-away, as an observer, is that for all the momentum that has indeed occurred over the last year or so we’re still a long way from a large-scale shift in how the film industry is run and Sundance, which has always positioned itself as an artistic showcase and not a sales market, has some room in front of it that can be used to lead the charge.

More indie titles coming to Netflix streaming

Netflix is adding somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 new titles to its streaming library (Hollywood Reporter, 2/1/10)  from distributors such as Music Box Films, Criterion and a handful of others.

Objectively anything that enables movies to reach as large an audience as possible is a good move. And streaming is the perfect way to achieve this since it means the only additional cost (on top of the Netflix subscription) is the time of the movie without gas, concessions and drive time to the theater added on top.

There’s been some criticism in the past – rightfully so, I’ll grant – that the filmmakers here aren’t seeing much financial benefit from streaming and that there isn’t much marketing done around new streaming titles, so many of these titles go rarely watched or completely unwatched.

Well that’s where indie filmmakers need to put on their big boy pants and do the hard work themselves. Get on Facebook, get on Twitter, get on their blogs and get people aware and excited. Set up a time when a bunch of people can watch remotely but together and participate in an chat through Skype or AIM.

If you think there’s a problem it’s on you to fix it.

Your distributor did the legwork to get your title here, there or wherever and that’s exactly what they’re there for. So now pick up the ball and run with it in order to get it seen. Do some research to see who has been talking about the movie previously and let them know they can now watch it and where they can do so.

Set goals and execute against them. Make it happen. If you don’t succeed in a given period figure out how to readjust your tactics and try something new. The only way to break through the clutter is to do so yourself and social media lets you connect with – and become important to – the audience in a whole new way that then puts you in a position to draw awareness to your film (or whatever the end product is) in an immediate way that actually winds up being a great fit with streaming video, which allows for instant gratification of felt needs.

Heading to The Conversation: NYC

About a year and a half ago I had the pleasure of attending – and sponsoring via the company I was with at the time – The Conversation, an event Scott Kirsner put together to get people, well, talking about distribution, marketing and how to find success in a new media world. It was a great event, one that I was proud to be a part of and enjoyed simply as a spectator of and participant in.

Well he’s doing it again and once again I’m going to be involved.

The Conversation 2010 will be happening on March 27th on the campus of Columbia University in Manhattan. Not only will I be attending but I’m happy to announce that Voce Communications is sponsoring a session on social media for filmmakers during the day.

So I’m excited not only because I get to participate in – and help facilitate through Voce’s sponsorship – a great day of sharing ideas but also because, as you’ll see from the speaker list, there are a ton of smart people I’ll be able to meet, see again and otherwise connect with.

If you’d like to attend Scott has opened up registration and, for the next week or so, you can take advantage of the $75 early bird ticket price.

Look for more updates on the event and my (and Voce’s) role in the coming weeks.

e-Pricing

So over in the book industry, the publisher Macmillan just won a significant victory over Amazon. The gist of the disagreement was that Macmillan wanted the e-book versions of their titles to be priced at one level and Amazon felt that was pretty steep considering e-books come without all the physical production costs of printed books. So Amazon briefly took Macmillan titles out of the Kindle store in protest. But they’ve subsequently relented, citing the desire to continue offering those to titles to readers despite what they still felt was a needlessly high price point.

I would imagine content producers of all types – books, films, music, etc – are looking at this very public battle closely. Consumers are expecting digital media to cost less than physical media because, again, it comes without as much production expense. But producers – and by that I mean the big companies who collect the lions share of the consumer’s dollar – are going to try and maintain or come close to those pricing levels because the margin is then significantly greater.

Sub-communities

Two stories recently about how we may be overdoing it when it comes to our social network friends.

One in Wired:

Once a group reaches a certain size, each participant starts to feel anonymous again, and the person they’re following — who once seemed proximal, like a friend — now seems larger than life and remote. “They feel they can’t possibly be the person who’s going to make the useful contribution,” Evans says. So the conversation stops. Evans isn’t alone. I’ve heard this story again and again from those who’ve risen into the lower ranks of microfame. At a few hundred or a few thousand followers, they’re having fun — but any bigger and it falls apart. Social media stops being social. It’s no longer a bantering process of thinking and living out loud. It becomes old-fashioned broadcasting.

Another in The Times:

Dunbar is now studying social networking websites to see if the “Facebook effect” has stretched the size of social groupings. Preliminary results suggest it has not. “The interesting thing is that you can have 1,500 friends but when you actually look at traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world,” said Dunbar. “People obviously like the kudos of having hundreds of friends but the reality is that they’re unlikely to be bigger than anyone else’s.

As my colleague John Ratcliffe-Lee says,

you’ve got thousands of people who follow you on twitter? here’s a sticker.

Whether you have 15 or 15,000 friends, followers or whatever there are two things that are important to keep in mind:

First, it’s not the size of the group, it’s how those people map to the goals you’re reaching for. If you’ve got a huge following on Twitter but your key success metric is pageviews on a website, then that’s what you need to be paying attention to. A huge following that doesn’t result in those goals being met is meaningless and you need to make sure you have a strategy to convert that interest into action.

Second, at any given time a social network user is not interacting with their entire group of followers. We can’t possibly organize location-specific services with state-wide government, so we chunk it into counties, cities and wards in order to more efficiently manage the needs of residents. The same goes on social networks, where we interact with the East Coast people in the morning, the West Coast people in the afternoon. Or we have specific threaded conversations with the other movie blog writers we know or a couple of social media marketing types. No, I’m not going to add value to anyone – including myself – by trying to respond and converse with everyone I follow on Twitter. So I pick and choose.

Getting down to brass tacks

PaidContent recently ran a column dealing with the fate and future of the two Hollywood trade magazines, a column that got some interesting reactions, including one comment that has now been highlighted in a post of its own and which has me all sorts of jealous that I didn’t write it myself.

The key bit:

You are Variety. A great name. So where is the braintrust to kick everyone’s ass? Where’s the same attitude of the people you cover. The creativity. The work-at-all-hours people. The idea people.

And I don’t mean a Web redesign. And hiring an ex-LAT staffer whose job, by the way, isn’t to produce copy – is that what they REALLY need right now—ANOTHER editor? Where’s the new Mike Fleming? The new young columnist? The new hot get? Where are the stars? And hiring a guy from Philadelphia (?) to run the site doesn’t count.

Have you all sat in a room, looked at each other and said, “This isn’t working…let’s go get us people who can kick ass.” And I don’t mean by typing fast. Or giving orders. Or having good meetings. Or being a nice person. I mean…who can change the game?

If there’s one failing I think is common throughout the media world, it’s that no one thought in 2004 that, instead of fighting The Blogs, they needed to bring them in and get them work in-house. Five years ago any newspaper or magazine could have hired any number of blog writers pretty cheaply to write for them, on their site. Newspapers could have gotten anyone in the regional area to come in-house, trade pubs could have gotten writers interested in their industries to write blogs for them. And all of that could have been done for not a ton of money – probably something just above a decent cut of the ad revenue from those pages – and with no significant outlaying of resources.