Monthly Archives: February 2020

To Stream a Video

To Stream a Video

Prime being what it is and what it’s become, let us now discuss other streaming options. I’ve been asked a number of times why I’m not on Netflix. Let’s talk about that.

Places like Netflix, iTunes, cable/satellite or whatever, aren’t interested in dealing with small fry distributors — at least, not directly. You’ll need to go through an aggregator like Quiver or Walla (or one of dozens of others, but they’re the ones I’m familiar with). Aggregators don’t work out of the kindness of their heart: Walla is $1,000 plus 15% of the gross revenue and Quiver is a flat $1,400. That’s per title, per platform, and there may be issues of exclusivity, with or without carve-out. In the book publishing world, people would tell you that all of this is backwards — that it’s the publisher who should be paying you, not t’other way ‘round, but that’s how it go with videos on the Internet.

It gets very expensive very quickly. Netflix is a little cheaper — about $800 to submit a film — and if they pick it up, they give you a substantial amount of money for distribution rights, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that they will pick it up. More likely than not, you’ll just find yourself out $800. Netflix is barely in the distribution game anymore. They see themselves as a two-bit production house now. They want original material. You might have noticed that their classic content has vanished almost entirely, but pull back a little and take a look — their selection of non-original content has constricted to almost nothing in general.

(Edit: Seriously, look at it. Their selection is about 5,000 titles. The average video rental store in the ‘90s carried 10,000-15,000 and larger stores in college towns could have as much as 40,000. Netflix carries nothing. It’s a serious problem in film schools because films that were once on the syllabus are simply unobtainable now for most students.)

Similarly, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, premium TV channels like Starz, etc., are closed systems, meaning you can’t just throw enough money at them to take your content — you’ve got to pitch it. Of the closed system, they’re the most “open”, which is why I single them out. Pitching is not a great deal of money, but neither is it free ($150, plus whatever the person who writes your pitch charges — pitching yourself is a bit like representing yourself in court), and the likelihood that they’ll want 100+ year old content is slim.

Now there’s the issue of length. Most silents are shorts, but even silent features tend to be on the short side. Amazon defines a feature as a film 60 minutes or longer (four reels at a silent-ish speed) whereas iTunes make the cut at 45 minutes (three reels). Most others are a lot more demanding and don’t term a film feature-length until it hits the 90 minute mark (six reels), which excludes most silent content. There is remarkably little interest in non-serialized shorts.

You know, when the talkies arrived, it wasn’t very many years before the studios abandoned their silent catalogues and either left the films to disintegrate through neglect or purposefully destroyed them. There would be no more market for silents, they said. As much as fans of silent films lament it, the fact is, the studios were right. They were absolutely right. The films were and are worth less than the shelf space they take up. The market is so vanishingly small as to not exist and the demand for new releases outside of Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera, and Metropolis is so minuscule that there may as well not be one. There’s still very much a market for new releases of those three — and two of them are even in the public domain. The third may still have a case or two in court — I don’t think the legality of copyright restoration in the US will be decided until the point is entirely moot.

For obscure silent films (and by “obscure” read “every single title not enumerated above”), I say you’re targeting a market of about five thousand people worldwide. There are some that would say I’m being incredibly generous and that the market of actual buyers and not simply well-wishers is really only about a thousand strong. Regardless, even if you pegged it as something absurd like 20,000, that’s still smaller than even the most niche horror sub-sub-sub-genre of direct to streaming schlock. There is no money — no money at all — in silent film, and while we may have the luxury of running money-losing businesses, the big players expect to turn a profit.

And there’s the odd thing with Amazon: as much as they’re chasing creators away and as frequently as they’ve been purging non-mainstream content lately, we’re getting record viewership and engagement numbers on our Prime videos. December used to be big back when people still bought DVDs. Nowadays, October is the season. The run-up to Halloween is when everyone is streaming — horror films, sure, but people are just watching more in general. We see a big bump in October, generally about three-times normal, but it contracts back a week or so into November. There was no contraction this year. We’re still at October numbers in mid-February, even after all the purges.

What am I leading up to? Not a thing. Just throwing all that out there. I could very well set up a DASH server and going into streaming myself — it’s not in the tiniest bit complicated, but I’d really rather not. There’s a reason my conception of an ideal digital market is one where you pay a one-time fee to download a DRM-free MP4 to do with as you feel fit. I don’t like being beholden to a service — any service — for access to content I’ve paid for, and I really don’t want anyone beholden to me. Suppose I die a year from now. It could happen. What then? No, I don’t like that.

Crowdsourcing is an option, but on the one hand, I don’t like being accountable to anybody, and on the other, I don’t know that there’s enough of a crowd to source from. If I did raise a couple thousand dollars, I wouldn’t spend it on streaming. There’s a project — a bit of a dream project — that I’ve had in mind for a long time that will cost about $2,000. I’ll do it at some point… at some point. That’s straying from the point, though, which is that Netflix ain’t gonna happen.

Oh, hint for next time, it’s an HD remaster of Heaven will Protect a Woiking Goil. What do you mean that wasn’t a hint? Anyway, I’d like to do a collection of tied-to-railroad-track parodies — there are a few of them.

 

Edit:

Oh. I’ve said before, we normally get about 14,000 minutes streamed by Prime subscribers a month. That’s shot up to about 25,000 since last October. Remember how I said Prime royalty rates were now one fifteenth of what they had been? What are were making for those 25,000 minutes? Is it a dollar and sixty-two cents? Yes it is. I really, really hate to do it, but I’m going to have to disable the include with Prime option and just rent and sell through Amazon. I really hate to do it because I want people to watch the films, but a penny an hour is just an insult, Jeff. You’re worth billions, Jeff, give me my 15¢.

I finally got an answer for why Romeo and Juliet keeps getting disabled (and, incidentally, if you ever see one of our videos that Amazon says they can’t show due to rights issues with the creator or whatever — no, that means Amazon chooses not to show it — I have never disabled anything ever). It’s because IMDb doesn’t list us as a distributor of it. Except it does and has for almost as long as Prime Video has existed. Amazon is pondering that now and has been for about two weeks. Perhaps it will be reinstated.

The delay with the Amazon release of When the Tables Turned comes down to its rating. Most of the films I deal with aren’t rated (well, a good many are, but Amazon doesn’t recognize the National Board of Review as a ratings board), so you’ve got to self-rate, and by that, I mean you’ve got to guess what Amazon wants it rated. There are very few films I’d personally rate higher than all ages, but Amazon is conservative in the extreme. If there’s a hint of violence, however cartoonish, you’d best err on the side of 13+. If there’s any smoking shown, oh boy, that’s a 13+. Never had to do an 18+ yet, but I remember one video is 16+ — can’t remember which at the moment. When the Tables Turned has a mock kidnapping in it and that’s causing a lot of ruffled feathers. After some back and forth, I finally got an answer from Amazon that they want it rated 13, so it’s a waiting game now.