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Torrential Reign: You Too Can Get Fired for Generating "Buzz" in Hollywood

The other weekend, Wolverine racked up $87 million for its opening. That's more than pop cultural sweetheart Star Trek pulled in over the past three days. Wolverine's impressive debut undermines the argument that former Fox entertainment blogger Roger Friedman, who was fired for reviewing a bootlegged working print of the film that he downloaded via BitTorrent, had hurt the movie's financial prospects.

With the likelihood of more Wolverine-type leaks only getting higher, movie makers are adopting an "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude. At last week's Digital Hollywood conference, panelists bounced around the idea of "torrent trailers," deliberately released teasers to generate buzz ahead of a release. Michael Bay, they said, may or may not have deliberately released the trailer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, to the ire/glee of fanboys and girls across the YouTubes.

Now, some in Hollywood are talking about taking it further, manufacturing buzz by releasing movies onto the Internet early, in formats only the geekiest fans will bother to figure out. LAWeekly.com sat down with Digital Hollywood panelist Paul Kontonis, founder of Web video distributor For Your Imagination, to discuss the future of film in a torrent-covered world.

What do you think of the Wolverine torrent trailer strategy?

Paul Kontonis: Hey it worked! A good opening right?

Yeah, it's already made something like 130 million...

Paul Kontonis: They put out something that's pre-finished. The mainstream public doesn't bittorrent - so if someone saw that liked it and wanted to go see the final version in the theater, you'd go see the final version, Who cares if you saw the torrent? I just think it's weird that [Friedman] got fired for doing a review of the torrented version.

As new media reporters we have to deal with people not understanding that if you are a business or tech reporter and you are reporting on stuff like torrenting, file sharing and illegal stuff... you're doing your job which is being honest about the state of the industry.

Paul Kontonis: Yeah, but it's also admitting that it exists.

Which is the darker side of the Internet...

Paul Kontonis: Well, as far as I know no one's ever won the case in court getting picked up for soliciting a prostitute saying they were doing a research report. Or they were press investigating prostitution, I don't think that works so I think it's the same thing in this world, you got to be really careful with what you can and can't do and this guy basically admitted to illegally downloading the movie, watching it and giving it a review. Brilliant because everyone flocked to that review.

Maybe he could get hired by an organization that isn't as invested in the movie as Fox?

Paul Kontonis: I don't know if anyone has picked him up yet, but I would imagine.

The Onion?

Paul Kontonis: (Laughs)

So how did you get into this whole [online video] mess?

Paul Kontonis: One day I was walking around New York City and I saw a billboard and I thought somebody paid all this money to put that billboard there to make me go to a movie theater at a certain time to watch a movie and I thought, "Why can't I just watch it there?" Like, why can't I just stand there and watch the movie? And then I realized, "Wow, with the Web we can actually do that, we can deliver it wherever you might be."

Where do you think it's headed? You think online video can find a sustainable model?

Paul Kontonis: The cost of delivering content is getting ridiculously high and we're starting to see cost cutting measures across the board. Blip.tv is now removing content that has advertising in it. [To clarify: Blip wants to serve ads along with the videos posted by its users. So if users post videos that already include ads, Blip may remove those videos.] Businesses like Blip are starting to say, "Why am I covering your content delivery fees to deliver if you're posting content that I can't put ads against? It's User Generated Crap."

YouTube is starting to say, "Hey, that has an advertiser on it." For every dollar spent delivering content, [video content providers] have to bring in three times that amount. That's why you see those [denial of service] messages if you're in Lithuania and you try to watch Hulu. It costs money for them to deliver that video to you in Lithuania and so the best thing for them to do is go "no no no."

So do you think there'll be some sort of Internet Velvet Rope?

Paul Kontonis: The velvet rope is geography. If an advertiser is only willing to pay for U.S. eyeballs, then why are you going to incur the cost of delivering the content elsewhere if nobody is willing to pay?

This is different from the old satellite model because if I'm already pushing out my content to select countries in Europe and some other random country decided to pull my satellite signal down and pirate it, what's my cost? Nothing. I'm already paying to broadcast it, and there's no additional cost per country to push it out so it's never really been an issue.

Pirated satellite signals have always been part of the game plan, it's always been accepted. [Piracy is more problematic on the] Web because there's an actual cost to deliver [content], every time someone presses click, money pours out your door.

(Or, as was the case with Friedman, every time you press download, you risk your job.)

For more on the future of video look out for Paul and For Your Imagination online here.

Follow us on Twitter at @alexiatsotsis and @laweekly, respectively.


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