Sunday, November 22, 2015

Movie Value in an era of Piracy

Background: A close friend is a screenwriter with a feature film before Screen Australia. If the Screen Australia Board signs off in April, the movie will go into pre-production immediately to shoot in six months for an Easter release in 2016. They have funding from a major film corporation. The producer has given the writers a share of the producer's profit (a few per cent).
Update: The film is in post-production, with a release date in later 2016.
The film is a romantic comedy ensemble party movie.

The Problem: How does the film make money in a era of easy film piracy? [1] So I wrote a little analysis document thinking through some of the issues. Where I ended up was in thinking of the viewers as a community rather than purchasers. If there are lots of viewers who don't pay for the film, how can the film producers engage with those viewers and bring them into the community?

Recently I found on wikipedia, entries for social television and second screen. This is about community engagement around media events. Twitter for instance is crazy around live events, like the football World Cup, the SuperBowl, and shows like American Idol. But this event is a live event viewed once. A movie is a non-live event viewed by many people at different times. How can we bring the two types together? Social community media around many people watching an event all at different times.

The Solution: I foresee an app where viewers (including of pirate copies) can participate in a community, sharing messages (and audio), synchronised with the media event. This app will simulate the experience of being in a movie theatre, through text and audio, of watching a film in a group, in a crowd, in a theatre. I see three functions, synchronised to the film:
- add a text or audio comment (a few seconds), one word, or a few words
- link to buy/rent the film, and provide a message when the film is available at a viewer requested price (price discovery), to take advantage of the positive mood following viewing a film, to legally own the film
- share a review at the end of the film (text or audio); as the credits start to roll (a longer 30 second sound bite).

In practice: How to share the comments?
I see the text comments could form a subtitle track that flashes up on the screen. Subtitles could be the one word comment, which flash up very quickly, or the longer few word comments.
Subtitles could contain very many comments, so there should be a way to limit the number of comments, by location, by friends, by people following, by recommendation.

I see the audio track reproducing the social experience of seeing a movie in the cinema, with ooohs and ahhs and oh nos.... alongside the soundtrack of the film. The volume of these audio comments could fade in volume based on distance from the viewer (friends, location, recommendations).

Exploiting this idea
I see two ways to commercialise this idea. I pitched this idea to my wife who suggested taking it to the funding film corporation as an example of functions to include in an app for her film. The other option is to take it to a business which looks at many films and make it available as a function within their app, eg Gyde or IMDB.

Update: I pitched the idea to a major film studio, who said "we don't want to invest / assist in any product that improves the experience of consumers, who pirate [our] films".
Update 2: I pitched the idea to a VC, Angel Investor at the ALP Conference, and his response was #disruptive ideas are unlikely to get support from mainstream industry players, and are better exploited as a startup opportunity.
Update 3: I pitched the idea to the Launch Hackathon conference in San Francisco, Feb 2016. This blog post which has been private since Feb 2015, is now public to allow the Hackathon committee to scrutinise the project. This blogpost is the one pager I recommend to entrepreneurs to express their core business concept.

The contents of this blogpost are Commercial in Confidence, and in exchange for reading them confer rights of any exploitation of this idea, to a 10% ownership interest of such exploitation by this author.

[1] (Some) Films are still making a lot of money and having many piracy downloads eg Captain America $714M sales | 0.7M pirate downloads, 22 Jump Street ($331M, 650k downloads), Guardians of the Galaxy ($333M, 1.35M pirate downloads). These films are aimed at a similar audience as the film before Screen Australia ($5M), compared to the $50 - $170M for the above Hollywood films. Piracy download data take from YIFY (, and Box Office data from

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