The overture to 2008’s changes has begun

platform.jpgIn musical theater, especially opera, the orchestra will start playing the brief snippets from the music of the show arranged into one piece before the curtain goes up. The overture is designed to familiarize the audience with the musical themes they’re about to hear. It serves to set the tone and begin the process of bringing the audience into the world of the show.

Looking past on the developments in the digital download market I can’t help but feel that we’re hearing the overture to 2008, catching little bits of the themes we’re going to hear as we progress through the year.

The strongest theme that’s being played, of course, is the one that’s coming from Apple. The company, as has been widely reported, seems to be on the cusp of announcing a deal with 20th Century Fox to rent movies through iTunes, with other studios rumored to be just working out the details of their involvement as well. Holdouts include Universal, which is doing everything it can to distance itself (wisely or unwisely) from Apple, Warner Bros. and one other studio, but it seems like they’re going to be in the minority when this finally gets rolled out.

In every story it’s mentioned that Apple currently lags behind other services such as Amazon in the online rental distribution field, but very few of them mention that’s largely because there are so few studio partners in iTunes right now. Disney is the only studio selling current movies, with Paramount only chipping in catalog titles and other less fresh films. Let’s review this in a year.

Apple brings with it two extremely important features: 1) Portability – You don’t have to be tied to an Internet connection in order to watch the movie like you do through Movielink or Netflix with their “Watch Now” service. And 2) Familiarity – Once people can find the movies they’re looking for with the iTunes Store I truly believe you’ll see rentals skyrocket and iTunes become a market leader.

And if you think this is going to end with rentals you’re mistaken. Studios will eventually begin testing selling movies through iTunes day and date with DVD releases and, as downloads speed up, a critical mass will form that will turn download-to-own into a viable option for just about everyone.

The brand loyalty Apple enjoys with iTunes will likely save it from a fate like that which has befallen Wal-Mart. The superstore giant, which is the largest seller of DVDs in the U.S., quietly shut down its year-old video download store just before Christmas. The decision was so quiet, in fact, that no one noticed until about six days after it happened.

The reason given by Wal-Mart was that Hewlett-Packard, which was supplying the technology for the service, pulled its support. But you have to think that if the service were viable and profitable, Wal-Mart could have found a substitute technology provider if they really wanted to. The signs point to Wal-Mart knowing deep down this wasn’t feasible and no one else being willing to step up and fill H-P’s shoes.

Meanwhile Blockbuster has raised the price of its Total Access service at the same time its cut back on the program’s features, eliminating in-store rentals for members and making other adjustments as well. And they’ve filed a trademark for something called “Blockbuster Media Minutes” that reads to me like they’re trying to supplement declining membership revenue with some online advertising dollars.

The movie industry is, it seems, trying to not make the same mistakes the music industry began making in 1998, some of which they continue to make today. While it is arguably true that 2007 has seen a good amount of innovation in music retail, especially in terms of more and more options that do not include convoluted and restrictive DRM schemes, they still seem to be prone to Hoof in Mouth Disease outbreaks. Take the recent news that the RIAA is now arguing that people who have made a personal back-up of the music they’ve bought on CD have actually violated copyright.

But just because it’s not making the same mistakes the music industry has doesn’t mean they’re not making a whole batch of their own. There’s been reluctance to let people burn DVDs of legally purchased movies, the inability to see iTunes as a partner instead of a competitor and a mess of others, including an uncanny knack to back download websites that went out of business six months after the announcement of the partnership. There’s also the MPAA’s apparent inability to link correctly to legal downloading stores, but that’s a separate issue.

The failure to innovate in a timely manner – not even in terms of breaking new ground but simply meeting the desires of the consumer – is going to come back to bite Hollywood in the back side in much the same way it has the music industry. By the time the studios decide how they’re going to allow people to watch movies in an easy to use and portable manner, people will be using their mobile devices for broadband video. Or, as we’re now seeing as video game makers move in to take advantage of the TV writer’s strike, people will simply gravitate toward what is available on the platform of their choice and decide to do that instead.

That last point is the key and is something that needs to be built into all consumer-facing programs: People have decided what platform they prefer to use and are looking for content there. If there are movies there, they’ll take them. If it’s just games, they’ll take that as well. If it’s something else, then that’s what they’ll consume. The same goes for distribution points within each platform as well. Most of the television networks have figured out they can’t count on everyone to come to their own official website to watch streaming programming, so they’re distributing it via Joost, Hulu, AOL Video or any of a dozen other major sites that people are already using. Being seen, they’ve found, requires checking their egos at the door and just allowing the content to be out where the people are.

Record labels never figured this out, that it was better to form partnerships than draft lawsuits, and that’s why they’re dying quickly while illegal downloading continues unabated.

But Hollywood, if they can wake up to the notion that making content A) hard to find online and/or B) difficult to use because of DRM or other nonsense, both will contribute to no outcome but their eventual demise, can survive in the new media age. That requires putting the audience first. Without their support – both financial and in terms of word of mouth – the movie studios will find themselves with a comfortable, familiar business model that’s being clung to even as it’s failing them completely.

Skrulls…why did it have to be Skrulls…

Everytime I think I’m about done buying and reading comics, Marvel has to go and get delusions of grandeur and pull me back in. This time they’re doing it with “Secret Invasion,” which has planted the notion that the Skrulls have replaced a number of familiar characters, a notion that’s taken to new heights with this teaser cover. Ugh. Well, the kids can always go to community college.

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Taking the day off to spend some time with the family and celebrate my 33rd year of failing to die.

Around the web clean-up

Instead of pushing these to my link blog I thought I’d just briefly mention some stuff that is of interest to MMM here.

Karina does a post-mortum on the failure of Walk Hard to generate any box-office success in the wake of a campaign that was alright, but not very strong at establishing the movie’s own identity.

There’s a poster for Drillbit Taylor, another movie overseen and produced by Judd Apatow but directed by someone else and starring Owen Wilson. Expect this to be Strike Two for Apatow as a producer.

SearchEngineWatch notes the placement of ads for Juno on the YouTube page of Google’s Congressional testimony on privacy issues. Kind of funny.

There are also a couple of quotes that made me nod in appreciation.

From Valleywag:

But the real draw of YouTube isn’t that the content is short; it’s that it’s easy to find and share. 

And from Scott Adams:

I think the pleasure of completed work is what makes blogging so popular. You have to believe most bloggers have few if any actual readers. The writers are in it for other reasons. Blogging is like work, but without coworkers thwarting you at every turn. All you get is the pleasure of a completed task.

Fox to begin renting films through iTunes

apple-its-showtime.jpgWe have a late entry in the “Biggest distribution news of 2007” category: 20th Century Fox will begin renting current release titles through Apple’s iTunes storefront, reports The Financial Times.

Customers will be able to rent movies through iTunes that are downloaded to a PC. The Apple FairPlay DRM package would then kill the file after a set period of time.

A FairPlay version of the movie will also be included on Fox DVDs, allowing people to easily grab a version of the movie for use on their computers or Video iPods. This is more or less the first time that process will be easy and completely legal.

Ripping movies to a PC for playback just like a music file is something I’ve wanted for a long time, as are studios finally beginning to wake up and smell the advantage to doing business with Apple. If, as the story suggests, more studios are ready to make deals as well this could be the ground-breaking move we’ve been waiting for.

Apple has the market penetration and the consumer familiarity, so they’re in a position to make this work. More, I’m sure, will be revealed when this deal is officially announced on January 15th.

[pic via Silicon Alley Insider]

Merry Christmas

LOTD: 12/25/07

  • Anyone else giving the new beta of Firefox a whirl? I’d heard of it from a Twitter pal, an have got to say it’s super light and is cruising along for me. (TB)
  • Lifehacker’s got the goods on setting up the new computer your kids got you for Christmas. (TB)
  • An interesting (though scary?) look at how many more people in our society are viewing the value of intellectual property. (TB)
  • Over at John Arnold’s blog, an interesting question about whether or not Facebook is “killing blogs.” I’d say no, but interesting nonetheless. (TB)
  • Marshall Kirkpatrick writes up 2007 as “The Year in RSS,” and I can’t say I disagree. While “the masses” may have RSS powering a lot of their efforts online, most people have no idea how to use it, and until people start using IE7 (especially at work) and Firefox, they’re clicking on icons and then sending notes to Webmasters saying “this link is broken.” Howabout maybe we make something (a link) work like ALL the other links on the entire Internet, and have it do what it’s supposed to first, then we’ll have a REAL year OF RSS. (TB)
  • Valleywag points to the “updating” of the NORAD Santa Tracking that has been floating around for awhile. (TB)

I think one of them popped

Movie Marketing Madness: Walk Hard – The Dewey Cox Story

walk hardI’ve made very little effort to hide the fact that I think the current crop of comedians in movies might just rank among the best the movie industry has had to offer. I’ll put Will Ferrell, Jason Bateman, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, Paul Rudd, John C. Reilly, Owen and Luke Wilson, Michael Cera and the rest of the people who frequently appear in movies with them against, in their own way, rosters that include Bob Hope, Jack Benny, The Marx Bros. and a host of others from Hollywood’s golden age. Are the comedic stylings the same or even similar? Not a chance. But right now we’re enjoying a period with a handful of extremely funny leading men and a very, very strong bench of supporting players.

All that leads into the subject of this column, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. The movie is a mock biopic of one Dewey Cox, a singer whose life the movie tells even as it spoofs other biographical films like Ray and Walk the Line. Reilly stars as the title character, a man whose life is filled with tragedy, both accidental and of his own dumbass making.

The Poster

There was only one poster created by Sony for the movie, but it pretty much told the audience exactly what it needed to know. Reilly stands, shirtless and with a look of bliss that can only be born of ignorance, in a very Jim Morrison as Lizard King type pose. So it’s easy to guess from the one-sheet that this is a comedy and that many of the laughs will come from Reilly’s character bouncing around the world completely oblivious to the impact he’s having on it.

The Trailers

The biggest component to the trailer, which is quite funny, is that it hits many of the same notes as most biographical films. From the tortured backstage posing to the meeting of other famous musicians to the washed-up mess years, the moments being parodied should be instantly familiar to anyone who’s been watching movies for the last several years.

Reilly is obviously having fun and in addition to everything else there’s a ton of sex gags, mostly involving co-star Jenna Fischer (Pam on “The Office”). So it positions the movie as something that should appeal to guys, mainly, who are likely going to be attracted to the sex jokes.

There’s also a lot of mention of producer Apatow’s past films, obviously trading on his current success to try and boost this movie’s chances for success. Superbad, Talladega Nights and Knocked Up all get name-dropped. It’s an obvious tactic but it’s also got decent odds of working.

There was also a red-band, R-rated trailer that contained a fair amount of the same jokes as well as some new ones, mostly revolving around more sex, a bit of drug use and some swear words. Just as funny as the first one, but for different reasons. But like other movies that have employed red-band trailers, this is meant to differentiate the movie for a more adult audience and make the movie more appealing to them.


Just like the Sweeney Todd site, the first thing on Walk Hard’s official website is a nod to the movie’s Golden Globe nominations. Below that is a gallery of video footage and pictures from some of the stops along the “Cox Across America” tour that had Reilly touring in character and performing songs from the movie.

Skipping over the entryway to the official site, there’s a link to a “Fan Site” for Dewey Cox. This is kind of hilarious. It’s setup like a fan site, albeit a very well designed one, and there you can download fan club certificates, order Cox bobble-heads, view bumper stickers and do a bunch of other stuff. It’s a fun site – the fan mail section is a riot – and adds a little something to the Cox mythology.

The next section down is “Watch Restricted Clips.” There you can view an age-restricted trailer, clips as well as the first 10 minutes of the movie.

Before diving into the actual site there is a button prompting “Facebook users click here.” Doing so brings you to a page with the movie’s trailer on it, a trailer that you can then click to have added to your Facebook profile. That’s all well and good, but as I originally noted, the most interesting part of that page is that there’s a brief survey asking you about the experience, probably as a gauge for future moves along these lines.

Just about a week before the movie’s release, Judd Apatow released a video on FunnyorDie that was so meta it’s not even funny. Actually, it is quite funny. It’s a clip of Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Justin Long and Craig Robinson sitting around playing Rock Band and then engaging in an off-the-cuff conversation about how funny Walk Hard is. Everything is fine until Robinson realizes he’s unwittingly participating in “some viral marketing bu****it” and chases Apatow around the office.

OK, so finally diving into the site’s main content. The site’s navigation is based around a collection of images from the film. Mousing over any of those pictures brings up the title of that section and from there you can click through to that section’s content.

“About the Film” is the first section, containing a two paragraph Synopsis and…nothing else. There are sections for Cast & Crew and Production Notes, but both of those areas are still labeled as “Coming Soon,” which is a tad disappointing when we’re less than 24 hours (when I’m writing this) from the movie actually showing on theater screens. That same content can be found under “Clips,” which is kind of weird.

The one time a movie site labels a section “Trailer” it’s not actually accurate. In most cases a section will be called “Videos” and just contain the trailer. But this is “Trailer” – singular – and contains a bunch of stuff. That includes the trailer, two TV Spots, three Clips and the Age Restricted Clips as well.

“Downloads” gives you the usual Buddy Icons, a Screensave and some Wallpapers. “Soundboard” is a collection of sound clips from the movie that you can either just listen to or download to your hard drive, which is kind of cool.

There’s a heavy emphasis on mobile content here, with two sections devoted to mobile. One is a link to some free downloads, two ringtones and one wallpaper. The other is to the site where you can use that site’s system to get some free – at least I think it’s free – downloads as well.

Finally, there’s another link to RockLikeCox, the fake fan site, as well as to the movie’s Facebook and MySpace pages. I also love the movie’s YouTube channel, featuring reflections by real life rock stars on the Cox legend.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Well, there’s been a bunch of TV spots, a slew of online ads, and this fake commercial for Cox Sausage that almost killed me. There were also a couple of fake “For Your Consideration” ads.

The studio also partnered with, making a bunch of videos available for people to download and assemble into their own music video to win a Gibson Guitar and other merchandise.


It’s a good campaign but, despite the efforts to bring Dewey Cox off the screen and into the real world, I’m concerned that it spends so much time reminding people of Apatow’s other movies that the campaign doesn’t establish a strong enough brand identity for this movie in and of itself. Everything is geared toward reminding us what a good time we had watching Superbad that it doesn’t sell us the good time we could have watching Walk Hard.

I also kind of think there was so much effort put into the experiential aspect of the campaign that the trailers and other more traditional assets wound up being weaker than they otherwise could have been. But things like the screening/concert tour were a great idea and certainly, at least from what I’ve heard, worked at getting people interested in seeing the movie. So mission accomplished.

New Champlin album coming soon

Bill Champlin says his upcoming solo album is about finished and should be coming out around March or April of 2008. Time to put away a few bucks specifically to pick this up.