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INDUSTRY EXPERTS DISCUSS DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION AT THE 2009 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
by Tifanie Jodeh, Esq.

A panel entitled "What's Next? The Digital Distribution Imperative" was held at the New Frontier section on Main at this year's Sundance. Orly Ravid (VP of Acquisitions and Distribution, Senator Entertainment) moderated and joined panelists Sean Carey (Senior Exec VP, Sony Pictures Television), Efe Cakarel (Founder and CEO, The Auteurs), Alex Barkaloff (Exec Producer, Lionsgate), Anne Thompson (Deputy Editor, Variety) and Jordan Hoffner (Director, Content Partnerships, YouTube).

Ravid led the first part of the discussion regarding trends in digital distribution. On average, users consume 71 minutes of media content via mobile phones. Carey put forth a number of available acquisition possibilities in the market utilizing social media to discover the content. For example, Sony has made a pay-per-view deal with Sprint in which Sprint customers will have a choice to view eight rotating movies. Content providers are under pressure to invite interaction and integrate users to their content. Hoffner agreed, adding that 15 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute; the trend is "personal networks networking."

Cakarel outlined the international trends of digital distribution, citing Asia as an optimum model for content aggregation. The Asian market currently provides the highest advancement in mobile technology and fast broadband. The Asian consumer, on average, watches an hour of content per day while the American counterpart only minutes. Using the Asian model, one can spend time in creating pages and inviting interaction amongst users which provides for added maximum exposure and "zero marketing dollars."

The next challenge in the digital distribution imperative falls under the auspices of technology's future. There was a general consensus that electronic devices such as interactive television, mobile television over cell phones and other connected multi-media device drive a new mindset.  Technologies that enable online services for hosting user-generated video content – such as YouTube, Google Video, and social networking websites – drive consumers to use and transmit content at the user's determinism. Barkaloff added that there was a 60% growth in on-demand viewing. The key is to listen to the consumer and deliver the content in media which the consumer demands. Cakarel advised, "Don't fight the consumer!"

Next Ravid asked the panel to discuss their experience regarding the growth and flow of digital distribution in each of the panelist's perspective businesses. "Pirated material is never going to go away. Be more creative and include advertising within the released material, so even if your content is pirated, the producer may benefit from the additional exposure gained," Cakarel noted. Barkaloff offered the notion that the filmmaker should utilize product placement and create viral, multi-platform formats.

"Create an interactive viewing experience," said Carey. "Game consoles and devices which enhance the user experience are an added means of distributing the content."

Hoffner added that filmmakers should expect to create derivative works and use the content in a variety of other ways as well as develop revenue share and promotional partners. Thompson suggested, "Be your own marketer."

The last discussion point led the panel to elaborate on how content producers can stand out amongst the massive amount of content which currently exists. Hoffner identified the need to keep consumers interested, stay on top of the technology. The consensus of the panel was that the consumer drives technology, content producers need to broaden their reach, create a user- friendly library and consider all types of alternative venues to market their product.

The panel represented a broad spectrum of the digital distribution community. They challenged film makers to be creative, be one's own marketer, stay on top of the trends and consider the worldwide exposure now available with the advent of digital distribution.


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