Thursday, July 29, 2010

The startup has landed

Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. And that's what the four of us are doing today.

Over the past couple of months we've realized that the stars have aligned to present a special kind of opportunity: one of those rare times when a bunch of individually cool things suddenly can be combined into a new big cool thing. We just have to connect the dots. Or connect the bullet points, which go something like this:
  • Cameras like the 5D Mark II have disruptively lowered the cost of professional-quality video
  • A wide variety of artists are successfully funding their work directly from fan support
  • We can take the lean, distributed workflow mastered by the free-software community and apply it to creating what we might call free-TV
  • People watch a lot of TV
  • We love TV and want more of it!
So what do we hope to accomplish when we connect the dots? Well, for us it all comes down to that last bullet point: we want artists to make money making the TV they want to make... so we can watch it!

Seriously, we just can't live through another Joss Whedon show being canceled. However, when the incumbent TV industry has reached a state where Joss Whedon can't keep a show on the air, that's a clear sign there's a disruptive new business model lurking in the shadows, waiting to spring forth and turn the industry upside-down. We just had to wait for the stars to align.

Think about it. Joss Whedon has a huge, fanatic fan base. I would personally give a major organ for more Firefly, so I'd clearly also take a more convenient route like just giving him some money for more Firefly, Dollhouse, or whatever he makes next.

There's ample evidence that fans will voluntarily support the artists they love. But will fans give enough to sustain something as expensive as a TV show? I personally think people like Joss Whedon could raise more than enough directly from fans to foot the budget that, say, Dollhouse had. All the same, if you have to be Joss Whedon for the free-TV model to work, that's a tall-order for up-and-comers trying to break-in. We want all the Joss Whedons we don't yet know about to succeed too!

Let's be pessimistic and assume most TV artists, who lack the cult following Joss Whedon enjoys, simply couldn't garner enough fan funding to sustain the budget needed for a network TV show. Well, I say, so what, because there's another angle we can attack the problem from: we can drastically lower the production costs:

  • Free-TV doesn't need the big TV networks, their fancy corporate headquarters, executive salaries, and whatnot... that probably halves the production costs already.
  • Free-TV can save a boatload using HDSLR cameras like the 5D Mark II: the cameras are cheaper, smaller, faster to work with, and require little in terms of lighting equipment (not to mention the fact that they produce a far superior image).
  • Free-TV can work with the free-software community to build the software tools they need to truly harness the potential of HDSLR cameras. Artists need control over their software destiny, period. We feel this is so important that the very first thing the Novacut team is working on is an open-source video editor focused specifically on TV production using HDSLR cameras. Equally important to unlocking HDSLR potential is camera firmware and we plan to support the Magic Lantern Firmware project as much as possible.
  • Free-TV can adopt a lean, distributed workflow similar to how free-software is written. So the best colorist you know lives on another continent? No problem, she'll be color-grading in her pajamas from the comfort of her living room. The video-editor is being designed for an easily distributed workflow, including real-time collaborative editing.
  • Free-TV can rally around one or more amiable distribution platforms so it's super easy for fans to discover, watch, and support great free-TV (think iTunes where the shows are all free and there's a "Support this Artist" button next to the play button). We want to closely couple how fans discover and watch free-TV with how fans support their favorite artists, so we're putting both experiences together in a player. The easier it is for fans to "tip" the artist, the more it will happen.
  • Free-TV is free to have great writing! After all, it's really all about the writing. If the writing is great, a simple, inexpensive TV show can still be wildly entertaining and popular, like Felicia Day's great success with The Guild. Good writing and free-TV are made for each other: no obligation to make the commercials seems interesting by comparison, no need to negotiate with a committee of market researchers.
I'm just skimming the surface here. I could talk much more about the video-editor, about why the business model works, about why the time is right for this. But the rest will come soon in other posts, so keep and eye on this blog. This series won't be canceled.

But I've rambled enough. We want to know what you think!

For the artists out there, would you try distributing your work using this crazy free-TV business model? If you want to make TV but haven't been able to get your foot in the door, do you think this free-TV thing might be a way for you to get paid to do what you love?

For the fans out there, how much would you support your favorite artists? Would you fund the TV shows you watch even if you could watch them without paying? How much of the music and TV that you really love did you originally discover because you didn't have to pay for it, perhaps because you couldn't pay for it at the time (say because you were in college)?

And if your name is Joss Whedon, thank you for the wonderful story telling that has enriched our lives so much. What can we do to make Novacut work for you, so that you can make whatever amazing serial you're daydreaming about right now? Because whatever it is, we want to watch it!

Everyone, please join the conversation in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. Your free TV sounds awesome! I can't stand watching commercial laden TV and won't keep watching even if it is something extremely entertaining. I too am disappointed when a show I love is canceled due to the dictates of network TV, even though I choose not to watch it on TV.