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Please, ‘Veronica Mars,’ Think Like a Fan

Please, 'Veronica Mars,' Think Like a Fan

Veronica Mars,” which Warner Bros. released simultaneously digitally and theatrically on March 14, had promised “free” downloads to fans who had pledged at least $35 towards the film’s Kickstarter campaign. But some fans experienced technical snafus over the weekend and raised a stink on social media. Jamie Wilkinson, Casey Pugh and Adam Klaff are co-founders of VHX,
the direct-to-fan distribution platform that, among other things, works
with Kickstarter to fulfill digital download promises to backers. They 
penned the following editorial regarding the the technical issues faced by “Veronica Mars.”

This past weekend, “Veronica Mars,” after raising over $5M in production funds in
contributions from over 90,000 backers on Kickstarter, hit theaters
across the United States. Fueled by an incredibly loyal
and passionate fan base, “Veronica Mars” quickly became one of the most
successful crowdfunded films to-date. Its release is a watershed moment
for how the Internet is changing the way we make, distribute and
financially support creativity.

Today, creators and fans are closer together than ever in history.

During its
crowdfunding campaign, one of the most popular rewards offered to fans
on Kickstarter was a digital copy of the movie. Unfortunately, when it
came time this weekend to deliver the film to fans,
the creators were forced to utilize Flixster and UltraViolet – both
Warner Bros backed ventures.
The reaction from fans has been, to put it mildly, abysmal.Almost immediately, a
vocal group of fans on the Internet took to social media to share their
outrage and frustration at the difficulty of redeeming their copy of
the film. The director, Rob Thomas, has
publicly apologized, and Warner Bros is now offering refunds to fans
who are forced to seek out alternative ways of buying the film (again).

Watching the outrage
from fans build over the weekend, we were reminded of a mantra that
James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, directors of the acclaimed documentary
“Indie Game: The Movie,” would say over
and over again – “Think Like A Fan.”

“Think Like A Fan”
means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and consider how they
would feel about each and every one of your decisions. In this era of
social media and crowdfunding, in which your
fans feel an even larger sense of ownership and participation in your
work, “Thinking Like A Fan” is an essential business practice. Fans are
the center of your universe. The “Veronica Mars” mistake was not
thinking like a fan when it came to the actual delivery
and user experience of distributing the film. 

The root of this
problem lies with UltraViolet, a DRM-laden, clunky technology that
nobody enjoys using. The idea of UltraViolet is wonderful – buy a movie
once, watch it anywhere. But its implementation
is a technical nightmare. Fans found out this weekend that “Veronica
Mars” could not be redeemed at all on mobile devices. The technology
requires you to register two separate accounts and it enforces limits on
how many times you can download the film and
on how many devices. We wonder if the people who created Flixster or
UltraViolet actually use their own products.

DRM-based systems
like UltraViolet are out of touch with how fans expect and deserve
content. They do nothing to prevent or reduce piracy. Furthermore, by
mandating that creators utilize proprietary, closed
systems, they prevent the formation of community around the content,
which long-term hurts both creators and audiences. DRM didn’t work for
the music industry and it will not work for the film industry.

This is not how we
design Internet software today. Simplicity and ease-of-use are
paramount. We must give customers a sense of ownership, and empower them
to watch their purchases as they see fit, anywhere
in the world. Purchases need to work seamlessly with the myriad devices
and apps audiences around the world use today and will want to use in
the future. DRM stifles innovation by locking everyone involved into a
costly, opaque set of regulations that seek
to restrict growth rather than foster it. 

These frustrations
are exactly why we started VHX two years ago – to build a digital
distribution platform for the modern consumer. We wanted a technology
platform that thinks like a fan, and allows any
creator to distribute their work with a high-quality experience. Anyone
with an Internet connection and an email address should be able to get
what they want in two clicks or less. It shouldn’t matter what software
they want to use, they shouldn’t have to
pay more for HD, and they shouldn’t have to choose between streaming
and downloading. Platforms become successful because people like using
them, not because you give them no other choice.

These criticisms are
not meant to diminish the achievements of Rob Thomas, Kristen Bell, and
the entire “Veronica Mars” team. What they have done is nothing short of
incredible, and everyone involved deserves
our admiration and respect. However, we need to make sure the care and
spirit of what they set out to achieve is carried through all the way to
the distribution, delivery, and user experience. The details are
crucial, and we owe it to the fans to do better.

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Wayne Marshall

To counter the argument, the blame lies more in Warner's stipulations on their movies within the UV platform than the platform itself. I have over 400 UV movies at this point and have never had issues with any redemption, playback or access except with certain Warner related titles. Every other studio seems to allow all their movies to be accessible across all UV apps/platforms (i.e. Vudu, Target Ticket, Cinemanow) except WB who limits certain HBO seasons and won't even allow me to watch my UV copy of the Watchmen Ultimate Cut on their XBOX app.
DRM certainly didn't work for the music industry, but lack of DRM only hurt it further and now we live in a world where artists can barely make a living from music sales due to the lack of control over content. Ultraviolet may not be perfect, but for those of us who know how to use it and refuse to live in Apple's world, it is a great alternative for a legal means of access.
Just my two cents to provide another perspective.


I went through the ciniex store and it worked like a charm.

Jim Emerson

I had difficulty even renting the movie on Walmart-owned, UltraViolet partner Vudu (through my Roku box). I could get an HDX (1080p) image but no sound — unless I switched from 7.1 surround to two-channel stereo. Not OK. I should have rented from Amazon Instant or iTunes. I was finally able to view (and listen to) "Veronica Mars" (which I quite enjoyed) through an LG Blu-Ray player with a broadband connection. That's the last time I use Vudu/UltraViolet.


Piracy is going to happen, you can't stop it. Trying to is just a waste of money, and usually only punishes the legit buyer. You make a good product and more then enough people will buy it. The biggest movies in the world are also the biggest pirated movies in the world. It's not hurting those movies. Piracy helps promote the movie as well. But if it's a bad movie piracy will promote that as well.

The PC Game Doom became the biggest game in the world because of piracy. So, I would stop trying to fight it so hard, and understand that piracy is here to stay. Just make good products, and you don't have anything to worry about.

Chris Dorr

Eloquently stated and right to the point. When will the studios realize that UltraViolet is an absolute failure and start thinking about their customers? Not soon enough. Anyone who has ever used UV in the past two years could have seen this coming–but unfortunately Warner Bros. is blinded by its fear of piracy. Talk about the gang who couldn't shoot straight.


VM folks were thinking like a fan, the executives at Warner Bros. were thinking like Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street). iTunes vs. Ultraviolet is no comparison but WB didn't care & made the folks of VMars looked bad.


I just sought it out at a theater, not the biggest fan of vod to see things first

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