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by Indiewire
September 10, 2013 4:49 PM
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Digital On Demand: Show Us The Numbers

Here's a brief primer on how home viewing has been traditionally measured:

 At the outset of home viewing, the ad supported model took hold and it was part of the institutionalized Nielsen system – what we all know as the barometer by which ads are sold and series are judged. 

As the VHS and DVD came to bear, viewership tracking adapted to include DVD rental and sales. With a Rentrak subscription you can pull up most of the market on a DVD (aside from Wal-Mart in some cases), but overall the system is an accurate measurement tool.

But as we all know, home viewing has shifted from an ad supported model to one of digital transactions and subscription viewing.  There is no ratings equivalent in this space, no title-specific tracking system available to all data subscribers about "on demand."

Cable VOD viewership is tracked and I have some numbers to share on that in a minute. But for the moment this space is equivalent to a landfill in an earthquake - all the patterns go haywire. We - as the subscribers to the data - can't track performance across media at even a title level when it comes to the cable VOD platform.

We are able to get data on our titles if we are the network or distribution company, but the data is not transparent like Nielsen or Rentrak’s data across the industry.  We have experienced the day-and-date boom (starting in 2007) and bust to independent film and still we have no system of reporting. 

If you're lucky enough to be on the other side of a movie's release, you may have some additional data -- the accounting statement can be a hefty tool into this fuzzy world. But in many ways, information actually gets even more confusing and frustrating because the data - what the revenues are from various platforms and windows during which your film has been exploited - are lumped imperceptibly together into a few seemingly simple categories that aren't telling us enough.

We don't know if more people bought a film at $2.99 vs. $12.99, we don't know if they loved it so much that had to own a digital copy or if they just were happy to stream it. And we don't know if it over-indexed on iTunes like "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" and "Marley"; or found more of an audience on cable VOD like maybe "Joan Rivers"; or whether it ran a more or less consistent audience, evergreen on Hulu like, say, "Super Size Me."

I am not citing actual performances here – maybe making educated guesses – but that’s exactly it. I can still only guess.

If we could make even the simplest of connections, we could learn things.  But of course, the platforms are learning, and the scariest part of all is that they are learning how much to pay for our content.

I think one of the reasons why this lack of reporting gets little attention is because if you look at the digital space in general -- and by that I'm primarily referring to the web -- the metrics business is presumably thriving.

Dozens of information systems like comScore, Mass Relevance, Google analytics, Klout, ContentID and ZEFR have cropped up that literally measure every click of online activity - online or fan - and every shade of gray of relevance among taste-makers.  

But when comparing these tools to what is available on the "on demand" platforms we're discussing today, the black holes are really overwhelming.


  • Ruth Saunders | September 13, 2013 2:11 AMReply

    ISAN (International Standard Audiovisual Number) is a voluntary numbering system and metadata schema for the unique and persistent identification of any audiovisual works and versions thereof including films, shorts, documentaries, television programs, sports events, advertising, etc.

  • Dan Mirvish | September 11, 2013 3:26 PMReply

    Very nice piece, Liesl, and you raise excellent points. But lack of transparency is only problematic if there's an expectation of making money. If you assume from the start that you won't make any money, then it doesn't matter. An Oscar-nominated director friend asked me yesterday: Wouldn't it make more sense for an investor to just give to a tax-deductible entity than invest in the charade that they'll make their money back? This speaks directly to my piece in Indiewire and HuffPost a few months ago that crowd-funding is fundamentally changing the paradigm of how we get and contribute to films: from an "investment" paradigm (that we've had for the last 100 years) to a "donation" one. If you think of film as an art form (like opera, symphony, public radio, or anything else with tote bags and mugs as perks), then you can quit worrying about crap like volumetrics, data currency and analytic black holes. Embrace the fact that you're going to get screwed on the back end. For years we've treated films as "don't profits"; now we need start thinking of them as "non-profits".

  • J.A.S. | September 17, 2013 2:01 PM

    In agreement with Ted, the "don't profit" model isn't as ubiquitous of a funding format if we can use data to connect with an audience early on. The niche-market distribution culture of the '90s has been subdivided into individual-market distribution based on individual streaming libraries, but filmmakers still make movies for broad theatrical demographics. It's just inconsistent and results in a waste of money and waste of talent as filmmakers can't steer their projects knowledgeably. Knowing how much money your film is worth in this new stream-based marketplace can bring more reliable profits to filmmakers and open us up to a broader range of available films.

  • Ted Hope | September 12, 2013 11:48 AM

    Dan, there can be many finance models, and there certainly is a place for not-for-profit film finance. And frankly not just a place, but a real need. As America is currently virtually fully a market-based entertainment economy, we need need nonprofit funding to diverse the creator base as well as the style and content. That said, it is precisely the market focus that has made the US the most diversified film culture there is. To me the point, we now have the opportunity to diversify the funding models significantly and with that we all will benefit -- audiences, creators, and entrepreneurs.

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