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March 11, 1999 2:00 AM
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How Shorts Will Take On the Hollywood Establishment (Or At Least Make Them Lean Forward in Their Cha

by Jason McCabe Calcanis



Will the movie and TV industries feel the heat of the Net the same way that the music industry has? Absolutely. When? Sooner than anyone thinks. Why? Shorts.


The Net does a wonderful job of removing inefficiencies from antiquated systems, and the optimization usually centers around four things: time, distance, consumer choice and middlemen. For example, shopping agents like MySimon.com do a great job of saving the consumer a huge amount of time associated with comparison shopping. Coupled with the instant accessibility, selection and direct distribution chain of online retailers, you've got a system that is poised to displace a large chunk of the retail market. Not all, but a lot.


This is what is happening in the music industry. MP3 technology affords consumers around the world more choice and better prices without a middleman. Right now, it is largely a pirate market, but that will change quickly as the music labels have learned that they need to get on board the bus before it runs over them (check: www.sdmi.org).


Everyone keeps saying video over the Internet will never work, that there are latency and quality problems, and people will want to sit at their televisions. The people who make those arguments have the most to lose: the fat-cat executives in the TV and film industry. They are trying to dupe everyone into thinking video over the Net will not work. Well, they, and many of us, know it will work.


All of their arguments go out the window when you visit Lynn's Diaries on StarWars.com. For the past couple of months, I've been watching her five-minute mini-documentaries on my computer, in beautiful letterbox 30-frame-per-second video on the Real Player. Lucas and Lynn are geniuses in my book. They understand what works with PC-based video. Right now short video, updated regularly, and that is only available online, works extremely well. Adding support documentation is the icing on the cake. Granted, Lucas has the greatest moving image franchise going, but they understand what works for this medium: short and unique.


Shorts are the Trojan horse that will revolutionize the film business. Those little films that used to precede a movie -- before some evil person at Sony/Loews Theaters decided to sell ads to Coke and run Sony promos before movies -- will have their revenge. And it will be online.


The long-dismissed art form has found its medium. I predict that trading, watching, and making short films will become one of the top three killer apps in the cable/broadband world.


Honestly, I can't call that a prediction because I've been watching it for the past two years. If you go to Hotlinesw.com and download the software, you'll find hundreds of Hotline servers with full episodes of South Park, segments from Jerry Springer's "Too Hot for TV" video series, and clips from "When People Do Stupid Things to Taunt Really Dangerous Animals" (or whatever it's called). These are shorts, and they are easy to trade and easy to watch. They work well in the office and at home.


The real short makers have realized the Net is their best bet and they are flocking to it. Atomfilms.com made its debut at the Jupiter conference last week. The site features professional, high-quality short films and animations that change every week--very entertaining stuff.


One drawback on atomfilms.com is that it breaks down long features into multiple parts, apparently to increase traffic to the site. This is a terrible idea. The whole idea of the Net is that I don't have to wait. Why take the greatest inefficiency of TV, the time constraints, and impose it on a medium that has no time constraints? Hello?


Despite that small fault, atomfilms.com is extremely compelling. Have five minutes of down time? At home? Don't want to commit to a two-hour movie? Commercial-free shorts are the cure. They are also different. They are not cookie-cutter. They afford their creators the ability to take more chances because of the smaller budgets. The entertainment industry is ripe for some innovation.


With the dropping price of video cameras and the rising number of computers like the Sony Vaio with FireWire connections and video editing systems, be prepared for a flood of video to start hitting the Net. Just as people have created homepages for the past five years, they will start making their own shorts and documentaries and distributing them on the Net.


GeoCities, as I had predicted in a previous column, has done a deal with Real Networks to provide hosting to its millions of users. If you want to find the next Michael Jordan, put a basketball in the hands of 10 million kids. If you want to find the next Orson Welles or Akira Kurosawa, give them a video camera and a laptop. Shorts are the minor leagues of the feature film industry, the same way the CBA or College Basketball teams act as a filtering and nurturing agent for potential NBA stars. The proliferation of short films over the next 10 years will cause a renaissance in the film industry. The next Quentin Tarantino will not work in a video store, he will make shorts and distribute them on atomfilms.com.


The TV and film industry will underestimate the Internet the same way the music industry has. Now the music industry faces a situation where the genie is out of the bottle and the bottle has been smashed into a million pieces.


I love this game.


Feedback: mailto:letters@siliconalleyreporter.com ]


Here are some places to look for shorts:


Atom Films

http://www.atomfilms.com


The New Venue

http://www.newvenue.com/


The Bit Screen

http://www.thebitscreen.com


iFilm

http://www.ifilm.net


Real Player - Animation

http://www.real.com/showcase/animation/index.html


[Jason McCabe Calacanis is the editor and founder of the Silicon Alley
Reporter and Silicon Alley Daily. In his role as Editor, Calacanis
frequently comments on topics ranging from the music industry to
intelligent agents to the stock market. Sign up for the free daily
http://www.siliconalleyreporter.com]


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