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Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Jamie Wilkinson, Casey Pugh and Adam Klaff
March 17, 2014 12:06 PM
9 Comments
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Please, 'Veronica Mars,' 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."
"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.


9 Comments

  • Wayne Marshall | March 17, 2014 5:57 PMReply

    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.

  • Anons | March 17, 2014 7:03 PM

    Like I said, DRM doesn't help anything, it just punishes the legit buyer. Pirates will strip the DRM on day one. That's not going to help.

    You make a great product, and people will buy it. Otherwise, your just complaining that you couldn't force more people to by something that wasn't worth the money to begin with. You want to see sales dry up. Make it only possible to have to buy your song, or show, and watch how fast the sales will dry up. Because people are already burn out on buying things that aren't what they are advertised to be. There are tons of music albums where there is only one track on the whole album worth listening to. Tons of movies, where only the trailer was good. The more people that listen to, or watch a movie, the more the word goes out on how good or bad something is. Meaning, more people will buy it, or avoid it.

    Avengers made over a billion dollars, and still counting, and it was probably the most pirated movie in the world. Make a good product, and people will buy it. The pirates help get the word out.

  • Ryan | March 17, 2014 4:33 PMReply

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

  • Damn auto correct | March 17, 2014 4:33 PM

    Cineplex store :P

  • Jim Emerson | March 17, 2014 4:20 PMReply

    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.

  • Anons | March 17, 2014 3:54 PMReply

    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 | March 17, 2014 3:01 PMReply

    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.

  • Dee | March 17, 2014 1:38 PMReply

    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.

  • Mike | March 17, 2014 12:21 PMReply

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