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.