Wk1: Internet Killed The Video Star: The future of Film Clips

OK Go in their "This Too Shall Pass" clip

The humble Film Clip has been left in the cold when people talk about the larger digital revolution. It’s music that has been the conversation for years, and film and TV are up next. But where does the Film Clip future lie?

In the DVD boom of the late 90s, many bands put out collections of their Film Clips. I own dozens of them – for many reasons.

– I wanted easy access to some of my favourite clips
– It was a way to see clips I’ve never seen before
– I want my favourite clips on DVD quality
– I just wanted to own everything my favourite bands did anyway.

But that was the late 90s, and the value of those Film Clip collection DVDs are plummeting. In the brave new digital world, do we really need them at all? Do I even need to keep the old ones I have?

The question of access is the first to become a non-issue, thanks to YouTube. But it’s not just YouTube – all video sites are using music clips as easy content to fill their servers.

Look at the otherside, the DVD. Does anyone really watch Film Clip collections from start to finish? If not, then after you’ve dug out the DVD, put it in the player and waited for it to load, you still have to navigate through a menu.

Having YouTube really puts the myth of access to rest. One click away, no menus, no waiting. My computer is also simply on more than my DVD player.

It comes back to cloud computing too. I don’t think these clips are going away. Even if YouTube falls, there are others. Film clips are not going away any time soon.

I also don’t see any record label putting up a paywall any time soon. They want their film clips seen.

Interesting the trajectory of how labels see the value of film clips. Damian Kulash Jr, of OK Go, nailed it in his New York Times piece from last year (link). In 2006, the viral hit of Here It Goes Again was a success for EMI. It was free advertising. In many ways, Film Clips have always been ads for a song or an album. Bands can’t play on every TV show, so they sent their videos on the road for them.

This led logically to MTV. MTV (back when it played clips) was essentially a series of ads for a series of bands. MTV didn’t pay for the clips – and made a bazillion dollars from them. So it’s interesting to hear CEO of Warner, Edgar Bronfman Jr, say that MTV made millions off the backs of the labels, and doesn’t want this repeated with YouTube. The danger – as he sees it (and others as well) – is creating another monster industry and missing out on any of the benefits.

So by 2010, a series of unsteady agreements were made with YouTube. Videos had ads, miniscule amounts of money exchanged hands and some videos were blocked altogether. The result was blocking the next big OK Go video – This Too Shall Pass. Free advertising for the band had turned into another way to make money.

It seems to be sliding back. I think it’s become quite clear that Film Clips are not a big money earner. iTunes have never been able to get any traction in selling them outright. Some money is passing hands from advertising revenue. And the number of people watching film clips on YouTube has taken on the most importance, yet again.

I think we can count on this trend continuing. Labels and bands never made money off Film Clips directly before. They are not going to be a cash cow now.

There’s also very few film clips I can’t see. Yes, there was a time when on-demand did not exist. And even my favourite bands, there were one or two obscure videos I never saw. Or I had a fuzzy VHS, taped off the telly. Then there are bands that never made it big in Australia (The Jayhawks and Sloan come to mind).

Now everything is up for grabs. Hundreds of thousands of Film Clips (and of course, even more live clips). We can safely assume having a DVD only clip is madness.

There’s not even an argument for having all of one band’s clips in one place. They are in one place – your computer screen. There are many DVDs in stores right now that can show you things you can’t see online. Film Clip Collections are not one of them.

People don’t watch film clips on TV anymore. Not first, and sometimes not ever. It’s an era of YouTube, and watching videos on little frames on our computer screens. NPR’s Neda Ulaby compared watching the ‘Thriller’ clip on a small screen to trying to take in Spartacus on an iPhone. Even the film clips themselves are changing.

It is yet another reason to not watch film clips on the home entertainment system. Single Ladies. The great OK Go videos. They are made for the medium of the internet. It’s also the first place people go to. Videos premiere on websites – and are passed virally.

It brings in a question of DVD fidelity. Do we care? For years, a small but vocal group decried digital music for it’s lack of sound quality. Millions of people chose to ignore this and love music anyway. Then music started being made for digital (see Soulja Boy).

And so, if film clips are being made for the internet – who cares about DVDs?

The final point is the biggest one – ownership. People are still skeptical of cloud computing – and I am too. But I am willing to forsake Film Clip collections for the internet version. Here’s why:

Cloud computing as scary security concerns. From fear that servers-might-crash-and-I-lose-my-stuff to I-don’t-want-a-company-to-know-that-much-about-me. I think both those things fail for Film Clips. I don’t care if YouTube can track the clips I watch. And I don’t think I’ll have trouble finding clips on the internet ever, even if YouTube crashes.

And those old DVDs are awful. They may have seemed nice at the time, but they usually offer no extra features. Even attachment to artwork is out the window. Most of them were just rehashes of existing artwork. Blur’s was just a reshaped version of their Best Of, and I have that artwork on a nice big vinyl record.

I think the ultimate test is this – if I didn’t own that Blur DVD already, and someone offered to give it to me for free, I’d probably say no.

The Film Clip collection is dead, I think that’s certain. But it’s death may be a sign of bigger things to come. As bandwidth and storage space increases, where does it lead for the Film and TV industry? That’s the next big war, and maybe the first battle has already been fought and won.

Damian Kulash Jr Op-Ed piece in New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/20/opinion/20kulash.html

Edgar Bronfman Jr discussing the “MTV of the internet” – http://paidcontent.org/article/419-goldman-sachs-communacopia-edgar-bronfman-ceo-warner-music-group

NPR article about the changing art of the film clip, Neda Ulaby – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99880324

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