The AnyClip Plot

Imagine a web service where you can find every moment of every film in pristine quality.  You can search by dialogue, tag, actor, or any possible data source you can name.  You can cut any moment of less than 2 minutes and post it, send it, tweet it to anybody anywhere in the world.

You can access this service on any digital platform web, mobile, television etc.

This services allows you to relive every iconic moment you have ever experienced in your film-watching life no matter where you are.  Scenes pop into your head and you can instantly find, share, collect, distribute or any other verb you can possibly imagine.

Technical challenges abound for this service.  Extracting metadata, serving, editing and the panoply of technology elements create a thicket of problems none of which are insurmountable.

The real issue for AnyClip is that Hollywood wants to get paid and consumers (everybody thinks) want everything for free.  How do we find ways to get digital consumers to spend money for content?

Today, Fred Wilson will give a talk on disruption to arguably the most disruptive company in media history — Google.  For Fred, there are six words to consider when making a quality web service:  global, social, open, mobile, playful, intelligent.   How would the movie studios would fair under such scrutiny.

In certain ways, the movie industry is among the most zealous in the world when measured against these business values.   Global filmmaking has arrived and content is exported throughout the world.  It’s hard to think of a more playful industry and for all of the hand wringing that goes on among culture afficionados, plenty of thoughtful, intelligent, moving content originates and is developed by big movie studios.   While the studios don’t create many social services, they create much of what we talk about in social situations.  Movies are social.  Eventually the industry will figure out mobile.  They have proven their ability to adjust to new mediums many, many times.

BUT THE STUDIOS ARE NOT OPEN.    They believe that they should closely harbor what they own and get paid in advance by consumers and businesses who want to experience  or use their content.   And they absolutely disapprove of “playing” with the content.  They are playful, but only until the movies are completed and then, please, please don’t try to change or edit these works.  Openess is deeply foreign to Hollywood, but vital to the success of latest wave of Internet hits (MySpace, Twitter, and even Google) come to mind.   This tension is the opportunity for AnyClip.

I am an Internet executive, but also an aspiring filmmaker.  I want people to see my film, pay for it, and I surely don’t want consumers to steal it.  Still, I will put 100% of the content on the Web in different stages because for The Aaron Cohens to build an audience, the film and its marketing must be open, global, playful, intelligent, mobile, and, most importantly, social.   Surely, these “six words to live by” are the cost of entry for AnyClip.  We must execute on these values.

But will the studios connect and embrace this vision?

This is the narrative tension at AnyClip.

Scene One.  Take One.

The Problem of Piracy

For the past six weeks, I’ve been creating a new business plan for a platform that legally aggregates, distributes, and monetizes movie scenes.   We’re calling this new company AnyClip and you can read about it here and here.

Today YouTube is providing a  valuable service to consumers by hosting a massive number of movie clips.  Type in a line of dialogue and there’s a pretty good chance you will find the clip you want.  Sure, the quality varies, the clip length is fixed, and the scene you’re looking for might not be there, but according to our internal anaylsis YT alone is showing  1-2 billion movie clips a month.  Demand is there.  Obviously, we think this vertical on YT could be better or we wouldn’t try to do what we’re doing.  Studios make more or less nothing in revenue from YT and one executive told us they are so scared of union litigation that they escrow the trickle of legitimate revenue they receive.  I really believe YT will be AnyClip partner one day, but what really worries me is the proliferation of piracy.

Clips are  proliferated throughout the various torrent sites so it’s possible to find more or less whatever you’re looking for provided you don’t mind inconvenience or sacrificing on quality. In my anecdotal conversations in Israel, Sweden, the UK, and more recently,  United States more and more people are finding illegal downloading to be the preferred method of media consumption.

Consider the company I visited in Sweden where the employees laughed when I mentioned the idea of buying a DVD.  Or the lunch I had  in Jerusalem this week with a 30-something woman who was stunned to know I didn’t know the brand of the biggest piracy service for Israelis.  In our office and among colleagues throughout my professional life exists a rich understanding of the free content sites and services that host stolen content.

The healthy box-office numbers have obscured the deteriorating DVD revenues this Spring, but there are real problems with the movie business models as the classic revenue windows give way to the highly disruptive cocktail of globalization, broadband, piracy, and a generation of consumers who see no connection between free downloading and theft.

Recently, I spent time with a Big six Hollywood studio executive who told me that he was preparing to fight the Obama administration on Net Neutrality.  His argument was that we need government intervention to stop piracy and that TARP resources were being deployed to increase broadband access with no preferential treatment to the companies who “do the right thing.”  An investment in broadband, he argued, was an investment in piracy.

The conventional wisdom in the Internet industry is to wax rhapsodic about free and  open platforms and to be all-in supportive of net neutrality to encourage innovation.  Truthfully, this is my own belief as well.  In general, I think it’s as foolish to believe that broadband regulation will stop piracy as it is to believe anti-marijuana laws stop people from getting baked.

However,  “there’s nothing wrong with Piracy,” is morally bankrupt.    If you are excited to see Star Trek this week you should think about whether this film will make a $100mm in profit $200 or $500mm in profit.  The smaller the amount, the less Paramount will have to invest in the next film.  Unlike musicians Hollywood directors and special effects mavens cannot simply go out and tour to recoup their lost music revenue.

Consumers and Hollywood studios  are at an inflection point.    It’s vital that we find ways to create services that consumers love while simultaneously generating revenues for the people and studios who provide such magical content.

Welcoming Nate Westheimer

I’m excited to announce that Nate has joined our new company AnyClip as the VP of Product.  He has posted a great account of how he and I have come to work together and you should definitely read it here.  Nate is one of the NY tech scene’s favorite people, but I’m making a big bet on his product development skills and I’ve never been more confident.  We have our work cut out for us. Nate is taking on the Herculean task of building a platform to take new movie clips where they have never gone before.  He will need all you to contribute killer ideas.

AnyClip grew out of an Israeli company called MyHollywood which launched a proof-of-concept product called PopTok.  From the time we started talking about movie applications, Nate and I were thinking about a database of movie clips for application developers.

Imagine every movie ever made available to be clipped for legal consumption and use.    That is our dream.  We have already released our API to a few product companies and hope to see more and more products in the coming months.

At AnyClip, we will create a legal, licensable asset for developers to access. We already have signed agreements with Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros and are close to a slew of new annoucements.

Naturally, we all have a series of ideas for application creation.  You can see Nate’s first attempt at CastingCouch on Facebook.   Finally, one of the great bonuses of AnyClip is  that Nate and I are sitting in Jerusalem as we write these posts.  Here, we have a really sharp, passionate team of developers and movie lovers and we will continue to add people here in Israel.  We also have a few needs in the United States which Nate detailed in his post.

We’ll keep you posted when we launch AnyClip.

Aaron

Funny Passover Schtick

This comes courtesy of Heeb Magazine which I really love.  Nice tribute to Woody Allen and his rhythms.  Still, at 5 minutes it shows how difficult it is to make really consistently good comedy.  Especially animation.  You have to be so crisp to be good.  Makes me appreciate Family Guy and South Park all the more.

Stunning Anecdotal Data from NYU Class

NYU Media Class:  All Facebook, No Myspace, Twitter?  sort of.

NYU Media Class: All Facebook, No Myspace, Twitter? sort of.

I had a great conversation at NYU today with 50 Media Studies undergrads.  Here are things we found out:

1.  Not one of them had been on Myspace in 2009.  Not one.  When I reminded them about Myspace Music a few hands went up

2.  All of them used Facebook in the same period

3.  Only 20%ish had a twitter account

4.  For the most part they did not know what an API was, but they all knew what apps were.

5.  None of them had heard of Tweetdeck

6.  All of them remembered Xanga, but none of them use it.

7.  35% of them had bought some music on Itunes.  66% admitted to pirating music.

Brands come and go.  Twitter is so rare.  But the decline of Myspace will probably happen faster than we realize.

Finally, they stayed 15 minutes after the allotted time on a Friday and laughed at The AaronCohens trailer 7 times out loud.  How does this movie not get financed?

Getting Ahead in Digital Media

Like most new CEOs at the beginning of a new assignment, I spend significant time evaluating my current team  and looking for ways to improve it.   At this particular moment in the economic cycle, I have been innundated with requests for informational interviews, resumes, and LinkedIn invitations.  Several years ago, people would demand a signing bonus when they joined Bolt and once somebody left for another job after arriving only two months earlier.

The market has changed.

But it will get better, and then worse, and then better.   Like the stock market itself, you can’t really time it.  So people whether they are 22, 32, or 42 need to really spend time thinking about themselves and what they want in life.  It sounds simple, and may even sound self-absorbed, but I really recommend it because it might help some of you start to see your career as a journey and not a paycheck.   It’s good to dream, but it’s just important to assess what it will take to get there.

Let’s specifically discuss the 20-something employee.  Some of you have little to no work experience and some of you have a couple years.  Either way, if companies are doing their job right you should not be paid very much.  Entry level people now are getting hired for less than 30k all over the industry and the broader media landscape of television, advertising etc.  Substantial Raises are hard to come by.   Yet, some of these very same people will be making 100k or more within the next few years.  Why will this happen?

In two  words ,hardcore commitment.   When you are in your 20s you generally don’t have children, aren’t married, and don’t have a ton of other commitments.  This means you can focus on your career and much more importantly the education that you can get to make yourself more valuable.  This is simple stuff, but the fact is some of you will choose to put in minimal time for a paycheck that finances your life as an artist or  your social life.  That’s totally cool, but don’t kid yourself.  You will not get ahead as a professional doing that.  If you want your career to move forward with velocity you need to be all in.  You need to be thinking about how to make your company better all the time.  You might even wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea.  That’s a good thing.  It show’s you’re all in.

Good entrepreneurs or Digital Media CEOs use simple litmus tests to evaluate employees.  Do they use the service that they are working for?  How about competitors?  I wonder if  Facebook has a culture of evaluating employees’ use of Facebook and others.    How many times a day does a Twitter employee twitter?  So make sure you use the web service you are desinging or coding.

And make sure you spend some of your hectic nightlife getting educated.  There are countless meetups where good people educate the general public on techniques from everything to ad sales to user interface design.  You could go to school for free with what’s out there.  Of course, it will mean you have to meet your friends a little later or go the gym in the morning.  If you want your career to grow you have to make choices.

Here’s a more controversial suggestion.  Sleep less.  Push yourself to do more. And catch up on the weekends.  If you sleep less you can have much more of “it all.”

Right now there are 500 people who want your job.  That’s not say they would be better, but it is to say the market is competitive.  But hiring is time consuming, unpredictable, and new people have a learning curve.  No managers want to manage personnel change,  but they also don’t want to lead people who don’t share their passion and commitment.

So if you want to be a star and get more responsibility and compensation, you have to work to become one.  You decide what’s important.  Your boss can’t make that decision for you.  Only you can.  But trust me, when I sit around with other executives, recuriters, investors or whoever — we talk about stars.  Nobody else even comes up.  Unless they need to go.

Speaking at TechAviv

Hey thanks for all the warm wishes on PopTok.  I appreciate it.  If you want to know what my first two weeks have been like and here me evolve my thinking in front of a pull no punches  New York/Israeli see if you can attend Yaron Samid’s TechAviv meetup tonight.