AnyClip’s Open Letter to Hollywood

At startups, strategies evolve.  So do their entrepreneurs

Only 6 months ago, I became the CEO of a startup called PopTok, a company that had some interesting insights about the film business, but a strategy that would not work.  AnyClip was born from the vestiges of this company and we swiftly adopted the idea that we would create a platform than enabled anybody to find “any moment from any film ever made instantly and legally.”

Successful managers solve problems for their customers in order to create  measurable economic value.  In our case, we believe the best method to stanch YouTube users’ blatant copyright infringement violations was to build a more comprehensive and useful service for reliving film moments.  This service will operate as a gigantic lead-generation mechanism for  the legal consumption of full-length and short-form video-on -demand .  We adapted our rhetorically catchy  vision –any moment from any film ever made — so that we would inspire  the studio ecosystem to embrace a new form of library discovery . AnyClip combats the looming piracy crisis that threatens to irreparably harm the movie industry.

During the summer, we were accepted into TechCrunch 50 — a conference that echoes the film industry by billing itself as the “Sundance of Startups.”  In order to launch at TC50,  AnyClip  had to abide by their rule of complete secrecy.  Only our investors and employees knew we were selected.  This meant that we could not share our prototype with any of our constituencies including content owners.

The TechCrunch guidelines presented a conundrum.  I wanted to use their platform to publicize our company’s strategy.  However,  I also worried that we would neglect a fundamental principle of running a startup —  treat your customers better than anybody on Earth.  How would the studios feel about us demoing the service without allowing them to preview it?

In general, we have been very warmly received by our partners in Hollywood for which we are gratified.  Actors, directors, agents, managers and studio executives demonstrate optimistic intrigue about  a legal database of movie moments that promotes the rich heritage of film.  That said, the industry expects AnyClip to adapt to its cultural norms .  Even giving a demonstration of our service with film clips requires the permission of the studios.  Legally, these demos are well-protected by the fair use statutes, but invoking them is clearly considered disrespectful.   That was ignorant, and I’ve had to adjust my thinking.  Hollywood has a business culture that asks for permission.  Internet companies tend to use legal arguments to justify their business practices and damn the values of  the traditional industries that preceded it.

Perhaps total disruption with potential legal justifications can work (see the Digital Millienium Copyright Act and so-called ISPs YouTube, MetaCafe Daily Motion, Veoh, and my old company Bolt ) , but I neither condone nor intend to deploy these practices. Finding any moment from any film ever made is a seductive economic proposition only if it discourages piracy and promotes the legal consumption of content.

I love films.  I want the movie industry to thrive so people like Spike Jonze and Peter Jackson can continue to make magical moments for me to watch and relive.  AnyClip is designed to grow the home video market (VOD, BluRay, DVD etc) by creating discovery and search capabilities that were not technically possible even a few years ago.

Imagine a comprehensive database that ensures that every watched scene  is one click away from a purchase or rental of the full-length film.  Consider YouTube and IMDB with a rich, searchable, and legal database to integrate into their sites .  AnyClip can do much to help grow the industry, but only if we earn the trust of the rights holders without compromising the needs of their audiences.

These are AnyClip’s challenges. We have to start somewhere and at the beginning we will not be able to license entire libraries.  But make no mistake, the rediscovery of every film ever made is our vision.  Massive legal consumption of every film ever made is our dream.

Why the World (Including Hollywood) Needs AnyClip

Movies are the world’s most influential communication medium.   They catalyze conversation in countries all over the world.  Films teach history, tell stories, and make people laugh until their bellies and faces ache.  Moving pictures are for the young, old, rich, poor, educated, and the illiterate.

Etched in each moviegoer’s memory is a panoply of great scenes from tens of thousands of films.  How much fun is a dinner, cocktail, or keg party if nobody could quote a movie line?   The language of film is universal.

Unfortunately, to re-experience these moments can be painful.  Watching Humphrey Bogart kiss Ingrid Bergman or John Belushi scream “Food Fight” or Russell Crowe facing down tigers in the Coliseum is a challenge. These are moments that everyone wants to experience over and over again. But, does anyone really pop in a DVD and patiently scan for their favorite scenes? No. We search the Internet. Mostly, we don’ find what we’re looking for, and, when we do, it’s far from a cinematic experience.

THE PROBLEMS

So far, The Internet has  provided a piecemeal solution to digital video. There are plenty of video sharing sites filled with user-uploaded content, but their selection is haphazard at best. You might find “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” seven minutes into a longer clip or with abominable picture and sound. Diehard fans do will share shaky, unreliable videos of their televisions shot on camera phones.

So you might find what you are looking for but only if you’re willing to sort through a lot of garbage and put up with subpar film quality. But  people love movies so they put up the  problems.

Over 12 million people have watched the above clip from The Lion King.   I wonder how much money Elton John and Tim Rice have gotten for their work.  Neither the owners of these films nor the artists who make them receive any compensation from the display of their works. If it’s not illegal, it’s definitely unethical. This user-generated video industry combined with other public policy issues have unintentionally driven a wedge between Hollywood and the most dynamic and creative Internet companies. Content owners must benefit from Internet distribution and AnyClip wants to provide the most compelling and engaging platform to help them do so.

WHAT IS ANYCLIP

Six months ago, my co-founder Nate Westheimer and I joined an amazing group of Israeli developers who also happen to love movies. We wanted to build a Web service that would allow anyone to find any moment from any film ever made instantly. Our co-founder and lead investor Erel Margalit suggested we name the company AnyClip.

Everybody wants to relive scenes and AnyClip set out to make that possible. Creating the data and search technology to make that work presents formidable challenges. When searching for a scene from a movie, people describe moments in so many different ways: from dialogue and plot description to hazy memories of shark attacks and flying cars. This creates really engrossing and thorny computing problems. If someone searches for “dead shark,” do they want to see Roy Scheider blowing up Jaws (i.e. action on screen) or Woody Allen lamenting the “death” of his relationship with Annie Hall (i.e. dialogue)? The AnyClip platform incorporates tools to handles these issues and more.

Early tests show our service can be a great discovery engine for films. A search for “I love you” produces countless clips from hundreds of movies. A brief visit to AnyClip can yield an iTunes download or an addition to a Netflix queue. At AnyClip, clips are dynamic and up to four minutes long. You can adjust a clip to relive exactly the joyous, daring, or inspirational moment you crave.  This sample may encourage a purchase, rental, or download of the entire film.  At minimum, it reunites the movie lover with the art and the artists who brought them such joy.  This reaffirm  loyalty and interest in the future work these artists produce.  That’s called “promotion.”  AnyClip evokes memories and channels them to enhance the values of the world’s great film libraries.

Today, we also launch a public API for our data and eventually for legally licensed content. This would allow companies like IMDB, Slide, RockYou, Netflix, Zynga, OMGPOP, Twitter, Facebook, Mahalo and – most importantly – the insanely creative and brilliant independent developers around the world to build great user experiences with movie clips on top of our movie data. AnyClip is a platform to power a renaissance of the greatest movies the world has ever known.

DISRUPTIVE BY DESIGN

If you look closely at the movie ecosystem, the only institutions that suffer from a legally available AnyClip are those that benefit from leaving the current system intact.   First and foremost are existing Internet media providers that hide behind the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. While nobody knows precise numbers, YouTube has served billions of movie scenes to audiences around the world.  Overseas video sharing and PTP sites — Tudou, Megavideo, PirateBay and BiTTorrent –operate outside the reach of US laws. Naturally content owners have been wary of digital distribution in light of these abuses and violations of the DMCA.

History shows Hollywood struggles with new formats and other technological innovation. They are instinctively protective of their core businesses. Thirty years ago, Universal sued Sony for creating the Betamax. Luckily, they failed and today we have a US $25 billion DVD industry. The good news is AnyClip enhances every distribution window.  Every one. We don’t compete. We complement.

And that’s important, because DVD revenue is dropping for the first time since the format’s introduction. Piracy and Internet video-on-demand from the likes of Amazon, Netflix and iTunes are changing consumption patterns. Economic realities have forced audiences to reassess their entertainment spending.

One way to stanch the bleeding in the Home Video Market is to reinvigorate the value locked in our memories. Short of innovation, the motion picture industry will continue to see declining revenue and audiences will get fewer new magical moments.  Why? Because Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott will be given smaller budgets. Does anybody really want to deprive Peter Jackson of the budgets required to make another Lord of the Rings?

Many powerful Hollywood people have told us that AnyClip is amazing but impossible. Some very smart industry executives are rooting for us to succeed but worry about the legal landscape. At its best, the digital rights marketplace is byzantine.  These executives are right to be concerned. For the sake of the movie industry’s wonderful and talented people, and the billions of fans around the world, we certainly hope we can find a way to work within the law to create great opportunities for all.

And this includes AnyClip.  While we will be a smaller participant in any transactions that occur between content owner and consumer, we believe this business will scale just fine. It’s the greatest content that has ever been made etched in the memories of everybody on Earth. We think “reliving movie moments” is a huge market. We are the catalyst for what will be a high-growth legal clip economy.

Our fourth co-founder is the former CEO of Sony America Mickey Schulhof. Mickey knows the pitfalls as well as the upsides of media innovation having introduced the CD and Playstation to North America. He always tells me that if it weren’t for naysayers, we wouldn’t have revolutionary companies.

“Sometimes you just have to do things, Aaron,” Mickey told me when I first described AnyClip.  It’s time for the curtains to open.

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