Top Five Predictions for Films and Digital Distribution: Second Part

Posted on March 11, 2010

The Independent Digital Distribution Lab –– IndiesLab for short –– is a joint initiative of ITVS and PBS designed to help filmmakers navigate the marketplace and to generate revenue streams while also having a social impact. In the post below, Indie Labs Director Davin Hutchins shares his second of five predictions about the future of films and digital distribution. Be sure to visit Beyond the Box blog over the next several months to hear more predictions.

In my last blog post, I made my first prediction –– “Creative Destruction Will Continue… And That’s a Good Thing.” Over the next few months, as independent filmmakers proceed with their projects for 2010, I will attempt to share some tough love, sage advice, and cause for hope. 

PREDICTION 2: Curation Will Become As Important As Technology When I lived in San Francisco, every Friday I would stroll down the street from my apartment on Russian Hill to Washington Square and check out the video wares at The Film Yard. My mission: to get an indie flick for my wife and me. There was usually one clerk. I don’t remember his name but let’s call him “Brad.” Even on a busy Friday night, Brad usually remembered me and my last rental. Brad could even make insightful recommendations based upon my body language when I hovered near the “documentaries” or “20th century period pieces” aisles. The main problem with online film delivery platforms today is there is no “Brad.” At best, there’s an algorithm mixed with a cookie cross-referenced with my purchase history. Usually when I watch a video online, a crude piece of code will analyze the keywords in the video I just watched and then regurgitate the five videos with the closest metadata. Four of those are usually user-generated drivel. More sophisticated platforms like iTunes or Amazon do feature technology like “Genius” recommendations or “Customers who bought this item also bought…” But the front of the store still connotes the New Releases rack at Blockbuster. What I crave –– what we all crave I think –– is a site that knows me right as I walk in the door. Something like

Netflix probably comes closest to suggesting films that match a someone’s tastes. But even after awarding the $1 million Netflix Prize to outside programmers who bested Netflix’s own patented film recommendation engine, by their own admission, the site still does a poor job of predicting taste. Maybe technology will never give us exactly what we crave –– qualified serendipity. We shouldn’t try to mimic human intuition with databases and Javascript. I’m not sure it’s even necessary. 

Each one of us is surrounded by and consults with dozens of “Brads” or what I call “curation agents.” Many curation agents are impersonal. An agent might be a film critic like A.O. Scott. A festival like Tribeca. A local Landmark theater. Even a Rotten Tomatoes rating. Curators are valuable because we trust their judgment. Our most trustworthy “curation agents” are personal –– our own circle of friends. Most of us would prefer a friend’s film recommendation over any algorithm, even if it is via his or her Facebook Feed. Today, buttons for social web services and crowd sourced ratings are littered throughout blogs and online news sites. But online film platforms are still shockingly behind the curve, reluctant to integrate with social sharing services and trusted curation brands in a user friendly way. 

I imagine in 2010, the companies behind these platforms will slowly realize this is a mistake and begin adjusting to make way for third-party curators. After all, we don’t really need them to invent another Brad for us. We’ve got plenty. They just need to allow those we trust to hang out in the store. Next month, I’ll share my third of five predictions of 2010 on Beyond the Box blog. Stay tuned! 

-Davin Hutchins Director, IndiesLab


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