Building Up Georgia's Film Industry: Beware Online Sites' Murky Distribution Claims

The founders launched **** after conducting careful and extensive market research. The Management Team includes young and dynamic technology driven individuals who are dedicated to offering easier access to quality News and Entertainment to more people in our society.

Our coverage will include over 2.5 Million households on regular TV, over 1 Million Monthly Online  via desk top, laptop and tablet computers. An additional  350,000 smartphones will carry our shows monthly within the first six months of operation 

In my Google alerts this morning popped up a classified ad for film distribution based here in Georgia. Looking for films from independent filmmakers and producers I clicked on the link and came up on a site that was more an aggregator than a true distribution hub.

Nothing wrong with aggregators. Either through algorithmic magic, sweat equity, or participation of their users, their are many that are powerhouses. Relevant and robust. Home to conversations and interaction and just plain good old entertainment.

However, distributors aggregators are not. Not in the traditional sense. Most don't monetize the content they feature for the benefit of those creators. There's rarely any communication between those sites and the creators. And the relationship is at best passive with a minimal level of active engagement.

What's most important is that there's not always a tightly defined focus on what types of content aggregators are looking for. Some do, some don't. However, for most distributors, the ones that are in it for the long haul, they rarely take everything, are willing to turn down projects, and are slow to pull the trigger on anything they are iffy on.

Unfortunately, there are lots of aggregation sites that advertise themselves as distributors without clarifying the how and what that makes them so, and those are waters I find disconcerting.

I'm not saying these sites are a scam. I'm not saying the people behind it aren't legitimately trying to run an above board business. I am saying that these sites need to step up their game and understand that the lack of details on their sites is troubling.

As an example, two million households sounds impressive and all companies have to start somewhere. However here are some relevant comparisons.

  • Ovation - 50 Million Homes
  • Tuner Classic Movies - 85 Million Homes
  • Bravo - 75 Million Homes
  • IFC - 60 Million Homes
  • Sundance Channel - 39 Million Homes

TV One started with 2.2 million homes and after eight years it's passed the 50 Million mark. Here's their About Us page:

Launched on Martin Luther King's birthday in January 2004, TV One is a fast growing cable network that now serves 57 mllion households. Combining hit sitcoms, big studio movies, irrverent reality television and newsworthy specials, TV One delivers real life and entertainment programming from the African American point of view. TV One represents a connection to the authentic, rich, and diverse experience of African American life, history, and culture.

TV One is best known for its signature programming brand, Unsung. Launched in November 2008 the music biography series, that tells the untold stories of the greatest R&B and soul artists of our time, was an instant hit and helped define TV One as a trusted storyteller and voice of black culture. The 2010 debut of LisaRaye: The Real McCoy and Love That Girl, TV One's first scripted series, established TV One as a home for black hollywood stars and put the network on a new programming trajectory. TV One continues to be a unique partner for institutional African American brands such as Essence with our exclusive broadcast of TV One Night Only: Live from Essence Music Festival.

Here's what's on that site:

****** is an innovative interactive broadcast platform. Anyone with a ‘smart phone’ or internet connection is able to access trending NEWS, ENTERTAINMENT, SPORTS and CULTURAL AFFAIRS by simply logging on. With 24 hour Programming ***** provides viewers a wide variety of content (concerts, conferences, movie premieres, talk shows, sporting events, interactive games, and personal milestones to sports) anywhere, anytime desired.

Our Mission

*****’s mission is to provide trending news and entertainment content that appeal to a wide variety of interest. We aim to create harmonious relationships and improve quality of life through our communications network.

There's a clear difference in what TV One is about, who they are targeting, the type of shows they've programmed and who they've partnered with.

Starting with 2.5 million TV's is a beginning and puts this site inline with TV One, but there is no mention if this is through Comcast, DirectTV, or any known cable company. It could be a syndicated deal that's a collection of disparate stations across the country or in one particular region. It could even be a deal to work with companies that have been targeting Smart TVs to make internet channels integrated to a level that's almost seamless. In the absence of a clearer vision one has to be more than a bit standoffish and cautious.

There are benefits to being picked up by and working with aggregators.

Many do bring new subscribers and awareness. How they group and present content helps cut down the signal to noise ratio, assisting users to target the content they're looking for. But, when they present themselves as distributors and as channels, they have to do more than use business phrasing like "quality of life" or parrot the benefits of 24 hour access.

CNN brought 24 hour news to the world four decades ago, the internet gave users the ability to control that 24 hour access even further two decades ago.

Dynamic technology driven individuals could describe a web savvy 15 year-old or a 20 year veteran of Silicon Valley.

Quality of life is a phrase that has a different meaning to someone who is looking for Health Information, a Gospel Television Show or the latest Unrated Independent film. It is possible to find a viewer is who looking for all three, but it's rare they'll look to one site, one channel, to do that all. It's rare that one site or one channel can provide that content and provide a high level of quality of it without sacrificing something or requiring lots of capital human and financial.

What if there's no harm? No foul? If there is no risk and I keep control of my content I'm good right? What if it adds to my viewership?

Maybe there is no damage done. I for one find that doubtful. More viewers is meaningless if they aren't the viewers who can become part of a core, if you aren't able to forge a relationship and if you can't identify them. If you don't have access to them and you aren't seeing any significant revenue, you're back to someone benefiting off of you more than you are them, even it's not strictly in money. At some point those viewers will turn into something. You may not be upset now, but you may look back 10 years from now with less fondness. And there's the guilt by association. Your business dealings say quite a bit about you and you may unintentionally say more about how business savvy you are than intended.

For the company itself, they may maybe hurting or retarding themselves. If a company isn't hustling to build you up, are they really doing what they can to make their own business all that it can be? Are they maximizing their own assets?

Having done this for a while, I've learned that a number of these sites are mostly harmless and the people behind them are often well intentioned. Their enthusiasm genuine.

However, I've also sat in enough meetings, did enough reading and kept my eye on enough companies that I'm instantly skeptical at how successful they'll ultimately be. Facebook has 800 million active users and the stock is taking a beating because the question of how it will make money still isn't clear.

If folks are wary of a company that can boast 10% of the worlds population as users, how much scrutiny will people who have been in this business for years apply when you're starting small, and can't answer the same question, and exhibit not even 1% of the transparency* Facebook has?

If we're to build up Georgia's industry, legit companies and sites based here need to be aware of what impact they can have on perceptions and the health of our industry.

Georgia content creators and producers would do well to approach theses sites and companies carefully and do their research. Creators and producers hold a great amount of power and the potential of our state in their hands. They can help a Georgia distributor morph into a new Miramax, or they can help line the pockets of the next  low level Maddof.  They also have the ability to do a lot of this work on their own and bypass the old paradigm entirely.

So do your homework. Be careful. Be optimistic. Be wary.

Support the companies you have confidence in, avoid the ones you aren't sure about. Don't be afraid to ask for more information if you aren't sure.

*And Facebook, rightly or wrongly, is beat up for not being transparent enough, no matter how much information they release.