My Life as a Blog: Six January Days That Shook the Media World

The 2011 Sundance Film Festival ends today, and I have this to say about it.

Actually, I have nothing to say about it as I wasn’t there. But I do have a question.

What percentage, do you think, of the films screened for the first time at Sundance will be seen for the first time via DVD, VOD, Blu-Ray, Netflix Instant Watch, rented from iTunes or Amazon, seen on a free-with-ads site like SnagFilms or Hulu, or perhaps more significantly, downloaded as a torrent or from a Rapidshare-type service?

If that question intrigues or concerns you, then Sundance wasn’t the only significant film-related event of January 2011. Here are six others that will play a major role in the way people watch movies in the future.

January 6: More than 80 iPad-style tablets are introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Is the electronics industry betting the bank on making the tablet a mass-market product like the DVD player and the Smartphone?

If they succeed, what will that mean for Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Video on Demand and Hulu? What about sites like SnagFilms, Mubi or IndiePix? Is this product going to be a game-changer for online video?

January 18: The FCC approves the NBCU merger; Comcast agrees to give up management rights of Hulu while retaining their co-ownership with News Corp and Disney.

What does it mean for the way TV and films are watched online when a cable company owns such a monumental amount of content?

Even if Comcast doesn’t have management rights over Hulu, what’s to stop them from pulling NBC shows, including “Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock” and “The Office,” off the site? Will who manages Hulu even matter?

January 20: Amazon buys LOVEFiLM, Europe’s Netflix. LOVEFiLM, has 1.6 million members and operates in the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

Amazon has the advantage of being able to integrate LOVEFiLM into their Amazon stores in the UK and elsewhere. With their vast resources they have the potential to be the dominant player in international online video.

This is not an easy business, as it is complicated to secure rights to major studio movies for a host of different territories. Apple has been selling online video through many of their international iTunes stores for years. Netflix expanded into Canada in September where it has been an enormous success, and Netflix’s Reed Hastings has suggested that he has plans to expand Netflix to other countries.

Online video outside the US is on the move like never before. Has its time finally come? What will this mean for a film industry that is still trying to figure out how online video will work here?

January 26: Torrentfreak reports that Google has begun censoring file-sharing-related terms.

Per Torrent Freak’s story, search engine results for “BitTorrent,” “RapidShare” and “Megaupload”, among others, will be filtered out from Google’s instant search and auto-complete search features. As of now, the filter does not affect full Google search results (which are the only things that really matter). If Google does filter their full search results in the future, and their filter is effective, will this provide serious assistance to the efforts of the MPAA and the RIAA to stem online piracy?

January 27: Netflix releases its fourth quarter profit report. Subscriptions are up 166% (3.08 million) from fourth quarter 2009 (1.1 million).

Netflix ends 2010 with 20 million subscribers, up 63% from the previous year. All signs are that this growth will continue. To put this in perspective, there are about 120 million households in the US with a TV.

January 27: The Wall Street Journal Reports Strife at Hulu.

The Journal reports that Hulu founder Jason Kilar threatened to quit if the price on Hulu Plus, the site’s paid subscription service, didn’t go from $9.99 per month to $4.99. A compromise was made at $7.99.

While Comcast isn’t involved in decisions on Hulu’s future, Fox and Disney increasingly feel that Hulu may be cannibalizing their cable profits. Disney has blind-sided Kilar by ”quietly” setting up their own Hulu-type service.

The Journal also reports:

In what would be a major shift in direction, Hulu management has discussed recasting Hulu as an online cable operator that would use the Web to send live TV channels and video-on-demand content to subscribers, say people familiar with the talks. The new service, which is still under discussion, would mimic the bundles of channels now sold by cable and satellite operators, the people said.

In other words, they are discussing killing Hulu as we know it.

If they really did this, instead of a site with free movies with very few commercials, it would be a subscription service with all the commercials you see on cable. Sound appealing to you? Personally, I’d rather watch cable TV using my DVR.

Hulu is not the real issue. Worries about Hulu are basically worries about the future of cable TV. The real question is: Can the studios hold onto the highly profitable cable business model they have today? Or will the January I’ve written about above be followed by a February and a March and an April and a May and on and on forever in a neverending evolution of the way new technology, new business concepts and the Internet affect the way we watch movies and TV?

Can the major studios and the cable companies catch all the fireflies that are buzzing around their heads?

Your thoughts?

Reid Rosefelt is a veteran film publicist based in New York City. He has promoted hundreds of films, for such diverse moviemakers as Jim Jarmusch, Pedro Almodóvar, Errol Morris, Ang Lee and Werner Herzog. His personal clients have included The Sundance Institute, IFC and HBO Films, as well as Harvey Keitel, Ally Sheedy and the late Adrienne Shelly. His production publicity credits include Desperately Seeking Susan, The Godfather: Part III and, most recently, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. His blog can be found at http://my-life-as-a-blog.com/

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