Re: UbuWeb: Bad for Business!

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Jun 15 2008 - 15:20:39 PDT

> YES YES YES......posting of films on UBU, youtube, and the
> rest HAS HAS, yes HAS decreased rentals and demands
> for people to see these works in other ways......I cannot be more
> clear.....

Well, you could be more persuasive. What is absent from any of these
discussions is any EVIDENCE that the availability of lo-res clips
online has any effect on print rentals. And no, a general decrease in
rentals coincident with the rise of UBUweb does not count, as
correlation does not imply causality. The only way to test the thesis
would be to take two groups of films, both equally popular in 16mm
rentals prior to any of them being posted online, and compare the
rentals of those films that remain viewable via rental only, and those
that have been placed online. This would not be totally definitive, as
their might be other x-factors (including any DVD availability), but
it would be a good start. To be more precise, one would also have to
have data on total experimental film rentals, and plot this against
trends in rentals that could somehow factor out the influence of
online clips.

This is because one possible thesis is that online availablity lowers
rental numbers of specific films placed online, but raises interest in
experimental film in general, which could increase rentals of OTHER
films. However this could only be measured against some reliable
baseline, which is unlikely to be fixed, and may be in decline. My
hypothesis would be that film rentals from schools are in decline not
due to lack of interest or even (directly) the availability of video,
but more to shrinking operating budgets and especially the difficulty
of finding working 16mm projectors and people who can operate them,
now that academic AV departments and libraries have completely
abandoned the technology.

However, I'd say the notion that lo-res online clips have an effect on
rentals is almost totally counterintuitive. Individuals view clips on
impulse on personal computers. Films are rented by institutions
(museums, schools) as part of a programmed series of screenings. How
do these intersect? Experimental films series or classes aren't
exactly programmed on the basis of audience popularity. Where is the
curator or teacher who would say, "well I won't screen Blonde Cobra
since you can see it on UBUweb"? It makes far more sense that film
rentals are primarily affected by the resources available to film
programmers which in turn are subject to larger questions of film's
standing in the art scene.

I am happy to see people on various sides of the UBU controversy agree
that new models of distribution that incorporate digital technologies
should be explored. One thing that both the print rental sources (and
why does no one mention MOMA, as if all prints came from the co-
ops...) and the DVD distributors who levy highly expensive prices
based on 'public performance rights' need to recognize is that 'public
performance' as we knew it, has shrunken drastically, and will
continue to shrink, no matter what any of us do about it, to the point
where it has very limited relevance. For example, on college campuses
all over the country, academic departments in the humanities present
extracurricular film series' using DVDs without paying any rights fees
- a Slavic film series, a History film series, a Philosophy film
series, etc. They put up posters all over campus and invite everyone.
This is a huge copyright violation, of course. But almost NO ONE
attends these screenings. The students are in their rooms networking
on Facebook or playing Halo. If and when they ever want to watch a
movie, they'll check the DVD out of the library and watch it on their
laptop. The only times 21st century people step out of their
individual media cocoons is for 'special' events, which range from the
opening of the latest CG blockbuster to periodized high-profile
programs at "Views..." or The Whitney Bienniel.

Thus, any 'business model' that depends for routine income on charging
several hundreds of dollars for access to a moving picture work on the
premise that there will be at least scores of folks available to watch
it and support the rental fees with admission or tuition or whatever
is just going to get deeper and deeper into trouble. My grocery store
has a vending mchine called Redbox that dispenses current release
commercial films for $1 a night. That's the future: audiences of one
or two folks at a time, and prices to match. Do I like it? Not at all.
But so it goes.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.