So… what have we learned so far? First, that the world is an ever-changing place. Things that work one decade don’t necessarily work the next. Second, that the home video business is one of those things that has changed, and those changes have made it highly unlikely that a new Christian video series could be successfully launched using the same strategy that launched VeggieTales way back in 1993. The home video business today is driven almost entirely by feature films and TV series compilations. The business of half-hour kids videos is, with a few notable exceptions, dead.
That was the bad news. So what is the good news? Simple: The same trends and dynamics that close old doors almost always open new ones. And that is exactly what is happening here. The direct-to-video business is nearly gone, at least as far as independent producers should be concerned. But new opportunities for independent producers to find an audience through other means are popping up like daffodils in May. (Or is it April? When do daffodils pop up again? Oh, you get my point.)
What’s creating the opportunities? Technology, of course. Think about it – thirty years ago there were three broadcast networks and six or seven major movie studios. Very little content found an audience without going through one of those nine entities. The buyers at just nine companies by and large determined which stories American families would – and wouldn’t – hear. Twenty years ago we had 10-12 film studios and, with the first wave of cable, perhaps 60 television networks. Suddenly a whole lot more content could find its way to an audience.
And where are we today? Well, the movie situation is roughly the same, but on the TV side, due to advances in compression technology and increased bandwith through satellites and cable systems, there are more than 200 networks broadcasting everything from big budget network shows and HBO specials to micro-budget reality shows like Monster Garage and Trading Spaces. More independent producers are getting their programming in front of an audience than ever before. Whereas thirty years ago there were just three or four points of entry to the screens in American living rooms (labeled NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS), today there are hundreds. But even that is changing, as a new pipeline into the living room will soon trump all others. I’m talking, of course, about the internet. Whether a home is connected to the internet over phone lines, coaxial cable or fiber optic cable, the increases in bandwidth and, just as importantly, compression technology, are combining to challenge the stranglehold broadcast networks and cable systems have enjoyed on the living room television. If you happen to live in one of a few key neighborhoods in Texas or New Jersey you know what I’m talking about. The first tests of IPTV (Internet Protocal Television), are happening right now, conducted primarily by Verizon and AT&T. These tests use extremely high-speed connections to the internet and special hardware and software to deliver all your television content without a cable or satellite subscription. (You do, however, need a subscription to the IPTV provider to cover the costs of service.)
What’s the significance of IPTV? Simple – no channel capacity limitation. With traditional cable, every channel offered must be present in the home at all times, so no more channels can be offered than will fit through the pipe into your living room. Since most cable systems are currently operating at full capacity, adding a new channel now requires withdrawing an old one. As a result, none of the major cable systems are particularly interested in adding any new channels. With IPTV, however, a channel is sent to your home set-top box only when you request it. One channel comes down the pipe at a time. It could be a linear channel (like Nick or CNN) that transmits 24 hours a day, or an individual show or movie that you have requested (like cable’s pay-per-view and video-on-demand content). But nothing comes down the pipe until you request it, and, once requested, anything can come down the pipe. Meaning, the channel capacity of an IPTV system is infinite. Want to program a network just for lovers of Bulgarian movies from the 1930s? Your local cable system would say, “Uh… you want us to dump Fox News for that?” An IPTV system will say “Okay.” (Assuming, of course, you can prove there are at least a few people interested in watching Bulgarian movies from the 1930s.)
Just as cable technology allowed the creation of TV networks focusing solely on kids, women, sports fanatics, history buffs, and 100 or so other discernable audiences, the combination of television and the internet will allow programming services to be created for even narrower groups – European history buffs, women’s sports fanatics, Christian kids, Mormon bow hunters, etc.
You’ll notice I said “programming services,” not networks. Since new digital technology allows programs to be delivered, Tivo-like, whenever, wherever and in whatever order you want them, the notion of a traditional, linear television network may itself become a passing trend. Do you really want to watch the Fox Network? Or do you just want to watch American Idol? I’m sorry – what was the Fox Network, again? I think my parents used to watch that.
Of course, cable and satellite TV providers aren’t sitting idly by as the big telephone companies roll-out IPTV services. Instead, they are deploying better compression technology and looking forward to using their bandwidth currently occupied by analog channels (for those of us who haven’t switched to digital cable yet) to greatly expand their offerings to near-IPTV levels.What’s it all mean to you, the independent producer? For those of you with entrepreneurial streaks, it may represent an opportunity to conceive a baby network of your own. If you really just want to focus on producing one great show, it means a whole lot more buyers looking for content – looking for the one great show that just might be yours.
Not ready to produce at the level needed for a slot on even a baby network? You can still find an audience for your content, through YouTube, Revver, Joost, Yahoo, AOL or any one of a million other video distribution websites that the digital revolution will launch. The walls around the American living room have become wildly porous. Almost any good idea can find an audience.
“So, um… how do I make money at this?” That is a more challenging question. As programming services and video distribution sites proliferate, audience fragmentation accelerates. In other words, the more channels available, the fewer people watching any one channel. The days of a “mass audience” are pretty much over. Beyond Pixar films, Pirates of the Carribean, American Idol and the Super Bowl, the notion of all of America focused on one piece of amazing content is pretty much dead. When Walt Disney used his Sunday night TV show to feature the grand-opening of his new theme park, Disneyland, in 1955, half of America watched the two-hour live broadcast. Literally. Half of America. Today, the Super Bowl is lucky to get half that audience. Most network hits are thrilled with a fifth the audience of Walt’s big Disneyland infomercial. And those are just the hits. We’re dealing with micro-audiences now. And micro-audiences mean micro-budgets.
So what does this mean for us intrepid creatives? Think low-budget, and very clever. A clever idea executed inexpensively will have a very high likelihood of gaining distribution in an internet-dominated world. A clever idea with a big budget needs one of the media giants behind it to bring it to market, making it a very difficult undertaking. In fact, a smaller and smaller group of people has the capability of producing big budget entertainment. (And his name is Jerry Bruckheimer. Ha ha. Okay, there are a few more than just Jerry… but not many.) If you dream of crafting the next Star Wars or Lord of the Rings trilogy, good luck. But if your tastes run more to Napoleon Dynamite, Borat (in concept, if not in, um, taste), Homestar Runner or MythBusters, the next decade looks very inviting.
So think small. And very clever. Humor is vital, because it isn’t inherently big budget. Cheap and silly trumps moderately-priced and earnest any day. Think funny. Think clever. Think inexpensive. And keep track of the developments in IPTV, VOD, SVOD and every other acronym that pops up in Variety or Broadcasting & Cable magazine, because those acronyms hold the keys to bringing your brilliant-yet-inexpensive idea into homes all across America.
If you’ve got a great idea, the future looks bright. Cheap, but bright. Ready to get started? Great. I can’t wait to see what you’re going to create!
I’ll be interested to see what happens with IPTV.
Phil, this reminds me of something you said on the Where’s God When I’m S-Scared DVD: “Cleverness is worth more than gold. Because than you don’t have to use as much gold.”
Ah, now this is my field of expertise; thumbs up to this article. In fact, I’ve been working for the past year or so to build a multimedia distribution framework which independent artists and producers might use to easily push their content out to people.
In fact, in a short amount of time I could easily see us – a brand new Christan LLC – using the Internet to broadcast episodes of all kinds of things. It’s actually pretty easy using today’s technology. 🙂
Malex Media Network
When you consider that a guy doing a dance can garner almost 41 million views in 10 months on Youtube, it’s easy to see that you hardly even need a budget these days to be seen. You just need to be clever.
The downside of this Internet video revolution however, is that people’s attention spans are growing shorter every day. Why bother watching ten minutes of a show when you could get through ten one minute videos that will each make you laugh or showcase something new and clever? It’s a tough medium, and it’s only really been around for a year or so… popular for about half of that.
I watched “Sci-fi Boys” last night and was thinking along these lines. It use to be that lots of people made really low budget scifi/horror movies. Then 3D graphics started happening to a level where the realism was better and the director had more control over the effects, and suddenly there are only a few places that make the sci-fi movies and they’re huge on budget (horror never seemed to do this, but I think their market is different). I was starting to get all cranky about the thought that only huge budget films will get made with effects since the distribution method is what it is..also part of why I left the effects industry because a lot of high budget crud was being made while inventive smaller ideas were left in the dust. Anyway, with IPTV, it seems that it’ll go in the reverse again to a lot of people creating content (however limited the budgets may be). Loads of possibilities, but rising out of the soup of content will be difficult once it gets going. I wonder if media companies will start to be these loose groups of hundreds or thousands of content providers that fit into specific interests…hmmm…lots to think about as the day goes on. Thanks Phil…this is where I thought you were going with this, but wasn’t sure.
First of all, I’m a huge fan of the early Veggie Tales videos and have been since the summer of 1996 when I saw them for the first time. But I have to give a seemingly differing opinion here.
People still like 30 minute children’s videos. I dare say they would like 10 minute ones too. As a parent, I never clock a video to make sure the credits end on 30:00:00(SMTE) Why not 10 minutes if attention spans are growing so thin. The old school Warner Brothers shows and other shops all did small mini productions and just compiled them together. Shave a few off and “WALLA.” I would be thrilled about this.
As a professional Animator, I can tell you and so would Phil that a one minute animation/ production done very well, will always blow away a junky half hour. It’s not about the length of video, or distribution, or bandwidth, or compression, or Variety Magazine trends. These have always been around. The average Christian viewer never thinks about any of this. Nor do they subscribe to Variety. It’s the CONTENT!!!! of the video. THE CONTENT itself produced(and distributed) the market for Veggie Tales rather than the market producing the content. It baffled the secular market so much so that they had to take notice. I imagine most secular magazines like Variety gagged. Like they wanted a Christian juggernault pulling at their trends.
It’s the people. It’s their needs. and in Veggie Tales case, the Christian community, and the Christian College students. They liked the content!!!!!!!!, not whether it was on VHS or DVD or on their own channel. I never heard about Veggie Tales until it appeared on a friends TV screen. It was as much word of mouth and “come check this out!!!” than whether it was in Wal-Mart or the Baptist Book Store.
Those people who purchased that first video didn’t get the idea to do it from Variety Magazine. They got it from a Christian publication insert add that Big Idea listed. And they sure didn’t care whether it was on the Phil Vischer network. They wanted a certain content for their children. Most of the first influx of people buying a Veggie Video had a “CONTENT!!!!!!” need. Not a need for a lecture in the trends of video marketing. The reason it became so widely distributed is because for the first time, secular giants recognized that the Christian Community wanted “CONTENT!!!!” Hermie the Worm & Bible Man are not the only others. By the way, these are about ten steps down in quality from Big Idea as the video industry sees it. At the same time, Glue Works isn’t out of business. Check out Wet Cement. They haven’t done so bad either. Their Auto-B-good series did very well. And they have much more to come I hear. The truth is that this is still a huge need, but very few quality products to offer.
The Mover and Shaker is not Variety Magazine. Or any other publication for that matter. It is God. I doubt Veggie Tales was any part of a secular magazine’s forecast for the late 90’s.
thebooples.comI created The Booples (theBooples.com), children’s animated Bible song videos, and am encouraged to read your thoughts. Thank you.
I have online distribution, but it’s mostly for download as opposed to repeated viewing. Going to the next trend may be tricky, but certainly exciting.
Let’s all remember to keep His will as the priority (seek first His kingdom) and we’ll all achieve the perfect level of “success.” 🙂
Thank you for this Phil, I am just doing a presentation on Video over IP and IPTV and this explains things nicely.
nytimes.comThis article may be of interest as well. It seems that maybe the IPTV trend will start with YouTube and others like it….at least, maybe in a few months if what’s suggested in this article pans out. I thought the section about YouTube actually becoming a content channel that would accept or deny entries…much like any other network was interesting.
I think IPTV is good in the traditional sense, but it is really going to be the IPTV that most people aren’t used to that is going to become the core. I am fairly certain that the IPTV of Verizon and AT&T will wane away, instead we will receive only our fiber internet access and television and phone will be delivered over this link with no distinction.
Have you heard the news about NBC and Fox announcing their new partnership to create a distribution network for thousands of television shows and films and that this is expected sometime this year? It sounds like it will probably be the means that allows viewers to get the shows they want when they want, without the expense of cable.
Interesting. As a kid, my friends and I had 3 minutes to tell a story at 18 fps – 50feet of super 8 film. Just enough to tell a story without ruining it.
If you get a chance, I’d love to hear what you think of my animated short film “Paper Shepherd.” I did it as my BFA thesis project at the Cleveland Institute of Art, which I’ll be graduating from tomorrow. With God’s help, I’ve done my best to tell a good story, which communicates multiple Christian messages, while keeping it broad enough to speak to those that may not agree with me theologically.
I’ve currently got no job leads for the summer, so any specific advice or connections you might offer would be tremendously appreciated. I’ve been enjoying, appreciating and being inspired by your team’s work for years. So, thanks so much, and have a great weekend.
DavidHoury.comWhoops, that link didn’t appear, so here it is again:
Thanks for the advice. I have been a fan of veggietales for some time now. You are such a gifted individual, thanks for inspiring me! And your book blessed me so much! Thank You!
My name is Joyce Evans, and I too believe God has given me a ministry for reaching our kids. I have 3 of my own and know the importance of getting them rooted in the Word of God. God gave me this vision in 2000, and this year, I finally published my first book! Praise God! The journey has been long, but well worth the wait!
The name of my ministry is ‘Frootbearer Series”. I honestly believe we as parents and spiritual leaders need to train our children in the way they should go, and when they get old, they want depart. (proverbs 22:6). The bible also tells us to “teach them daily, the commands of the Lord. (Deut 6:7) So I have begun this with my own kids, teaching them to develop a heart to walk in God’s Word. I am basically starting this first series with the fruit of God’s Spirit, Gala 5:22-23.
I have written and illustrated my first book entitled “A Granny Goodness Day”. My second book is coming out this fall, “Rotten, but not Forgotten”. I am having a blast! I must admit, the legal aspects are boring, but the creative part is FUN! I am planning to move this to 3-D animation soon!
If you get a chance, please stop by my website and tell me what you think. http://www.frootbearerseries.com.
I’m interested in knowing why making money is so vital. Read the Autobiography of George Mueller. There’s a man who never asked anyone for a cent- except God.. He rarely told anyone there were needs- except God. And yet somehow there was always enough to keep the ministry running… and more than that, it reaped tremendous spiritual profits!
Just getting caught up with your blog, Phil. Really nice summary of some past and future trends. The 1930s Bulgarian Film Festival service, I’m so excited! 😉
Where do aspiring Christian Children’s songwriters send their super stuff?
I reckon I’m a late comer to this thread, but I’m glad I found it. Something that strikes me, more in the comments than the articles, is the narrow focus on film/video.
More to the point, Phil makes the point in part one about throwing your pass to where the receiver WILL be. Given that thought, I reckon I was expecting at least some interest in broadening the conversation to other mediums.
For instance, I’m looking very seriously at building video games with Christian themes…a space that is practically devoid of players despite the fact that even secular publications recognize the gaping hole there.
Of course thinking outside the box has its own problems. Investors, as an example, tend to look for proven ideas, not always the new thing. As we look for funding it seems that the first question we get asked is, “Who has done this before? Show me a success story.”
Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that this discussion could stand to broaden into a higher level discussion of media in general (IMHO)…because that has a good chance of being where the reciver WILL be very soon…
hi. i have a beautiful spiritual english feature film OUR LADY OF LOURDES for which i am trying to find ways and means to distribute it.can you help me in this regard. watch my trailer on my web ourladyoflourdesmovie.com or on you tube. regards-kamalakar rao ponnapalli
Hi there, Phil.
Thanks for sharing your insights. I’m just getting started in video for kids and I’ve developed an interactive web-application to distribute it: http://kidbuilder.net. The vids on the site are mostly short teaching videos on location in interesting places. My new idea is a kids sitcom. Thanks again,
youtube.comHey Phil! Would you be at all willing to check out my proposal for a Children’s Ministry? Here’s a video of it. I emailed you as well.
Be sure to read the description of the video afterwards. It goes into more detail about it. Thanks man.
littlecatchstudios.comlittlecatchstudios.comThanks for the advice Phil, I found this blog post and your book most helpfull.
I’m based in the United Kingdom and have been developing a faith-based 3D animated Series called The Kingdom Stories.
You can visit our website to see how it’s progressing.