Josh Catone over at ReadWriteWeb has an interesting suggestion for Warner Bros. to get folks interested in the upcoming superhero feature, Watchmen: Take a page from Trent Reznor’s book. The Nine Inch Nails front man has been experimenting with innovative distribution and marketing schemes ever since his band said farewell to Universal Music, giving away songs and even uploading an album to the Pirate Bay. Catone admits that Warner can’t completely follow the NIN model, and our resident superhero expert Chris Albrecht had some other good reasons why the Watchmen plan might fail, but Hollywood surely could use some new inspiration.
Now, the music industry isn’t really known as a big innovator. In fact, record labels have long been the lemmings in the coal mine for Hollywood, stumbling from one disaster to another and showing what mistakes should be avoided at all costs. Remember that glorious idea to ship audio CDs complete with Windows malware ? But bands and online music startusp have started to innovate at last, developing a new type of music industry, oftentimes referred to as music 2.0, that is dominated not by brick and mortar, but by MP3 blogs, Last.fm and pay-as-much-as-you-want online sales. Maybe it’s time Hollywood took another look.
Here are five things the studios could learn from the new music biz:
Embrace Facebook And not just as another place to dump your trailers, either. New music startups like iLike and Imeem have been winning over users by the millions with innovative Facebook applications that make it possible to stream a vast catalog of songs in full length. The studios, on the other hand, make widgets that only promote one movie at a time with trailers and “behind the scenes” videos you’ve seen on TV already, boring the hell out of the Facebook audience. Case in point: The iLike app has around 300,000 active daily users on Facebook, whereas the much-hyped Indiana Jones widget only attracts about 85 users per day. Go figure. Or even better: Give me my Hulu app so I can watch and share complete shows and movies with my friends, already!
Learn from MP3 blogs. MP3 blogs have been like the anarchist street teams of the new music biz, giving bands that would have no chance on mainstream radio an audience. Labels regularly “leak” upcoming singles to these blogs to promote their artists’ albums. Hulu’s embeddable videos go in the right direction, but where’s the same sort of smart grassroots promotion for upcoming feature films? The trick is to fire up fans with material that has real value to them, not just the same trailers that are running in the theaters. How about leaking part of an unfinished scene to movie forums? Add some drama to the story by reshooting the “leaked” scene, and you got yourself a bunch of free headlines both in movie buff blogs and the mainstream press.
Do what Trent did. Trent Reznor’s NIN experiments are definitely worth looking at. Sure, Warner can’t release a new feature film online for free in the hopes that fans will pay more for the next one. But releasing nine songs for free to sell the other 25 really isn’t about one big feature, but more about serialized production – and the idea makes much more sense once you apply it to TV. Networks have always given away pilot episodes for free, either as DVDs in Entertainment Weekly or as a free iTunes downloads. So why not be brave and upload them to a torrent tracker, complete with an offer to buy the rest of the season for cheap online? The key is to go where your target audience is, and chances are quite a few of them are scouring Mininova and the Pirate Bay for new and exciting downloads as we speak.
Drop DRM. The major record labels have, for far too long, insisted on DRM, in turn allowing iTunes to become a monopolistic market leader. Indie labels have been smarter from the beginning, embracing DRM-free alternatives like Emusic. Why shouldn’t the same thing work for movies or TV shows?
Embrace the remix culture. Musicians regularly publish their instrumentals and audio source materials online to get fans to remix their tunes. Do the same thing for a movie or a TV show. But you gotta be brave: Don’t lock them into a web-based remix tool that treats them like children and doesn’t allow to export the fruits of their labor. Give them real access to downloadable raw footage and allow them to upload it where ever they like, YouTube included. You’ll not only make the fan film scene happy, but you’ll also get some excellent grassroots promotion in the process.