Hooray, another Five Questions With…! This week, we have Will Coghlin and Rob Millis, whom you may recognize as the former hosts of Political Lunch. Lately, they’ve turned their attention to developing the Dynamo Player, which provides independent producers the ability to easily collect micropayments for their content. Below, Coughlin and Millis discuss the problems with “free,” tell a funny joke about Myspace and discuss how they’re planning to take the Dynamo Player forward.
1. What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?
We started Dynamo because we’re passionate about independent film and video, and we think the biggest barrier to great independent production is the lack of alternatives to the ad-supported distribution model. Companies like Blip.tv have done a great job creating a more level playing field for ad-supported web shows, but the shows that can make a real living on ad dollars are still few and far between. It’s even harder for feature-length content.
The metrics for success in the ad-based world are completely out of whack. Why should it take hundreds of thousands or millions of views to make a buck? If you have good content and you can build an audience, even if it’s an audience of a few hundred, then you should be able to earn real money distributing your content on the web.
2. What industry buzzword do you never want to hear again?
“Free.” Does that count as a buzzword?
Sure, we love our Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and other free services as much as the next guys, but as many online observers have commented before: If you’re not paying for something, chances are you are the product being sold.
All the advantages of distribution on the web should enable a better bargain for the viewer: Pay just a little, and get far more value than you could through any other medium. The promise of the Internet was that it would open countless new doors for independent content creators, but most are still waiting for these doors to open. Some of the highest-quality programs online still struggle with low ad rates, despite the fact that their viewers now sit through almost as many ads as they see on television.
3. If someone gave you $50 million to invest in a company in this space, which one would it be? (Mentioning your own doesn’t count.)
OK, let’s have a little fun with this. We’re big believers in stretching investment dollars as far as possible, so we’re going to spread it around.
First we’d start with $25 million to Myspace. (Stop laughing and hear us out.) First of all, $25 million would probably get us a pretty big chunk of that operation these days. They may be struggling to redefine themselves, but they did invent the concept of a personal space on the web where people could easily showcase their creative efforts. So what if we combined a re-invented Myspace with Dynamo’s ability to build a real revenue stream? It might just be crazy enough to work.
After that we’d probably spend a few million to buy TechCrunch back from AOL. That’s another one that looks like it would go for a fire-sale price right about now.
With the rest we’d find every promising web show and give them a real budget, with the only caveat that they distribute through Dynamo. If you think about it, a few bucks for an entire season of your favorite web show is a bargain by any measure. Shows could even choose to distribute just a few special episodes through Dynamo and put the rest up for free. The show creators would still earn more than they ever could through advertising, and we’d make our investment back in no time.
4. What was the last video (that you weren’t personally involved with) that you liked enough to spread to others?
Rob says: Kevin Pollack interviewing Felicia Day, but only after several great Larry King impersonations from other guests.
Will says: Old episodes of Posh Nosh. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.
5. WILD-CARD: The Dynamo micropayment player, which you first introduced at SXSW 2010, is still currently in beta, but has been used for projects like an Anyone But Me exclusive music video. Do you feel like you’re on track with the development of the player, and looking forward, what are your plans to increase its reach?
We’re pretty excited about the fact that we’re already paying out thousands of dollars to independent filmmakers and web show creators each month. Right now, a majority of our users are coming from the film industry, as Dynamo is an obvious alternative to selling DVDs and an easy way to put your work online immediately. In the next few months, we’ll be introducing some features to make the system even easier for web series and other short content.
When we first demonstrated the player publicly, we received hundreds of sign-up requests, but only accepted a handful of early users each month. We knew that we would have to throw out assumptions and respond to a lot of early user feedback, which ultimately made Dynamo a much better system when we began inviting more users a few months ago.
One of the biggest challenges was designing Dynamo Player to serve the unique needs of a wide variety of publishers, from feature film distributors to web series producers. For instance, enabling publishers to include several videos into a single program is a necessity for web serials, while the ability to upload a 4 gigabyte HD file is a necessity for feature films. The great thing about having a creative and innovative user base is that they don’t just use the most obvious features like those. Our users tend to experiment with all of the features Dynamo offers, so we are constantly getting useful feedback and improving the system. Constant communication not only means we’ve always got new features in development, but that we are able to building lasting relationships with users as well.
We’ve proven the model and gained some traction around the idea that people really are willing to pay small amounts for good content (as long as you make it easy, fast, and secure), and now we’re focused on building partnerships with existing video distribution platforms, larger libraries of content, online learning companies, and some of the most popular online video destinations.
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