YouTube Screening Room: AtomFilms Redux?

It was with more than a little irony that I read about YouTube’s new Screening Room program for short films last night. In all the coverage in the blogosphere, no one has mentioned that this is the exact same thing AtomFilms did for 10 years, and it didn’t work for them.

It’s ironic because at AtomFilms (where I used to work), was way ahead of the online video curve, offering short-form content ranging from Oscar-winning shorts to crude viral-y animations. Then we watched in 2006 as YouTube came out of nowhere and blew past us to become the 800-pound web video gorilla.

Now AtomFilms has abandoned short films and basically become a sub-brand of Comedy Central, and YouTube is stepping into Atom’s old role of providing high-falutin’ short films online. Adding insult to injury, the industry is abuzz with the thought of revenue sharing with YouTube — when AtomFilms has paid out big money to filmmakers for a decade.

YouTube even got a quote in its press release from Daniel Dubiecki, the producer of Juno and the short film The Big Empty. Dubiecki had a number of popular shorts on Atom over the years.

Technically, the short film route didn’t work for Atom — it had to merge with Shockwave.com to survive the dotcom crash and was then bought by big media company Viacom. Without telling tales out of school, during my tenure there the most popular films were either animation, comedies or anything that hinted that there might be a bare boob.

Those Oscar winners? No one cared, bring on Pornographic Apathetic.

YouTube has a much more massive scale than Atom could have ever dreamed of, but that doesn’t change the fundamental situation. People prefer farts being lit on fire to artsy short films.

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