Tribeca panel talks new media

Specialized content, piracy among issues discussed

NEW YORK -- David Lynch recently declared that people who watch a film on a telephone are "cheated," and though his onetime muse Isabella Rossellini is creating a series of avant-garde shorts for mobile devices, she partly agrees.

This was just one revelation at the Tribeca Film Festival's Tribeca Talks Industry panel on new media, hosted by the Hollywood Reporter. Jaman.com founder Gaurav Dhillon, NBC Universal executive vp and general counsel Rick Cott and Sling Media Entertainment Group president Jason Hirschhorn joined Rossellini and The Hollywood Reporter's Georg Szalai, who moderated, to discuss the effect of technology on the entertainment business.

"It's a disservice to watch a film like 'Apocalypse Now' on a small screen," said Rossellini, who once wondered why a film on her mobile device lingered so long on the sunset ... before realizing there were microscopic horsemen riding at the bottom of the screen. "Are mobile phones only a recycling bin for content or for original content? I agree with David if it's just a recycling bin, but I don't think he would be against making art specifically for this new canvas."

That's what the actress/model/filmmaker is doing with her "Green Porno" series, funded by Robert Redford's Sundance institute. In the eight shorts, she mates with insects and other creatures, using animated-style figures easily visible on a small screen.

The larger issue among panelists wasn't if viewers would watch content on new media but how companies and artists will profit from it and prevent profit from slipping away. "It's just an evolution of current media. You have to include advertising and rethink your cost structure," said Dhillon, who emphasized that a way for viewers to have a dialogue about the content (as on his site) is key to success.

Getting talent to put a toe in the water is a challenge. "When I was at Comedy Central, we wanted comedians to do online shorts," Hirschhorn recalls. "They were into it, but their agents said 'For 15,000 we're not interested.'" Many actors took a salary hit, noted Rossellini, when they started doing indies for less than their studio film asking price, prompting some companies to wonder why they had to pay them as much."

Part of rethinking distribution in new media is getting past the old paradigms of making some entertainment product less available made it more coveted and expensive, according to Hirschhorn. "Scarcity once bred value, and now scarcity breeds piracy," he said.

"Eighty five percent of YouTube traffic is overseas," added Dhillon. "There, piracy is not only impossible to stop, it's also impossible to police."

Cott feels piracy is the top issue to address before profit models or any other new-media issue, and while stopping it may be impossible, making it as inconvenient as possible is key. "Every lock can be picked, but I suspect no one in this room is going to take theirs off their doors," he said, prompting laughter. NBC Uni works with YouTube to distribute official content, and based on their work he expects filtering technology to improve radically in the next year.
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