Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sony's latest iTunes Extras is another step after Apple's start

PaidContent profile Sony's latest release, a Will Ferrell movie, The Other Guys, which will have some interesting new features available in their iTunes version.

iTunes Extras are as I've noted before at least a start from Apple in acknowledging the issues facing film in the digital era. They re-introduce the idea of DVD extras, available only when you purchase the movie via iTunes. To date, they've been a predictable set of additional video clips and slideshows along with text. So far, not really a new deal, all very familiar. It's limited, in fact, by the unavailability of directors commentary in the current format.

In the Sony offering you can search for any word in the script and the movie will jump to that spot in the dialogue. Which is pretty neat. Other options including sharing a clip on your social networks and having direct links to the songs on iTunes.

A step forward after Apple's start perhaps. Good to see studios stretch a bit and interesting that Sony was the one to do so first. Perhaps it stems from their experience in the music industry, a few years ahead of the film industry in dealing with the digital revolution.

The PaidContent article talks about one-upping DVD, but the reality is this is about one-upping piracy. The key differentiator in the future for legitimate paid for content is to offer more than the pirates, to make purchasing the digital film compelling. The article makes some good points about how the Extras format pushes consumers to buy rather than rent. I think there needs to be some preview of additional material and functionality in the movies iTunes page for that to be a compelling factor.

The overall issue, of course, is the limitation that the film be viewed in iTunes at all, and the relative clunkiness of the Extras .ite format, a bundle of HTML, CSS and Javascript. There's only so far it can go here. The main creative act in the Sony offering, the 'wouldn't it be neat if..' is the script integration. We need a lot more of that, deeper too, looking to interaction with story itself.

All our future viewing devices, large or small, will be precisely that, devices, computers in various forms. The future here surely lies in some format, as yet undetermined, whereby content is not simply presented, much as a player might do, but also available through creative programming to be interacted with. The future of film lies as an application running on a device.

There's a lot of experience in the gaming industry, there's a lot of talent in the film sector. Apple have fundamentally changed people's relationship with applications with iOS, essentially shifting the public's perception of them as a new content form.

All in place. But not here yet. My gumption is that it'll start in two ends of the spectrum.

First, a major film will plan a digital release as an application, iOS, but also Windows and Mac and perhaps Android, offering only rentals via Netflix, iTunes etc. It'll be big, it'll be expensive. It'll be along the lines of a game, or at least employ a lot of gaming style interaction, and it'll probably be a lads, sci-fi, film. At some point the money on that will make sense, including the marketing requirements they'll face. They'll target the gaming market as a core and build upon it. They'll make this approach the story and get a lot of media attention.

Second front could even be first off the bat, small teams will form where filmmakers will fold programmers into their team at story stage and will fashion the shoot around the requirements of the planned application. They will release on iOS and perhaps Android alongside their Festival release, they'll embrace mobile as part of their strategy. The film will be made by respected indie filmmakers and will get a lot of attention as a result.

This all builds upon the revolution in production and distribution and marketing the film industry has been dragged through over the past years. The filmmaker's role has expanded from maker through to distributor and marketer and curator as Ted Hope has expounded upon at length. Transmedia, storycubes all of these exploratory approaches will end up forming ways of exploring the question of "how to make a compelling interactive rich narrative which isn't a game?" I'm hoping, that here, on this end of the spectrum, we'll see some diversity in approach and theme.

This year, perhaps, we will see the first one. If not, by the end of 2012, for certain. There, that's my new year's prediction, time for a resolution or two, methinks...