The current business model for film and television is strongly rooted in copyright law, people paying for copies or access to copies of original work. But it’s breaking down. The strain between what technology can offer (easy access to everything, including free digital copies) and the need for creators to make a living, can be seen in the recent SOPA and PIPA battles in the States. What if we could admit that copies are not where the value lies anymore? Perhaps there is a new business model; one actually based on a very old model where creative people were supported by a wealthy patron while they made their works of art. What if the modern audience directly supported the creators whose work they love? This phenomenon has been coined micropatronage. When successfully triggered en masse, it may be the key to the financial future of creators. What can film and television companies do to adopt an effective micropatronage model? Here are 5 examples of ways to re-think your business.
1. Move from Product to Service
In the past, the end goal for film and television companies was creating the product of movies and TV shows. They were production companies afterall. But I propose that in the micropatronage model, all screen media need to start seeing themselves as service providers to their markets and end users. Everything is done in service of the patrons: creating content (in the form of movies, TV shows, webseries, etc), online community, mobile apps, games, transmedia experiences and even curation of content created by others. All of these pieces need to be respected as much as the traditional TV and film content for this model to work.
2. Use Long Term Thinking
In this new way of thinking about business, TV and film companies need to look beyond the opening weekend or broadcast window. Movies are especially susceptible to short term product launch thinking because they used to live or die by the opening weekend box office (if they were even lucky enough to get that far). The key in a micropatronage model is to use big picture thinking that moves beyond individual projects. What are your goals? Your brand identity? Who is your audience and how can you grow them and keep them with you from project to project?
3. Put the Audience First
I have stated previously that good stories are in service of a good audience. This is especially true within the micropatronage model. It is also important not to betray your audiences’ trust or the authenticity of the brand you are building. It’s all about building relationships. To do this you need to listen and learn and respond. Social media gives you the tools to do this in an unprecedented way. It’s pretty simple. If you don’t give your audience what they want, they will leave and go find it somewhere else. Respect your audience and you can build a business.
4. Mine Data
The other part of the equation that social media brings to the table is the phenomenal amount of data now available on audience and community. The web of the world wide web has never been more apparent or accessible and the data social media provides can help you better define, target and respond to your micropatrons in ways they appreciate and be willing to pay for. And, as always, I have to mention the power of keyword research data to also help inform, direct and supplement any marketing or business strategy.
5. Think Smaller (& More Agile)
In the digital world, companies that are small and agile find it easier to respond to change and develop new products. Established traditional film and media companies are generally not small and agile and this can be to their detriment in the new business environment. Smaller teams, smaller administration, even smaller budgets. Many big movies stumbled and failed in 2011. It used to be that in Hollywood having a “movie star” or lots of explosions and special effects would be enough to guarantee a blockbuster. This is not true anymore. Small films with audience and grassroots marketing savvy are showing much more business resiliency (such as The Vow and Chronicle). In Canada, where our budgets never reach the heights of the projects south of the border, we are more used to dealing with relatively modest sized production. However, even here smaller and more agile may be of benefit, especially at a time when the world is so financially stressed. After the dust settles these are likely the companies that will survive.
Bottom Line: Your Audience is Your Equity
When production companies start to think of themselves as service providers it becomes apparent that the future lies in your audience/micropatrons, your long term relationship with them and ways to leverage and monetize them in the future . Such business models include direct micropatronage as well as subscriptions, advertising, merchandise purchases, payment for supplemental content, and more. Comedian Louis CK recently leveraged his audience to the tune of $200,000 in just four days. It is possible. Now is the time to start to experiment with new options and possibilities. Those who cling too hard to the old ways may soon find themselves with no business at all.
What Do You Think?
Is the business model based in copyright law broken in the new digital economy? Do you think micropatronage is part of the future for screen media companies? Are you interested in learning more about how it could be applied to your film, TV, webseries and transmedia company? Please share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
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