Behind the scenes, while bringing quality, award-winning releases like Pioneer One and The Yes Men Fix The World to the free-to-share world, the VODO team has been working for the last four months on what we nattily call VODO 2.1. This new version of VODO brings three main new features to VODO users:
Together, these features begin a new phase in VODO’s development.
A Little (Recent) History
One of our core beliefs at VODO is that “peer to peer” ultimately means that everyone is a distributor. To us, this is a really big and important change: it means we no longer have to rely on big media, big business, big anything to have our ideas seen and heard. We think a lot of interesting social changes will spin out of this single fact. And that’s why we’re working on VODO. Business people call it ‘disruption’. We prefer to think of it as transformation.
Up until now, we’ve been distributing in co-operation with what we call the DISCO (Distribution Coalition), an ad-hoc group of the world’s largest trackers, indexes and clients — including uTorrent, Limewire, Vuze, The Pirate Bay, Isohunt and many others. This has worked very well for our filmmakers, generating (for example) around 875,000 downloads for Pioneer One Season One, Episode One and leading to over $30,000 in audience sponsorship (exceeding our target by $10,000.) The Yes Men, multi-award winning filmmakers who’ve been distributed by major channels like HBO and Arte, told us that VODO has been their favourite distribution of their film so far. They received around 650,000 downloads of their release, and over $25,000 in donations.
We all have reason to be proud of this: it’s all of us together that make VODO work so well for artists: downloaders (who via the magic of BitTorrent, are all helping to provide the infrastructure that allows us to distribute hundreds of terabytes of content and still stay solvent), seeders (some of whom are providing truly massive amounts of data transfer), P2P site-owners (who are so important in bringing our release to the attention of P2P audiences), software producers like uTorrent and Frostwire and even commenters — each of us is a piece in the puzzle of this emergent, but already very powerful, distribution system. We are building it together.
So What’s An Influencer?
Every single Peer is important in P2P distribution: and increasingly, even a single Peer has connections, through his or her social networks, to hundreds or thousands of other people. This gives each one of us great potential to help promote and distribute new works. So VODO’s Influencer programme is intended to help people reach out to their friends, colleagues and families with free-to-share VODO releases. It’s pretty simple. Grab a VODO account and, connect your Facebook and Twitter profiles. From then on you can easily publish reviews of our releases with free-to-share shortlinks that allow them to be downloaded easily and immediately.
Socially and organisationally, we see this relationship between artists and ‘influencers’ as much more truly P2P than the way we’ve been doing things so far. We have high hopes for it. To date, our work with large indexes and trackers (as much as we love them!) has more reflected an Everyone is a Downloader than ‘Distributor’ mindset. We know that we need to produce attention for new artists — because it’s our attention that lifts them out of obscurity into a sustainable creative practice. But we shouldn’t rely only on the large, emerging players in P2P to play this role. It’s something we can, and should do together. Peer-ising the attention economy is a crucial step to breaking with the dynamics of the incumbent distribution model.
Initially, the social networks that we support directly are Facebook and Twitter — but we will add more as people demand it. In the meantime, feel free to grab your personalised short-links and place them anywhere you’d like to promote a release: we’ll still be able to tell that the visitors came from you.
The mighty Do
Actually, we know that individuals are out already promoting our work, and without any real recognition from us. We get serious amounts of traffic from Facebook. Pioneer One tweets were seen over a million times following our release. But we want to show you how much we, and our creators, value all this help. So we’ve created an internal currency, the Do, with which we’ll reward Influencers. Every time someone downloads a release because of you, visits an artist’s VODO page, signs up or sponsors an artist, you’ll receive a few Do.
There are two ways to look at Do: as a reputation currency that allows people to compare (or even compete on) how much value they have produced for VODO creators; and as an exchange currency that has actual value in the world. In time, you’ll be able to trade Dofor all sorts of offers, prizes and merchandise. In this first (experimental) stage, feel free to build up Do in preparation for later offers. But we’ll probably have to knock a few kinks out of our internal currency before it’s ready for prime-time. You can help us by gaming it as hard as you can.
Right at the start of VODO’s development, we put out a call for “Regular Supporters” for the VODO project. In return we were going to offer “behind the scenes” access to VODO, in an efforts to bring our supporters into the constant development behind the site and service. We’re ashamed to admit that we’ve totally failed to look after our Supporters so far. So we’ve put some thought into how to fix this. Apologies Regular Supporters. We will do better for you.
From now on, VODO will be running VODO Labs as a way to stay connected with the people who are supporting our development. We provide private updates for all members on our progress, information about new films and artists we’re hunting down, development updates, pre-access to new features — and hopefully a lot more over time. It’s a way of saying ‘thanks’ for supporting us, and bringing you closer to the development process. We’d like to try to build to a thousand VODO Labs members by mid-2011. To give you an idea, 2000 VODO Labs members would pay for the development of VODO at its current size.
But it doesn’t end there. We’re rolling out the same concept for all our creators through the VODO Studios feature. This will provide a membership infrastructure for artists to connect with fans throughout the creative process: providing clips from their work, taking suggestions from members, sharing new works they like and more. We know that of the many thousands of people sponsoring VODO artists, may will want to connect with them in an ongoing way. VODO Studios are a way to become part of your artists’ creative work — to the extent that their Studio Members will be name-checked on all their VODO releases.
The economics of Studios are pretty simple. If an artist can gather 400-500 Studio Members, they will have a monthly income that will allow them to focus more intensely on their work, and even consider giving up the day job. Many independent creators are juggling all sorts of work to allow them to produce the great content we enjoy — Studios should make this a little easier.
Finally, we are changing how we handle bringing new work into VODO. We’ve been a little opaque about how this happens, and many artists may have been frustrated by trying to work out how they can take advantage of our system. We’d like to take the opportunity to apologise for this, explain our thinking about bringing new work into VODO, and how things are going to change.
The background to our problem is that did not want to create a ‘competition’ environment on VODO. There are just too many competitions out there for filmmakers — many of them that they have to pay to enter, and by definition hardly anyone wins. We’re filmmakers ourselves. It’s a depressing business. But then, we can only promote so many films. So how do we deal with the demand to get works onto VODO?
Thankfully, the key lies in the Influencers feature we described above. From now on, anyone prepared to make their work available on a free-to-share basis will be able to upload works to VODO. From there, Influencers will be able to pick the work up to promote through their social networks. And when VODO promotes major works each month, the general traffic to the site (just under three quarters of a million page views usually) should bring new audiences to these new works.
So there will actually be a benefit to having your work on VODO: you can collect new fans, set up your sponsorship incentives, develop a Studio if you like*, and get downloads via Influencers. We’ll watch closely and see which works are generating the most organic interest from our users and off-site visitors, and use this data to decide which works we should get behind for our monthly releases. (We’re also going to be trying to make our releases more frequent, too, but not just yet.)
Please Break Our Site
Obviously a lot of thought, planning and work (and not a little chat) has gone into these new developments. But we are a small team and we get things wrong. Plus we’re releasing a great new film next week. So… if we’ve made mistakes, please help us find them and make them right.
We thank you all for support. Hope you enjoy the new features.
–– VODO team.
One of the VODO team just pointed out BackType, a Y-Combinator funded social media analytics company. Backtype is trying to help companies understand their social impact. It’s certainly helped us already, and we aren’t even one of the private beta testers, so we don’t have access to the juiciest information.
In a couple of searches on BackType, we found that the link to Pioneer One has seen 976,228 impressions on Twitter since June 1, 2010, from a total of 1,241 Tweets. That’s an extraordinary number, and it explains why Twitter has become such a prominent referrer for VODO. We’d been concentrating on the tweets themselves as the main metric, but not really bearing in mind that a single tweet can have thousands of readers, depending on who’s tweeting.
It’s very cool to be able to see who our top ‘influencers’ are (is that a BackType term, or an emerging convention?) BackType shows us that the biggest tweeters pushing the Pioneer One release out to their network were prominent film critic Roger Ebert (207,200 followers), blogger Mark Parent (78,700 followers), filmmaker/entrepeneur Kim Sherrell (71,000 followers) and social media marketer and John Newell (42,200). Between them, these guys have an audience of nearly 400,000.
The Yes Men Fix The World has scored an equally impressive 651,005 impressions since its release last month. Top influencers were teenage entrepeneur Josh Lam (96,900 followers), geek curator Maria Popova (25,100) and promoter/skater/punk Foo (20,200).
Influencers like these are obviously going to be key to the success of VODO’s creators. One of our beliefs here at VODO is that the ecosystem that makes VODO possible should be respected and utilised as much as possible — from bloggers, to trackers and indexes to Twitter influencers, we need to put the whole infrastructure to work for our artists to help promote their work and open up revenue opportunities for them.
Spotting who the heavyweights are is really great (thanks, Backtype!). It would also be cool to know how many retweets result from each tweet, because the raw impressions become most significant when they lead to further influence. An influencer with ‘only’ a thousand followers could be really helpful for creators if their followers really trust them, retweet and/or actually download the film, or if they’re very active tweeters themselves. It’s probably pretty hard for Backtype or anyone else to find out how many click-throughs a tweet gets, but these sort of retweet metrics would be pretty handy for us.
The question we’re consequently throwing around at VODO is: what’s the appropriate way to message these key influencers? In the old days, they’d have been taken on junkets, wined and dined, and so on. This feels like the wrong way to do things now. What feels right is that these influencers have actually just discovered our releases in the ether, and chosen by their own volition to push them out there. Interrupting that natural dynamic with aggressive messaging (“Mr. Ebert, would you like to tweet this…?”) seems to us like begging, and a lot less graceful than the way things are happening right now.
Some social media expert probably has ideas on the right way to approach these highly influential individuals, in a way that fits with networked media. We’d be delighted to have your guidance!
VODO’s release of The Yes Men Fix The World: P2P Edition has done very well, gaining around 250,000 downloads in ten days, with approximately $16,000 in direct viewer support. The film landed at number six in TorrentFreak’s list of the top 10 films downloaded on BitTorrent last week.
Given the popularity of this release, we’ve had a bunch of nice coverage on the big blogs, including BoingBoing, TorrentFreak, NewTeeVee, Mashable and Techdirt. This post contains some clips from a few of them.
new donations are currently coming in at a rate of $500 per hour.” “It’s going great,” he said, adding that there has been “tons” of e-mail feedback from viewers as well.
Bonanno told me that the duo had a hard time securing distribution deals for the movie, which chronicles pranks against Haliburton and Dow Chemical, amongst others. For instance, the film won an audience award at the prestigious International Film Festival in Berlin, but hasn’t gotten any distribution in Germany. There has also been only limited theatrical release in the U.S., and getting the movie even in a few theater oftentimes took a lot of work. “It’s just kind of amazing how much easier it is,” said Bonanno about reaching an audience via P2P [...]
The duo has already said that it will definitely publish its next movie on file-sharing sites again to give back to people who finance its production with their donations. But Bonanno said that they could also change their mind on other distribution methods, like theatrical releases or TV deals, depending on how much money the current donation campaign will bring in.
The duo is currently planing to sell its next movie to TV again, but doing so tends to add a lot of additional costs for legal clearances and similar issues. “There is a chance that we would just release it on P2P,” if enough money came in via donations, he said, adding: “We might consider it as a completely alternative distribution model.
Meanwhile, over at Mashable’s, Samuel Axon explained that one of the reasons The Yes Men decided to release this version via VODO was that they’re being sued by the US Chamber of Commerce for material contained within the film, and
None of the networks are willing touch it until the lawsuit is resolved.
The Yes Men didn’t just do this to give the impression that it’s not all about commercial gain. They also did it to avoid paying for E&O or “errors and omissions” insurance, which documentary filmmakers are often required to buy if they can’t verify that every detail in the fore or background of every shot is free of copyright infringement. The E&O requirement is a huge hurdle for independent filmmakers.
Obviously in VODO’s estimation, the Yes Men are doing nothing wrong by exercising their freedom to express dissent over the Chamber of Commerce’s stance through parody. We support their right to put their voice out there, and it is indeed interesting that traditional distributors and the old infrastructure apparently can’t compete in terms of speed or being able to stand behind something a bit riskier. Over at Techdirt, Mike Masnick picked up this theme:
It’ll be interesting to see if more indie filmmakers jump on alternative distribution platforms not just because they’re more efficient, but also because it gets them around having to deal with overbearing E&O insurance issues.
“If copyright was actually working the way it was supposed to, and protecting the authors that would be great,” Mike Bonanno told popular file-sharing blog Torrentfreak. “But that’s not how it works anymore – it just protects money; whoever has the most of it. And usually that means that the authors are fucked anyway!”
The release continues to enjoy great popularity on the BitTorrent networks via our support from partners like uTorrent, Mininova and others. This piece from UK TV Industry weekly Broadcast is interesting, as it picks up the major issues around the release while struggling to grasp the way our distribution system actually works. Hopefully next time they’ll ask us
Last week, The Yes Men‘s Mike Bonnano was interviewed on CBS News about the VODO release of The Yes Men Fix The World. He talks about how VODO & P2P is working for the Yes Men as a way of putting out work that traditional TV and cinema distribution would find it hard to distribute. (The Yes Men have had about a quarter of a million downloads and $17,000 in donations via VODO in the week or so since their release.)
Also last week, Italy’s national newspaper La Repubblica had a nice piece from Alessio Sgherza in his “Watch With Me” column on the popular made-for-VODO show i Pioneer One , which has been downloaded nearly a million times and received about $30,000 dollars in direct audience support since its release a little more than a month ago.
‘This is the future,’ they write,
merging Web and TV. No budget of millions and it’s not even on television. Pioneer One is a low-cost series financed with money from users who’ve seen the first episode. Having enjoyed it, they’ve agreed to support the project to see new episodes before they’re made. A small clarification: though it’s never been broadcast on TV, you can download Pioneer One online without legal problems. And it’s not too difficult.
No special effects or complex shots, but a simple execution of a clean and intriguing storyline. “My intent,” says Josh Bernard, one of the creators of the project, “is a a drama with a few elements of science fiction.”
The paper continues,
What is Vodo? Whenever we speak of ‘downloading from the internet’ one immediately thinks of piracy, but there is also a world of legal downloading online. In this legal world of films and independent productions, we often hear the name of VODO.
Each month a film is selected and distributed online via P2P. Yes, the same technology behind the Pirate Bay, but here it is entirely lawful. To download, the easiest way is to install a program for downloading a torrent (BitTorrent is the most famous) and go VODO’s site. Simple.
There’s no problem with language, because you an always download free download subtitles (via a dedicated page on the website Addicted).
And now? Creators Bernhard and Smith, along with cast and crew, are beginning to work on new episodes. “For sure TV is undergoing a renaissance,” says Josh. “Many people of my generation [Josh is 26] are still watching TV –- we just do not watch it on television.”
Download the first episode of Pioneer One to enter the future of TV, thanks to a series that has nothing to envy other commercial products..
So far, most of the coverage about VODO has been in blogs and foreign press*, so it’s really gratifying to start seeing coverage in major english-language press too. The New York Times leads the way:
You Too Can Fund a TV Show
In tough economic times, creators have to get a little more creative about funding their projects. Witness the success of Diaspora’s efforts on Kickstarter.com and Jill Sobule’s recent donor-backed album. Filmmakers Josh Bernhard and Bracey Smith are now attempting to fund the development of a TV series, Pioneer One, through individual donors. They’ve successfully raised $6,000 for the pilot episode (available on Vodo), and are hoping to raise an additional $20,000 for the next three episodes. (HT: Daniel Gaglio)
*We have a theory about why. Apply within for details.
Last Thursday, we released Pioneer One, the made-for-VODO ‘TV’ series by writer/producer Josh Bernhard and director Bracey Smith. Bernhard and Smith’s previous indie feature, The Lionshare had previously been VODO’s biggest release to date with around 450,000 downloads. Pioneer One has all-but smashed that record in just under a week, reaching just over 420,000 downloads by Wednesday 23rd June* and putting the production on track for a million downloads in the first month.
At the same time, in just under a week, $16,000 has been donated to the show’s creators, who are set to easily exceed their target of $20,000 to produce the new episodes.
Elisa Poggese: I watched, I donated. Man, I’d never thought I would be willing to pay for a torrent. Keep up the good work. — Facebook. .
As well as being our biggest release to date, this has also been the first in which we trialled a commercial sponsorship deal, running a thirty second spot from branding agency MOFILM (‘helping aspiring filmmakers create videos for big brands and social causes’). We’ll be splitting the revenue from this campaign 50/50 with the creators of the show, augmenting their budget for the next episodes. (By the way, for fans wondering when they can expect new installments: Josh is currently writing the next batch of episodes, and the team are aiming to start production early September.)
Zim: Brilliant. I love the fact this isn’t polished and buffed and faked up, that the actors aren’t superactors on their 50th take. It lends to a realisticish documentary feel and the plot is far more fun than some generic pander-to-the-masses-three-hits-and-you’re-done-mediocrity. More please. — VODO comments.
Together, we plan to take our fanbase to further sponsors to see who’ll get behind the show as it grows. The experiment with MOFILM’s spot — however it works out commercially — has already taught us something important. We have seen very few complaints on the sponsorship-model — perhaps as few as two or three — from a very vocal community of viewers more than capable of making their feelings known. And in general, the versions of Pioneer One that have been re-encoded and are floating around the networks have retained the commercial pre-roll. Clearly, the P2P community is ready to accept well-done, sensitive brand-sponsorship and branded content as a way of underwriting creation and distribution of content. This is going to be important to supporting the development of an independent, free-to-share film culture.
Kallie Hedberg: I was skeptical, but I assumed the story would make up for the low production values. It did! And the show looked better than BBC productions… nice effects. Very excited for the next one.
On the back of Pioneer One’s early success, Pravda considered VODO’s business model, asking whether the free-to-share, P2P distribution model held the promise of a transformation in how the business of media is carried out. They are the first note how simple our idea really is: ‘the system can be used quite pragmatically: bring brands to this audience of millions in free, social exchange, and monitor trackers in order to obtain additional useful statistics [and then convey that to brands].’ Well, it’s not that simple to monitor all the trackers out there, but we mostly rely on our own, and we’re working intensively with our partners to make sure that we get stats and demographics that our partners need.
This doesn’t mean that peers (that’s you and me) stop being important. On the contrary, the only reason that Pioneer One can work is the co-operation of millions of ordinary people sharing bandwidth and connections to get the film promoted and distributed. Hundreds of terabytes — quite literally — have already been exchanged already to get Pioneer One out there. In a very real way this distribution of the show, in full HD, is underwritten by the fans and supporters who continue to seed it a week after its release. (It’s amusing to note that the fact that Pioneer One still has around 30,000 seeders today makes it the most shared ‘TV’ show on the internet, beating both new episodes of HBO’s highly popular, excellent and vastly more expensive True Blood.) And remember, it’s us peers who paid for the Pioneer One pilot. The entirety of the $6000 budget was raised on Kickstarter.
Hairmare: I watched #pioneerone yesterday and now I’m longing for new EPs #vodo — Twitter
We think we’re at the beginning of an exciting phase of VODO’s development. As the ‘sky falls‘ on independent culture looking for success within the traditional distribution system, it seems like we’re falling upwards, into a world of free-to-share distribution backed by fans, brands and creators alike. We’re not there yet, but with this Pioneer One release, we’ve made a significant step.
The final word goes to the DISCO (Distribution Coalition) members who’ve supported Pioneer One. New to the DISCO are uTorrent and Limewire, both of whom have promoted the release very prominently and have brought large numbers of viewers to the show. Thanks to all at Frostwire, The Pirate Bay, Isohunt and all the others who supported us from the beginning and continue to promote our releases. As we strive to make people aware of what we’re doing and help them discover great new work from talented creators, this group of committed distributors continues to be invaluable.
Ryanmercer: Liked the pilot! Donated 5 bucks, all I can afford (had to preorder my iPhone 4) if I remember I’ll donate some more next pay day! — VODO Comments
Here’s hoping that all our continued support and enthusiasm — and our money — will make the next episodes of Pioneer One even better. Congratulations to Josh, Bracey and the team!
*Based on statistics from VODO’s tracker, total Unique IPs in the swarm and compeleted downloads of the .torrents, amended to take into account DHT and PEX.
We are delighted to announce that Limewire , which reportedly has by far the largest user base of all P2P clients, is joining VODO’s Distribution Coalition (DISCO). The forthcoming VODO release, soon to be announced, will be promoted to Limewire users in a unique arrangement between VODO and the company.
Given that Limewire is estimated be installed on an astonishing 17% of all home PCs, this is a big win for VODO artists seeking exposure and the chance to connect with new fans.
It’s fantastic that Limewire is supporting creators’ use of P2P and helping establish an important new distribution channel, at a time when it’s getting harder than ever to distribute independent culture through traditional means. Thanks Limewire: we welcome you to VODO & the DISCO family.
It’s great to see a ‘traditional’ TV magazine, Germany’s ‘number one TV magazine’ Hörzu, reviewing a VODO release. We’re grateful for progressive print media realising that ‘real’ films don’t have to come out in the cinema or on TV – a proper net distribution can easily rival the amount of viewers associated with a small terrestrial or cable screening, so shouldn’t viewers be entitled to a review from their trusted source? They sure should. Here’s a translated excerpt of what Hörzu’s Tanja Beeskow had to say:
“Copy me!” is the call of David Miller. His documentary “In Guantanamo” should see as many people as possible. He makes a close examination of the U.S. prison camp in Cuba, and shows how reporting is controlled by the U.S. military.
In May 2008 David Miller travels with his team for three days to Guantanamo. Together with other journalists, he was there to look around the site. But he finds that critical reporting is impossible – the U.S. military makes the event into a PR event.
The reporting is carefully controlled. The censorship of the images is evident in almost every scene. Everywhere are signs to draw attention to the recording ban. People whose faces can not be filmed are seen in abundance. As a journalist accidentally films cameras that he hasn’t seen, he has to go through all his shorts and delete these scenes. Carefully controlled, the military presented the clean side of the prison.
They also include a link to the film so that readers can download it and share it. Without wanting to be patronising, we think that’s pretty cool for a TV magazine!
VODO has a write up from Omar Yanez at New Business Model: File-sharing site coalition to distribute indie flicks.
From the article:
An interesting aspect of this model, aside from the use of P2P technology to distribute and promote the film, but that the downloaders can donate to the movie’s creator. VODO is expected to roll-out a series of revenue offerings for creators, while still maintaining its free sharing core.
This is what technology and innovative models are good for, empowering creators to gain audiences.
Right now one’s stance on movie piracy doesn’t really matter – because it’s happening. But there’s a wonderfully viable response to this fact in the new upstart VODO, founded by STEAL THIS FILM moviemaker Jamie King. They’ve struck deals with the biggest P2P sites (BitTorrent behemoths Pirate Bay and Mininova included) to promote the independent films that VODO recommends. opening these small films up to an unprecedented number of viewers – who are then encouraged to donate money to the moviemaker.
If anyone knows where we can buy a copy in Berlin, let us know so we can check out the full story. Update: Moviemaker were kind enough to send us a copy so now we can reproduce the article, below. Thanks!
- The Big Brother Bundle, Curated By Daniel Domscheit-Berg (ex-Wikileaks)
- Lovecraft / Cthulhu Trans-Media Bundle Goes Live On VODO – 3 Week Special Offer
- New Feature Releases and VODO Player
- Mathilde’s Misses: A Story Of The World’s First Homeless Beauty Pageant – Free-To-Share On VODO
- We’re doing something amazing… (or VODO is DOWN!)