The shape of movies to come

The Interview

So The Interview got its public showing on Christmas Day in the United States in spite of hacks on Sony Pictures’ computer systems, angry denials by the North Koreans that they were behind the hacks, and intervention by the US President.

The political comedy film stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists who secure an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park), and who are then recruited by the CIA and instructed to assassinate him.

In what would have been a farce if the situation hadn’t been so serious, the North Koreans accused the US government of state-sponsored terrorism and said the release of the movie would be an act of war. There were also dire threats by shady online groups during the past few weeks to kill cinema-goers if Sony Pictures did release the R-rated movie.

Well, release it they did in spite of announcing a clear intent in the previous week not to release it at all.

Much of the media reporting I’ve seen focuses on the cinema release – The Interview was showing at 320+ independent cinemas across the United States starting on Christmas Day, with box office takings to date reportedly around $2.8 million.

Yet what I found far more interesting were the other distribution methods Sony Pictures employed to make the movie more widely available. This is how Sony announced the movie’s public availability:

Fans can watch The Interview on several platforms including:

Google Play: the movie is available to buy or rent at play.google.com, and can be watched in the Play Movies & TV app on Android and iOS phones or tablets, or streamed in the living room via Chromecast, Roku or the Nexus Player.

YouTube: the movie is available at youtube.com/movies and can be watched on the web, in the YouTube app, or on select living room devices like Chromecast, Apple TV, PlayStation and Xbox.

Microsoft’s Xbox Video: the movie is available to buy or rent on the Xbox Video app on Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and XboxVideo.com.

SeetheInterview.com: In addition, The Interview is available at the dedicated website www.seetheinterview.com, which is sponsored by Sony Pictures and powered by Kernel and with payments through Stripe, a secure payment platform.

In addition to Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft and www.seetheinterview.com, The Interview is also being released in more than 300 United States theaters on December 25th.

It struck me straightaway that digital and online are front and center in the distribution infrastructure, with the physical (cinema) release very much the supporting act. And, releasing a movie this way – enabling people to access and view it through online rental or purchase – is the first time a major studio has done that on the same day of its cinema release.

Although the US box office has produced the lion’s share of viewing sales so far, it’s being speculated that revenues from the movie on the various digital platforms could potentially make this method likelier for movie distribution in the future, if not for the specific reasons surrounding The Interview.

And let’s not forget one thing – all of this is available only in the United States (of course there are workarounds if you’re outside the US) and it’s an R-rated movie, restricting the audience potential in cinemas at least.

It’s a big hit with content pirates, too.

In any case, could this be a clear signal on what we are likely to see in future for movie releases, whether by big studios or indie producers? I’d say it’s a sure bet that digital and online will play a much more prominent role if not the leading role in future.

Imagine – you want to watch the latest Hollywood film on your 50+-inch Ultra HD TV in the comfort and privacy of home? You have many choices of the delivery methods (see above). Then imagine services like Netflix joining the streaming distribution party.

Or, you want the IMAX or other big-screen experience with the popcorn and cokes? Head to your nearest multiplex with its digital audio-visual immersion.

And all the choices happen at once – no more staggered releases.

Traditional mainstream movie distribution and marketing focused only on the cinema and subsequent Blu-ray/DVD sales just got turned on its head.

Finally, what about the PR surrounding The Interview? There’s been commentary and opinion galore over recent months suggesting the whole thing is just a huge PR stunt, with others offering opinion to explain why it couldn’t possibly be a PR stunt.

How long?

Whether it was or not, one thing is sure – Sony Pictures has gained publicity for a movie that has been panned by critics yet looks very likely to receive widespread attention as a result of all the publicity about it (and the bigger picture about the extensive hacking of Sony Pictures that extends beyond The Interview).

Will I watch The Interview when it’s available here in the UK? Probably, just to see for myself what all the fuss is about. And especially if I can stream it to my TV or computer rather than go to the cinema.

Good PR result.

[Update Dec 29:] The Interview has managed to rake in $15 million since its online debut on Christmas Day, reports Mashable:

“Through Saturday, December 27, including all of its online distribution platforms, The Interview has been rented or purchased online more than 2 million times,” read a statement from Sony Pictures. “Total consumer spending through Saturday for The Interview online is over $15 million.”

“[A]fter only four days, The Interview already ranks as Sony Pictures #1 online film of all time,” read the statement from Sony Pictures.

Recode reports that Apple has now joined the ranks of distributors:

It took Apple a few days, but it’s joining the club: Starting [Sunday December 28], iTunes users in the U.S. and Canada can rent and purchase “The Interview,” Sony’s controversial comedy.

The movie became available at Apple’s store at 1 pm ET [Sunday].

The Interview was a huge online success, says Quartz – but for Google rather than for Sony:

Sony’s big internet video gamble seems to have paid off: The Interview, which the company offered for online rental and purchase on Christmas Eve, earned more than $15 million during its first four days on the internet. The film was rented or purchased more than 2 million times from Dec. 24-27, making it the studio’s most successful online release ever, while also grossing an additional $2.85 million from 331 independent North American theaters over the four-day holiday weekend.

[…] The film’s online success might be a qualified moral victory for Sony, but it definitely won’t be a financial one—and that’s even before calculating the significant financial fallout from the hacking scandal, which could be as much as $100 million.

Instead, the biggest winners from the weekend are the internet outlets that first streamed The Interview in North America. Google’s two sites—Google Play and YouTube Movies—were responsible for the bulk of sales, and Google also benefitted from exposing its platforms to consumers who regularly choose iTunes, or other VOD platforms that did not carry the film.

Undoubtedly further analysis will come in the following days.

Social marketing and social PR: never the twain shall meet?

Webinar

Earlier this month, I took part in a one-hour interview about social media marketing and social PR for a webinar organized by Cision UK and Vocus UK (both, incidentally, now part of the same enterprise).

The event was promoted as “The Big Christmas Grudge Match: Social Media Marketing vs Social PR” although I saw it very much as comparing and contrasting the two elements that, in many respects, are different sides of the same coin.

Whatever you call it, I thought it was a terrific discussion. Moderator Paul Miller, head of digital at Cision UK, did a great great job at leading the conversation along a clear path to address five key specific points:

  1. Can social PR ever be more than outreach to journalists/bloggers/etc conducted by social media?
  2. Are there particular channels which are better suited to marketing or PR?
  3. What about PR and customer service – and to what extent does that make social PR “a cost of doing business”?
  4. What are the consequences for social marketing/PR of the recent issues around display inventory? What about the Oreo product placement ruling from the ASA?
  5. Public relations (more than) suggests engagement with the public, but traditionally any engagement was filtered through third-parties (eg, journalists, analysts). To what extent does social technology allow PRs to go direct to their publics, and (to what extent) is the technology still acting as a filter?

I prepared some talking points for the five questions, mainly to help me stay focused on those questions in order to address them fully. You can read them in the embed below, or download a copy from Scribd.

Cision Vocus Webinar 9 Dec 14: Talking Points by Neville Hobson

The interview was conducted live as a webinar, in which I gather well over 150 people listened in, with a further few hundred registered and who will hear the recording, now available.

As we concluded our discussion, Paul asked me which would I pick as key, if I had to choose between social marketing and social PR. You can listen to the recording to learn the answer :)

Thanks again, Cision and Vocus, for a worthwhile discussion on a broad topic that does attract lots of different views. We had quite a few questions in the live event – some of which were tweeted via the event hashtag #SocialPR – and quite a few more that I will be commenting on that Cision and Vocus will publish.

The Hoover metaphor

A report last week in The Guardian about the UK digital ad market includes this text:

hoover up

Google and Facebook will hoover up the market between them, it says.

“Hoover up?”

This is not new by any means, but it is another instance of how the once-dominant vacuum cleaner brand name Hoover – note the capital ‘H’ – has become a generic descriptor (with a lower-case ‘h’) that’s used in metaphor as a verb like The Guardian’s use, as well as often applied when talking about any brand of vacuum cleaner.

It’s also what can happen to a brand where the owner has not taken the legal steps required in order to protect his rights to the intellectual property in the brand and name.

I tend to write ‘Hoover’ (with that capital ‘H’) whenever I use the name as a metaphor. Just a way of tipping the hat to a name that is in common use today but not as the brand owner foresaw.

And let’s not even talk about xerox, kleenex and many more

Astounding Psy

PSYWhen it looked like it would exceed one billion views on YouTube by the summer of 2012, Korean singer Psy’s Gangnam Style headed into the record books for the sheer number of people who have watched the video and heard the music.

Today, it’s become the most watched video on YouTube of all time.

Now, says YouTube, it exceeds two billion views and, as a result, Google has devoted more servers to handle the traffic.

Reshared post from YouTube on Google+:

We never thought a video would be watched in numbers greater than a 32-bit integer (=2,147,483,647 views), but that was before we met PSY. “Gangnam Style” has been viewed so many times we have to upgrade!

Hover over the counter in PSY’s video to see a little math magic and stay tuned for bigger and bigger numbers on YouTube.

Why not add your view to the counter. Even if you’ve already watched it, it’s catchy!

Where does social marketing end and social PR begin?

Social media webinar

Can you really separate out social marketing and social PR? Or are they just two sides of the same coin? And are there actually start and end points?

I’ve partnered with Cision and Vocus to address these elements of a big topic in a free webinar we’re presenting on December 9 that will help you bring a clear focus to your social communications planning and execution in 2015.

Here’s the heart of what we’ll be doing:

Discover the communications strategies, tactics, and channels used by marketers and PRs to identify the best – and worst – practices. Along the way, we’ll be asking the big questions, like:

  • When should PR and marketing work together?
  • Where is one more effective than the other?
  • Can they and should they be separate at all?

Save your spot at the webinar to make sure your social communications are ready for 2015.

Some big expectations! But I’m confident you’ll get some insights that will help you.

Join us on Tuesday December 9 at 14:00 UK time for 60 minutes of great discussion. It’s free, so sign up now.

Save My Spot

[Update December 21:] My thoughts about the webinar: Social marketing and social PR: never the twain shall meet? Cision and Vocus have posted the webinar recording.

The surveillance structure that underpins us all

GCHQ listeningHere’s another paragraph to add to the debate about privacy, surveillance, spying and the whole gamut of who does what, how and why with digital information that you think is yours and private but in reality is in the spies’ domain.

Last night, Channel 4 News broadcast a 10-minute report in its evening news show that revealed how Cable & Wireless, one of the UK’s largest communications firms, had a leading role in creating the surveillance system exposed by Edward Snowden in which the GCHQ plays a leading role.

I didn’t hear the words “alleged” or “allegedly” mentioned in the report.

The essence of Channel 4’s story is this:

[Cable & Wireless], which was bought by Vodafone in July 2012, was part of a programme called Mastering the Internet, under which British spies used private companies to help them gather and store swathes of internet traffic; a quarter of which passes through the UK. Top secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by Channel 4 News show that GCHQ developed what it called “partnerships” with private companies under codenames. Cable and Wireless was called Gerontic.

Watch the full story:

This is just another revelation in a litany of exposure of government surveillance – due largely to the actions of Edward Snowden – that suggests there is nothing any of us can really consider as private.

If what Channel 4’s report portrays is true, then fiction really is fact.

It’s not only governments, though – private companies are equally as bad, according to two reports in recent months.

Wired-Telegraph-data

Take a look at a sobering report in the November edition of Wired magazine in the UK that recounts the experiences and findings of reporter Madhumita Venkataramanan in her investigative piece entitled My identity for sale:

Earlier this year, I became curious about the personal-data economy. It has grown relentlessly into a multibillion-pound business of tracking, packaging and selling data picked up from our public records and our private lives. As I dug deeper into the world of trackers, it reinforced my anxieties about a profit-led system designed to log behaviour every time we interact with the connected world. I was aware that the data generated by apps and services I use daily – from geolocation and cookies to social-media tracking and credit-card transactions – was building a record of my past. Combine this with public information such as Land Registry, council tax and voter-registration data, daily location routes and social-media posts, and these benign data sets reveal a lot – such as whether you’re political, outgoing, ambitious, pessimistic, uptight or a risk taker. […]

And there’s more – check this report in the Telegraph on October 10 in which Sir Iain Lobban, Director of the GCHQ until the end of October 2014, says that big companies snoop on the public more than GCHQ does:

[…] In his first print interview, Sir Iain told the Daily Telegraph that the public should be more concerned with what private companies were during with their personal information.

“Look, who has the info on you? It’s the commercial companies, not us, who know everything – a massive sharing of data,” he said.

“The other day I bought a watch for my wife. Soon there were lots of pop-up watches advertising themselves on our computer, and she complained. ‘It’s that b***** Internet’ I tell her.”

Reality: anything you say or do online is up for grabs by the spies, whether from the government or from private companies. Reminds me of MAD magazine’s Spy vs Spy comic strip back in the day.

Spy vs. Spy

Yet this is no laughing matter.

(Photo at top by George Rex, used under Creative Commons license.)