Friday, June 29, 2007

Xbox Live Originals Offers Filmmakers a "Big Break" at a Big Price, Xbox Live as a Distribution Medium

The New York TV Festival is offering a filmmaker the chance for cash, a six episode stint, and Xbox Live distribution in a contest dubbed "Xbox Live Originals." Sounds great, right? As always, there's a catch. Delving into the application, film makers are essentially giving up all rights in their work in order to enter. To quote portions of the terms:

Each entrant further acknowledges that the NYTVF and its affiliates, employees, officers, directors, licensees, assigns, and sponsors (collectively the “Designated Entities”) engage and have engaged in extensive activities in connection with developing, writing, acquiring, publishing, disseminating and broadcasting literary, artistic, and other material, including stories, ideas, themes, plots, titles, screenplays, teleplays, treatments, formats, and concepts (collectively, the “Materials”). In submitting an entry to NYTVF, each entrant acknowledges and understands that any Materials that the Designated Entities may hereinafter use or exploit may have originated with the Designated Entities themselves or may have been acquired from the Designated Entities’ employees or other parties, and that such Materials may duplicate, parallel or resemble the entrant’s entry to the Competition.

By submitting an entry, entrants acknowledge that they understand and agree that the Designated Entities’ use of Materials containing features and elements similar to or identical with those contained in their entry shall not entitle the entrant to any compensation whatsoever. As an inducement to NYTVF to accept the entrant’s entry into the Competition, each entrant hereby waives any claim or right of action against any of the Designated Entities or their successors in connection with the Designated
Entities’ use of any Materials (or any portions thereof) whether or not such materials contain any features or elements similar or identical to those contained in an entrant’s entry.

That is all in the terms that most people do not bother to read. In summary: If the "Designated Entities" use your ideas, characters, or anything else, you are not entitled to compensation. And so goes my love-hate relationship with most contests involving creative submissions. On the one hand, it can give real talent their big break. On the other hand, the entrants are more or less forced to abandon the entered works because the sponsors fear even the hint of a lawsuit over the re-use of the materials. Whether this would be an unenforceable contract of adhesion is debatable, but ultimately, the contest is optional, and I don't think such an analysis would apply.

Whether or not you agree with this particular contest, it does bring up some other issues. What might the future hold for Xbox Live as a distribution medium? I think things have been going rather well for the system, even if IPTV is a ways off from full-scale implementation. It is an easy way to get into a lot of homes with an established network, and assuming the price per episode isn't too high, many people will pay for the content. As a plus to the author, the copy protection is built into the medium, and the royalty system should be pretty straightforward on a per purchase basis. However, I think the audience would be rather limited in scope, and machinima may have more success with that audience than more traditional offerings.

However, while Xbox Live distribution might help gain some initial traction, or serve as a nice supplement as evidenced by the use of the medium by Rooster Teeth for Red vs. Blue), I doubt that Xbox Live distribution can, at present, replace more other channels, such as the internet and DVD, for start ups. That is not to say that Xbox Live distribution won't be a viable stand alone business model in the future, I just don't think it is yet. And I think the reasoning here is underscored by reports like the one on game system use as a movie player. While Microsoft and Sony may have integrated many media features, the consoles are still primarily game systems to the average consumer for the time being.

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