Responses to “Is My Animated Short Worth a Penny”

Wow, lots of responses to last week’s post, “Is My Animated Short Worth a Penny”. The general consensus seems to be that while these new video hosting/sharing sites offer filmmakers an audience and exposure for their work, they don’t provide a viable means of income. Various thoughts from Brew readers are posted below.

First, an email from an artist who prefers to remain anonymous:

In regards to your Cartoon Brew posting about YouTube, I’ve got a few shorts on Atomfilms, and the money is laughable. But for me, it’s just an outlet. Someplace where lots of people can see my work. It’s great to have a place to show a short idea, something that couldn’t necessarily work as a series or feature. I think your point about the artists getting screwed in the deal is valid, though at least I retain ownership of my work. Try that at a studio. At a feature studio I worked for, I never spoke of any ideas because they claimed your thoughts as “intellectual property.” The artists will spend years on a feature, but see no residuals. A musician spends a week performing on a score, and gets residuals not only on the film, but on the soundtrack album as well. I should have kept taking drum lessons, right? My point is, the game is rigged against the artist across the board, not just on the web.

Shawn McInerney of Moose Mouse Media noted that the “Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment,” which I used as an example, was likely a special case. In other words, even if your film is lucky enough to receive millions of views, you probably won’t be making twenty grand from a site like Revver:

I am an independent animator and I have been doing a lot of research into these places. I actually think Revver’s payment to the creators of “The Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment” is unusually high. According the the AWN article, the filmmakers got $20k for 3 million views at 50/50 revenue share. That comes out to around $13 CPM. But the Business 2.0 article said YouTube could get about $1 CPM. $1 CPM sounds more typical for this type of traffic. I think the $13 CPM was due to the fact that Mentos advertised on the video. And Mentos probably realized that tons of kids would run out and buy Mentos to try this. So advertising on this one video is particularly valuable, and probably pretty unusual.

Animator Keith Lango posted this thoughtful response on his blog regarding the issue. He offers a solution that would bypass these video hosting/sharing sites:

“…skip the suits and advertisers and distributors altogether and go straight to John Q. Public with the content and let them pay for the content. After all, if they come to watch the content that must mean they value the content. So let’s go right to the end user audience- the people who value the content.”

Dave Redl thinks that the best way for independent animators to generate a buck on-line is by going off-line and establishing dvd sales, which is something that he is currently attempting with his Family Pants project. He also offered the following thoughts:

Years before downloading MP4s and iPod videos, Flash animation allowed for the creation of “online cartoon networks” of sorts. The producers of these sites boasted “give me your cartoon for free, get seen by a global audience, become famous and maybe cash a check at the end of the month!” It sounded great then, but the cashing the check part was always dodgy.

Sometimes fame begets fortune. If the right guy sees your work, you could land yourself a nice contract or at least work for hire. But the money always comes from “traditional” sources: TV, print, film. The Internet still is just a glorified business card. You really don’t make money from it, but rather use it as a means to extend your brand. Cartoon Network makes money from their TV network. Their website extends their brand. Their website might break even, profit-wise if they’re lucky, but mostly the website exists because the network does.

An opinion from an artist who prefers to remain anonymous:

No filmmaker is going to get rich (or even make a living) contributing to YouTube just as no designer or illustrator is going to get rich off Threadless or CafePress. As you said, what sites like Revver, YouTube, CafePress and Threadless offer is exposure. A chance for artists to fine tune their act.

If filmmakers want to see high returns for their labor, they are going to have to start thinking like businessmen, paying attention to details like business models. Successful Internet business models for filmmakers to follow include Homestar Runner, Penny Arcade, and, more recently, JibJab.

The Internet is a tool. A great tool. But the talent for making money is one artists must learn by studying other businesses and success stories. Simply relying on the Internet is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, good artists have the most important skill on their side: creativity.

Filmmaker Robert Hemby believes the potential for making money on-line is there, but it still hasn’t been figured out:

I recently read the AWN article you cited (“Animation Portals Advancing Indie Opportunities”) and the other AWN article (“Brave New Media: Opportunities for Independent Animators”) speaking to the same issue – new opportunities for the Independent Animator (of which I am one). Both of these articles excited me in that new distribution models and revenue streams are opening up for the independent animator to exploit. Your article, however, provides the opposite slant that the distributors themselves are the ones “exploiting” the content creators. These Distributors … these Aggregators … do seem to have the better end of the new distribution model. Hasn’t this always been the case though? Don’t the TV and Ad Agency execs make the lion’s share of the profits from content distributed as opposed to the content creators themselves?

Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree with you that my animation is worth much more than 1 cent per view. What is it worth (over the Internet or mobile device) per view? … 5 cents? … 25 cents? … a buck fifty? … more / less? Does this mean that these “new distribution models” are flawed in that they should focus more on their returns to the content creators? Are they flawed at a more fundamental level in that they should generate greater returns for what they provide? How can they be improved upon in their current iteration? What can they evolve into that would sufficiently compensate the content creator?

The “Audience” is definitely going to drive this bus though. They are the ones who will determine what the final outcome will be. I believe that there are different distribution models and revenue streams that exist for the Internet and mobile devices that have not as of yet been explored. The enabling factor is the Internet. I agree with you that content creators should “…stop giving away their films for free (or almost-free) and to actually start generating income from their work on-line”. There are those that say they have the answer to how this can be done, but it would seem as if they have their best interests in mind. They do have an answer though, and depending on how you measure success, their solutions do succeed at some level. I am hopeful though that a more viable solution for better revenue returns via Internet and mobile device distribution will be developed soon. In the interim, all I can do is keep animating and exploiting any and all avenues to distribution and compensation.