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Does Game of Thrones Owe Its Success to Piracy?

Still of Idea Channel's episode "Is Piracy Helping Game of Thrones?"

Still of Idea Channel‘s episode “Is Piracy Helping Game of Thrones?”

PBS Digital’s Idea Channel takes on the beneficial side of piracy.  Not totally a new idea – SF writer Cory Doctorow has been a champion of artists growing their audience with Creative Commons-licensed free digital distribution for many years – but for major studios and networks, it increasingly looks as though their revenue model and accounting of gains and losses is incomplete without a more nuanced take on the benefits and income they get from pirated media.

Two quick takeaways:  First, you’d imagine that dedicated anti-piracy advocates would have a vested interest in working to combat the “we can’t pay you, but you’ll get lots of publicity from it” model that’s traditional for interns and even low-level freelancers in a lot of media fields, since they’re also being hit by the expectation that publicity value is equivalent to payment.  And second, the main shift in revenue model once you take piracy-as-benefit into consideration is that you’re shifting from a known rate of payment (one view, one payment) to a probabilistic one (10 views, n/10 payments). That revenue model can certainly work, and I can’t imagine it’s too complicated for an industry that already manages massive probabilistic risk in terms of securing an audience in traditional distribution, but it’s a difficult shift in thinking to make, particularly when Hollywood no longer makes sub-$10 million test-balloon films that it could use to fine-tune its accounting math.  When you have a quarter of a billion dollars on the line, you don’t dabble with new ways of modelling your revenues, even when the old way is outdated, which may give TV networks the advantage in figuring out the new financial math.

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Video: Journalists talk about their experience with collaborative remixing

Still from "Journalists on Working with Blank on Blank".

Still from “Journalists on Working with Blank on Blank”.

Last week, in the post on the Blank on Blank interview with Maurice Sendak, I mentioned how remixing is rarely discussed in the context of collaboration between artists, most of whom would like to see the extra bits and pieces they can’t roll into their own work take on a new life.  Blank on Blank beat me to it – they’ve interviewed several of the journalists they’ve worked with to bring forgotten pieces of interview back to life, to get their take on the process. Continue reading


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Blank on Blank: Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid (2013, PBS Digital)

Still from Blank on Blank's episode, "Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid".

Still from Blank on Blank‘s episode, “Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid”.

Maurice Sendak’s discussion of unhappy childhoods and how children survive terrible things is especially poignant combined with Blank on Blank‘s stark black and white animation.  As a creative documentary technique, it’s quite effective – perhaps especially for interview, where the subject’s words are unfiltered and uninterpreted in audio form, which leaves a lot of leeway for interpretation in the visuals.  (If this were used under a filmmaker’s narration, it might feel too created, rather than being this wonderful collaboration of art and fact.)

Blank on Blank is one of the series coming out of PBS Digital Studios:  “Vintage interview tapes. New animations. Our mission is simple: curate and transform journalists’ unheard interviews with American icons. The future of journalism is remixing the past.”  Aside from the value of preserving these small, often highly personal, pieces of interview that don’t fit into the print narrative, this is one of a rarely-discussed approach to remixing – the focus on remixing so often centers around the reuse of hits and successes, and the related intellectual property rights, that it’s rarely explored as a form of voluntary collaboration.  Every project, fiction and non-fiction, leaves little bits and pieces that just don’t fit into the finished work, many of them very good, and I suspect most writers and artists would rather see them used in other projects than never see the light of day.  Continue reading