Ask anyone in the indie web video market about their biggest problem, and you’ll get a bunch of different answers: subpar production quality, too many shows, not enough viewers, etc.
But the biggest issue facing web video is pretty simple: not enough buyers and not enough money.
Sure, YouTube has pumped tens of millions into developing content, but beyond them is a patchwork of smaller networks and brands, none of which have that kind of spending power. The numbers are growing, at steady rates, but the pool of ad dollars still pales in comparison to television.
Rather than wait for brands and networks, the people a Chill have found a new buyer: the audience!
Chill — “the Pinterest for video” — has launched Chill Direct, a place where viewers can buy films at affordable prices. Similar to Vimeo’s new “tip jar” option, Chill cuts out the advertiser, focusing on artist-support. Chill’s store launched this month with a Maria Bamford special.
Speaking at a Tubefilter event this week, Chill CEO Brian Norgard framed Chill’s new initiative as a way for fans to support artists they love outside the traditional media system and portals like iTunes that rigorously curate direct-to-consumer offerings.
“Now we have this new template where no one has to ask for permission,” Norgard said. “‘We’ve all been told ‘there’s no market for this.’ Who’s to say we can’t reorganize the economics?”
How far can this go? Norgard said he was inspired by Louis CK’s direct-to-consumer standup special last year, on which the comedian made a ton of money (if you haven’t seen it yet, buy it. It’s a classic CK set, worth more than the $5 it costs to download). Since then others like Aziz Ansari have followed suit.
CK, of course, is a singular phenomenon, the king of stand-up and, to many, of television. Bamford too is a celebrity in her own right, the force behind one of the best standup sets this year.
On hand at the Tubefilter event were Michael Urie (Partners, Ugly Betty) and Dan Dobi, whose documentaries are available on Chill. Urie and Dobi’s projects demonstrate how this direct-to-consumer model might expand. Urie’s documentary, Thank You For Judging, is a charming look at the world of competitive acting in high schools around the country (trailer below). Dobi’s film, Please Subscribe, profiles YouTubers (trailer above). The goal for both is to mobilize the niche communities featured in the film to pay for it, with the hope they’ll spread the word. Both Urie and Dobi said their projects were too niche or cheap for the major film festivals like Sundance, where documentaries find theatrical distribution.
“I honestly don’t think people would go to theaters to watch my film. And I’m okay with that,” Dobi said.
That makes sense. There’s a perception among film producers that people are willing to pay for more movies than theaters offer. I agree, to a point. People are already paying for a lot — cable, Netflix, music, movie tickets, etc. But everyone has some hobby or interest too specific for conglomerates to care about. This is the idea behind the YouTube channel initiative, and the success of its star channels like Machinima: give advertisers the chance to buy audiences too small for television.
If they’re successful, Chill and its peers will give consumers the chance to buy products too niche for anything else.
“We really do believe that people will support a great story,” Chill’s strategic partnerships head and Tubefilter co-founder Marc Hustvedt said.
We know they will. How much money they’ll pay, though, is to be determined.