On my other blog I have a post up about Docunomics looking at how penny-per-view and "long tail" models add up, or don't. It started me thinking, though, about how this might change the way we think about feature films and short films.
Basically, for online distributors, the model is to put a commercial at the beginning of the video. In a short film, that's very simple: you watch a 15 second (sometimes longer!) commercial then see the short film. In a sense, that's the most direct translation of the original free television model, with the added bonus for viewers of choosing what they see and when, and the added bonus for advertisers in that they can precisely target an audience.
In feature-length films, however, it gets a little trickier. Generally, there's an ad at the beginning, then sometimes 4 or 5 ads inserted into breaking points in the film. If someone doesn't watch the later ones, there's no payment for those.
Well, think that through: a feature film, unless made as a no-budget effort with everything deferred, has a huge production budget. For narrative film, that's in the millions, for big-budget documentary that's in the 100,000s, for small-budget documentary -- if you are honestly counting everyone's deferred salary -- in the 10,000s.
Still, to an advertiser, one view is one view. If a 3-minute short gets someone to watch one ad, and the feature length film only gets someone to watch 5 ads, there's an interesting advantage to the short. Someone who made 5 incredibly-popular shorts could in theory match the online advertising revenue of one feature film.
Of course, good features become juggernauts: they get written about in the media, gain fans, get reviews, get nominated for awards. They are marketed, and -- usually, but not always -- cycle through film festivals, DVD sales, broadcast and DVD rental before going online. So the online ad money is icing on the cake.
It's interesting, though, that some advantages appear in this model for short films: many people are comfortable watching a short online, but don't want to spend 90 minutes hunched over a computer or wearing headphones. Someone not specifically looking for a film would certainly be more likely to impulse-watch a short than a feature, as well.
So while traditionally short films have been seen as a "training" area of filmmaking -- lower production cost in time, money and other resources, but less interest in general and usually no DVD sales except in collections (where the revenue is then split many ways) -- an ad view is an ad view, and online that might mean making many shorts could be a viable production model.
These are interesting times, no question.