Distribution a key area that needs to be tackled in order to maximize full value
Gap in creative technologist being addressed by education sector
MALAYSIANS know quite well that the bane of all government initiatives lies in the execution. What the DNA-TeAM Disrupt sharing session on Nov 20 did was to open my eyes to the Achilles’ heel of our creative multimedia industry – distribution.
The topic was “Creative Content: Does Malaysia have talent? Is that enough to create success stories?” The session was organized by Digital News Asia (DNA) and the Technopreneurs Association of Malaysia (TeAM). It was the third in the monthly series.
Distribution is not glamorous and is seldom highlighted by we in the media, but it is absolutely key to the commercial success of any movie, be it for cinema or TV. It is an area Leon Tan, CEO of the Tripod Entertainment Group and producer of War of The Worlds: Goliath (WoTW: Goliath), has put the spotlight on.
Tan’s analogy of running a marathon and having to pass the baton to someone else (in this case the distributor) to finish the race for you is both vivid and beautifully simple to understand.
He describes it as being “contractually obligated” to pass the baton over and then fretting over whether the distributor, whom you probably do not know well really, bust his lungs to run all out for you. “You don’t have control over this and it is really frustrating,” he admits.
Of course that is an oversimplification of the many facets that make up what distributors do. But here’s a great real life example of the role of a distributor. It was related to me by Sridhar Sreekakula, president of Barking Cow Distribution Inc out of Los Angeles, a distributor which brings Bollywood films to North American audiences.
Sridhar, who has known Tan for the last two years, brings with him over 20 years of experience in the distribution business. He shared with me the story of how US distributor Artisan Entertainment took up the distribution rights to the movie The Blair Witch Project (pic).
“They paid the two directors something close to US$1.1 million and then spent about US$25 million to promote and market the movie, which cost only around US$500,000 to make.
“The movie then went on to gross around US$250 million worldwide but none of that money went to the directors as they gave up their rights to the movie as part of the deal in getting their US$1.1 million.”
As expected, the directors did go about complaining about how they did not get their due from the movie but Sridhar points out that it was the gusty bet made by the distributors that really brought the movie to the attention of the public.
Note that the movie was made in 1999, in the pre-social media era and definitely before email took off globally too. But the Internet was used to market it, though the viral effect of the medium then would have been a fraction of what it is today.
The point of this is to show the key role distributors can play. In fact, Tan says that for his next movie project, he aims to work with a distributor from the very start before even beginning filming.
Now, we are not talking about local distributors here but international ones who can take a Malaysian-produced movie and get it into US and European screens.
What I found intriguing is that both Tan and Sridhar talk about Malaysia owning a piece of this distribution channel itself instead of relying on existing distributors. There are some moves going on here and hopefully an announcement is forthcoming in January.
If it happens, it will be good for the entire creative multimedia industry in the country and even the Asean region. So, watch this space for breaking news on this!
But it would be amiss of me if I did not highlight the point Hasnul Hadi Samsudi, senior manager at Rhythm & Hues Malaysia, made about a weakness he sees in the set-up among our creative content studios.
“One thing about Malaysian companies in this space is that they don’t have a very strong technology infrastructure. The one thing we (Rhythm & Hues) did really well, is that we own our software.
“We develop our pipelines and tools, and everything is on open source so it is easier for us to open a studio anywhere, just put PCs in and then attract the talent.”
He is having trouble finding technology people related to creative content; that is, computer science people who are interested in the creative arts.
But while Hasnul says that this is the case, I am glad to share with readers that at least one creative content company, Streamline-mediagroup.com, thinks otherwise.
According to its chief executive officer, Alexander Fernandez, Streamline has its management headquarters in New York but its talent and technological expertise in Kuala Lumpur.
“Our clients out of the United States are totally amazed at the quality of work that is coming out from Malaysia; and I can tell you that we have even started working on our own games and have in-house technology we built that we expect to take us to the next level.”
That was not all. Tan Chin Ike, the head of KDU University College’s School of Computing and Creative Media, who attended Disrupt with two members of his team, shared with the audience a new term, “technological artistry,” and the need to bring creativity into technology and to produce more people who can be the bridge between the two fields.
KDU realised this missing link and is trying, through its school of computing and creative media, to integrate hardcore computing with VFX (visual special effects), with multimedia, and with games development.
What I loved was that the program is almost a year old and in fact next month, KDU is having a showcase for its pioneer batch of students to show what they have learnt and created in the past year.
And you can bet the other universities are about to launch similar programs too in order to meet industry demand. This competition between them will drive the quality of the programs higher. Students win, industry wins.
In other words, while some in industry see a gap in this space, our universities have already launched programs to fill the gap. And, I am very sure we will soon be launching a game plan to address this international distribution gap too.
These are indeed exciting times for the RM9-billion (US$2.9-billion) export creative multimedia sector. Do you agree, reader?
Disrupt: Malaysia’s creative content industry missing key pieces
The business side of a content play
Disrupt #3: Malaysia’s got creative talent, but is that enough?
‘There’s a lot of Malaysia in this movie’