Last week I had a brief phone interview with Eric Elia of Brightcove. Eric is a big believer in Brightcove’s founding philosophy geared at bringing ‘on demand’ content from the web to your living room. But Brightcove isn’t limited to TV networks like National Geographic that are looking to expand to the internet. At least for the time being, the cost to create a basic Brightcove ‘station’ is free and open to the masses. (Although if you want to distribute ad free, you need a pay account — advantage YouTube.)

NOTE: This is an unofficial guide. Most of the following discussion is me, musing out loud. Comments not explicitly attributed to Mr. Elia are mine and may (unintentionally) misrepresent current and future features of the Brightcove service.

So what might an indie do with Brightcove? Continue reading about Brightcove…Eric said that Blair Witch filmmaker Daniel Myrick has been with Brightcove since the beginning and has pushed the development of the service, especially in the realm of interactivity. As you may recall, the website for The Blair Witch Project was given great credit for helping make the film a surprise success. Myrick’s latest film, Solstice, is scheduled to be sold on Brightcove after it premieres at Sundance.

TO BE ADDED: What Myrick is offering right now and what “interactivity” means

Getting Started

Signing up for the free program was super fast. One quick registration page (they ask for name, email and street adress) and you can start.

They offer a Beta encoding program called Publishpod that turns your media into flash video files. Unfortunately, I got the following error message when I clicked on the download link in the console:

You do not have permission! Please access through the console!

Beta indeed! I later got it to work when I launched the Brightcove Console from my desktop.

I had better luck with the Quick Upload utility, which downloaded in seconds and installed in about a minute (calling itself Video Uploader and then Brightcove Console — consistent nomenclature would be appreciated).

Using the Publishpod, I encoded about ten short .avi files at the two recommended 4:3 resolutions. On launching the console, I only found three files had successfully uploaded to my Assets section.

The image capture feature crashed my Internet Explorer, leading to the loss of my Borat review. I persevered, and managed to create a page of my content. Finding the link to that page was a chore, involving going to Organization Profile and copying the account ID number by hand, then integrating that number into a partial URL found in the FAQ. Put a quick link in the console guys!

Money, Money, Money

Brightcove splits ad revenue 50/50 but direct sales 30/70 in favor of the content provider. So if you sell your movie for ten dollars, you’ll see $7 of it. Compare 70% to the 10-50% you could expect to squeeze out of a theatrical distributor. At this point, the distributor’s pie is larger. But as more and more people get access to the internet, the internet pie is going to be bigger.

I think the direct sale model makes the most sense for any content longer than a half hour. If someone is already making a signifigant time investment, that should be factored into the pricing. The generic prices are $.99, $1.99, $2.99, $4.99, $9.99, $14.99 and $19.99 but you can customize down to a penny (or so it seems).

For a download that someone could save and share freely — i.e. without any DRM — the value is potentially quite high. These are the only type of downloads that will port to iPod video, which has the greatest market share of any dedicated portable video device. I think an HD copy of a feature film should be priced at $20; a DVD quality copy at $15-$18; something at the lower iPod video resolution at $12-$15. That’s all without DRM, so be willing to have your movie pirated. I think most indies don’t feel very threatened by piracy, since there is not a great demand for the movie in the first place, and piracy can — as demonstrated by obscure bands emerging commercially thanks to the music-sharing services — actually increase sales in some cases.

If Microsoft’s Zune catches on, Windows DRM may seem less cumbersome, in which case the prices for DRM’d content will and should go up. As it stands, it is so crippling and annoying, I believe a feature film with DRM should have a comparable price to a rental: HD is still a premium so $10; DVD-quality $3-5; large flash version $1-3. You’d have to sell a lot of copies to strike it rich at those prices. Apple, meanwhile, can charge $15 for a DRM’d poor quality Disney movie because the iTunes Store and the video iPod are the only game in town.

As for ads… One of Brightcove’s new features is a way to automatically insert ads at designated points in the video (as on t.v.) — Google is said to be developing something similar. I have yet to try this feature.

If you have a bunch of short content, advertising would seem the obvious way to go, since presumably you are trying to get people to visit your site repeatedly and for longer periods of time (generating more on-page ad views).1 The question is whether you trust Brightcove’s ad sales team, or bigger players like Google Adsense and Yahoo! Publisher Network. Mark Cuban recently mused that no one is going to make a living from Internet video, that the endgame is break into t.v. or movies. If you believe that, then any money you are making as you bare your content is just gravy!

All payments are made via PayPal, so be sure to configure your payments in Manage Account area right away. Don’t expect the world. Eric Elia says that “no one will retire on money from short films” on Brightcove.

Summation

Google has set the bar pretty high for public betas. Brightcove at this time is not fully bug free and thus frustrating; however it shows great promise and will be suitable immediately for some filmmakers who have vast libraries of shorts or features that are going unmonetized on the internet.

Mr. Elia says they are working on integrating HD features soon, since the ultimate goal is to have Brightcove act as the lubricant between the internet and your tv. If their stated goal is truly their goal, a ‘dumb’ box like Akimbo loaded with Brightcove software is entirely feasible in the near future — some sort of competitor to the X-Box or Apple’s iTV.

1. Or maybe you won’t need advertising, if your idea has enough merit to get donations at Have Money Will Vlog.