Staying Ahead of the Game: Content Rights Management (Part 1)


Hollywood avoids change. This is not news to anyone familiar with the history of talkies disrupting silent films, broadcast television disrupting film, cable disrupting broadcast and now the internet disrupting … well, everything (particularly content distribution).

One of the most amazing things about this love of the status quo is how ingrained it is – everyone is busy and few take the time to learn about new ways of doing things. Even if the new way may save money/time/their job in the long run. However, there is a long standing view of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

However, if you as a business, or you as an entrepreneur (Hollywood’s entrepreneurs = indie filmmakers), really want to stand out, it behooves you to look to the future and try to figure out what is going to impact your business most positively as well as most negatively. Plan for processes that might improve your productivity. Get ahead of anything that might pose a problem in the future…before it becomes a problem.

I never really thought about any of this when I was working in development for production companies. I was too busy keeping up with the day to day. Status quo, right? However, having moved over to companies that service the entertainment industry through software, I was made aware of something that is widely known in technology circles.

The entertainment industry lags far behind most other businesses in adoption of technology to improve their business.

Sure, everyone loves talking about VR or the next big social media app, but as far as utilizing technology to better run offices or make it easier to monetize content, this is not as high on priority lists as it should be. Even if it is, it usually plays second fiddle to all of the other responsibilities that take up a day. This isn’t bad, it’s just short sighted.

The industry is collapsing…or at the very least, going through a major revolution. We see headlines about companies getting bought up by increasingly large conglomerates, or worse, going bankrupt and out of business. Other alerts tell us of declining TV ratings and box office, almost on a daily basis. Shouldn’t everyone be extremely concerned with how to make the most money off of the content they already have, so that they can continue to survive or even be able to continue making new content?

Most particularly, small businesses tend to be overwhelmed by the idea of implementing new software or technology that they might have to take time out to learn. Even if it ends up being more efficient and thus saving money in the long run.

Let’s face it, buying software isn’t sexy. Running the operations of an office isn’t sexy. You, as an individual filmmaker/writer/actor probably find running your website tedious and if you’re lucky enough to be selling films, the contracts you have to read are mundane and boring.

If you want to self-distribute your content, you need a way to keep track of what company has what rights where. This is the same struggle that big studios have with their hundreds of titles that they have sold rights to all over the world.

But first and foremost, before you start tracking rights and windows, you need to understand all of the rights that you can potentially exploit. Big companies certainly do, and that’s why when you sign agreements with them to distribute your content (lucky you!), you’ll see that they are acquiring rights that don’t even exist yet; on the off chance that tomorrow’s big money maker will be a social platform that hasn’t yet been launched by tomorrow’s Evan Spiegel.

As an indie filmmaker, I have experience on the content creator side. I produced a documentary that was released in 2013 and has deals in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom and a digital-only deal for the rest of the world. I read the contracts and understood them, but it is difficult to keep up with the dates for when my film is available on Netflix and when it’s not.

I only have one film currently in distribution. Imagine having hundreds. If you are one of the hustling producers who awe me with their binders at AFM, pitching projects or bundles of projects with varying rights all over the world…how do you keep track of who has what where? If you’re building a business for yourself with a combination of YouTube ads, plus sponsorships, plus whatever else you’ve been able to cobble together, how do you make sure you’re in compliance with the many different contracts you may be working under at once?

Most people use Excel. You can certainly do a lot with Excel. But in a world where everyone wants to have more insight into their monetization of content, it is well worth it to know what options are out there when the volume of your work gets beyond an Excel worksheet.

In my next piece, I’m going to expand on the points I’ve brought up so I can help you – as an independent filmmaker, entrepreneur and savvy person- know what you should be trying to keep up to date on in this space. You should be empowering yourself with the knowledge of anything that might be able to help you as you take over the world with your fantastic ideas.