Making The Sale

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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By Martin French

Apple Computer’s recent announcement that feature films will be added to the iTunes Store brought the remaining hold-out (the film industry) to the digital download shop of choice and in doing so further hastened the world’s transition from physical to digital media sales.

The appetite from consumers for this digital content delivered straight to their computers is evident in the staggering numbers put forward by the California based computer company for sales of music and video material. Over 1.5 billion songs and 45 million music videos and television shows have been sold to date and television shows are, at present, only available in the United States and they make up the largest proportion of video downloads.

Video material downloaded via the iTunes Store can be watched on a computer but it is also optimised for the video enabled iPod which is just one of the many portable devices available to play back video material while you are on the move.

The potential for selling video material to the masses is there to be exploited. So what would it take for your average dance company to embrace the power of the internet to sell some videos of their work?

This article is not a how to, rather a general overview on just what’s needed to make it all happen and the potential pitfalls faced by any company trying to sell video material online.

Is It Viable?

First of all is video downloaded over the internet for iPods or any other portable playback device any good and will people want to watch it that way?

It has to be said that watching video on portable players with small screens is not for everybody and when people are in their own home watching video on a computer instead of their big screen TV is not something those of a certain generation are inclined to do.

Younger folks won’t bat an eyelid however and will think nothing of watching a full length feature on a 2.5” screen (found on an iPod) or using their Play Station Portable in place of a TV. Dance students in particular may find it very useful to have full length dance pieces available on the same device they carry everyday to play music on.

At this point in time there isn’t a fool proof, easy to use, bridge between the computer and your regular TV set (although there are options available) and this may be the biggest barrier to mainstream acceptance of digital video downloading instead of physical DVD’s. Most portable players do come with the ability to play direct to a large screen via a separate cable or dock connector however.

In our view watching video on a computer is no problem at all, people have been watching DVD’s on laptops and portable players for years now. As for smaller devices; again we found no problems and you can have a watch of our demo video to see just what potential customers would see.

The portable player format suits television and film because they, more often than not, are concerned with close-ups which is not the case for well filmed dance. Large ensemble pieces may lose a lot in translation to the very small screen but we tried both Scottish Dance Theater's 'Stronger Than A Flower' and Jasmin Vardimon Company’s ‘Park’ and both worked very well on the miniature screen.

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Getting The Video Right

Getting high quality video of your work is pretty straight forward but it will cost your company a bit of money. Prices vary a great deal depending on who does the shooting and editing and how long your work is. Expect to pay £1,500 GBP to £2,500 GBP to get your finished product filmed and cut to a high standard and ready to go online for selling.

Converting broadcast quality video into a downloadable format compatible with Video iPods and other digital media players is a simple process that your film/video production specialist can prepare after your final video is completed.

Since there is no single standard you will need a variety of formats and sizes but most of the software to do the converting is available either free or for a very low cost if you have to do the conversion yourself. Any video production company worth its salt should be able to convert your finished product into any format you choose and if they can’t, spend your money elsewhere.

Alternatively, you could supply just one version of your video and let your users do the converting but less technically minded customers will appreciate their video being prepared for their particular use.

The quality of your finished video work, when converted to a format that is ready to download, is a subjective point. Suffice to say that the higher the quality of the video the more money it will cost your company to store it online and subsequently deliver it to your customers. Since you are selling a product however it needs to be good enough to justify the price you are asking so this is all about balance.

To sell the video material it would have to be at least three times the quality of the video Article19 uses online. Our videos looks great in a web browser but blow them up to full screen size and the rough edges of compression start to show.

One hour of video material should be approximately 750 Megabytes** in size to be of sufficient quality for playback on a domestic television set, should your customers choose to do so.

If you are selling video for specific formats (like Playstation Portable), then the file sizes will vary.

Sell and Download

One cost of using the internet that is transparent to most users is the cost of bandwidth. Every website on the internet is made up of various files (html pages, images, videos, etc) and each one of those files has a size associated with it. The more complex the file the larger the size of that file and the more money it costs the owner of the website, not the user, to transfer it to the thousands of people reading their web-pages.

High quality web site hosting would set you back about £900-£1000 per year using a company like MediaTemple, based in the United States. That kind of money buys you a high capacity server with the capability to sell approximately 2,500 hours of video every month for a year or 30,000 hours of video in total.

You can pay less for less capacity but if you buy bandwidth in bulk and pay in advance you could save a considerable sum of money if your online sales prove to be popular.***

The technology has existed for years to distribute digital content online and receive payments for that content via credit cards.

Building the website should be a straight forward proposition for most professional web development companies and the costs will vary dramatically depending on how good they are and how much they want to rip you off. It is possible to buy off the shelf e-commerce packages but if you are not comfortable configuring online services then it will probably be quicker and less painful to have professionals do the job for you.

You would have to decide on either the iTunes model, pay once, download once or a system whereby your customers can download a purchased video as many times as they like, but a cart blanche download model is open to abuse. The more complex your purchasing model the more money it is going to cost you to build it.

In order to be successful the online store must be fast and easy to use with purchases being carried out with a couple of clicks followed by a seamless, fast download to the customers computer. Make it work like the iTunes Store and you’re all set, make it work like [ Dance City’s online booking system ] and you’ll be out of business faster than than you can say ‘bankrupt’.

Receiving payments online can be as expensive or cost effective as you wish. Systems like Pay Pal (owned by eBay) are free to set up and charge a small percentage of each transaction made by your customers depending on your monthly sales (3.4% or less). Commercial services will charge a setup fee, monthly subscription costs and percentages on each credit card transaction but they offer a more direct method of support and development assistance, at least in theory.

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Doing the Sums

How much to sell a digital download for is the big question. Too much and nobody will bite, too little and you won’t recoup the investment spent setting it all up and the company won’t make any money from the enterprise.

Apple sells full length feature films from its’ iTunes store for between $10US and $15US (between £5GBP and £8GBP). Major US television shows are sold for just $1.99US per episode (just over £1GBP).

Feature films and television shows have other major sources of revenue that help keep their online purchase cost relatively low. Digital downloads, at the moment, are just additional revenue for the television/film company and they can distribute this content at almost zero cost to themselves.

Full length dance works are a far more specialised piece of content with a much lower global audience. If we were being optimistic and said that a dance company could sell 10,000 videos on a global scale in one year for $10US (£5 GBP) then the company would be looking at $100,000US (£52,000 GBP) in revenue for a twelve month period before subtracting all of the costs involved, if we were being optimistic!

A popular, small-scale dance company could realistically generate that kind of interest given some decent press exposure and good dose of internet buzz in the arts community and larger companies could do even better with a bigger promotional budget and live audience exposure to get the word out.

Online selling would undoubtedly be slow to start with however and it could take 18-24 months before things really started to happen in terms of sales.

One More Hurdle

Since your company made the work then copyright should not be an problem but when we start mixing payments to composers and dancers into the mix it all starts to get more complex.

When a composer learns that you will be selling the work online they will almost certainly want more money for their commission and/or a percentage of all sales. Dancers may expect either a percentage of all sales, or a pay rise to account for increased potential income from the additional exposure of the company’s work.

Percentages could be more lucrative for the composers and dancers and will save the company money to start with. But if the online selling is a big success then potential revenue for the company will be cut and perhaps jeapordise the long term prospects of the company as a whole.

Is It Worth It?

Although setting up an online selling operation will initially be expensive, for a small/mid-scale dance company, the potential benefits could easily cover the costs of providing the service and a lot more besides.

In the current financial climate however companies just don’t have the money to take the risk on spending the thousands of pounds needed to produce professional video content and set-up an online store to sell it hoping that consumers will bite and purchase video material in digital format.

The market for such content is unproven and it will be a brave dance maker that takes the first steps (pardon the pun) into using the internet to generate revenue for their company.

There is little doubt that the general public, in particular the younger generation, have no qualms about buying and using digital content on the move via laptop computers, iPods or PSP’s. Whether or not they will be as receptive to the arts being sold in this way and part with their money is another matter entirely.

Article19 would suggest a pilot project, funded by Arts Council England, involving a couple of the country’s most popular companies, Motionhouse, Jasmin Vardimon Co. or Vincent Dance Theatre perhaps, so that such a system could be set up to explore the potential of online digital sales to generate revenue for the arts.

Who want’s to go first?

** File sizes vary dependent on the content of the video but the combined data rate of the video should be higher than 1,200 k/bits per second, tell your video people that.

*** Although there are much cheaper options available, low cost web hosting is not a good indicator of reliability and stability in when running a video download operation. Web hosting company's need a lot of complex and expensive infrastructure to work effectively and you need to know that when things go wrong they will fix it and fix it fast, especially when revenue is on the line.

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