Author Archives: Frank Capria

New MacBooks and MacBook Pros

MacBook ProNice updates all. Speed bump, RAM bump, nice Nvidea card, and the very elegant new track pad. For about a year and a half, my main box has been a MacBook Pro with a 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo and 2 GB or RAM. When the Intel-based MacBook Pros were first announced, I wrote an article for DV Magazine exploring whether that generation of laptop could do serious studio work in the high definition era.

With outboard I/O solutions like Io HD and the Matrox MXO (output only), and an Express34 eSATA card, the machine has chugged along quite nicely. I’ve only missed my towers when compressing large amounts of video to H.264 or MPEG-2.

A couple more gigabytes of RAM and a 25% quicker processor makes for an even nicer notebook. I had been in the market for a Mac Pro — mostly to assist in compression, but it would also take over as the primary Final Cut Pro or Avid box. The older tower would be put out to pasture on eBay.

Now I’m leaning towards adding a new MacBook Pro. Compression can be sped up with some network rendering. And another laptop adds to our flexibility — one more mobile editing system for location work or on-site consulting. The kicker is that notebooks hold their value much better than towers after 2 years.

Entertaining blog

Oliver Peters of DV and Videography turned me on to this amusing blog. Screenwriting from Iowa is kind of the Ulysses of blogs. It takes a bit of time to get through the posts, but it’s often worth it.

Smith’s most recent post on infomercials and gurus hit remarkably close to home.

Infomercials never touch on how hard it is to make money because infomercials work emotionally on how easy things are to do. They skip showing the scenes of Rocky running up the stairs and pounding the beef. Instead they pound the testimonials of how much money people say they have made until you hear what you want to hear. The executive producer where I worked was fond of saying, “There is no such thing as over-the-top in infomercials.”

And he goes on to make the link between a successful infomercial and a guru.

Basically [infomercials] touch on our deepest longings in life to look good, feel healthy, and have money. You want to believe the infomercials, that’s why they work.

Here’s the problem as it applies to screenwriting seminars. We want to believe they will give us the missing link and make us a better writer. Many writers are like crack addicts thinking the next book, workshop, audio series, writing software will make them a better writer. Just one more hit off the pipe and we’ll quit.

There are no “missing links.” It’s hard work, a tireless drive to the goal that will get the aspiring screenwriter, videographer, or editor where s/he wants to go. The Red camera’s not going to get your feature into distribution, a big monitor and Color won’t make you a sought after colorist. I’m not above looking for the short cut — whether it’s the $199 plug-in to solve a motion graphics challenge, or the $60,000 degree to get me hired into senior management.

The trick isn’t avoiding those tools. It’s just not expecting too much from them. That new plug-in still requires you to RTFM, and that degree needs to be backed up with experience. Just as you have to spend a day or two with a new plug-in, be prepared to invest years honing the skills you’ll pick up in a workshop or a degree program. That’s OK because it’s about the journey since so few of us know the destination.

And be wary of those gurus and pundits who spend more time talking than doing. If we had the answers we’d be too busy making money to share them.

Announcing ProVideoCoalition.com

This blog’s about two and a half years-old. I have no recollection why I started it. It just seemed to happen, and I fully expected that I’d sooner rather than later lose interest in it. Though I’ve gone through a few dry patches, I’ve been remarkably consistent in this endeavor (at least by my standards).

It’s relatively easy to transition from magazine writing to blogging. Once you’re on the PR firm’s mailing list, you’ll remain there, and my years at DV Magazine got me on a lot of lists. I still had access to the key personnel at the major players in our business, so I got a few scoops.

I also made a few mistakes. Some entries weren’t properly sourced. Other entries often came off more harshly than intended. What I didn’t have as an independent blogger was an editor — that extra set of eyes reading the copy and asking, “Do you really want to say it that way?” At DV I had one of the best in the business in Jim Feeley.

Bloggers don’t usually have the luxury of a publisher. Someone pounding the pavement to keep the money flowing, so we can all afford to do this. Google AdWords just don’t cut it. At DV I had Scott Gentry. A real class act who never asked the writers to pull punches out of concern over angering advertisers. He knew that if readers valued our work advertisers would have to come along. All he demanded was that we be fair.

At DV I also had a stable of colleagues who were so good at what they did that my reputation was enhanced by having my name on the next page. When I started writing for DV I was in awe of Chris and Trish Meyer, Adam Wilt, Mark Christiansen, and, later on, Bruce Johnson. The late 1990s and into the early part of this decade was the heyday of DV. We were a great team, sharing perspectives and sometimes sources.

As much as I enjoy the freedom of being writer, editor, and publisher of my blog, I much preferred my situation at DV. So when Scott Gentry offered me a spot on ProVideoCoalition.com, I jumped at the chance to be reunited with my DV band mates. Ever wary that the reunion tour often fails to live up to expectations, Scott’s invited some new blood — most notably Mike Curtis of HDforIndies, and he’s built a mechanism for new blood to continue to be infused.

Going forward, my primary blog will live at ProVideoCoalition.com/index.php/fcapria. This blog will be renamed “Even More Capria.” It will be a little more off-topic, a little more personal.

PVC gives me the resources to put more time into my writing. It will provide me more access to key thinkers in our space. I hope you join me over there. Links to my RSS feed and to the home pages are below, and will be featured in the right sidebar here.

Xprove 2.0

Launch a subscription-based web business and just let the money roll in, right?

My education in entrepreneurship continues. All the pre-launch market research in the world is out the window once the service is up and running. When offering a new, unfamiliar service people answer surveys as best they can. Once they’ve had a chance to take version 1.0 for a spin, new wants and needs emerge.

When we launched Xprove back in November 2006, we didn’t offer free accounts. We figured a 30-day free trial would be enough of a test drive. Sign up, enter your credit card information, and you won’t be billed for a month. Cancel before then, and you won’t get billed at all. Simple enough, right? No. People don’t give out their credit card info before you establish their trust. We weren’t Amazon or The Wall Street Journal. Who could be sure that we weren’t going to flee extradition with scores of Visa accounts in our possession?

Actually, we have no access to an individual’s credit card information beyond the last 4 digits and the expiration date. And even if we pulled off the scam, the credit card processor would make us wish we’d crossed Tony Soprano instead.

So we had to offer Free Accounts. No credit card necessary. And it worked. Hundreds signed up the first month, and almost a third became paying customers since. So now the business model has proven itself viable. Sit back and just let the money roll in, right?

Not quite. It turns out that in the Internet age customers expect services to improve and prices to go down. Every time you launch Gmail you have a few more megabytes of free storage. Thanks Google.

So we’ve added new features to Xprove based on what customers told us they wanted. Some of the features are what you’d expect video pros to demand — HD capabilities, more storage and bandwith, and a more streamlined user interface. But some really surprised us.

It turns out that many of our customers don’t use Xprove for review and approve. They use it as a simple and inexpensive substitute for FTP. Unlike many of the file transfer services available online, Xprove has no limit on file sizes beyond your total storage allocation, and it has no limits on downloads so long as you don’t exceed your monthly bandwidth limits. So a large part of this upgrade was devoted to improving our FTP services.

Xprove’s turned out to be a lot more work than we ever thought it would be. When you’re offering a service that stands between a professional and his or her clients, nothing short of perfection is acceptable. You don’t get one mistake. You can’t tell a customer that the problem is operator error — you have to make it so simple that there is no operator error.

Without a doubt, Xprove has been the biggest professional challenge of all our lives, but it’s all worth it when you get emails like this:

In case not enough people tell you this already, this service is absolutely great. My clients even understand how to use it.

Or when someone posts a job on a mailing list that includes this:

Familiarity or openness with Xprove is a plus!

We did it. We’re not on a beach in the Carribean living off our subscription revenues, but we achieved our main goal. We make our customers’ stressful days just a little less stressful. Totally cool. Sometimes we monitor the usage logs to see how many videos are being uploaded or viewed. It’s a rush. (Especially Friday afternoons when everybody’s just trying to get to the weekend.)

If you’ve read this far, you might as well give Xprove a try. Did I mention it’s free?

Apple TV, Open Television Network, and the independent

As a consumer device, Apple TV is a typical first generation technology endeavor. Basically Apple took the iPod formula and applied it to IPTV — create a basic, no frills piece of hardware in an elegant wrapper, but give it a best in class UI.

This approach worked for the iPod because an easy to use MP3 player had an easily understandable value proposition to consumers. People wanted these devices, but the market was doing a terrible job meeting those needs. The iPod swooped in and took control of the market.

There’s not a lot of pent up demand for an IPTV device because

  1. No one knows what IPTV is.
  2. Very few people want another set top box (STB) clutter their living rooms.
  3. Video on demand (VOD) and pay per view (PPV) are doing a solid job of filling Apple TV’s niche.
  4. There’s always NetFlix.

Mike Curtis over at ProVideoCoalition.com did a nice review on the latest Apple TV update, and linked to some interesting information on Apple TV as a consumer device. No need to recap that. Instead, let’s look at what Apple TV’s success or failure means to independent content creators.

IPTV can be the great equalizer for independents. It has the potential to distribution affordable for even the smallest players. Unfortunately the iTunes store is not independent-friendly. Apple’s been unwilling to adopt the Amazon and Yahoo! models of renting space to retailers. If you’re not big media, you’re not welcome in iTunes — unless you’re willing to give your content away. That means adopting an ad-based model, and that means more work for the independent producer.

Enter the Open Television Network

OTN logo The recently launched Open Television Network takes care of all the e-commerce infrastructure, so independents can sell content for download. Once an Open Television account has been created, to the user, it’s just like buying through iTunes. Very elegant.

The content owner supplies his or her own storage, gets a listing in the Open Television index, and is free to market independently. To date it’s the most open, elegant, and affordable means of delivering IPTV content available to content owners. Open Television takes a very reasonable 15% cut of sales. Try getting a deal like that with a traditional distributor.

Whether Open Television becomes the dominant platform or not, it has opened up IPTV to the independent.

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