SXSW Notes: Burnie Burns Keynote

Loose notes from the SXSW 2006 session: Burnie Burns Keynote

“What happens when you employ video game technology to produce narrative, episodic content? The reigning expert in this form explains the many new possibilities brought forth by this brave new world of machinima.”

Burnie Burns Exec Something, Rooster Teeth Productions – Red vs. Blue

[Missed opening notes on massive bandwidth consumed by Red vs. Blue downloads.]

Red vs. Blue are easter eggs in the game “Halo” that they unlock, and record. Got rejection letters from SXSW and Sundance. The video game engine is treated like a virtual world – everything is seen through the eyes of a character called “Camera” – we never see him. Exploiting the characteristics of game engines for movie making. Edited like a traditional movie. 130 episodes now complete — 500 minutes of content. Lots of things the video are there to hide aspects of the game (a mailbox to hide the gun, e.g.)

On net neutrality: Who owns the cloud? [The internet cloud, not the tagging cloud]. What’s a cloud to one group isn’t a cloud to another. Where did it come from? A lot of the issues come from the old school – the phone companies, the access providers. The Bell System was AT&T. Their logo looks like the Death Star for a reason [funny slides comparing AT&T logo to Star Wars theme… Darth Vader: 0wn3d!] Their gross last year was larger than the GNP of many countries.

Consent Agreement: Others are allowed to produce hardware that works with the phone network. Ma Bell was split up by the government — into the RBOCs. It looked more like a free market. But due to consolidation, we’re back down to a small handful again.

“We, the network builders, are spending a fortune contructing and maintaining the networks that Google intends to ride on with nothing but cheap servers.”

So who owns these clouds that are now raining money? These companies are doing great and sucking massive bandwidth.

Google’s mission statement: “Let’s not make eggs.” (but they do make everything else).

Apple just sold their billionth song online.

So Verizon wants to charge Google and Apple. But what’s going to qualify as a company that’s making enough to be worth charging.

Access providers will find a way to charge for everything: connectivity (as you already are), plus download and upload. But all the money is in porn, so AT&T will have to become an adult entertainment provider, so they’ll have to change their name to AT&A :)

It’s a given that the effect of more online video is lower viewership on TV & Film. So how will TV & film affect the internet? There will be a network for everything. If they can think of it, it will be a network. It costs money to hold a channel.

If a channel finds something that hits, they convert. The network that hit it with American Chopper became the mechanic’s network.

Poltergeists: Little girl looking into the screen of static, off the air. But almost no network goes off the air anymore – we have nostalgia for static, or for the off-air logo.

So now the big content providers are coming to the internet really fast. iTunes, YouTube, Xbox 360 Marketplace.

Compare all the commercial stuff available through iTunes to all the podcasts. A perfect mirror of what we have now: Compare the network programming to the local cable access programming.

Prediction: “The Show Show” will run in a 24-hour loop, promo’ing itself and other episodes of The Show Show and become the first self-reflexive network and collapse into a singularity, and space/time will implode on itself.

The biggest canary in the cage are the VOIP companies: Vonage and Skype. They’re cutting into the phone company business, and simultaneously using the telco’s networks. That’s got to come to a head real fast.

A big content provisioning war is coming, and the small guys are going to go. Where are all the old ISPs we used to use? When we moved from dialup to broadband, all those little ISPs just dried up. So don’t the big guys have an unfair advantage? There is no way anyone can jump in and participate in this market – it’s a closed market, not open.

It will be impossible to separate out access and content – they want both sides of the data business.

Comment: I think you’ve scared the business people in the room, but I don’t think you’ve scared the content creators: We’ll continue to have plenty of avenues.

Maintaining a bunch of cable networks is way more expensive than maintaining a bunch of web sites.

The one thing the internet had right is that it eliminated the problem of distribution (why we have all these film festivals).

Comment: More hybrid P2P mesh networks are growing – won’t that take ownership away from chunks of the cloud, make sections of the network blend together, make it impossible to differentiate / charge for usage of sections of the network? Burns: Don’t think so – it takes proactive effort from the consumer to participate in the mesh, and most people won’t do that.

Comment: What about .torrent networks? What if iTunes had torrent support? How would it affect this access / neutrality problem? Burns: It’s great, but .torrent often pegs the upstream, so there’s a downside to users using it. Some are concerned that because it’s distributed, there’s no way for them to track for advertising purposes. No: If your tracker is set up correctly, you actually can track some of that. When Red vs. Blue tried it, they found that a lot fewer people knew how to use .torrent than they thought – it was a big support hassle. “This .torrent file won’t open in my Windows Media Player!”

The piracy reflex: All the Red vs. Blue stuff is totally free, but people still pirate it.

Comment: Why isn’t internet usage metered like water and gas? Why are we paying flat fees rather than per kb or per minute? Then the pricing could become much more evenly distributed. Internet businesses pay for large bandwidth by usage, why not residential?

We found our audience online. If we had gone the film festival rooute and tried to sell Red vs. Blue in the traditional way, I have no doubt we never would have made it.

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