Amazon Video Direct Lowers Prime Streaming Royalty

I’ve pretty much told everyone who will listen that if you’re a filmmaker doing short films, AVD, not Youtube, is the place to be. Especially since the new YPP policy at Youtube is about to take effect. I have made way, way more off a few short films on Amazon Video than I ever did off of Youtube.

Apparently Amazon woke up to how sweet the deal was, and has just announced that they are drastically reducing the royalty rate for videos watched through Amazon Prime streaming.

Previously videos watched with Prime got $0.15 per hour of video watched (In the US). Titles submitted through AVD had a maximum cap royalty of $75,000 per year per title.

Some people were upset about that cap. But to reach it your video had to be streamed for 500,000 hours. If you’ve got content that popular, it might be time to work with a distributor that can bypass the Amazon Video Direct system and go directly with Amazon.

The new royalty rates eliminate that cap. Which is good, I guess. And the new rates are for all territories. Not just the US. The new rate is what AVD paid for other territories outside the US. And while the rate drops a lot, you can earn higher rates if your videos are watched a lot.

The new rates are tiered based on hours of viewing PER TITLE. Up to 99,999 hours you get $0.06 per hour. That’s right, the rate drops by almost 2/3 in the US. This will put me right about the Youtube payment range. Most short films will never hit this amount of viewing time.

If you have 100,000 hours of viewing, the rate increases to $0.10 per hour. Over 500,000 hours and you’re back to $0.15 per hour. But cross 1,000,000 hours and you drop back to $0.06 again.

In order to reach the $0.15 per hour rate again, you have to have 500,000 hours of viewing. So the cap is gone, but it takes longer to hit $75,000.

($75,000 in royalties? Who are we kidding? How many indie filmmakers hit 500,000 hours of viewing on Amazon?)

A 5 minute long short film would need to be watched in its entirety 1,200,000 times in a year before that title could make $0.10 per viewing hour, which is still 1/3 less than the original royally. A 2 hour movie would need to be watched 50,000 times to hit that same royalty rate.

So, why? Why is Amazon doing this? Here’s what they say:

“The tiered structure allows us to align the Prime Subscription Access rate with the level of customer engagement generated by each individual title or season (more engaging titles earn a higher royalty rate). By doing so, we offer a few advantages for providers, including elimination of the title-level annual earnings cap and expanded earnings potential in territories outside the U.S.”

I get it. I’ve seen some bad videos on Amazon Prime. And even though I have short films on Amazon, I know most people don’t sit down at the TV and look for short films. So Amazon is making it less lucrative for creators who pump out bad or short content, and focusing on content that keeps viewers engaged for longer; because it’s good enough that people watch more of it and because it’s literally longer.

But, man it stinks for short film creators. Up to this point AVD was a good way to make a little extra cash for your efforts. Not major money, but better than the alternatives. Now that Youtube has put the clamp on casual creators, AVD is still the best outlet for short content. But the paycheck is about to get a lot smaller than it already was.

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Mid Life Calling – Year 2

It’s hard to say the exact date when I realized God’s call on my life had changed. Do you time such things by the moments you actually do something? Or the times you think something? Was it the first time I realized religious TV had to change in order to survive, in order to have an audience with younger generations? Was it when i came up with a show idea or 10? When I decided to create something different? It feels more like it should be from the times I decided to change my career.

I don’t remember the exact day my wife looked at me and said that maybe it was time to have the talk with my boss. Or the exact day I had that meeting. Or the week everything was agreed on. It must have been sometime around April/May. My last day in the office was the 21st of that June. So let’s say it was my birthday, April 4th. That’s as good a day as any.

So, today. 42 years old. 2 years into a mid life calling. It’s not a crisis. Not always. In fact, in the beginning, it never was. I didn’t get a new car. (although I would like a sporty convertible. What is up with that? So cliche, but still true.) I wish I could say that everything had been amazing and wonderful. It has been very interesting.

Sometimes people say that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. That’s bunk. Lots of times following God takes you through some scary, dangerous, hard pathways. I know. The biggest lesson we have learned is to trust God. Before this I always had a job with a steady paycheck, we always had security. And that was just fine. But during this time, every bill has been paid on time. God has been faithful.

There are days when I wonder when I will give up. When I will say, forget this dream, go back to something you know will pay the bills. What’s it worth?

But, we have accomplished a lot. 10 episodes of an award winning Christian sitcom completed and broadcast around the world for an amazingly low amount of money. Short film scripts and feature scripts done. Ideas of new shows. Contacts and relationships developed.

I recently went to a “meet up” with a group of fellow dreamers. I met them online through an author/speaker named Jon Acuff. He was in town, and one morning we gathered in the lobby of a local hotel. Here most of us are. At one point there was about 15 of us. I’m in the back row, middle, peering over a shoulder.

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In the conversation I asked how to overcome obstacles and not get discouraged. Jon told us that a lot of time we just don’t give our dreams enough time. We often expect things to happen on our own time table. But it takes a lot longer than we think.

So 2 years in… I’m not where I want to be. But I am a lot closer.

Blame Entertainment, Then Tell Your Own Story

I recently read “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV” by Ben Shapiro. He outlines the history of TV, and the messages we see in primetime. As I finished the book I was reminded of the power of store to impact people, and that the author/screenwriter/director/producer’s worldview is the basis for the stories we see in entertainment.

And that is why Western Civilization is where it is today.

The power of story.

Story takes the worldview of the creator/author of the story and makes it into something people will accept, ingest, maybe even adopt. Messages couched in entertainment are more powerful than speeches. A speech can reinforce an attitude or belief, but it will rarely change a mind. But a heartfelt story can go a long way toward changing a heart, and a mind.

A long time ago I took a class on Persuasion. One of the things I learned was that some attitudes and beliefs are harder to change that others. Moving from the position of not liking wheat bread to liking wheat bread is much easier than moving from liking gay marriage to not liking gay marriage. Attitude and beliefs that are more central to who people are, that people identify as self defining, are much harder to change. And they take a long time to change.

I’ve been alive long enough to have seen some of those deep attitudes and beliefs change. There are things that are accepted today that never would have been accepted 20 years ago. And that’s not completely a bad thing. Some things needed to change. But not everything.

Going back to Shapiro’s book, the people that make our entertainment, that tell the stories our culture consumes, primarily have one set of values. They have very similar world views, and their stories reflect that. Their characters interact with the world based on how they see it. When they come into a conflict, they act, and the worldview of the creator is shown to be true in the show.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s natural. Jesus never told a story that wasn’t based in his worldview. I will never tell one that’s not based in mine. You could claim that sometimes they go out of their way to put characters in situations that undermine an opposing worldview, but Christian story tellers do that all the time. That’s what evangelistic films are. Over time, our culture is gradually adopting and accepting the worldview presented in our stories.

If we Christians ever hope to influence our culture, to see people with a biblical worldview, to see the Gospel spread, it’s true… we must learn to be great storytellers. But things don’t stop there. We must take those skills and put them to use in entertainment. If you want to change the world, don’t go into politics. In today’s politically landlocked climate, legislation doesn’t change the world. Entertainment changes the world, or at least Western Civilization.

Watershed

Watershed: A ridge line that splits drainage areas, or an important point of division or transition between two phases, conditions, etc.

Today is a watershed day.

As I blogged earlier in the week, I’m leaving church media ministry for … media ministry. For over 10 years I have been in full time employment at a church, doing the work of media ministry. I’ve seen God do some pretty spectacular things in this time.

Starting tomorrow I won’t be coming into an office every day. I will be working on the next thing God has called me to do.

There will be some things I won’t miss at all, and some I will. The biggest thing I will miss is seeing a project of eternal significance grow from an idea into an experience used by God every week. I will still see that happen in my new work, but not every single week.

Meanwhile I’ve made some great progress on the show this week. Got some new things I hope to get rolled out next week, when I actually have the time to work on it. And on the tent-making side if things, I landed a freelance gig this weekend. God is continuing to affirm this course for us.

So this is it. I’ve got a few more things to finish up, so I gotta’ go.

Will the NRB Survive?

A few days ago I attended the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. (Before I continue, let me repeat what I have said before: the public policy work that the NRB does is invaluable to Christian communicators and supporters of free speech in America. That alone is worth the membership fees.) This year’s convention was very different for me. As the serving Chair of the Church Media Committee, I was an ex-officio board member, and had to go to several extra meetings I normally did not attend. One of those was the board meeting, where I sat in a room with some of the pioneers of Christian broadcasting. As I looked around the room a couple of thoughts ran through my head. As I realized I was the youngest person in the room I wondered, “Who are the next generation of leaders in Christian communication? And why aren’t any of them here?”

Now, these people are smart and driven. And they have truly done and continue to do, eternally significant work. But the NRB, like many organizations of it’s age, is a bit of a good old boys club. And for several years it has been declining. There are several reasons for that, but the outcome is the same. The NRB is dying just like Christian TV. Two years ago I actually went to my Church Media Committee meeting to resign, and not look back.

But in that meeting I learned that the NRB was making some pretty major changes to the convention program. So, not only did I stay on, but I ended up serving as the chair of the committee. And we spent the first part of the year talking about what we would like to see changed. And were pleased to see many of our ideas were heard.

I’d love to say that every change worked, but not everything did. I’m sure we will be tweaking. I handed off the chairmanship of the committee, but will still be working on it. I hope things improve.

My fear is that the perception of NRB will continue to be that it is an association for older broadcasters who like to dress in three suits. There are a few people that dress down, or wear jeans with their sport jackets and such. I was proud to wear my name badge with the extra flags on the bottom, especially the Board of Directors one, with jeans and an untucked shirt. Not just because I had a bit of rebellion in my heart about the general dress of attendees, but because I wanted younger people to see that there are a few people on the board that are not from the same mold. The same mold is what we need to keep changing.

I have written before about the future of religious broadcasting. I strongly believe that it must change or it will die off. I believe that the NRB can and will continue to shift toward the future and continue to be an association worthy of membership. It’s a lot like turning a large ship with a small rudder. I just hope we can get on the right course before we sink.

Change

“Within 12 months you are going to fire me.”

My boss looked up in surprise. I continued, “You will, unless we change things before then.”

It was the first week of January, 2011, and our first meeting of the year. We were both returning from our respective holiday vacations, and I had taken some time to evaluate what I was doing. What I saw was trouble on the horizon.

When I first started at First Orlando, the Media and Communications ministries were separate. A short time after I joined the staff, the Communications Pastor was called to another church, Leaving an opening. About six months and a lot of conversation later, we restructured the Media and Communications Ministry areas. it was loosely configured into three strands: creative, experiential, and informational. Experiential included the parts that dealt with the experience of ministry and extending the ministry experience outside the walls of the church. Informational covered the ways people learned about the various ministry opportunities of the church. Creative was concerned with creative a consistent look and feel for elements needed to service the experiential and informational aspects. Generally, media and tech fell into Experiential while Creative and Informational fell into communications. There was overlap, but generally that was true.

Fast forward 3 years. The structure was still in place, but had been weakened by a few rounds of layoffs. The recession hit central Florida pretty hard. Every ministry across the church was affected. I had lost four full time employees and seen two full time jobs converted to part time. It was apparent that we were not going to return to previous staffing levels. Things were fine for a while, mainly because everyone was reeling from the reductions. The support ministries I was overseeing did not have nearly the amount of workload we had previously seen. But I knew that as the economy rebounded, so would the amount of work required to support new ministry initiatives. In fact, it was already building. I could see the cracks starting to form.

The long and short of it was that the current structure would not withstand the coming onslaught of work. We would either need to shore it up with more staff (Which wasn’t going to happen) or change the structure. So, I began to have very frank discussions with my supervisor and the Strategic Team member over Human Resources and Personnel. These were not comfortable conversations. I have both a BS and an MA in media and communications related fields. I had been doing this work for a decade. I know how to do it, but I was watching myself start to fail in leading these ministries. Most people wouldn’t notice the mistakes and missed items, but I saw them. I figured that if I put in another 15-20 hours of work each week I could keep everything going. But at what cost to my family?

It is very frustrating to be hemmed in by circumstances beyond your control. I did not have the power to change most of those circumstances, but I could change something. So we talked, and prayed, and thought. A few weeks ago I told my boss that I did not want to wait until there was some sort of major failure or mistake. If we thought that the changes we had outlined were strategic for future success, we should initiate them now. A few days later one of the Communications team members took another job. I knew that if the structure were going to shift, the new supervisors should be the ones to fill the vacancy. So this became the catalyst to shift responsibilities.

After seven months of conversations, the shift happened in less than two weeks. Communications shifted to the Support Ministry limb of the staff tree (under Administration), with a couple small parts splitting off. Media and tech remained on the worship limb. I put in for new business cards without the word “Communications” on them. Basically, I’ve gone back to what I was originally hired to do.

It’s weird. I spent the better part of two days giving away significant job responsibilities.

I had to deal with some pride issues. Frankly, any time someone has responsibilities taken away from them, the assumption is that they were removed because the leader could no longer handle the duties. In this case, that is technically true. I was the one pointing that out. The person pushing this was me. Still, I can’t take five minutes to explain why this is a good idea to everyone. So I know that people will be filling in the holes with their own guesses. I had to shove that part of my pride down for the good of the organization.

People don’t understand it. If another person says that we are doing this so I can be in my “sweet spot” I may slap them. While I will have time to do things I have not been able to do for a few years, that wasn’t the primary reason for this. I like a lot of things about the work of communicating effectively.

I still have not completely comprehended the full impact of this change. I keep remembering things I won’t have to do anymore. I experienced much more frustration related to communications than media. For every time I heard a complaint about something tech related, I received 20 related to communications. Most people don’t assume they know how to run a sound board, but those same people communicate every single day. With tech, as long as you provide the microphone, screen or projector for their class, people are happy. In communications you get to explain why their class of 20 people doesn’t get top billing in publicity pieces.

So I should have more time. I can finally fix some things and develop some things in media ministry. I’d like to think I might work less, but things don’t normally go that way. Still, I will have more time to work on my own dreams, to develop my show ideas. I’ve just got to get adjusted to the new reality.

Championed Change

No one likes to have change imposed on them. People resist change.

It’s human nature. The status quo. Our comfort zone. The feeling that we know what how the world is, and we have some control over it. Change threatens that.

It doesn’t matter what the change is, if it is imposed on us, we resist it.

So how do those of us that are tasked with driving change accomplish it?

The best way to drive change is to create champions of change. People who are convinced that the change they are experiencing is for the better champion it. They voice their support for it. They accept it. They embrace it, and encourage others to do the same.

Creating champions of change is difficult. It cannot be done with coercion. That is, you cannot simply tell a subordinate to execute the change and get a champion. You may get the change, but it won’t be easy.

For example, this year we did VBS differently. For years we have done the traditional Vacation Bible School thing; bringing hundred (even thousands) of kids to the church, put on a big show, teach them about the Bible, present the Gospel. There were always good results, kids got saved.

With the advent of Adventure Quest, our children’s church service, we pretty much do that every week now. What was troubling to our children’s ministry leaders was that very few children who did not already have a church home came. Last year we had about 50 of the almost 2000 kids who were not already part of a church. That’s 2.5%.

So the children’s pastor lead his team to take VBS to the community this year. We did not do our normal VBS at the church. We had smaller “Expedition Clubs” at 10 locations around the city. Six of them were held at inner city parks. There was no big event at the church building.

This created no small amount of complaint and criticism. Anyone and everyone associated with the church has heard at least one person react critically to this decision.

To deal with this the children’s pastor had several meetings to talk about why and how this new VBS plan would work. He explained the demographics of the city, the effectiveness of what we had done in the past, and what we could do. In short, we are uniquely positioned to reach a segment of the population that most churches can’t or won’t.

I for one emerged from one of those meetings ready to champion this new change. When I encountered questions or criticism of the new idea, I freely voiced my support, and presented information about why this change was a good thing.

Why? I was persuaded that this change was for the best. It was obviously something God put into the hearts of our children’s ministry workers. The facts were concrete. I was convinced we must make this effort.

When it was all done, we had over 750 kids involved. Less than half what we had last year. But, over 550 of those have no connection to any church. Many had never heard the Gospel before. The most basic information about the Bible, God and Jesus was unknown to them. We built relationships with inner city kids. We loved on them. They loved on us. They learned that God loved them enough to send his son to die for their sins.

Would we have done VBS this way regardless of opposition? Probably. But why? Creating champions of change is really creating partners. Why wouldn’t you do that if you could?

The Tipping Point

Yesterday my family of five traveled over 920 miles by car. It was pretty much my limit of driving in one day with children. They did very well. Almost no fighting or crying. We don’t even travel with a DVD player. Amazing trip. We left very early in the morning and arrived very early the next morning. We drove through ran and traffic, and flat Florida landscape.

We did not start out with the plan to do that. We wanted to get south of Atlanta and find a hotel. We hit Atlanta right at rush hour, and pushed on. We made it through and decided to try for Macon. And then we kept going. Somewhere between Macon and Voldosta it became silly to consider stopping, paying for a hotel, just to get up and drive such a short distance the next day.

Somewhere we reached a point where the cost of stopping became more than the cost of continuing. At that point, we never looked back. (We did look for a Sonic that was still open, but…)

Driving change in any organization is a series of tipping points. There comes a point in each process that where it is harder to go back than to keep going forward. As a leader, I sometimes feel like my whole job is giving little pushes, as processes approach the tipping point.

For example, when we were considering producing a 30-minute TV program, we talked about it for a while. Months, in fact. We talked about content, and production, and cost and outlets. But we only talked about it. Last year we were given a major opportunity regarding a 30-minute program. We were on the brink. We just needed a little shove. I went back to my team, we talked, and I put together a proposal that was presented. Not only did we take the opportunity offered, but we added a second outlet. It was always a good idea. But we had never been so close to the tipping point before. One little push, and almost a year later it is harder to stop doing the 30-minute program than to keep doing it.

What ideas are approaching the tipping point in your ministry? Are you ready to push a little?