Joss Whedon Talks about the Business Models behind “Dr. Horrible” (and More)

drhorrible-lab-w520.jpgMany industry watchers have been closely monitoring the progress of Joss Whedon’s independently-produced musical comedy, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along blog.” As I’ve discussed in the past, by simultaneously exploring various schemes for generating revenue, Dr. Horrible serves as something of a case study for using the Internet to distribute original video content. The details of how well the project is doing have only been hinted at, however, with Whedon giving encouraging, but vague, accounts of the initiative’s success to date.

Knowledge@Wharton just published an interview I did with Whedon in which he provides additional details about the motivations and the outcomes of this experiment in self distribution.

According to Whedon, the basic production costs of “filming the thing, and getting the locations, props and everything” ran “a little over $200,000.” While the cast and writers initially donated their time, Whedon points out that “you’ve got to pay your day-to-day crew.”

Whedon also discloses how much revenue the project has generated to date, declaring that, as of January 2009, the project has returned “about twice…the original budget.”

In terms of how the various distribution channels have fared, Whedon states:

iTunes has been a great boon for us. And the DVD has done quite well — although I’d love to bump that up more. Streamed [online video] with advertising is probably the smallest revenue. Whether that’s a viable monetization scheme…is the question. In some ways it acts as an advertisement and in some ways it might be pulling people away from bothering to download it or to buy the DVD.

Whedon devised backend payment schedules for the creative and business professionals who initially donated their time. In doing so, he is attempting to create a model for future projects like this:

[W]e were trying to find rates for Internet materials. In some cases they didn’t exist. We used models that had been created by the [Writers] Guild for repurposed, or reused, material that we used for original [content], because this had never come up before.

Whedon feels a sense of urgency to establish a new system of revenue sharing between the studios and creative professionals because, in his view, the current situation is unacceptable:

For [the studios] not to offer the creative community a percentage of what they make — they say, “oh, it’s too difficult” and “we’re not going to make any money” — is disingenuous to the point of criminality. […]

Ultimately, they have the power. They have the advertising dollars, they have the distribution systems and they’re a force to be reckoned with. I would like to [sit] at the table as an equal, and not as one of the goddamn serfs who is giving them all my goddamn grain.

The complete interview is available at Knowledge@Wharton:

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