Why Web Monetization makes me more hopeful about film funding than anything in 22 years since Netribution launched…

Written by Nic Wistreich on . Posted in v3

In 2006 we wrote here about this new idea of crowd-source financing to fund films, which had funded a few short films – a couple of years before IndieGoGo and Kickstarter took off. We'd followed the growth of a new website 'craze' called YouTube, that was making the industry sit up sweaty, followed their first feature filmmakers Arin and Susan and written about alternative exhibition as Secret Cinema was starting in 2008, doing our own small research project at that time – Living Cinema. But none of these, I think, comes slightly close to the potential of Web Monetization , the protocol for decentralised web subscriptions, across film, music and journalism. 

This year, I'll do my best to explain a technology that is still being built, that's not a standard at the Worldwide Web Consortium (tho it's a proposal), that has key features around community moderation and governance still missing, and that currently is used on barely 1,500 websites, with so few people paying to subscribe thru Coil.com you'd be lucky to make the ~£15 we've made this last year across this site and a few others.

But it feels like the start of something that proposes a shift in how media is funded online – from everyone paying with their attention and data to support an advertising industry dependent on surveilence – to subsidising media creation by dripping a stream of payments from those who can afford it as they browse the web invisibly and seemlessly with a browser wallet. It's Charlie Brooker's 'magic coins' idea that he proposed to save journalism 12 years ago. It's open, it's designed to be global, it's being seed-funded well, and over the next year or three, I think will take off if only for the simple reason that the current way media is funded online is such a mess. Hustling hard to get millions of viewers for a video in return for barely the price of a Happy Meal – and – beyond a lucky-few on Patreon, only the hope of becomming a full-time ad-industry sponsored influencer, a Truman Burbank, turning the unique special person that your fans fell in love with, into a full-time QVC lifestyle shopping channel. Which is fine if that's what you want, but maybe there needs to be some other paths for funding video culture online.

Think what it could do for world cinema. Every year, of the approximately 10,000 new feature films that UNESCO says are released, around 2,000 come from Nigeria. Around another 2,000 come from India. And yet Netflix has less than 4,000 feature films IN TOTAL on its platform. Amazon Prime has just over 12,000. Across Hulu, HBO and Disney Plus, according to ReelGood, there's barely 20,000 features on the SVoD platforms – ie two years of cinema releases, or under 3% of the 713,000 features ever made, according to The Movie Databae or 4.5% of IMDB's 470,000 listed. 36 times more money per hour streaming from a web browser wallet, through the curation space that recommended the work, directly back to the filmmaker, with no middle-person beyond perhaps a climate-responsible video streaming provider.

So, for the first time in over a decade since it seemed clear the direction of the web's development, was the explosion of FaceBook and YouTube to monopoly position without a sound revenue model for creators – it feels there's some hope for funding independent media online outside of the major platforms.