Warner Bros. Turns A Kickstarter Success Story Into A Flaming Mess With Proprietary Platforms And DRM

from the how-not-to-do-it dept

Almost exactly a year ago, we wrote about a rather encouraging development in filmmaking, highlighting the story of Warner Bros. film studio working out a deal with the producer and actors of the popular Veronica Mars TV show, that if they could prove demand for a film via Kickstarter, Warner Bros. would fund the rest of the film. Basically, Warner Bros. had been unconvinced that there was enough demand for a movie to finance it upfront. But, with tools like Kickstarter today, you can prove demand upfront, taking away a big part of the risk. And that’s exactly what happened, as the project raised over the $2 million target very quickly, and eventually brought in $5.7 million. Part of what was interesting about this was it showed how movie studios could actually embrace crowdfunding as well, creating some interesting hybrid models that don’t always involve some studio head deciding what people will and won’t like.

The movie came out last week to very good reviews… but leave it to Warner Bros. to totally muck it up, screw over the goodwill from all those backers and scare people off from such future collaborations. That’s because one of the popular tiers promised supporters that they would get a digital download of the movie within days of it opening. But, of course, this is a major Hollywood studio, and due to their irrational fear of (oh noes!) “piracy” they had to lock things down completely. That means that backers were shunted off to a crappy and inconvenient service owned by Warner Bros called Flixster, which very few people use, and then forced to use Hollywood’s super hyped up but dreadful DRM known as UltraViolet.

The end result? A complete disaster for the film’s biggest fans and supporters:

“My first and last time using Flixster or Ultraviolet,” Jennifer Gottried wrote. “Not happy about what a pain the digital “download” is, but loved the movie!” Carolyn O’Neill said she felt “ripped off,” adding “I will not be supporting anything VMars related in the future, and may never support a similar Kickstarter project again.”

Others labeled Flixster “unreliable,” “crap,” “slow” and “punishing.” There are those who downloaded the movie without a hiccup, and those who did have been effusive in their praise. Yet the majority expressed dismay….

Reading through the comments shows an awful lot of angry folks, with lots of blame being directed at Flixster, and some people angry that the creator of Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas, let this happen. He eventually posted that while he had “hoped” that Warner Bros. would allow more options, “unfortunately, it just wasn’t possible. In the end, Flixster was the best option for getting the digital movie reward out to all of you, worldwide, at the same time.” There may be something to do with regional restrictions, yet in the comments, you see people claim that when they tried to get their digital copy, they were told, “Sorry, the redemption code you have entered is not valid for the territory you are currently trying to redeem from.” So, it’s not clear how Flixster actually solves that global issue. Multiple people in the comments note that they eventually just gave up getting the authorized version and hit up unauthorized sources instead.

Eventually, Warner Bros. announced that it would provide refunds to backers who had trouble getting the digital download, which seems like the least it could do, given the situation. But, the end result appears to have left a sour taste in a lot of peoples’ mouths. So, way to go, legacy Hollywood, for taking an exciting success story of internet-empowered opportunity, and destroying it with crappy and lame proprietary platforms and restrictive DRM. Once again, you show how to screw up just about every opportunity handed to you.

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Companies: flixster, kickstarter, warner bros.

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Comments on “Warner Bros. Turns A Kickstarter Success Story Into A Flaming Mess With Proprietary Platforms And DRM”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Hanlon's razor at work?

?I will not be supporting anything VMars related in the future, and may never support a similar Kickstarter project again.?

Given the studios really hate services like Kickstarter for providing creators means of funding that doesn’t require them to sign all of their rights over, I have to wonder if part of what drove this latest disaster was an attempt at poisoning the well for other creators looking to get funding for their films, funding which, being crowdsourced, wouldn’t come with tons of ‘strings’ other than ‘provide backers, and others, with film when finished’.

A few bait-and-switch ‘projects’ like this, and you’d likely have a whole bunch of people swearing off movie/film kickstarter projects altogether(although a smarter move would be to do the same, but limit it to just studio-based projects).

It’s either that, or just another indication that the major studios and those that run them are just as brain dead, and full of contempt for their ‘customers’ as ever I suppose.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hanlon's razor at work?

Over the years I have learned that there is no low that those kinds of people won’t sink to, no action too hostile to the consumer/customer that they won’t consider, and no level of self-centerdness considered ‘too much’.

Yes I may be cynical, but when dealing with people like that, it’s all but impossible not to be.

Ninja (profile) says:

There are those who downloaded the movie without a hiccup, and those who did have been effusive in their praise

I will reproduce one of the insanely prize-y comments:

I’m a truck driver from [insert impossibly named countryside town with barely any broadband] and I loved Ultraviolet, it’s so good to have a crippled digital file! Oh, the movie is good too. All in all it was amazing experience taking it up in the ass!

Old MacDonnald


Violynne (profile) says:

The worst part of this experience? We’re the people who financed a good portion of the movie.

Even as investors, we’re treated like criminals.

Once bitten, twice shy, as I will never again back a project if Hollywood has its greedy fingers anywhere on the project.

I feel incredible pity for Rob Thomas, who saw his dream come true only to have Warner Bros. drop its pants on the entire thing.

Let’s hope next time, Thomas distributes the movie on YouTube and stays the hell away from Hollywood “distributors”.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Even if he raised all the money from Kickstarter, Warner Brothers still owns the rights to making a sequel, and still would control all distribution. This should have been expected from the start.

The indie film movement of the 90s proved that you didn’t need Hollywood to make films, but Hollywood has done everything they can to control film distribution. That’s why indie films are largely confined to film festivals, where they hope to get bought by Hollywood’s faux indie distributors.

The internet is a direct threat to Hollywood’s distribution system, but aside from Netflix it has yet to topple Hollywood’s iron grip on the American film industry, and probably won’t as long as people fall for Hollywood’s marketing hype and go to see awful sequels and subscribe to cable.

mcinsand (profile) says:


I used to buy a lot of music and go to movies regularly, but the entertainment industry’s antics of the past decade or so have drastically changed that. I’m not downloading illegally; it’s just that the entertainment value is diminished by the fact that it comes from an industry that assumes that I am guilty until proven innocent. Let’s say that you’re in school, and the schoolyard bully plays a great lead guitar in a garage band. Would you still enjoy his music on the weekend if he’s pounding you during the week?

I still enjoy video games, although I won’t allow anything from EA on my computer or phone.

NovaScotian says:

As a guy who all too frequently encountered DRMed regional barriers I’ve given up attempting to view any video clips or movie clips that originate in the USA. Seems that’s what MPAA/RIAA wants. Too bad Kickstarter doesn’t get that — they shouldn’t accept donations from foreign regions. We’re all known bad guys in the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

i wonder how long this sort of behavior is going to be allowed to continue? how long before Congress realises that not only are existing businesses being forced to close but new businesses are being prevented from starting because of the ridiculous and selfish moves of the entertainment industries which have been backed up by shortsightedness on the pats of Congressional members? the entertainment industries create an incredible amount of revenue, but because of what it does (Hollywood Accounting) and what it is allowed to do by way of laws and threats, instigated and introduced by these Congressional members, there is almost none of that revenue declared as earnings, so almost no tax is paid. almost all artists participating and therefore due to be paid by the industries, get nothing! that is achieved by the setting up of false companies who magically take all the earnings, leaving nothing!
the new start ups that dont happen and recent start ups that are forced to close down are prevented from loading the government coffers with tax dollars. a whole lot more is not paid into the system by these ‘businesses’ than ever would be by Hollywood etc!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

how long before Congress realises that not only are existing businesses being forced to close but new businesses are being prevented from starting because of the ridiculous and selfish moves of the entertainment industries

They will realize it once the new businesses start contributing more to their campaigns than the established businesses. Since new businesses don’t have the money established businesses have, never.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I look at things differently most of the time, who knew?
I was shocked by the sheer number of fans who were telling those with every right to be pissed about this crap, that they weren’t allowed to because they “donated” to the movie and shouldn’t have expected anything.

This seems to be a common misconception about crowdfunding, that you just throw your money away and pray.
If this was the case why would there be offers of getting anything in return?
I think the people who funded this deserve what they were promised, and that not being upfront about Flixster being involved was a big mistake.

While it is “nice” to see WB offering to pay people back for obtaining it via the other offical pay channels, the fact they were unable to deliver should be a huge wakeup call that the service is shit.

This episode should also be a wakeup to other creative types that going with a traditional distributor might be a bad idea. Many of the backers who were entitled to a free copy, still went out and bought tickets or the digital download from another outlet. If you have a fan base willing to do this, you don’t want them treated like crap.

David says:

Re: Re:

While it is “nice” to see WB offering to pay people back for obtaining it via the other offical pay channels,

Bullshit. Offering to pay back investors their investment instead of their contractual payout once you successfully completed an endeavor and see that you can get more money out by nullifying the investment is robbery.

It’s like paying the tenth of setting on a number in roulette, and when the number actually turns up, giving the other 9 investors their money back.

Just because an actually useful, namely DRM-free copy is now worth more than what WB is willing to pay does not mean that they get to decide to pull back.

zip says:

money for nothing @ Warner Bros

I don’t quite understand this. The movie’s budget was 6 million dollars, of which 5.7 million was raised by kickstarter. Therefore, Warner’s investment (other than perhaps distribution costs) was essentially nil. Yet despite this, Warner owns it outright and gets to dictate all the rules — including screwing the actual investors out of everything they were promised.

If the movie makes a killing at the box office, those Kickstarter investors, logically, should have a share of the profit. Yet somehow I’m sure that Warner will fight tooth and nail to keep all the profit for themselves for a project funded almost completely by other people’s money.

PaulT (profile) says:

No trolls diving in yet to berate people for being pirates if they dislike DRM even though they actually helped finance the movie in the first place? Give them time…

“There may be something to do with regional restrictions, yet in the comments, you see people claim that when they tried to get their digital copy, they were told, “Sorry, the redemption code you have entered is not valid for the territory you are currently trying to redeem from.””

When Ultraviolet was announced, I recognised it as being a piece of crap that’s not worth bothering with – so much so, that I actually avoided buying Blu Rays that use it. Alas, some people still send me over such discs mas gifts – the movie choices are usually correct, but I’m not allowed to access the digital content that’s been paid for as part of the disc purchase. usually with the error message reported above.

So, in the name of trying to “fight piracy”, they’re not only pissing off people buy the films but now those who *fund* the films. Unless, as suggested above, this is some kind of pyrrhic plan to defeat competition, it’s just another example of how the entertainment industry hasn’t got a clue what it’s really addressing.

No doubt we’ll get some half-assed excuse accusing everyone affected as being pirates before this thread’s finished, if not from WB themselves…

Nick (profile) says:

GOG, who provides DRM-free downloads of video games, manages to provide a coded link so only those that are authorized can click it and download it. Sure, the copy could then be distributed to friends or file-sharing sites (and they have) yet the games still manage to pull sales on DRM-locked services like steam just fine. Oh, and GOG is still doing well, despite selling products that – once sold – are not “locked down” by the content provider.

Kind of ruins the argument that DRM is a necessity nowadays to protect the creators. Now, if only the MPAA and it’s members would understand this logic.

Drizzt says:

There’s a story which involves Shadowrun Returns, the Kickstarter-funded cRPG in the Shadowrun setting by Jordan Weisman’s company Harebrained Schemes, and Microsoft, the license holder for computer games in the Shadowrun universe. Which is in parts similar: Microsoft forced Harebrained Schemes to include DRM (for non-backers, backers were exempt, though even that was the result of some renegotiation IIRC) in the product. Even though HBS clearly stated they didn’t want to. Only recently HBS was able to convince Microsoft to back off and now you can find Shadowrun Returns in the Humble Store (which is cheaper and includes a Steam key) as well as on Steam.

But this story illustrates, that legacy gatekeepers have a hard time adjusting to new realities. Though, I have to admit, what Warner pulled here, is far worse than what MS required. Fulfilling the DRM clause of your license with Steam, is pretty lightweight compared to the insanity that is UltraViolet (which has funny region restrictions, that go above and beyond what the actual physical disc has attached and other “fun” limitations).

Argonel (profile) says:

I love Ultraviolet, at least when included with Blu-ray combo packs. This means I get a Blu-ray copy for myself, a DVD copy to give to someone I like, and an Ultraviolet code to give to someone I secretly loathe. It looks like I’m giving them a gift, but they have to deal with Ultraviolet digital copies. I will never use an Ultraviolet code myself.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re:

Having watched only a little bit of a few episodes, it’s a big rip-off show, and false advertising. At no point do they put any of the loudmouthed, money grubbing investors into a shark tank, to be torn apart by razor sharp teeth. It would be the only reason I would ever watch such a show.

They are just the worst of the Ferengi Alliance in human skin.



“1. First of all, I absolutely did enter the Tank looking to strike a deal with the Sharks. It was not for the “free” publicity, which is anything but free. Not only did it take dozens of hours of preparation, but there is a secret clause to appearing on Shark Tank. It actually appears in fine print at the end of every episode. As quoted at the end of the show (in extremely small print and only for a second):

?Sony Pictures Television, a Designee of Mark Burnett, and ABC may receive equity in or a share of revenues generated by the businesses included in this program.? Specifically, buried deep in the agreement (which you can see by clicking here), by merely appearing on the show, whether a deal is made or not, I have to give 5% of my “business” or 2% of the profits forever to the producers. So, my appearance was not free. Since the business I was presenting was TEC-Technology Enabled Clothing?, I now have partners in that business, even though a deal was not made with The Sharks. Free? They make money out of every deal I make from here forward.”

anon says:


When are people going to realize that the big studios do not give a f&^ about the consumer and that it is about how much they can lock down the content they create. I would have told anyone who signed up they would have a problem drm is the devil’s device and I refuse to use it and we all know the big studios and their middlemen fear people sharing content more than they fear makign a hell of a lot of money from those same consumers.Damn them to hell and never ever belive a word they say remove yourself from ever havign to pay them or use theire system even if they give it away free, there are much better more reliable ways to consume media.

Ven says:

Kickstarter could solve this going forward

After a few high profile failed projects on Kickstarter the required all projects to include a “Risks and Challenges” section that explained what might cause a project to fail. Even before that they required disclosure if shipping a physical good would cost more outside of a specific area.

Should the next step be to require projects to disclose if a digitally delivered reward will contain DRM or region locks?

I already assume any project that doesn’t state up front DRM Free on rewards will be crippled, but the enforced transparency would be a good thing.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Kickstarter could solve this going forward

Or you could let the market take care of this all by itself.

You already see a number of people complaining and saying they will not invest in another kickstarter project like this one.

If enough people stop investing in these projects, they will either fix the reason investors are not attracted (remove DRM or whatever) or there will be no more projects like this for people to be screwed by.

Anonymous Coward says:

The MPAA just refuses to look at the RIAA and realise that piracy does not have that big an impact, and that DRM does not fix anything, it just gets people to look for a way to get it without DRM. (If piracy was going to kill the music industry, it would be dead by now, music and video piracy has been going on for near enough to 20 years, if not longer… even Apple realised that DRM music was getting them nowhere and just go DRM free music now. When they start doing DRM free video they’ll get my money)

I wonder how may people have torrented the movie, even though they have a copy on flixter, just because they want to be able to play it on any device they like.

Arsik Vek (profile) says:

So, as much as it makes me nauseous to defend this sort of thing, the Kickstarter was fairly clear that the distribution channel would be Flixter. It was posted in the FAQ portion of the movie’s kickstarter page. It was also clear that it would only be available in a list of countries, not globally. As much as I think the idea of confining distribution to Flixter is absolute shit (and it is, make no mistake about it), the campaign was upfront about it. It was not a bait and switch.

John85851 (profile) says:

Opportunity or threat

You say this was an opportunity, but the studios have a better name for it: a threat to the established studio system.
How will the movie-production process work in the future if anyone can fund something a movie from a TV show? What’s next? A Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Voyager movie?

This process will disrupt how studios can pick and choose which movies get made solely on how much money they think it’ll make. A Star Trek: Deep Space Nine movie? Too fan-specific to give a decent return. Transformers 4? Sure, the first three weren’t very good, but they make millions.

Dexter says:

The reason people don’t buy as many movies isn’t because of piracy or that “they want something for free” its because they want value for money and won’t buy something they don’t want to see. Just look at the substandard crap being released by the big movie/ music companies and the entertainment industry as a whole- theyre just trying to screw money out of people by peddling sh1te!!!! People have wised up to these cartels and wont be ripped off any longer no matter how much money the fatcats throw at governments

nefarious says:

Ubisoft ditched DRM in 2012.

“We have listened to feedback, and since June last year our policy for all of PC games is that we only require a one-time online activation when you first install the game, and from then you are free to play the game offline, and you will be able to activate the game on as many machines as you want.”

EA on the other hand, well f**k EA. People who still buy crappy EA games makes my brain hurt. Look at the last fail game SW:Battlefront, I warned people but people still bought the game and look – FAIL – EA is more worried about DRM, micro transactions and their EA spyware rather than focusing on making a decent game that gamers want to play.

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