Snow Film Industry Summit: Ally Distribution President Kelly Dole

Kelly Dole, president of Ally Distribution, is no noob-ey. Ater film school, Kelly began his career in Hollywood, working on action dramas including the A-Team, before  launching into distribution with the Bones Brigades series. Kelly's most recent venture is Ally Distribution, which has stirred up a buzz lately with its embeddable video download widget, and is working on a new application called the Gydget. We caught up with Dole to find out more about his current projects and his take on the action sports film industry.

What do you think the biggest forces shaping movie production over the last few years have been and what will they be going forward?

Cheap HD cameras and digital editing have helped a lot of new artists enter the filmmaking business. And digital distribution of movies, segments and sponsored vids makes it possible for those films to find an audience. It's awesome.

Production budgets for boardsports filmmakers, overall, will be shrinking due to less endemic sponsorship dollars being available. But smaller budgets do not always mean small films; the films that are better organized, planned (eg "professionally produced") will likely look just as big as always.

Most people I've talked to think it's going the other way, towards fewer, higher budget films.

I think that there's no stopping it. It's easier and cheaper to make movies. If that's what you want to do with your life, you're going to find a way to do it. think there are going to be a lot of movies made on small budgets that are regional and focused ona specific part of the sport.

As action sports becomes more mainstream, we're going to end up with more sponsorship from non-traditional sponsors. ?But too much of that money will likely bypass the production companies that have paid their dues in this biz and will go to production companies better connected to ad agencies and corporations.

And the technology and the distribution are going to drive that?

No, it doesn't drive it but it lends itself for sure. It decreases the risk associated with coming out with a film. I think that there may be fewer films on the shelf in a shop, or if the buyers of the shop are really smart, they might pick three or four local films, focused on the riders and mountains in their area and have a regional buy, get a little more sophisticated with your purchasing instead of just focusing on the big time movies that everybody already knows about. Just kind of like a groundswell. Some of them are going to be great and some not so great, but there are going to be more of them.

How has digital distribution affected Ally and the industry in general?

I see digital as a way of reaching more customers and more eyes who wouldn't normally be purchasing dvds. With so many ways to consume media we've focused on providing filmmakers, and sponsors new ways to reach audience multiple ways; not just by DVD. Ally is ahead of the curve in this area. But I would say that the bigger business challenge has to do more with promotion, quality and the economy than digital or anything else. The appetite for media is stronger than ever but to make money distributing takes a new mindset.

How do you see these channels evolving?

Barely a month goes by that there's not some new distribution channel that becomes available. I'm involved in a lot of professional content organizations, these have nothing to do with action sports, but these organizations and the people running them are really busy. If you look at what's happened with Youtube and Vimeo, a lot of those things are moving forward at a breakneck pace. There's a lot of opportunities in there for people to make money and to promote their team and riders.

It seems all about embracing those technologies and not being scared of things like BitTorrent and things like that?

Totally. I've heard from a lot of producers sticking to the old ways of control. Control of the footage and control of the manufacturing and control of everything else. There are a few people who can pull that off and remain profitable, but that's just a lot of things to stay on top of. I truly feel like it's the era of just say yes.

What are your thoughts on how to make this channel more beneficial than harmful in the future?

Embrace change and surf the wave we're on! We should be good at that. And there's many channels to make beneficial, not one. Content owners don't know how good they've got it; there's so many new ways to make money and reach an audience that were not available even a year ago. And with the economy the way it is, I think it's the time of "Just Say Yes" and try everything. Options like our download widget are virtually carbon-free and contribute to a sustainable living.

Do you see snowboarding films moving to a more team based model like in skate?

Yes. What a great marketing platform for the brands.  ? But few do a great job at maximizing exposure and sales of their own content.  And most of their own customers expect the DVD to be free if they're already being pressed into a big hardware purchase.

Your widget really seems to be taking off. How have actual downloads been? Can you share any numbers or percent growth?? ? How many sites have it now?

We have about 200 Affiliates and the sales are growing week-by-week. It's getting adopted by larger websites and new titles are being added nearly every week. But we don't share sales details. We're adding some partners that will vastly expand the audience for our widget — and we're also adding an iTunes option for our producers.

I've heard there's no way to secure content downloaded from your widget. Is this true? If so, how do you plan to meet this problem?

It really isn't a problem that needs solving.  Anyone can currently rip a DVD and share the file right now. The movies and clips in the Widget are download-to-own so they are DRM-free by design.  The largest slice of the youth market pie don't buy dvds any more (or never have); they file share or watch streams on the web.  We are making them a paying customer - and they are the largest slice of the pie. The downloads have to be DRM-free to work on all playforms, be priced reasonably and be convenient.

The argument that DRM-free files contribute to file-sharing is a backwards and old fashioned way of looking at media distribution. Clinging onto old ideas that no longer apply.

What are your predictions for the next couple of years for retailers and filmers?

Retailers and online retailers should try a lot harder on the merchandising and sales side; seeing how movies are such a dynamic product. Online Web Syndication will increase. Production companies doing the “2 year” videos may decrease because of a challenging economy. Potentially there could be more production company consolidation and or collaborations in order to maximize production budgets. But overall, there will be more movies made, not less but some of those will be direct to digital or DVD on demand. Distributors and producers need to work closer together on promotions, advertising, merchandising and manufacturing.

In this tough economic environment filmers should diversify;  hone their craft and do paid work-for-hire both outside and inside the industry. Learn lighting, grip, sound and production management along the way.

What’s this Gydget thing all about?

The Gydget is a mini, viral version of a company’s social network site that is self-propagating, viral and doesn’t require any effort to maintain because it automatically pulls images, events and news from that Brand’s  existing MySpace page. We build it to mimic their MySpace page then we spice it up with an option that allows viewers to watch trailers or buy downloads and DVDs. The video keeps traffic on their Branded widget longer so it benefits both parties.   It’s a pretty cool marketing tool.