Archive for April, 2009

Why did Jaman fail?

Friday, 17 April 2009

Jaman seemed to be doing everything right.

  • Help film makers distribute movies over the internet…
  • Give viewers tools to publish their preferences and help filter content matching their tastes…
  • Support buy, rent and free distribution… Support online viewing, download, and even on TIVO…
  • Layer multiple levels of social engagement and help viewers connect with other viewers with similar interests…

However, Jaman as a consumer service will end soon.

For many people working in the online video world, we saw Jaman as a guiding light.  So why did they fail?

Customer Assumptions

Let’s first start by asking what the likely assumptions were about their customers;

People find it difficult to discover, buy and watch independent [non-mainstream] movies [over the internet].

There is only one fundamental assumption that drives the business and around which the service is oriented.  However, if you think about it, the market they are playing in already exists.

If you go to Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster or into your local video rental shop, you will find much of the same choice of video alongside mainstream [heavily marketed] titles, albeit the brick and mortar shops are lacking in rich context with no indicators of quality like reviews and ratings.

Existing Market

It’s clear that Jaman are competing in an existing market (independent movies on DVD) and differentiating with ease of access over the internet and enhanced tools for discovery.  Consider the market for independent film on DVD is relatively small (8% rentals and 16% sales), and maybe Jaman can help grow the market size, but ultimately they are competing for viewers where viewer demand is relatively low, 84-92% of people are viewing mainstream titles.

Like many digital content businesses, the problem isn’t with supply of content, but with demand.

Driving Demand

It is no wonder demand is low, people are regularly bombarded with marketing messages about the next big blockbuster, we measure success based on box office takings, celebrity credits, use of special effects, and even movie budgets.  Independent film is hidden away in the major movie rental shops.  Only those that seek hard, find what they are looking for.

The potential audience lacks knowledge to make a choice to choose alternatives.  Knowledge about breadth of choice, about different forms of film, about different ways of telling stories, about film written in languages other than their native tongue, about amazing talent that doesn’t run in the hollywood circles.

Changing Assumptions

Armed with this perspective, should Jaman change their approach to the market?  Let’s add a further assumption about their customers from this point of view;

People lack understanding and knowledge about independent movies

Helping Viewers

Simply put, Jaman needs to deliver a film discovery experience that rocks (these filmmakers talk about their thoughts on discovery).  Discovery needs to work for all types of persona, but critically, for the uneducated and uninformed.

If I look at today to see how this need is met, there is a editorial review section but not much else that helps.  There is a lot of context being created around the content from an active community but if I am lost to begin with, and not a participant, this wont help me.

I think we are really early in the video space with discovery tools, particularly if the viewer doesn’t know where to start.  Some interesting tools I have come across this week are Nanocrowd and IndieFlix.

IndieFlix is a competitor for Jaman and it looks like they are directly addressing the under-served market.  Both tools take the input of movies you like, and provide recommendations based on crowd sourced and editorially driven formulas.  They look good and seem to work well, particularly Nanocrowd which is far more encompassing.

Looking to the Music Industry

However one area where people have been tackling the same challenges is music.

The music industry as a whole has shifted the way it markets music to people.  Almost every single track from a mainstream publisher can be listened to for free prior to purchase.  From what I’ve seen from the independent music market, the same is true there.

This is a significant shift in the purchase experience because it reduces risk from for the buyer. In any market, the more informed a buyer, the less annoyed they will be when they buy something they don’t like.

Can you image paying even $3 for a movie rental or for a $15 purchase, to discover 10 minutes in you don’t like it?  Jaman lacks a critical part of the purchase process, visibility of the content itself.

There is a huge transaction risk to the viewer.  Yes some video is free to watch, but it seems mostly paid rental or purchase.  What is needed to drive consumption is far more flexible pricing and preview models.

For eMusic, they recently stated that all the community services and tools are great, but “we reinforce the music discovery experience with subscription pricing that encourages experimentation“.

Discovery is about Experimentation

There is a hint of Jaman trying to help with experimentation.  They offer 30 movies for 30 days.  This sounds great, but the movies are chosen by them, and you have to watch one a day.

What about models like?

– The first 500 viewers of each movie watch for free.  The next 5,000 pay $1.  The next 50,000 pay $5.

– Your first 3 rentals in each genre are free

– Watch the first 10 minutes for free.  For every movie

– Watch the movie, pay what you think it’s worth, a la Radiohead

– Advertising supported

What Next?

The trailer isn’t enough any more.

Unfortunately for Jaman they are sitting at the distribution end of an entrenched physical DVD distribution model.  There is little they can do to innovate around pricing on a large scale.  Fitting old media distribution models into new media consumption models is impossible.  Maybe they tried.

Where I see hope for independent film creators is with services like IndieGoGo.  Services that help creators build a fan base from the beginning rather than leaving it to advertising at the end.

There are some high profile creators like Joss Whedon, however I don’t see a lot of output from filmmakers going straight to the internet (maybe I’m looking in the wrong places?).  Many are still focussed on competitions, festivals and trying to hit out with a distribution deal before publishing online.

The internet democratises distribution.  I’m excited to see new filmmakers buck the trend and start to experiment online, set their own distribution models, define their own pricing, free of the constraints that hold back every talented artist out there.


I am not close to Jaman and they could have tried all of these pricing models in their history.  I would love to see some data about uptake and usage of their service, I think they would have some valuable information to educate us all.


I just came across an excellent example of free distribution, Star Wreck, they distributed the movie for free online and focussed on making money later with merchandise and DVDs. A very different approach to pricing.