What happens when a film studio and a fanbase get into bed? Fans of Joss Whedon's Firefly, and the movie by Universal Studios — Serenity — are not amused. After being encouraged to viral market Serenity, the studio has started legal action against fans (demanding $9000 in retroactive licensing fees in one case and demanding fan promotion stop), and going after Cafepress. The fans response? Retroactively invoice Universal for their services."
Yeah, I don't think that is going to work. I promoted the movie and got free passes to see it under the understanding that I would blog about it. Not a big deal, I would have blogged about it anyway, but this is an instance of Universal cutting the nose of the bread they buttered - one of those metaphors anyway.
Utilizing the flexibility of Affinitive's technology platform, Universal was able to create a community around the release of Serenity that harnessed the power of a large member base that exceeded the most optimistic of expectations. Members were encouraged to form regional groups to promote the film and perform activities that would help generate word of mouth, like creating bumper stickers and gift cards to accompany the DVD release.
While the theatrical release of Serenity met only modest success at the box office, the Browncoats campaign maintained momentum through the DVD release, whose success spurred additional sales of the original Firefly DVD. At one point following the release of Serenity on DVD, both Serenity and Firefly were #1 and #2 on Amazon.com's bestseller list despite the Firefly DVD being over a year old.
The community itself also grew far in excess of what was originally projected. By the campaign's end, there were more than 75,000 members of the Browncoats, with over 85% of all members having been recruited by other members. The platform proved to be scalable enough to handle sustained periods of heavy traffic and activity.
Due to the long-term success of the Firefly/Serenity franchise, Joss Whedon has expressed interest in creating sequels to the film and even revive the television series although no formal plans are in the works.
So how much money did Universal make in the DVD sales alone, driven by viral marketing almost exclusively done by fans? They are willing to forgo that same enthusiasm for future DVDs or TV advertising dollars because they got greedy. If Universal wanted to generate licensing fees all they had to do was notify fans they would starting at a set date. To make it retroactive has sqandered good will.
Windy City has more plus Comedy Central flapping about Colbert and Daily Show.