Let’s talk a little about crowdfunding history. It was made last week and was enormously gratifying if you were a television nerd of my ilk. Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a fan of the almost eight-years-gone high school noir Veronica Mars. Now – after a prolonged hiatus, show creator, Rob Thomas, and the original cast have banded together to realize the dream of a Veronica Mars feature length film ten years after the show started. Yes, I donated to that campaign first thing that morning and yes, I was glad when (before the close of the day) I could celebrate knowing that it was going to be made as it crossed the $2 Million goal in 11 hours.
Now, as happy as I am to see this happen, there have been numerous goodhearted harrumphs from several corners (including from fans): “if only I could crowdsource my student debt away” or “we had to sweat for sixty days for our nonprofit to get a measly 5k” and finally “all that money is just headed back to Warner Bros? Have we ruined the power of crowdsourcing?”
As Malcolm Gladwell can tell you, success is not just about hard work and it’s also not just about luck – it’s a confluence of especially-calibrated circumstances (some that people can control or contribute to and some that they can’t).
So let’s consider this:
-The average cost for an episode of television is about $1.5 Million. If Veronica Mars was near this budget at 64 episodes, that’s a $96 Million investment in building that audience. Over three years of hours and hours of labor to make a forty-five minute teen drama possible 64 times. At no point was reaching their Kickstarter goal “free money.” Warner Bros. invested $96 Million in making that happen almost ten years ago.
-According to Wikipedia, in its first season, Veronica Mars garnered an average of 2.5 million viewers per episode. 22 episodes. That’s a platform that reached 55 million people in its first season. But that doesn’t mean that every show would command that kind of response. I challenge someone to get a Desperate Housewives movie together. The viewer base may be large enough, but they’re not fanatics.
-Veronica Mars’ target audience was a teenaged one. Now that audience is grown and some of them have grown their careers, as well. The average income of a 25 to 34 year old is just over $50,000/year. That makes room for a disposable income – with the majority of backers donating just $35.
Any group that can boast they’ve spent nearly $100 Million reaching an audience of nearly 60 Million reflects a lot of work and will likely be capable of moving mountains on Kickstarter. But it does require an extra secret sauce of fanatic evangelists (everyone predicts that Joss Whedon will empower his audience next, but he’s already smacked down that claim). Let’s just remember that the $2 Million wasn’t “easy money” nor is it ever going to be “inevitable money.”
In its first four-and-a-half hours, the Kickstarter campaign raised $1 million dollars and in less than twelve hours, it raised more than $2 million. The highest-funded Kickstarter film project apart from this one raised less than $600,000. This is a landmark and will certainly be reviewed for some time to come. This may change the model of audience testing, production launch, and more. Maybe both negatively and positively. That’s largely dependent on what projects continue to emerge. And with the Veronica Mars campaign set to close on April 12 and the numbers still increasing, I remind everyone that the story isn’t quite concluded yet either.
What do you think the Veronica Mars campaign will mean for film and television? What else can small groups do to be successful?