Think we're PC prisoners now with our Web surfing addictions and video games with 999 levels? Just wait, hermits in training--online film is giving us even fewer reasons to leave the house or office.
With 20 percent of home users set to have broadband access by 2002 and video technologies improving daily, home theater will prove true to its name. Though downloading feature-length films via the Internet probably won't be practical for a few years, the demand for short films and animation is already soaring.
"The emergence of a whole new species of online film broker demonstrates there's certainly a market for [short films and animation], both on the consumer and the business-to-business ends," confirms Aram Sinnreich, an analyst of consumer content strategies at Internet research firm Jupiter Communications.
"People like to see leading-edge, independent [entertainment], and shorts are the most leading edge," says Mika Salmi, 34, founder of AtomFilms, an online and offline distributor of short films and animation in Seattle.
After living in Europe, where film shorts are common, Salmi (at right) wrote up a business plan for short-film distribution and sat on it until 1998, when both he and the technology were ready to start film distribution on the Net. AtomFilms licensed more than 250 films in its first six months. The company distributes them to other sites and offline companies, like HBO and major airlines, adding to its sales from e-commerce, advertising and sponsorship.
AtomFilms had its first big online hit with the animated short Gerbil in a Microwave (5 million-plus e-mailed and downloaded), and Salmi sees his company finding many more. "Long term, our plan is to become experts in Web programming," Salmi says. "There are going to be a lot of Internet-based hits like the Dancing Baby, [and] we're all about finding the next South Park or other hot property."