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A Good Year For NFB, A Great Year For Open Access

January 31, 2010

Congratulations to the National Film Board for proving that the open-source model can be a successful driver for showcasing national talent. After having launched the excellent iPhone application last October, the NFB is celebrating their first anniversary of the launch of the “Screening Room,” their open-access online archive. The NFB’s bold marketing strategy over the year of has done more for distributing Canadian culture both domestically and abroad than any regulations have.

This is primarily because individuals independently access the content through sharing and peer suggestion. There was no regulatory body requiring that a percentage of domestic content can be accessed on the Internet in Canada, as has been the case in other mediums. The NFB has a good product and they know it, but they did not stop there, they made it free, shareable and portable.

NFB’s statistics page reports that since the site’s launch, there have been 3.7 million film views – of which nearly half have been from out of Canada. After 171,000 downloads of the iPhone application since its launch in October to January, the NFB has demonstrated that public institutions can be nimble progressive entities that are responsive to the requirements of a changed media. The award-winning app has facilitated over half a million iPhone and iPod views in a single quarter. With combined views reaching an astonishing 567% in the first year of this program, the Board has achieved viral growth at an institutional level.

What does this mean for the filmmakers? They are paid a lump sum for the films by the NFB, and it could be argued that they are not compensated accordingly for their infinite screenings via the Internet. However, they are still gaining from their participation. Most of the screens in Canadian cinemas are covered with U.S. and foreign product, and Canadian film does not get much commercial exposure. If not for the NFB website, most of these works would probably sit underground in a curated bunker somewhere under Ottawa.

The  benefits of this open-access resource are that Canadian filmmakers get an audience, recognition and the credibility that comes with having a reel on the NFB site. The taxpayers get to access the films they helped to fund. Canada gains recognition for its artistic brand and through its burgeoning reputation of progressive open-access initiatives, which hopefully translates into investment and international cultural exchange.

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