An idea that clicks
Quality dance videos finally hit e-tailers, thanks to a digital-media guru.
YouTube radically changed the landscape for dancers and fans, as personal video collections and archival rarities made their way online. But the scenery didn’t change for the famously cash-starved field of dance itself. Enter Marc Kirschner, 36, founder and general manager of media-distribution label TenduTV. As the company’s site puts it, “No other art form has as much of an imbalance between popularity and revenue capability [as] dance, and we believe the time has come for a change.”
A graduate of Northwestern University and Columbia Business School, Kirschner worked in digital-media strategy consulting; the United States Tennis Association and producers for Discovery and National Geographic were among clients of his prior venture Sumaki. He shrewdly shifted his focus to the dance world. Companies and choreographers couldn’t control their content as it showed up online; many weren’t even aware that snippets from discontinued and slow-selling videos to which they owned rights were suddenly pulling in millions of views. (Just as young tennis pros pore over clips of Roger Federer’s forehand, aspiring ballerinas obsessively re-watch superstars perform tricky solos and pas de deux in which they hope to be cast some day.)
By moving high-quality dance video through online retail outlets, TenduTV is turning that passion into income for the artists who inspire it. TenduTV launched in 2008, with intellectual-property firm MasurLaw, news website elitedance.com and three New York–based service organizations (Dance Films Association, Dance New Amsterdam and Dance/NYC) as partners. Shortly thereafter, TenduTV-branded content like DancePulp, a series of short interviews with field-leading artists, began appearing on a dedicated Hulu channel, and the company formed relationships with Amazon, CinemaNow and iTunes. Four titles will be available for download by the end of the year, and Kirschner says more than a dozen are planned for 2011.
TenduTV’s first release, a collection of nine dances made specifically for the camera titled Essential Dance Film, encountered a few hurdles on its way to sale. To digest endless amounts of footage, the industry relies on automated quality-control processes; in June, a third-party computer program didn’t recognize what it was watching and flagged unfamiliar events as failures. “Obviously, if you have a compilation of nine different films, you have nine different aspect ratios ,” Kirschner explained by phone while on vacation in St. Thomas with his wife, dancer Susanna Bozzetti. “You don’t see a lot of compilations on iTunes. So that was easily explained.” Another hang-up was a solar flare in NASA footage used during the opening credits of a short called Helioscape, which quality control registered incorrectly as a pre-digital flaw called a “tape hit” (the two offending frames were removed).
Kirschner crossed his fingers and tried again. Essential Dance Film was approved for sale in October and will be the first non-documentary dance title on iTunes. “It’s as easy to click on dance film as it is to click on Iron Man 2,” Kirschner says. “We’re excited about the implications of that.” 40 Years of One Night Stands (about Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet), Wayne McGregor | Random Dance’s Entity and Dutch National Ballet’s Hans van Manen Festival will follow soon, the latter pair in high definition, at standard price points for movie downloads: $3.99 for rental and $14.99 for purchase. HD adds an extra $1 and $5, respectively.
“There’s more to dance than a stage, right?” Kirschner says. “And now that video quality is getting there, now that we have HD as a norm, 3-D making inroads, I think it’s going to become an interesting avenue for a lot of choreographers.” That it can be a lucrative avenue, too, only sweetens the pot.
Essential Dance Film is available this month on iTunes, Amazon and CinemaNow. Essential Dance Film Volume 2 is in production.