Last month, we reached a big milestone for Skittish, the playful virtual space for online events I’ve been working on over the last few months: we hosted our first big public events, including the delightful !!Con, New Relic’s FutureStack conference, the Flatpack Festival, and Future of the Browser, among others.
This was a bit of a marathon, allowing us to see how Skittish worked in the real world in a variety of different events, from film screenings and unconferences to livestreamed talks and dance parties. Throughout it all, we continually tweaked and tuned it every day, making changes and fixing issues as they came up.
This is likely the last big update before we start sending out invites to the announcement list and opening the doors to the public. If you’re interested, you can sign up at Skittish.com, subscribe to the news blog, or follow @SkittishHQ on Twitter and Instagram to follow along.
This week, I saw a meme pop up on TikTok where literally tens of thousands of people re-enacted the Colin’s Bear Animation dance — but with no reference to the original and entirely different audio.
Instead of Mother 3’s “Funky Monkey Dance,” the soundtrack is a deep-fried muddy version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” which seems like it was first uploaded to TikTok by @zunknownhamster, kicking off the meme with this video viewed 1.5 million times.
Stripped of its original “college animation class” context, the new meme format cracks a joke about the name of some movie, show, game, or other media property, followed by “idk i never watched it” or some variation.
stranger things fans when things get stranger death note fans when the death is noted jojos bizarre adventure fans when jojos adventure is bizarre when you stay at your friend Freddys house for about a week when people build forts in the night skyblock players when there’s a block in the sky
You get the idea.
But how did it end up on TikTok? I messaged @zunknownhamster to see where they first found it, but it’s clearly sourced from Kemdizzzle’s Garfield Dancing to Happy, uploaded to YouTube in June 2019.
That video replaced the audio from this February 2017 episode of Fatal Farm’s Lasagna Cat, a surreal webseries that ran from 2008 to 2017, and featured this pitch-perfect tribute to Colin’s Bear Animation.
Arriving 13 years after the original meme, it wouldn’t surprise me if most of the people doing the Colin’s Bear Animation dance on TikTok had never seen it before. Around 25% of TikTok’s user base wasn’t active online, or even alive, in 2008.
By definition, memes mutate and find new life and meaning over time. I’m just happy to see it keep evolving.
After announcing Skittish last month, we’ve cranked ahead on development, adding a bunch of new stuff in the last month. I wanted to show all of it off, but social media felt too limiting, so I did what I do best: started a blog.
I also recorded a little video tour showing off some of the new features, which demonstrates how much it’s changed just in the last few weeks.
For nearly two decades, I’ve tracked the illicit distribution of Oscar-nominated films online to learn how the film industry’s new and innovative ways of thwarting pirates inevitably fail.
The end result is this spreadsheet, now documenting 611 Oscar nominees from the last 19 years, with metadata for every aspect of their online journey from handheld camcorder recordings in the theater to 4K Blu-Ray rips, and everything in between.
I used to do analysis every year, but after a five-year break, I thought it was worth coming back to revisit this incredibly strange year.
The pandemic touched every aspect of our lives and the film industry was no exception. As theaters closed nationwide, theatrical releases were delayed, forcing some studios to release their films as rentals, while others partnered with streaming services like Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix for exclusive streaming rights.
With theaters closed, a common source of low-quality camcorder leaks dried up, and the floodgates opened to a new one: theatrical releases in our homes on release day.
This year, the pandemic spawned two trends that shattered all records since I started tracking this data in 2003, seemingly in conflict with one another:
Fewer screeners leaked online than ever, with only 9% of screeners leaking compared to 32% the previous year.
Nominated films leaked online faster than ever, in a median 7 days between first release to leak, compared to 73 days the previous year.
At first glance, it seems like the MPAA finally beat the pirates at the screener game. The blue line in the chart below shows that a record low of 9% of this year’s nominees had Oscar screeners leaked online, continuing a downward trend.
But the red line tells a different story: that fully 97% of nominees, all but one film, have already leaked online in a high-quality format.
So what’s going on here? Let’s take a look at the data to understand the unique impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on how movies were released and leaked online.
Death of the Screener
When I first started tracking this data, DVD screeners were highly desirable because they were an opportunity to leak a high-quality version of the film months before its home video release, often while it was still in theaters.
Five years ago, I wrote about how screener desirability was changing as pirates were increasingly getting access to higher-quality 720p/1080p versions of films than Academy voters, who were stuck with 480p DVDs. In 2015, I wrote that “a staggering 44% of this year’s crop of nominees leaked as a high-quality rip from some source outside of traditional screeners or retail releases — the highest percentage since I started tracking films in 2003.”
For the second year in a row, most screeners were available digitally. Instead of just Best Picture nominees this year, virtually every nominated film was available for streaming by Oscar voters this year. But as far as I can tell, only three of those easier-to-access digital screeners leaked online. Why?
This year, the vanishing window between theatrical and streaming release dates made screeners completely meaningless. Why would anyone risk waiting to pirate an Academy screener when they could get the exact same quality sooner from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or a streaming rental service?
The key chart is below, showing how the median number of days between the U.S. theatrical release date to its first high-quality rip, typically from a streaming site, cratered in 2020.
The theatrical window stayed remarkably consistent for the last five years at around 75 days. In 2020, it was seven days — a mere week from theatrical release to an HD stream rip, simply because virtually every movie was released online.
So, that’s basically it. With every theater closed, most movies first released online and on streaming services, making them instantly available to pirates before screeners were even distributed to voters, making screeners moot.
The big question: what will happen when the pandemic recedes and theaters reopen? Will studios push for once again staggering release dates between theatrical and streaming debuts? Is the 90-day window gone for good? Will the leaked screener make a comeback?
For the last few months, I’ve been quietly working on a brand-new project and it’s killed me to keep it secret, but I can’t keep it bottled up anymore—partly because I need your help.
Today, I’m announcing Skittish, a playful virtual space for online events. Skittish brings people together into a game-like interactive 3D environment that’s designed from the ground up for socially-driven events, big and small.
With Skittish, I’m trying to make a space that supports the kind of events that I love to organize and attend: creative, experimental, and deeply social.
Here’s a little teaser!
After the pandemic cancelled XOXO last year, I started attending a bunch of virtual events, mostly out of boredom and longing for connecting to other people.
Unfortunately, many of them were pretty uninspiring, basically just fancy webinars with breakout rooms for Zoom. Others were just livestreams with little room for social interaction beyond a global chat room.
Almost all of them left me feeling like I’d either sat through a long meeting or watched a long YouTube video. Was this even an event? Did I actually attend anything?
As depressing as most virtual events were, there were three bright spots of creative experimentation happening over the last year:
Experimental Events. The brilliant MUD-like environment created for Roguelike Celebration and the ongoing series of LIKELIKE events showed how event spaces could draw inspiration from games to great effect.
Proximity Chat. Second Life has supported spatial voice chat for nearly 15 years, but a crop of experimental new platforms started using spatial/positional audio and video to make virtual parties feel more real.
Social Games. Approachable games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Among Us, and Fall Guys were breakout stars of the pandemic, giving us new ways to connect to with friends when we couldn’t be together in person.
There are some amazing projects out there, but I started outlining a hybrid of these ideas: an online event venue for large-scale gatherings that used spatial audio, didn’t assume people were comfortable being on camera, with real-time customization of the space, and built in a 3D engine for a more immersive game-like feel.
More than anything, I wanted it to be optimized for fun: interesting to explore on its own, make new friends, and a vibrant place for creators and event organizers to bring together their communities in a new way.
Grant for the Web
As I was working on the first prototype, it was clear this was far more than a side project, and I’d need additional resources to fund development and design.
Desigan Chinniah encouraged me to apply for Grant for the Web, a grant fund he co-created with Coil, Mozilla, and Creative Commons to finance projects pushing forward an open standard for monetization on the web.
So, last June, I submitted a grant proposal to build a “virtual venue for playfully-immersive events in the browser,” in which attendees can financially support creators, organizers, and events they love using the Web Monetization API (or traditional payment methods, of course).
Three months later, I found out I received their flagship level grant. By early November, I received the funds and was able to bring on a contract developer to help out.
How It’s Going
In December, I scrapped my initial Three.js prototype and worked with creative technologist Mike Bodge to build a proof-of-concept prototype in react-three-fiber, a powerful React renderer for Three.js, with a thriving community and helper libraries. Unfortunately, existing client work took Mike off the project a month later.
Through his work on react-three-game-engine, a budding game engine for react-three-fiber, I found Brisbane-based developer Simon Hales, who started working with me on Skittish in January. He hit the ground running, adding much of the functionality you can see in the current app.
It’s still early in development, but this is what Skittish supports so far:
A game-like interactive 3D environment, with a fixed camera perspective, simple navigation controls, and animated avatars
Positional stereo audio, allowing you wander in and out of conversations naturally, with sound playing relative to your current position
Inline creation and editing tools for collaboratively customizing the world in real-time with 3D objects
Embedded inline videos with spatial audio for watching or listening to livestreamed or pre-recorded media from YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Vimeo, Soundcloud, and more
Support for multiple interconnected rooms
Adding Web Monetization payment pointers for streaming payments to event creators
Special thanks to Sam Buttrick, who created the banners and profile images you can see on social media and at the top of this post. Sam’s a Portland local, a recent PNCA grad, and I loved her work on Instagram so much, I approached her to create some illustrations for this announcement. Go hire her!
What I Need
So that’s what I’m working on! I hope to start running events in Skittish in the next couple months, and opening it up for other people to use for their own communities. In the meantime, I’m currently looking for some help.
Beta Testers. I need a group of willing trusted beta testers to show up once in a while to help load-test, spot performance issues, and give feedback as we build out features. You’ll get work-in-progress previews along the way, and help shape what Skittish becomes. If that sounds interesting, sign up for the mailing list to get notified.
Creators. I’m intent on making Skittish into something that individual artists and creators can use to bring together their own community, whether it’s debuting a new video on YouTube, doing a book reading, a live concert, or playtesting a new game — and make money doing it. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, get in touch.
Event Organizers. After having co-organized seven years of XOXO, I empathize with the plight facing event organizers right now who are struggling to convince attendees and sponsors to pay for lackluster events. I want to make events that are unique and valuable, worth the time and energy to show up for, and worth paying for, so you can continue to support yourself doing what you love. If you have an idea for an event you’d like to run in Skittish, I’d love to hear it.
Environmental Artist. I’m looking to immediately hire a freelance 3D environmental artist to help design a space for everyone to explore, somewhere between a festival grounds and Disneyland—warm, approachable, and playful. Candidates will be comfortable working in flat-shaded low-polygon constraints optimized for the web. Aesthetically, I’m inspired by games like Alba, WATTAM, Untitled Goose Game, Ooblets, Windosill, Donut County, and I Am Dead. If that sounds like you, email me a link to your portfolio. Introductions welcome!