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Starwars.Com Hyperspace Q&A
Paul Ens, Director of Lucas Online answers our questions about the
forthcoming pay subscription service at starwars.com

Why pay content? Who's decision was it to make fans pay for content?

Paul Ens: The idea for Hyperspace didn't begin as a quest to find ways to make users pay for content. Lucas Online had a vision of things it wanted to do to make starwars.com even better as we head toward Episode III - like having an "embedded reporter" in Sydney, putting up a webcam, and beefing up site functionality and personalization.

As we looked at the realities of what it would take to make these visions a reality, it became clear that modest user fees would be the most prudent way to achieve it.

At the same time, there was a real priority to keep starwars.com as fans know it today - completely free of charge.

When will it start?

Paul Ens: Hyperspace launches June 10, but there is a sneak peek trial period from June 5th to 9th.

Will all the content ever be made available for free?

Paul Ens: Starting this fall, we plan to give Hyperspace members earlier looks at certain items such as photo or video series, and later put them on the regular site. However, Hyperspace exclusives like the Set Diaries, webcam and Photoreceptor will remain exclusive.

How will this change policies toward fan sites? Will all fansites be subject to the same policies?

Paul Ens: Not much at all. Lucasfilm is looking forward to fans sharing their views-whatever they may be-- about Hyperspace on their sites. While it may be a temptation, we trust and expect that this discussion will not be presented in such a way as to be a substitute to Hyperspace membership.

All Hyperspace content is copyrighted material that cannot be repurposed or republished without express permission. That's the legal reality for anyone in any medium. At the same time, there aren't many Lucasfilm "police", so I imagine they will be keeping their most careful watch on the busiest street-corners.

Why couldn't it have been paid for out of the marketing budget?

Paul Ens: In the end, Lucasfilm is a business like any other and needs to operate within business parameters. A portion of the cost of operating a site as popular as starwars.com is certainly marketing, but the site has become much more than could be accomplished within the budget of any movie website for any studio. And with Hyperspace, we're adding even more in direct response to the most frequent requests from our visitors. For many, the site has become an entertainment in and of itself that they want to become more deeply engaged in.

Who is the embedded reporter for the Episode III set reports?

Paul Ens: Pablo Hidalgo is already over in Sydney and has already begun submitting his daily reports on a test basis. He has a unique manner, perspective and writing style that makes the reader feel like they're right there with him. These are going to be a highlight for most fans.

Will the Episode III access be significant and timely? Can something be shot and be online in the same day/week?

Paul Ens: Absolutely. The set diaries will be created each day there's official activity happening on the set, generally on that same day. The time difference between Australia and the U.S. is a help here. At the same time, the webcam is updated every 20 seconds for those with more immediate gratification needs.

The feedback we received on this was so negative we find it difficult to believe your research indicated it was a good idea. Assuming you would only go forward with charging for content if your feedback was positive, how did you resolve the discrepancy between the difference in feedback? Was the plan to always do this regardless of the feedback?

Paul Ens: In my time at Lucasfilm, I can't remember any project on which we spent more effort getting feedback from our users. If the criteria had been a 51% approval rating on the general idea of paying for Star Wars web content, then we wouldn't have proceeded.

We did some pretty sophisticated analysis to determine if there was a viable market within the general population of Star Wars fans large enough to make Hyperspace a break-even proposition. In the end, it appears that there is an audience hungry for it. In truth, we were very pleasantly surprised with the level of positive feedback we received.

Paying for anything on the web is still a new - and to some a distasteful - idea that's in its infancy. It will be interesting to see how this latest business model plays itself out across the industry over the coming months and years. I have a feeling my son's generation won't expect truly free web content any more than my generation expects free cable television.

Considering that we fundamentally don't think this is positive for Star Wars fans, nor do we think the fans feel this way, we are quite anxious to hear how you think this can possibly be turned into something "positive for the entire online Star Wars community".

Paul Ens: In the grand scheme of worldwide Star Wars fandom, probably less than a majority read Star Wars comics or novels, or subscribe to Star Wars fan magazines - yet those endeavors provide tremendous value to the portion of the community that choose to participate and thereby add value indirectly to the entire fan community.

Hyperspace should be viewed in the same way. It's a new way to interact with and enjoy Star Wars. There are pictures being taken, video footage being shot, interviews being conducted, articles being written, archive drawers being opened and cast and crew anxiously volunteering to chat directly with the fans that never would have happened otherwise. The fact that this material will exist at all is going to be tremendously positive for the community, even though only a portion may choose to purchase and enjoy it.

I hope that many of you and your readers will take advantage of the free preview in order to sample and weigh the benefit for yourselves. It's only been a week and I can't imagine going a day without reading a set diary entry.

Have you thought about what fans will do with the info as it relates to "spreading the news around", either by forums, links, emails, downloads, etc? It seems to us controlling the spread of the content online will be so difficult you may not be able to deal with it.

Paul Ens: In the same way that the publishers of a magazine such as Vanity Fair are thrilled when people are discussing the latest article or survey, we hope and expect that Hyperspace will richly add to the conversation of Star Wars fans.

In the same way that a Vanity Fair is less than thrilled when thousands of photocopies of their articles are handed out, when the pictures they spent time and effort to create are published in another magazine or when articles are plagiarized in a newspaper, Lucasfilm will want the public to respect the spirit and letter of copyright law.

"Droid Control Ship" - Episode II deleted sequence.

How long is it and is it a completed scene. Why didn't it appear on the DVD as surely this is something that should be available to all DVD owners as well via the DVD-Rom exclusive content.

Paul Ens: We will be providing fans all the footage that was discarded,, but will leave out some sections of the battle that went into the final film unchanged. The compiled sequence is about 3.5 minutes.

This sequence, which was tightly integrated into the rest of the arena battle, was abandoned very early and didn't have all of the elements photographed that would have been necessary to "finish" it - so that wasn't an option for us.

In looking at the sequence, we actually found its original rough-cut form to be a wonderful example of the process that a George Lucas movie takes. It is a fascinating study of what a rough-cut animatic looks like and we think it will be appreciated by fans.

Exclusive "first look" windows of time for expected Episode III "George Lucas Select" and Episode III web documentaries. (Will be free for all after exclusive period.)

How long does the exclusive period last.

Paul Ens: It's too early to say.

First online availability of Clone Wars cartoons (immediately after TV airing), plus exclusive value-add DVD-like material.

Some will have more need to pay since their part of the world won't see it on TV, but I just know that someone will digitize the US broadcast and/or hack the online version and put it up somewhere. Do you honestly believe this won't make its way online?

Paul Ens: The Hyperspace 'Clone War' offering will have a convenience, quality-level and exclusive-added-value that we believe will be of interest and benefit to Hyperspace subscribers.

Price: $19.95 / year  OR  $3.95 / month  OR  $39.95 / year for Hyperspace / Insider bundle

Wow, big difference in annual and monthly totals. Can you explain the huge difference? For fans who choose the monthly subscription: if they've paid for 5 months, will they be able to switch to the annual subscription by just paying the extra 20 cents? Is there a minimum term for the monthly subscription? How much notice do you have to give? Will we know in advance what to expect in the coming months so that those on monthly subscription can just select a few months a year?

Paul Ens: Clearly the annual price is the better deal and the option we expect most to take. However, there was a strong enough demand for a monthly option at this price level that we are willing to provide the choice for those who may want it for whatever reason. The price difference comes largely from the increased transaction processing and customer support required on a monthly basis.

Will younger fans be able to pay with things like Pay Pal?

Paul Ens: Not initially.

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