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Sundancers are Web-conscious

Beyond films and star sightings, the Internet is the talk of the town, whether in reference to the writers' strike or its power as a content distribution tool.

PARK CITY, Utah--It seems wherever I go in this crowded ski-haven-turned-Tinseltown, people are talking about the Internet and its implications for the Sundance Film Festival and the overall indie film industry.

Whether it's chit-chat about the Hollywood writers' strike over compensation for content sold on the Web, or more formal panel discussions such as Saturday's "Webolution: Hollywood Adapts to the Web," the topic is ripe for discussion.

Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, speaks as part of a Sundance Film Festival panel on Hollywood adapting to the Web. Michelle Meyers/CNET

As for the writers' strike, the buzz on the street is that studio specialty divisions and other distribution companies will be buying Sundance films in earnest to fill their threatened schedules for later this year and 2009. So far that hasn't happened, but I'd expect distribution news to start trickling in over the next few days.

On the flip side, however, by all accounts Hollywood has scaled back its typical Sundance schwagg-fests and ended up sending smaller teams due to trying economic times.

The strike was one of the main topics kicking off the Webolution panel, which was hosted by The Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher, who has long focused on digital issues and teams up with Walt Mossberg for D: All Things Digital. Panelists included Joost CEO Mike Volp; tech strategy advisor Phil Lelyveld; Veoh founder Dmitry Shapiro; Erik Flanagan, who heads up digital media for MTV, Comedy Central and South Park studios; Hulu CEO Jason Kilar; Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America; and Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos.

Of course, opinions ran the gamut on predictions about what model for Web distribution will live or die. However, a few common themes emerged: no one quite knows the best way to monetize Web content, but ad-supported models appear the most promising; the old school TV watching days are over; creating films specifically for the Internet has become a true art form; the government needs to step in quickly to help create more broadband competition; and the media landscape is changing rapidly, a major contributing factor to the writers' strike.

"We're in a period of enormous transition and change," Glickman said, adding that his employer has to protect intellectual property while recognizing consumer demand for online content.

The Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher moderated the Sundance panel. Michelle Meyers/CNET

The panelists were less unanimous about what will be consumers' primary methodology for finding online content. Some touted aggregator and content sites like Veoh and Joost. Others saw more in the power in social networks like MySpace and Facebook.

Volp, for example, made the point that we're more likely to watch something if it has been recommended by a friend.

"There's probably no more powerful way of delivering video in a way in which people will actually view it," Volp said.