MAKING SENSE OF DISTRIBUTION PANELS – POST LAFF’s SEIZE THE POWER SYMPOSIUM
The Film Collaborative was recently on a panel at the Los Angeles Film Festival as part of their SEIZE THE POWER SYMPOSIUM which focused on DIY & DIGITAL Distribution. This was the description of the panel we were on and that I moderated and will discuss below:
NEW DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION INITIATIVES
Leading digital distribution executives present new solutions for distribution
as they explain their business models and the opportunities they offer
filmmakers to reach audiences and bring in revenue for their films.
Erick Opeka, New Video
Nolan Gallagher, Gravitas Ventures
Orly Ravid, The Film Collaborative (TFC)
Scilla Andreen, IndieFlix
After the panel was over someone asked how he could decide which one of us to work with; he liked us all. It was clear to me that even though we had just finished an hour long panel at which we each presented our respective companies and then answered questions, it was not enough to make clear to everyone the way in which to relate to each company and how to make decisions about whom to work with in distribution.
Recently on Ted Hope’s blog
Jon Reiss and Ted Hope and many others including filmmakers discussed the relevance of panels and expert books and even more recently Jon Reiss wrote a blog titled “Coping with Symposium Workshop Brain Fry”. That is what I want to address here, specifically in relation to the panel I moderated and was on called “New Digital Initiatives”.
At the LAFF Panel all the companies discussed what they do and here’s some of that information below, and what we recommend a filmmaker do to make sense of information given at a panel.
Gravitas Ventures talked about its focus on Cable VOD and the fact that it works with Warner Brothers (WB) which (when WB takes a film) can lead to a film being available in up to as many as 50,000,000 homes via about 30 – 40 cable operators and up to 80,000,000 – 90,000,000 homes when one factors in digital. When WB does not take the film on Gravitas can at least get the film out to about up to 12,000,000 – 15,000,000 Cable VOD homes. Of course one in this circumstance has to realize that when WB is in the picture, there are two fees being taken as well as two companies being relied on to provide information and to pay. The other aspects to analyze are 1. the benefits of having a studio involved in VOD and Digital often leads to HIGHER revenues from Cable MSOs (Multi System Operators) and digital platforms and also MARKETING LEVERAGE. But, 2. the Studios are also glutted and not necessarily focusing on your film and you may get lost or inadvertently shafted (and I know it’s happened) so one has to have contractual commitments or protective clauses, and 3. They won’t let you keep digital rights usually, though maybe Netflix SVOD; and 4. accounting can be soft on the details. Gravitas does 2-year deals and about 350 -400 films per year and is the largest VOD aggregator at this time. Gravitas noted revenues per film ranging from as low as $5,000 – $250,000. A FILMMAKER must ADDRESS MARKETING and COSTS RECOUPMENT whether in dealing with Gravitas or any other Cable VOD & Digital Aggregator (e.g. TFC also works with Brainstorm Media & Fluent / Lions Gate), or any of the other studios who are or will be opening up to “independent product”.
The Film Collaborative’s entire purpose is to help sift through the information available at the time your film is ready or will be ready for release and help you resolve your COMPLETE DISTRIBUTION STRATEGY. Gravitas Ventures can get you the VOD and digital access you need but they don’t necessarily do much in the way of marketing so that will be more up to you to either have them commit to that effort or do it yourself (and perhaps in collaboration with us and our marketing partners). A marketing plus (+) though for Gravitas is that if WB gets behind your film, they can get iTunes and the Cable Operators to give your film a bigger marketing push. This can be very valuable.
New Video is a very well respected DVD distributor that is known for doing a great job, including on the marketing side, and for being very transparent, filmmaker friendly and very reasonable in its fees. It takes for example just 15% fee for digital distribution, and 20% for Cable VOD but again, like Gravitas, it works with Warner Brothers so that’s two fees there.. (but no different than many distributors who do their digital and VOD through Warner Brothers, such as Oscilloscope, Strand, Wolfe, I think Kino, etc.) Their encoding is all done in-house and all one has to do is supply an uncommpressed file) and it seems to be done cheaply (Gravitas who refers out to Fotokem I believe). New Video noted an “Online Management” service to help track your placement and revenues. New Video noted for digital revenue only that revenues range from a similar low as Gravitas did, $5,000 – $150,000 but I also know there have been times that New Video has generated over $250,000 in revenue for a film but that included DVD sales. It should also be noted that VOD is newer to New Video and also the company’s presented revenue range on the panel was regarding docs. It should also be noted that most films with Gravitas don’t get up to the high, and that high is more for the rare hits such as The Secret and Crips & Bloods. New Video notes the success of films that appeal to young men or tech culture (films such as Helvetica and Purple Violets were successful). And of course all the obvious factors help films success in distribution, names, the right genres, niche appeal, and theatrical release (especially if it goes well).
IndieFlix is a very filmmaker friendly and transparent option too and they don’t lock up your rights and as Scilla Andreen mentioned, they take a more HOLISTIC approach and do more grassroots outreach and public / community screening work for films. They give filmmakers a royalty of 70% (NET but modest and capped expenses if desired). They can do DVD releases and they can get you onto iTunes, Netflix and Hulu, all good platforms, Hulu being the least so but actually quite worthwhile for certain films and it can also simply help drive other transactions too. On the Cable VOD & Broadcast side Scilla noted that IndieFlix was providing content for Broadcast and Cable VOD. IndieFlix explained this to me after the panel about their handling of VOD: they do it “via Gravitas and New Video for now until we are able to deliver direct. Gravitas refers content to us and New Video will place content on our site. We all play together very well in the sandbox. I think the real strength is in the partners marketing powers. We do tell filmmakers so that if they choose to go direct they can. All have chosen to go through us since we work so closely with the filmmakers to market.” IndieFlix is also starting a “FILM FESTIVAL IN A BOX” initiative that seems cool. This is what they say about it: “Film Festival in a Box is a social gaming platform that connects people through movies. A game changer no pun intended and a completely out of the box form of distribution and audience building tool in a tiny little package. Film Festival in a Box is a game bridging on and off line communities and connecting people through movies. It’s another delivery platform and revenue stream for the filmmaker. It’s non-exclusive. It’s a game. It’s a social experience. It’s marketing. It incorporates brands in a meaningful way. It is audience building. It’s data collection. It directly connects the filmmaker with his/her audience. It’s more than a game.”
So all in all to answer the QUESTION asked at the PANEL about how do you CHOOSE between service providers and how to sift through the INFORMATION presented on PANELS. HERE’s HOW:
- Recognize that VOD is still 78% of the revenue in the digital space and if your film has Cable VOD potential (names, major fest awards, solid theatrical release, strong niche appeal, genre appeal) then one ought to find the most financially efficient and productive way to have Cable VOD distribution that takes into account the marketing required to drive awareness and transactions.
- Not only do the PERCENTAGE of FEES being taken and HOW MANY FEES are taken but knowing you are comparing right elements… some companies make take a smaller fee but also get less from the platforms or MSOs so do ALL THE MATH.
- Not all companies are right for all films so assessing special talents and interests at companies and experience in handling films that relate yours is key and get REFERENCES.
- Compare Financial terms of the deals on all fronts (including costs recoupment, Delivery / Encoding…)
- Look into your ability to split rights when / if in your best interest.
- Evaluate willingness to memorialize all verbal commitments and promises in writing.
- and again – MARKETING — who is doing what (and if not you, get it in writing).
— ALL THESE DETAILS MATTER — and where we, The Film Collaborative come in is what we note below about helping you know all your options and analyze and implement them AND of course we also offer direct digital distribution for either 15% fee or nominal flat fees (e.g. $500 – $1,200 depending) and we can get your films onto Cable VOD through our various partners (and we don’t take extra commissions for that); and we can get your film onto iTunes in the same way Distribber does and we’re also working with Distribber too (w/out charging an extra fee) and we are direct with many platforms (all the usual suspects) as listed on our site and the list keeps growing… We’ve very excited some new digital platform deals with two big retailers that we have not officially announced yet, stay tuned! We will be direct with some Cable MSOs (VOD) but that will take some more time. And we do have a MARKETING SERVICES menu and complete menu of marketing service options that we can service in-house and in tandem with our top-notch marketing service partners. TFC is committed to end-to-end distribution education and distribution solutions.
Our first written testimonial (we’ve had many oral ones) really fits into the subject of this blog entry:
“The Film Collaborative fills a void. In Indie distribution you can go out and hire a pricey consultant that seems to withhold information and contacts to lure filmmakers along with the proverbial distribution pot of gold, or you can attempt to wade through all the landfill that exists on the internet yourself (it’s all there but good luck!). This is where the Film Collaborative, come in. They have sifted through it all and presented in a transparent way so filmmakers can determine for themselves where their film sits and take action where it best makes sense.”
– Mark Hug, filmmaker of LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME
That’s truly what we’re about, being a trusted and transparent informational resource and strategic partner / connector to all your distribution and marketing options so you can find and customize the best possible distribution solution for your film.
Orly Ravid June 27th, 2010