Recently I was invited to be on a panel at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) and participate in their mentoring sessions and the lab at Cinemart.  Great experience. I am always amazed by the difference between the US and Europe. The whole government funding of films and new media initiatives as our government is about to shut down.  Well, their policies and practices do take their own financial toll too but one I think is worth it.  For all my europhileness I have to note that the Europeans can be just as guilty of not wanting to watch subtitles in fact some countries dub films instead. And of course we know that Hollywood is big business in Europe too. But all in all, art house cinema seems to reach more broadly in Europe and even some parts of Asia than it does in the US.  Films in Cannes and other top fests can sell all over Europe and never in the US or success in opening theatrically only in NY and maybe LA and overall it seems to me box office is generally down for foreign language cinema.

International filmmakers want US distribution and it was painful for me to discuss their prospects at IFFR because for so many, the prospects are slim.  But this one’s for you! (Please note this blog is focused on digital distribution and not healthy categories for foreign language cinema such as Non Theatrical including Museums, Films Festival, Colleges, Educational / Institutional).

Cable VOD was 80% of the digital revenue in the US in 2009 but it’s now declining little by little, now estimated to be in the high 70’s (approx 77%) and may decline further still. The reason for this change, which is expected to continue, is that Internet based platforms are growing.  Regarding FOREIGN LANGUAGE ON CABLE VOD: Distributors and aggregators agree that foreign language cinema is very hard to get onto Cable VOD platforms and slots for non-English cinema are reserved generally for marquee driven films and/or films with a real hook (name cast/director, highly acclaimed, genre hook).   A big independent Cable VOD aggregator notes a real struggle in getting foreign language films to perform on Cable VOD and even Bollywood titles that had wide theatrical distribution and a box office of upwards of $1,000,000 still perform poorly (poorly means 4-figure revenue, 5-figure tops). They have had some success with foreign martial arts films and will continue with those in the foreseeable future. Time Warner Cable (TWC) remains more open to foreign language cinema though it plays the fewest films, a range between 190 – 246 at any given time (with a shelf life usually of 60 days and with 2/3rd of the content seeming to be bigger studio product, and the rest indie).  By comparison Charter and AT&T play about 1,000 and Verizon plays 2,000, and Comcast plays about 4,000.  [See below for the 2010 breakdown of Cable subscription numbers.] Hence, individual titles may perform better on Time Warner Cable for obvious reasons, Comcast may have more subscribers but there’s less competition and TWC is in New York, the best demographic for art house cinema.

Generally speaking, platforms overall are far more receptive to foreign films following the recent success of DRAGON TATTOO, TELL NO ONE, IP MAN, etc.  than they have ever been before.  However as one can see from the titles noted, foreign genre films are preferred because they have the opportunity to reach broader audiences than the usual foreign film.  Genres that reportedly work include:  sci-fi, thriller/crime, action, and sophisticated horror.  Dramas have had limited success, and comedies often don’t translate, nor does most children’s content. In regard to Cable VOD – foreign box office is becoming an important proxy, because the marketing and pr tend to build US awareness on the larger titles prior to being available here.  Many companies have built very successful VOD businesses pursuing a day and date theatrical or DVD strategy.  Again, genre films work best, with horror and sci fi being the top performers.  3 of the top 10 non-studio titles in 2010 were foreign language subtitled releases.  Small art house distributors say that at most it’s a small dependable revenue stream via services such as INDEMAND http://www.indemand.com (iN DEMAND’s owners are and it services Comcast iN DEMAND Holdings, Inc., Cox Communications Holdings, Inc., and Time Warner Entertainment – Advance/Newhouse Partnership.)  Distributors and aggregators all site Time Warner as being far more open to foreign language cinema than Comcast, because it’s urban focused (NY, LA, etc) not heartland focused as Comcast is.

In terms of these titles finding their audiences on Cable VOD, Comcast announced improved search functionality by being able to search by title and Cable VOD is aware of its deficiencies and is said to be improving in terms of marketing to consumers but Cable VOD is still infamous for its lack of recommendation engines and discovery tools. Key aggregators work to have films profiled in several categories and not just the A-Z listing.

Top 25 Multichannel Video Programming Distributors as of Sept. 2010 – Source NCTA (National Cable Television Association)

Rank MSO BasicVideoSubscribers
1 Comcast Corporation 22,937,000
2 DirecTV 18,934,000
3 Dish Network Corporation 14,289,000
4 Time Warner Cable, Inc. 12,551,000
5 Cox Communications, Inc.1 4,968,000
6 Charter Communications, Inc. 4,653,000
7 Verizon Communications, Inc. 3,290,000
8 Cablevision Systems Corporation 3,043,000
9 AT&T, Inc. 2,739,000
10 Bright House Networks LLC1 2,194,000
11 Suddenlink Communications1 1,228,000
12 Mediacom Communications Corporation 1,203,000
13 Insight Communications Company, Inc. 699,000
14 CableOne, Inc. 651,000
15 WideOpenWest Networks, LLC1 391,000
16 RCN Corp. 354,000
17 Bresnan Communications1 297,000
18 Atlantic Broadband Group, LLC 269,000
19 Armstrong Cable Services 245,000
20 Knology Holdings 231,000
21 Service Electric Cable TV Incorporated1 222,000
22 Midcontinent Communications 210,000
23 MetroCast Cablevision 186,000
24 Blue Ridge Communications1 172,000
25 General Communications 148,000

FOREIGN LANGUAGE CINEMA VIA OTHER DIGITAL PLATFORMS and REVENUE MODELS:

DTO (Digital Download to Own (such as Apple’s iTunes which rents and sells films digitally) – this space has been challenging for foreign films in the past, and most services do not have dedicated merchandise sections. Thus, the only promo placement available is on genre pages, so the films need to have compelling art and trailer assets to compete.  iTunes and Vudu (now owned by WALMART – see below) are really interested in upping the ante on foreign films over the next 12 months.  Special consideration will need to be made for the quality of technical materials, as distributors have encountered numerous problems making subtitled content work on these providers.

SVOD (Subscription VOD such as NETFLIX’s WATCH INSTANTLY) – this space is probably the best source of revenue for foreign content because the audience demos skew more sophisticated and also end users are more inclined to experiment with new content niches.  Content in this space should have great assets and superior international profile (awards, box office), and overall should evoke a “premium feel” for the right titles, license fees can be comparable to high end American indies.  Appetite for foreign titles will increase as the price for domestic studio content continues to accelerate.  Genres are a bit broader than VOD/DTO, but thrillers, sci fi and action still will command larger sums ($). Good Festival pedigree (especially Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance, etc.) will also command higher prices.  Overall, it’s a great opportunity as long as platforms keep doing  exclusive deals.  NETFLIX has surpassed 20,000,000 subscribers and a strong stock price and is in a very competitive space and mood again. (See more below).  Hulu expects to soon reach 1,000,000 subscribers  “to approach” half a billion in total revenues (advertising and subscription combined) in 2011, up from $263 million in 2010. That’s from $108 million in 2009. (see more below)

AVOD (Advertising Supported VOD – such as SNAG and HULU) – Another great space for foreign content (as evidenced by the recent exclusive HULU – Criterion deal – (see below) although that deal is actually for HULU’s subscription service (Hulu Plus). These platforms are more willing to experiment with genres and content types and favor art films and documentaries over genre films. Depending on the film, annual revenues can approach low to mid four (4) figures in rev share.  SNAG recently was capitalized to the tune of $10,000,000 but seems to be spending that money on marketing and not on “acquiring” so a film’s revenue is likely to be dependent on performance and rev/share unless one strikes an exclusive deal with SNAG and manages to get an MG.  HULU’s revenues are covered above.  Films report low 4-figures but sometimes 5 and 6 figure revenues but up until now those higher performing films have been English language and appeal to younger males.

TELEVISION / BROADCAST SALES: For foreign language cinema unless one has an Oscar™ winner or nominee, or an output deal, the prospects of a meaningful license fee are slim. Even worse, if you do secure a deal, it will likely preclude participation in Cable VOD, Netflix and any of the ad-supported VOD platforms such as Hulu and Snag.

KEY SPECIFIC TOP SPECIFIC DIGITAL PLATFORMS / RETAILERS:

AMAZON reportedly is readying a service that would stream 5,000 movies and TV shows to members of its $79-per-year Prime free-shipping membership program. Amazon being corporately tied to extremely popular entertainment information service IMDB and the film festival submission service WITHOUTABOX gives it a potential edge in the market, one that has never been fully harvested but easily could be and seems to be looming. And since its inception, Amazon has let film content providers open up shop on their site directly without a middle-man. Middle man aggregators get slightly better terms. Amazon presently offers 75,000 films and television shows combined and plans to soon exceed 100,000. It should be noted Amazon VOD has been US-focused though recently bought Love Films in the UK.

FOCUS FEATURES’ NEW DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION INITIATIVE: There is not much information out on this yet but FOCUS/UNIVERSAL are launching a new digital distribution initiative that may or may not brand their own channel on iTunes etc., but does seem to be focused on niche cinema to some extent and this may speak to foreign language titles. An option to watch out for.

GOOGLE is working on encroaching into the content delivery market with its launch of GOOGLE TV, which unfortunately has not created quite the fanfare the company planned for.  It boasts: The web is now a channel. With Google Chrome and Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Google TV lets you access everything on the web. Watch your favorite web videos, view photos, play games, check fantasy scores, chat with friends, and do everything else you’re accustomed to doing online. GOOGLE TV does come with the Netflix App and others. Google partnered with some of the leading premium content providers to bring thousands of movie and TV titles, on-demand, directly to your television. Amazon Video On Demand offers access to over 75,000 titles for rental or purchase, and Netflix will offer the ability to instantly watch unlimited movies and TV shows, anytime, streaming directly to the TV.

HULU: Hulu’s numbers keep growing for certain films, which has to-date not been foreign language but that may change given the Criterion Collection announcement. Hulu is also now a subscription service (HULU PLUS) and announced the Criterion deal is for that. Criterion of course specializes in classic movies from the canon of great directors–Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, etc.–and has about 800 titles digitized so far, many of which are also available via Hulu competitor Netflix. It’s understood that this will be an exclusive deal, and that the Criterion titles that Netflix does offer will expire this year.  Hulu Plus subscribers will initially get access to 150 Criterion films, including “The 400 Blows,” “Rashomon” and “Breathless.” Hulu says the movies will run without ad interruptions, but may feature ads before the films start; the free Hulu.com service will offer a handful of Criterion titles, which will run with ads.  Hulu, owned by Comcast’s NBC, Disney’s ABC and News. Corp.’s Fox introduced the Hulu Plus pay service last year. Hulu CEO Jason Kilar says the $7.99-per-month offering is on track to reach one million subscribers in 2011. Competing for exclusive content seems to be on the rise as platforms compete for household recognition and top market share.

iTunes (APPLE): iTunes dominated consumer spending for movies in 2010 but that may not last long. One can get onto iTunes via one of its chosen aggregators such as New Video, IODA, Tune Core, Quiver…  Home Media Magazine reported the findings of an IHS Screen Digest report that showed that Apple was able to hold off challenges from competitors like Microsoft’s Zune Video (via XBOX Kinect), Sony PlayStation Store, Amazon VOD and Walmart’s VUDU.  Despite the new competition,  the electronic sellthrough and video on demand market rose more than 60% in 2010, Apple iTunes still came out on top, perhaps due in part to the release of the iPad last spring and Apple TV last fall.  Research director of digital media for IHS, Arash Amel, said, “The iTunes online store showed remarkable competitive resilience last year in the U.S. EST/VOD movie business, staving off a growing field of tough challengers while keeping pace with a dramatic expansion for the overall market.”  However, it’s important to note that although iTunes staved off competition, the overall iTunes consumer spending fell almost 10% in 2010 to 64.5%.  It was 74.4% in 2009.  Insiders predict it will not hold its market dominance for long.

Microsoft’s Zune Video was one of Apple’s biggest competitors last year, accounting for 9% of U.S. movie EST/iVOD consumer spending in 2010 but this does not seem a key platform for foreign language cinema.

MUBI:  www.Mubi.com having added Sony Playstation to its platforms reach, MUBI now has reportedly 1,200,000 members worldwide and is finally in a better position to generate revenue.  Still its own figures estimates amount to 4-figures of revenue and that’s for all its territories.  Mubi’s partnership with SONY does not extend into the US.

NETFLIX as reported in Multichannel News “as its subscriber base has swelled, Netflix has become a target for critics complaining that it is disrupting the economics of TV” is now a competitor to Cable and in fact Cable VOD companies won’t take a film if it’s already on NETFLIX’s Watch Instantly service. But Netflix is realizing it erred by losing focus on the independent and is now quietly offering bigger sums that compete with Broadcast offers and that are on par with the 5 and 6 figure revenues generated by Cable VOD for the stronger indie / art house films. Having films exclusively may be the driving force of future monetization in digital, or least in SVOD.  Regarding 2011 outlook, Netflix’s “business is so dynamic that we will be doing less calendar year guidance than in the past,” the execs said.  For the first three months of the year, Netflix expects domestic subscribers to increase to between 21.9 million and 22.8 million, with revenue between $684 million and $704 million and operating income between $98 million and $116 million. Internationally — meaning, for now, Canada — the company expects 750,000 to 900,000 subscribers with revenue of $10 million to $13 million and an operating loss between $10 million and $14 million.

REDBOX: Redbox, whose brick-red DVD vending machines are scattered across the country, is aiming to have a Netflix-like video streaming subscription service up and running by the end of 2011, company executives told investors mid February. Redbox is a wholly owned subsidiary of Coinstar. The Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based company claims to have rented more than 1 billion DVDs to date through vending machines at about 24,900 U.S. locations nationwide, including select McDonald’s, Wal-Mart Stores and Walgreens locations. It should be noted though that Redbox is very studio title focused and wide release focused but its streaming service will likely move beyond that.

WAL-MART bought VUDU and is expected to be a major player. Walmart is the world’s largest retailer with $405 billion in sales for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2010. In the U.S., Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. operates more than 4,300 facilities including Walmart supercenters, discount stores, Neighborhood Markets and Sam’s Club warehouses.   VUDU, is Walmart’s recently acquired online media source where consumers can rent or buy movies and TV shows for their internet-ready HDTV, Blu-ray Disc players or PlayStation 3 consoles.  Like iTunes, there are no monthly fees.  Consumers can buy and rent movies when they want, and 2-night rentals are only $2.  It will be interesting to see how VUDU will rise as a contender in 2011 and whether iTunes will suffer as a result of their success.  Wal-Mart advertises that regarding VUDU: “from Internet-ready HDTVs to WiFi enabled Blu-ray players, you’ll find all the VUDU ready electronics you’re looking for at Walmart.com. Whether adding a flat panel TV to your dorm room or upgrading your home entertainment center, our selection of VUDU ready HDTVs has you covered. You’ll also save money on our VUDU ready products when you select items with free shipping to your home. With VUDU, you’ll be able to stream HD movies directly from the Internet to your TV in dynamic surround sound for a great low price. Shop VUDU ready HDTVs and Blu-ray players at Walmart.com — and save. “ And the retail giant makes sure all relevant devices / electronics it carries are VUDU-enabled.  2011 and beyond will be telling.  Wal-Mart caters to the average American so it remains to be seen if there is an appetite for foreign language film via VUDU in the months and years to come. In its inception VUDU was catering to early adaptors of new technology and those eager to watch HD but now it seems to be becoming more generic. New Video is a preferred aggregator to VUDU, among others.

VODO (Free / monetized Torrent): www.VODO.net: This has not been tried in the US by most distributors if any and not for foreign language cinema but it has worked for several projects such as Pioneer One which generated $60,000 USD by having the content made available for free and then getting donations in return.

Other emerging retailers entering the digital space:

Sears and Kmart are the latest over-the-top threats to pay-TV providers’ video-on-demand businesses. Sears launched its online movie download service, Alphaline Entertainment, which will let Sears and Kmart customers rent or purchase movies, including on the same day they are released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, provided through digital media services firm Sonic Solutions.  Titles currently available to rent or buy from Alphaline include studio and successful TV shows. Under Sonic’s multiyear agreement with Sears, the companies will provide access to Alphaline services through multiple devices including Blu-ray Disc players, HDTVs, portable media players and mobile phones. Sears and Kmart, said in a statement. “We’ll continue to increase the reach and flexibility of the Alphaline Entertainment service by providing consumers on-demand access to the latest entertainment from a range of home and mobile electronics.” Sears, which merged with Kmart in 2005, is the fourth largest retailer in the U.S. The company has about 3,900 department stores and specialty retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.  It remains to be seen if they take on foreign language cinema. New Video is also an aggregator to them.

That’s all she wrote folks. Until the next time.

March 10th, 2011

Posted In: Amazon VOD & CreateSpace, Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, Hulu, International Sales, iTunes, Netflix, Uncategorized

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*This is Part III of  “If I Were a Filmmaker Going Sundance…”

Post Sundance what I have to say is this:  there were more deals done since I started tracking them along with the rest of the industry so for more deal counting and analysis please refer to that blog post.

But thank you Fox Searchlight, TWC and Oprah for injecting the biz with just the right amount of adrenaline to keep it dreaming big; we hope you’re buying big next year. What else is new? Focus has an emerging digital distribution initiative, Amazon is giving Netflix a run for its money (or not, depends on who you talk to)…. everyone is waiting on Wal-Mart to see how much voodoo VUDU can conjure up and SEARS and KMART are in the digital space just in case you though big retail was dead.  Blockbuster is still for sale. Google’s stock price is high as ever and Apple is not going down any time soon judging from its 130,000,000 credit cards on file (and that was just the last time I checked) even though some speculate it will meet its match.

So now that there are almost as many digital plays as they are films (hahahaha of course not literally) how can we distinguish them? TERMS and MARKETING. I have made much fuss about terms before (how long, how many rights, fees and above all, what are the splits between platform/ service and aggregator/distributors).

We hope that filmmakers and their team build community and buzz around their films and start engaging audiences and potential audiences well before and leading up to and following the first public exhibition of their films.  But after a distributor or aggregator comes on board, then what? What do they do for the fees, other than the selling and servicing of the film and its assets to the platforms / services.

Here is an overview of what a few companies do to market films for home entertainment release, either DVD & DIGITAL or just DIGITAL, and mostly in their own words:

FILMBUFF

“FilmBuff is an established leader in the development of innovative release strategies, digital merchandising and promotions.  Our strong retail relationships allow us to emphasize merchandising and promotional placement on all platforms and video portals.  Our internal marketing builds custom outreach programs to build audience awareness and activate the online communities that are ideal for each film.  Custom promos and features on FilmBuff’s social media networks across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a host of online video portals work in concert to ensure that films reach the widest possible audience.”

Our dedicated programming and marketing teams will:

• Design a custom release strategy for each film across all digital platforms
• Work directly with online stores on a weekly basis to gain featured digital merchandising.  Some examples of recent featured merchandising and promotions below:

Exit Through the Gift Shop on iTunes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collapse on XBox

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Too Many Mornings on Hulu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cemetery Junction on Charter

 

 

 

 

 

 

• Build a public relations program to drive audience awareness through national & international press and blog coverage.

 

Nice Guy Johnny on AOL Video

 

• Execute custom outreach programs to activate and engage the online communities that are ideal for each film.
• Implement online promotional campaigns and features leveraging FilmBuff’s expanding social media community of movie lovers on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube and others.  The community now includes 25K+ engaged fans, followers & subscribers.

 

Savage County on Veoh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• Feature the film in various areas on our website (www.filmbuffondemand.com) which drives users and fans to digital transactions.  The site features video clips, industry content, guest blogs, film extras  and links to all portals where the film is available.  The site currently receives an average of over 20K+ page views per month.

 

 

NEW VIDEO

“New Video’s suite of marketing services for films released on DVD, Blu-ray, digitally and on-demand includes:

Direct contact with retailers and platforms for developing and supporting in-store placements and point-of-sale promotions. (TFC notes: They have a lot of DVD volume so their relationships are more valuable than a filmmaker can get on their own dealing with the retailer).

A full-time in-house public relations team directing outreach to national and regional print, online and broadcast media for both industry and consumers-

Collaboration with partner organizations to drive grassroots awareness; a custom affiliate program for DVD sales referrals.

* Best practices to reach existing fan bases online and off with a solid emphasis on social media. * Strategic advertising to maximize ROI. * Promotion at consumer and trade shows.

The mission of New Video is to leverage 20 years of distribution and marketing experience to provide the broadest possible reach across all distribution channels, while raising awareness through major press, grassroots organizations, and everything in between. Titles we’ve distributed and marketed include GasLand, King Corn, Autism: The Musical, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog and The Secret of Kells. We collaborate with filmmakers, create custom marketing strategies and share our best practices to build on the momentum they have developed over the life of their project. With expert in-house publicity services, our campaigns cover long lead press, short lead, online, industry, and consumer press outlets (both national and regional, in print, online and broadcast media). Our press releases are media-rich and social media-ready for posting and sharing, and we offer next-gen screener service for press review. We have a proven track record in leveraging talent to maximize press and promotion through marketing opportunities such as podcasts and exclusives. We have a hands-on, strategic approach to grassroots marketing, and we employ social network marketing through our own presence on Facebook and Twitter, and through coordination with supporters’ social networks. We prize our longstanding relationships with store merchandising teams, and add enormous value in our ability to customize and create in-store marketing strategy, such as thematic shelves, customized artwork, and priority placements. We collaborate on selective online, print and radio advertising to strategically improve ROI through targeted buys, and we build opportunities around media events, consumer and trade shows to further press coverage and consumer awareness for a property. We complement these practices with a custom affiliate program for DVD sales referrals to incent partner organizations online. New Video is committed to building and maintaining buzz organically, through extended campaigns, early editorial pitching, and social outreach. We communicate with consumers through our website and blog, social media, and a newsletter reaching 15,000 subscribers.”

TFC NOTES: New Video is a key iTunes aggregator not only for its own titles but for many traditional distributors and even IndieFlix and Indie Rights and TriBeCa Films (remember filmmakers, always ask the questions that help you know how many middle men there are in any given category of distribution).  I know that on the ‘Social Media Outreach’ front for iTunes releases for example, New Video sends out social-media releases with images & clips to sites such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon and they post release on PR Distribution sites such as ClickPress, i-Newswire, eCommWire, The Open Press.   From past experience we know they do a feed-based announcement made available on Google blog search, Technorati, Yahoo! News, Topix, tagged with keywords for easier discovery. New Video does email marketing to its subscribers as well and Trailer or Clip Tagging Promotional clips tagged with “Now Available on iTunes” and syndicated to top video sharing sites (e.g. YouTube, Yahoo!, MySpace, Google, Revver, Dailymotion, Blip, Veoh). They monitor and post reviews in-store Individual reviews posted about the content.  On the online grassroots outreach front, they connect to digital portals; targeting topical, genre and talent fansites and blogs and service those with press release and special offers (exclusives, clips, contests, review copies). And they work fans and friends via the social networking sites. (TFC notes: on Facebook New Video as a company only has a little over 1,700 people.  The page is largely used to promote titles, not facilitate dialog as Sheri Candler observed.).

WOLFE VIDEO

“25 years developing relationships with national retailers, VOD companies, the press and media, film festival programmers, LGBT organizations and our vendors. Over 25 years building traditional and electronic mailing lists, plus a wide social media presence.  Wolfe believes that the key aspect to being an effective Distributor is marketing.  In the absence of this expertise, a distributor is merely a middleman.  Wolfe is widely known for mainstreaming films with gay content.  The most invaluable asset Wolfe brings to filmmakers is experience. Wolfe has over 25 years developing relationships with VOD companies, DVD retailers, niche and traditional media, film festival programmers, broadcasters, LGBT organizations and our vendors. Wolfe has one of the largest channels in the gay niche market which includes traditional and electronic mailing lists and a wide social media presence.

One of Wolfe’s most notable assets is its direct access to gay consumers; better known as WolfeVideo.com.  The website supports heavy traffic and is widely known as a commerce site for gay feature films.  It should also be noted that Wolfe does not sell adult product, so the website is accessible for many audiences.  WolfeVideo.com is supplemented by the QMovieBlog.com and Wolfe’s social network strategy includes a variety of ongoing campaigns across all major platforms. Wolfe has a particularly substantial and active following on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube; for example Wolfe’s work on Were the World Mine generated nearly 100K views on YouTube alone and the famous re-release of Desert Hearts promotion generated over 847,000 views!  Wolfe’s direct to consumer assets also include significant opt-in mailing lists via email and traditional snail mail, which continues to be a strong sales tool for the company and its products. (TFC Notes Wolfe’s Facebook page has 3,368 likes).

Sales and marketing via mainstream outlets is key to the success of Wolfe films.  Wolfe leverages client relationships with VOD, EST and DVD retailers to further market films.  Strategic partnerships bring Wolfe’s films front and center in programs such as the Gay Pride month feature on the home page of iTunes, Internet promotions with Xfinity & dominant presence with DVD retailers such as Amazon.com.  Wolfe has also engaged companies like Sony to develop marketing campaigns.  The Sony Ebridge program was designed to add value to the DVD.  E-bridge gave consumers cool stuff like the chance to win a trip to Australia. It also offered advertisers unique consumer access they would otherwise not reach.

Other clients that partner with Wolfe promotions include hundreds of non-profit organizations nationwide such as LGBT film festivals and political orgs like GLAAD. These organizations work with Wolfe to both screen films for hundreds of consumers and promote the subsequent VOD & DVD releases.  These relationships expand consumer outreach and do the good work of promoting the important work of non-profits.

Publicity is a major focus in every Wolfe campaign.  Wolfe’s publicists (not in-house) facilitate reviews, interviews and other coverage for all Wolfe releases across a wide range of media outlets from national and regional print publications to blogs and websites.  Broadcast networks also work with Wolfe on publicity and marketing.  For example, the Logo Network is presently airing Wolfe PSA’s to educate consumers about the effects of piracy featuring actors from Wolfe films.

Additionally, they not only market films on the Wolfe label, but work extensively with larger labels such as Sony, Universal, Fox, and Showtime to name a few.  Every successful distributor with gay content has hired Wolfe to support their products.  Wolfe has a “soup to nuts” approach to film marketing and they work hard to reach millions of consumers for every release.”

INDEPENDENT LENS

Independent Lens has a strong social media community including nearly 70,000 engaged Facebook fans —the largest of all PBS primetime series, second only to Antiques Roadshow. Independent Lens social networking and online impact: Independent Lens believes social networking is one key component to reaching new, younger and more diverse viewers for our broadcasts, engagement work and online distribution.

Independent Lens is the second most popular PBS series on Facebook. We post daily, and our posts average 55,000 impressions each. We receive an average of 100 interactions (Likes + Comments) on each post. This engagement rate ranks first among PBS series and means that 5 out of 6 of our fans see each post.

(e.g. their The Calling Livestream event from the Chicago Art Institute in December 2010 attracted more than 3,000 viewers on their Livestream channel on their Facebook fan page.).

We have more than 11,000 followers on Twitter.

We post three or more new Blog postings each week, and they feature interviews with the filmmakers, documentary news, dispatches from filmmakers in the field, live chats with filmmakers and the subjects of their films, and more.

In the first quarter of our current season, Independent Lens had 18,000 page views from more than 15,000 unique visitors.”

GRAVITAS

“With there being thousands of films available in the VOD marketplace, here are four ongoing tactics we use to raise the profile of Gravitas films:

1. Traditional PR- As this The Wrap article shows we believe it important to convey to the industry and entertainment enthusiasts that Gravitas continues to innovate in VOD. In this instance, we will be releasing American: The Bill Hicks Story “day and date” in theatres and on VOD in April. This is a film was adored when it screened at SXSW in 2010 and having pre-release PR supporting the film will help us get wide carriage in 100 million North American VOD homes and marketing support from cable and online operators concurrent with the film’s debut.

We have an outside PR firm on retainer and we also do PR/marketing in house.    None of these expenses are charged back to the filmmaker.   We work in house, w/ our PR firm and with our Licensors to ensure appropriate messaging is being conveyed.   Good reviews are crucial, but of paramount importance is letting the Licensor know when and where the film are being played in VOD.   To this end, we communicate with our Licensors every time their film is on a new VOD platform.

Here are a couple recent links to coverage on IFC.com

http://www.ifc.com/news/2010/10/2010-holiday-movie-guide-online-vod.php

http://www.ifc.com/news/2011/01/winter-preview-2011-dvds.php

2. VOD Guide Optimization- As you know, there are over 100 cable, satellite, and telco operators in North America and each operator has their own VOD guide characteristics. As a result, we spend considerable resources internally making sure that our films are mapped so that customers can easily find them. As a result, we have Slingboxes set up in homes all across North America where we can remotely use our office internet connections to peer in to the cable boxes of friends and family to make sure our films are in as many VOD guide folders as possible. The enclosed images shows the layout of 8 different large operators. Our goal is make sure our films show up 4-5 times within each operator VOD storefront in folders frequently called “New Release”, “All Movies A-Z”, “Indy Films”, “2 Day Rentals”, “VOD Premieres”, “In Theatres”, and the appropriate genre categories like “Documentary” or “Comedy.”

Almost each guide (aka UI or User Interface) is a little different and we monitor as many of the UI’s as possible to ensure that we are aware of any guide changes that we should be taking advantage of that would be appropriate for our content so that it is merchandized appropriately.  We do this for all of our licensed content.

3. Online Editorial Outreach: Gravitas’ marketing team has a monthly dialogue  (including sending DVD screeners) with dozens of websites and bloggers that cover independent, genre, and new VOD content including:

IFC.COM

On Demand Weekly

Hammer to Nail

Twitch Film

Film School Rejects

Gordon and the Whale

28 Days Later Analysis

Fangoria

Dread Central

Arrow in the Head

VideoScope Magazine

Horrorphilia

Bloody Disgusting

Here are some recent samples:

http://www.ifc.com/news/2011/01/winter-preview-2011-dvds.php

http://ondemandweekly.com/blog/article/ip_man_-_on_demand/

4. Online and Social Media- Each month we host monthly marketing calls with filmmakers to help implement and grow the online presence of their film prior to and after VOD debut date. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Gravitas Website-We run on ongoing Film Spotlight section off of our home page where we interview writers and directors of Gravitas films currently in VOD release.  http://www.gravitasventures.com/films/

(TFC notes: no info on site traffic and Sheri Candler noted that Gravitas themselves only have a little over 500 people on their own FB page and almost no engagement from fans; few likes, few comments on the material posted there.)

ORLY asked: “Do you have any plans to expand your social network marketing? Any community engagement you want to speak to? I say this because for example Independent Lens does this very well, but most distribs and aggregators don’t. Since you mention it, if you have anything to say about it please do”.

GRAVITAS answered: “To the extent that our social media sites continue to grow, yes, but it’s equally important and effective to spread best practices with our Licensors.  i.e. If Gravitas licenses a film with a FB page of 10K fans, we want to share best practices with that Licensor as to harness their social network to drive VOD activity”.   Gravitas went on to explain that they don’t see themselves as a consumer-facing brand and they prefer to focus their efforts and resources on working with filmmakers’ Facebook pages etc and leveraging the filmmakers’ brands and outreach efforts, coaching filmmakers on having fans look for the film on the right platforms etc.

Back to the rest of the GRAVITAS info about their marketing ONLINE & via SOCIAL MEDIA:

“b.) Partner Portal Marketing- Hulu is one example of a key partner portal that we collaborate with weekly to raise the profile of Gravitas films. Here is a screen shot of the well-regarded documentary Circus Rosaire that is currently being highlighted in the top carousel off the Main Hulu Movies page.

Recently, we were able to work with the website www.Jesse-Eisenberg.com to have them cross promote one of Jesse’s earlier films The Living Wake right after he was Oscar nominated for his work in The Social Network.

http://www.jesse-eisenberg.com/news/2011/01/29/the-living-wake-now-free-to-watch-on-hulu/

We also frequently collaborate with many of our filmmakers to heighten discussion, interaction and interest in many of our Hulu films.

c.) Social Media- Gravitas and its film partners are active users of Facebook and Twitter. Here is one example where are Documentaries on Demand partner PBS tweeted about the VOD release of The Buddha to its over 500 thousand followers.”

http://www.indiewire.com/article/gravitas_ventures_to_launch_documentaries_on_demand_with_pbs/

BRAINSTORM MEDIA

Brainstorm submitted this campaign plan in answer to our desire to what they do on the marketing front. They work with Eventful.

Eventful

What Would You Give Up to Find True Love?

Submit Your Answer for a Chance to Win!

One lucky winner and three guests will win a trip to NYC, stay at the

luxurious Kimberly Hotel, get a pampering spa day and more!

Campaign overview:

Eventful will execute a social media campaign to engage consumers around the film, My Father’s Will. The campaign will allow fans to submit their answers to win a trip to NYC, see submissions from other fans, and watch the trailer for My Father’s Will.  Eventful will execute digital, email and social media marketing to drive campaign participation.

The goals of the campaign include:

  • • Drive entries for the sweepstakes
  • • Build awareness for My Father’s Will through trailer views
  • • Build awareness for accommodations being provided, i.e. hotel
  • • Generate social media and viral engagement for the film and sweepstakes
  • • Create an engaged social community for direct marketing of VOD rentals of My

Father’s Will with including folder locations for each affiliate

Phase 1: Social media campaign – Win it!

1. Eventful will design, build and host:

  • • Campaign micro-site including movie trailer and hotel branding
  • • Custom widgets and social media apps for distribution across Facebook,

MySpace and other sites, enabling consumers to enter the sweepstakes

2. Eventful will execute a comprehensive targeted marketing and promotional plan to engage existing users from among Eventful’s audience of 16 million consumers:

  • • Demographic targeting by location, age, gender, and entertainment tastes
  • • Eventful will engage consumers via dedicated email, onsite promotions, and one-click social media sharing tools

3. Marketing by Eventful will drive participants to the campaign micro-site which will include:

  • • Campaign artwork branded for My Father’s Will
  • • Primary call-to-action to enter the sweepstakes by submitting an answer
  • • Live stream of entries from fans
  • • Official trailer for My Father’s Will
  • • Campaign details with basic rules
  • • Social media sharing tools for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and email

Phase 2: Drive VOD rentals of My Father’s Will

1. Eventful will promote VOD sales for My Father’s Will through a digital and direct marketing campaign targeting all sweepstakes entrants plus a broader target audience within the Eventful user base.  Campaigns include:

  • • Dedicated email
  • • Onsite promotions
  • • Email newsletter insertions

Proposed Timeline:

  • “Win it!” Sweepstakes: 2/15/11 – 4/15/11

To see the campaign, access it here. http://movies.eventful.com/campaigns/myfatherswill2011

(TFC note: we look forward to hearing the outcome on this campaign)

So, in conclusion, you can see a range of what companies do. In general, some companies are more focused on consumer marketing and publicity and social network marketing than others and some are focused more on marketing to retailers and services and getting best placement and some may do both.  We recommend the latter when you have a choice and of course, no one can market your film better than you can.  In my experience most companies lack on the publicity side, though I will say First Run Features, for example, (since we did not cover them herein) seems to do a great job on that front working with a wonderful publicist, driving Netflix queue action, hiring outreach teams, posting the trailer all over, and take out ads, e-blast loads, as well as work social network sites etc.

I am sure other companies will want to chime in here about what they do and filmmakers too about their experiences, good or not-so-much. We want to hear from you so weigh in! Please offer specific examples, not just marketing speak. In the meantime, our resident social network marketing guru, Sheri Candler, has offered her take on what the above distributors have described.

Sheri Candler says: I am happy to see distributors explaining what they do to market titles under their control. Often, the text on their websites sounds like a generalization of typical activities conducted by any marketing department in any corporation. I urge filmmakers to press for a customized, detailed plan of EXACTLY what will be done on their films and how much it will cost. Ultimately, that cost will be deducted from your backend, so it is important to understand what you can expect from your distributor before you sign up with them. It also gives you an idea of what you will still need to do yourselves. This isn’t fix it, forget it and the money just rolls in.

As noted above, I think social networking activities by most distributors is minimal at best. If you already have 10K fans on your Facebook page and the distributor offering to perform social networking activities for your film only has 500, they really can’t offer much. Especially look at how they handle their pages. Is it mostly shill? Is there any engagement going on? Evaluate them on what they can bring you that you can’t do yourselves. I strongly disagree that distributors shouldn’t consider themselves consumer facing companies. All companies are consumer facing in this age of digital ubiquity. But if it is true, they aren’t consumer facing,  most likely those distributors shouldn’t be using social media as a company at all. SOCIAL media is all about facing the customer and conversing with them.

The only impressive distributor in the above list with regard to social networking and utilizing it effectively is Independent Lens. Look at their page and see how they are using it. Very impressive. No wonder they have almost 70K fans. Ask if your distributor has a social media team (not 2 interns!) and ask to speak with those people to get a sense of what they will do with your title or how you can combine efforts effectively. Just getting a large entity to tweet about your title once is not going to do much; it is not a Twitter strategy.

Retail DVD placement (for the next few years anyway), iTunes, Netflix, and VOD marquee placement, relationships with major publications for reviews and feature stories, these are things a typical filmmaker cannot get on their own and are worth utilizing with a distributor. Sending out eblasts and unsolicited screeners to journalists is really spam; so if that is the extent of your distributor’s publicity efforts, it isn’t worth paying for. Be sure to ask EXACTLY which publications will be approached and evaluate whether those outlets reach your target audience. You should also be consulted on what story angles will be developed for the publications. This is especially necessary if you do not have notable stars or notable accolades from festivals attached to your film as publications will be more reluctant to cover it.

Since grassroots relationships were mentioned, press your distributor to name which organizations they work with. Are they just affiliate sales relationships? Are they just a member of the distributor eblast list? Real communication should be happening and for a relationship really to be fruitful, it has to be 2 way. Of the above mentioned distributors, only Wolfe strikes me as having actual relationships with target organizations. Their content is of value to the organizations they are affiliated with and I would venture a guess that Wolfe strongly champions the orgs cause and mission too. THAT is a relationship.

Advertising placement makes sense, but find out what the spend will be and what publications/sites. While I understand that distributors get better rates going with a media broker, the spend is wasted if the placements are in publications or on sites that do not reach your target audience.

My view on this is a distributor is a marketing partner. The bulk of what they should be bringing you is marketing prowess. Really dig into what their plans are for your film and ask to see examples of work on similar films. When deciding on which distributor to sign with, don’t just sign with someone offering you access to 15 million homes. It sounds great, but if few of those homes know your film exists, there won’t be many sales.

March 2nd, 2011

Posted In: Digital Distribution, DIY, Marketing, Social Network Marketing, Uncategorized

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