At the recent Toronto International Film Festival, veteran independent film distributor Bob Berney gave a state of the industry address on distribution. TIFF was kind enough to make his keynote video available on Youtube (you can find it below), but here are some of the highlights if you don’t have 30 minutes to spare watching it.

-We’re in a chaotic, disruptive state right now with bigger studios making fewer, but massively budgeted films that involve huge risk.

-On the flip side, there are many more outlets now available to get a film into the market. The challenge as a producer is how to get revenue from these outlets in order to fund your next work.

-There are now well funded entities coming to major festivals and buying films without any real plan about how to release them.

-Open Road and Relativity Media are now distributing wide release theatrical films, sometimes as service deals (the production pays them to release, instead of the distribution company paying for rights).

-But platform release films, ones that start with opening in only 2-4 cities and then keep expanding their theatrical runs, are starting to have a tougher time finding a home, a company that will take them on. Fewer distributors are taking the traditional theatrical route and there are now more companies taking the day and date or VOD first route. Films that want a traditional release far outweigh the distribution companies that are willing to take on films for that kind of release.

-Berney believes that a theatrical release is the only way for a film to truly break out in the market in a big way.

-The bar for films that warrant having a large theatrical release has really been raised. The expense to release those films, even if using digital marketing, is big and the market is very competitive. Distributors who fund the marketing and distribution costs for those films are very wary about the ability to recoup.

-This summer there were many indie films that played in theaters against the studio blockbusters and did well. Boyhood, Magic in the Moonlight, Chef, Belle, Begin Again all surpassed expectations about how they would fare against the studio films. Berney believes it was because there was nothing else to see. Either superhero films or these and nothing in between. He guesses that the market could have taken even 4-5 more indie films this summer. People went to see some of those successful titles 2-3 times because there wasn’t much to choose from. Theatrical companies could have picked up more. The Fall season is crowded, but the summer could have used a few more releases.

-Because the deals are so different and the numbers come in sporadically, releasing VOD numbers is still not common.Also there aren’t very many success stories being reported from day and date or VOD only releases.

-Many European companies or smaller indie division within the studio units are not finding deals on their films very viable now. P&Ls for sales coming domestically (US) often have a 0 in the profit column. Sales can’t be counted on any more. Budgets have had to shrink accordingly because large deals aren’t happening so much any more.
Many of the newer players in the digital and VOD arena are constantly looking for content to fill their channels. Those films can play for a while until the audience gets more discerning.

-For any avenue chosen for distribution, the release has to create the feeling of an event to catch an audience’s attention. There is just too much in the market.
There is no one size fits all marketing and distribution plan. Each film needs to have its own plan handcrafted.

-Given the risk and expense, distributors are going to be much more discerning about what films they are passionate about and believe in before offering a deal.They want to be very sure there is an audience for a theatrical release before committing to such a deal.

-The Blu Ray market is still huge for certain types of films. Genre including family, horror, sci fi still do business on disc for Walmart and Redbox.

-Certain theaters are catching onto the idea of making the cinema an experience. Food, bigger seats, more varied showtimes, 4D seats are all increasing the feeling of an event in the cinema.

-Theaters are still resisting the idea of day and date. Regal and Cinemark chains are adamant about preserving the theatrical window. But AMC is more open to experimentation as long as the distributor will pay a 4 wall fee to rent their theaters. IFC and Magnolia own their own theater chains so they have been the most aggressive about trying Ultra VOD and day and date release. IFC buys about 50 films a year that they run though VOD and day and date releases.

-Due to regulation, Canada has not been able to experiment with this kind of releasing model yet.

-Berney still believes in the power of the theatrical release to affect an audience and that it is the best way to make a film break out.

-Netflix has been the savior for films that may not get a pay TV deal. Essentially, subscription VOD is on par with selling to HBO or Showtime. But Netflix takes far more films than those broadcasters.

-Social media advertising is allowing a more targeted and lower cost alternative to traditional advertising, plus providing much needed data on which to base strategic marketing decisions. Also these tools allow filmmakers to get clips, trailers, images etc to get out more widely for a lower cost and build pre release awareness that wasn’t even possible 10 years ago.

-There are just so many more opportunities now to get a film out, but it will take some time for the business side, the money making side, to catch up. That’s the uncertainty we are dealing with now.

September 19th, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Theatrical

Tags: , , , , , ,

Filmmakers often ask me how long they should keep their films on the festival circuit. For years now, I’ve been saying that for any film that is performing well on the circuit (meaning getting accepted into a significant number of festivals on a more or less regular basis), there is a general rule you can follow.

Most films will see their festival bookings continue robustly for 1 year from the date of the world premiere, and then significantly drop off (but still trickle in) in months 12 – 18. After 18 months, festival bookings will nearly cease worldwide, except for those films that have a perennial hook (i.e. a film about black history during the annual Black History Month, a film about the AIDS crisis on World AIDS day, etc).

Given that general rule, I am going to go ahead and call that 18 months the Festival “window.” Now, of course, most Hollywood companies don’t consider the festival circuit as a window akin to the “traditional” windows of theatrical, broadcast, DVD, VOD etc. For studios and mini-majors, a long festival run isn’t always necessary…they have the money and staff to market the film in other ways, and any potential revenue the film can make on the festival circuit is relatively meaningless given the scale of the budgets they work with. In many cases, larger distributors see festivals as really just giving away free tickets to their movie, and therefore limit any festival participation to only the largest, most prestigious and best publicized festivals in the world, and simply ignore all the rest.

But for individual filmmakers without the benefit of studio/mini-major release, and also for many small distribution companies, the festival window is invaluable and irreplaceable in terms of the marketing/publicity value it can afford, and the modest revenue that can be generated. For many films of course, the festival window IS the theatrical release of the film – meaning it’s the way the largest number of people can actually see the film in a theater. Even those indie films that do get a traditional theatrical release are usually limited to a few big cities, meaning festivals are the only way the films are ever going to be screened beyond New York, L.A., and few other cities. Since most individual filmmakers and small distributors work on a modest budget, any and all revenue the film can bring in is significant. Additionally, the free marketing/publicity that a festival offers is just about the only kind of marketing the film may ever get.

So – and this is back to the original question – when filmmakers ask me how long they should keep their film on the festival circuit if it is doing well, my initial answer is always “at least one year.” Given that you only have 12 – 18 months for your film to be seen this way, why not take advantage of it?

Filmmakers have a lot of fears around this; often they feel in a rush to get their movie available for theatrical or home purchase as soon as possible. Often they fear that people are going to “forget” about their film if they don’t release it as soon as possible after the premiere. Often they regard the festival circuit as a lot of work, and they just want their film released so they can move onto their next thing. Even more often, they are in great financial need following all the money invested into the film, so they feel the need to get it out quickly so they can start making money from it. I can say with great confidence that all of these fears are bad reasons to release a film – and many of the worst release failures I have ever seen comes from exactly these fears (both on the studio/mini-major level AND individual filmmaker level).

Festival VOD

First of all, unless you’ve been extremely successful in attracting people to your social media, very few people actually know about your film when it first premieres…so rather than fear those people will forget about your film, your job is to get the film out as wide as possible so you can grow your audience awareness – both through repeated festival marketing and social media. Secondly – yes, it is true that the Festival circuit is a lot of work, but independent filmmakers need to understand that distribution is a business, and you need to commit yourself to it the way you would to any other business endeavor you would undertake and expect to be successful.  A business takes time to grow.

The most vexing reason for rushing a film into release – needing to make your money back as quickly as possible – is a perfectly understandable human need and a situation many filmmakers find themselves in. I can just all but guarantee you that if you haven’t taken the time to grow your audience in all the ways possible, your release won’t succeed, and you won’t be making back your money anyway.

Despite all this – despite everything I have laid out in this post thus far – in 2014 I find more and more films going into release and off the festival circuit faster and faster than ever before. The reason for this trend is simple, technological, and perhaps inexorable – and of course it is the continuing rise of Video On Demand (VOD).

Think about how it worked in the (not so) old days. Until very recently, if your film was lucky enough to get a theatrical release offer, it would take the distributor many months to get their marketing/publicity ducks in a row, book theaters, and release the film into theaters. All this time, the film could play festivals. Then, upon theatrical release, a few cities would be lost to festivals…just the usual NY, LA, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle etc. of a traditional indie release. But for the many months between the theatrical release and the DVD release, the film could continue to play all festivals outside of the major cities…because DVD release is a physically demanding process of authoring, dubbing, shipping, shelf space, store stocking, etc. As such, it was completely normal for DVD release to be at least a year after the premiere…just because it all took time. Once the DVD was released, the overwhelming majority of festival programmers would no longer consider the film, so the festival window was all but shut at that point.

But in 2014, day-and-date VOD release with the theatrical release is commonplace, and becoming even more so. So, its not that distributors are any faster in getting the film into theaters (they’re not), but once New York and L.A. open (or shortly after), chances are that the film is also available on various VOD platforms, meaning it becomes available all at once in most North American homes (via cable VOD, application like Apple TV, or various internet platforms). And once that happens, the majority of festival programmers no longer will consider the film, believing (perhaps incorrectly) that the VOD release will cannibalize their audiences and they will no longer be able to fill their theaters with patrons willing to go to see a film at a festival when they can just watch it at home.

In addition, there is a rise in the number of cable TV channels seeking exclusive content for their VOD platforms (i.e. CNN, DirectTV, Starz, etc.) who are acquiring films with or without theatrical releases, and are in a haste to get those films out to their audiences. Exclusive content is the currency of premium platforms these days (there is no better evidence of this than the incredible success of HBO exclusive content of course), and so more and more of these companies are making offers to indie films, largely driven by the VOD.

I am not sure there is a lot independent filmmakers can do to change this trend. Filmmakers are going to continue to want distribution deals and this just may be what distribution deals look like moving forward. Of course, filmmakers can ASK that distributors put off the release as long as possible (as discussed, approx. a year after world premiere), but many distributors may not have reason to agree to that. Keep in mind that the distributor may not have complete control over that release date, in many cases the biggest VOD companies (esp. the big cable providers like Comcast, Time Warner etc.) will also tell the distributors when THEY think the film should be released, and resist the pushback…especially as they tend to want the VOD release to be closely timed with the theatrical.

That doesn’t mean I think filmmakers should cave easily….by all means try to make the distributor understand why you want to control your own festival “window.” Personally, I am consistently impressed with how much the various arms of Public Television (ITVS, Independent Lens, etc.) seem to get this, and basically allow filmmakers to set their own broadcast window relatively far into the future.

So despite my musings to this point, some of you may still be asking, “Why does all this matter? Isn’t being released into the majority of North American homes a good thing?” The biggest problem is that we simply don’t know….because VOD numbers are very rarely publicly reported, in fact almost never.

My strong suspicion is films that are rushed into VOD release perform far less on VOD than they would if they were given the time to find their audience via organic word-of-mouth methods (including festivals). I have certainly seen that with other windows, especially theatrical. As we all know now, a digital release is not enough…a film that is released into the digital marketplace without adequate marketing is just a tree falling in the forest. But ultimately I cannot support that argument with figures because so few companies (nearly none), will tell us what kind of numbers they do on VOD with their films.

Until we get real numbers that allow us to see what VOD numbers really look like for festival-driven independent films….and we can truly assess the marketing impact on those VOD numbers…we will all remain in the dark on this topic to the detriment of independent filmmakers trying to make distribution decisions. I can say for sure that films performing well on the festival circuit are forfeiting their festival revenue by going onto VOD….but until I can compare it with the VOD numbers I cannot determine whether losing that festival revenue is worth it or not.

So, is VOD collapsing the Festival window? Yes, that part is for sure, and we at The Film Collaborative have handled festival distribution on films in the last two years that bear this fact out. Is that a net negative for independent filmmakers? That part I cannot answer yet….although I suspect I already know the answer.

Let this be one more call to our Industry to release the VOD numbers. I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on this.

 

 

 

 

 

June 26th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Marketing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.

 

In this final excerpt from our upcoming edition of Selling Your Film Outside the U.S., Wendy Bernfeld of Amsterdam-based consultancy Rights Stuff talks about the current situation in Europe for independent film in the digital on demand landscape.

There have been many European platforms operating in the digital VOD space for the last 8 years or so, but recent changes to their consumer pricing structures and offerings that now include smaller foreign films, genre films and special interest fare as well as episodic content have contributed to robust growth. European consumers are now embracing transactional and subscription services , and in some cases ad-supported services, in addition to free TV, DVD and theatrical films. Many new services are being added to traditional broadcasters’ offerings and completely new companies  have sprung up to take advantage of burgeoning consumer appetite for entertainment viewable anywhere, anytime and through any device they choose.

From Wendy Bernfeld’s chapter in the forthcoming Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.:

Snapshot

For the first decade or so of the dozen years that I’ve been working an agent, buyer, and seller in the international digital pay and VOD sector, few of the players, whether rights holders or platforms, actually made any serious money from VOD, and over the years, many platforms came and went.

However, the tables have turned significantly, and particularly for certain types of films such as mainstream theatrical features, TV shows and kids programming, VOD has been strengthening, first in English-language mainstream markets such as the United States, then in the United Kingdom, and now more recently across Europe and other foreign language international territories. While traditional revenues (eg DVD,) have dropped generally as much as 20% – 30%, VOD revenues—from cable, telecom, IPTV, etc.—have been growing, and, depending on the film and the circumstances, have sometimes not only filled that revenue gap, but exceeded it. 

For smaller art house, festival, niche, or indie films, particularly overseas, though, VOD has not yet become as remunerative. This is gradually improving now in 2014 in Europe, but for these special gems, more effort for relatively less money is still required, particularly when the films do not have a recognizable/strong cast, major festival acclaim, or other wide exposure or marketing. 

What type of film works and why?

Generally speaking, the telecoms and larger mainstream platforms prioritize mainstream films in English or in their local language. In Nordic and Benelux countries, and sometimes in France, platforms will accept subtitled versions, while others (like Germany, Spain, Italy, and Brazil) require local language dubs. However, some platforms, like Viewster, will accept films in English without dubbed or subtitled localized versions, and that becomes part of the deal-making process as well. This is the case, particularly for art house and festival films, where audiences are not surprised to see films in English without the availability of a localized version. 

Of course, when approaching platforms in specific regions that buy indie, art house, and festival films, it is important to remember that they do tend to prioritize films in their own local language and by local filmmakers first. However, where there is no theatrical, TV exposure, or stars, but significant international festival acclaim, such as SXSW, IDFA, Berlinale, Sundance, or Tribeca, there is more appetite. We’ve also found that selling a thematic package or branded bundle under the brand of a festival, like IDFA, with whom we have worked (such as “Best of IDFA”) makes it more recognizable to consumers than the individual one-off films. 

What does well: Younger (i.e., hip), drama, satire, action, futuristic, family and sci-fi themes tend to travel well, along with strong, universal, human-interest-themed docs that are faster-paced in style (like Occupy Wall Street, economic crisis, and environmental themes), rather than traditionally educational docs or those with a very local slant. 

What does less well: World cinema or art house that is a bit too slow-moving or obscure, which usually finds more of a home in festival cinema environments or public TV than on commercial paid VOD services, as well as language/culture-specific humor, will not travel as well to VOD platforms. 

Keep in mind that docs are widely represented in European free television, so it’s trickier to monetize one-offs in that sector, particularly on a pay-per-view basis. While SVOD or AVOD offerings (such as the European equivalents of Snagfilm.com in the US) do have some appetite, monetization is trickier, especially in the smaller, non-English regions. Very niche films such as horror, LGBTQ, etc. have their fan-based niche sites, and will be prominently positioned instead of buried there, but monetization is also more challenging for these niche films than for films whose topics are more generic, such as conspiracy, rom-com, thrillers, kids and sci-fi, which travel more easily, even in the art house sector. 

However, platforms evolve, as do genres and trends in buying. Things go in waves. For example, some online platforms that were heavily active in buying indie and art house film have, at least for now, stocked up on feature films and docs. They are turning their sights to TV series in order to attract return audiences (hooked on sequential storytelling), justify continued monthly SVOD fees, and /or increase AVOD returns. 

Attitude Shifts

One plus these days is that conventional film platform buyers can no longer sit back with the same historic attitudes to buying or pricing as before, as they’re no longer the “only game in town” and have to be more open in their programming and buying practices. But not only the platforms have to shift their attitude. 

To really see the growth in audiences and revenues in the coming year or two, filmmakers (if dealing direct) and/or their representatives (sales agents, distributors, agents) must act quickly, and start to work together where possible, to seize timing opportunities, particularly around certain countries where VOD activities are heating up. Moreover, since non-exclusive VOD revenues are cumulative and incremental, they should also take the time to balance their strategies with traditional media buys, to build relationships, construct a longer-term pipeline, and maintain realistic revenue expectations. 

This may require new approaches and initiatives, drawing on DIY and shared hybrid distribution, for example, when the traditional sales agent or distributor is not as well-versed in all the digital sector, but very strong in the other media—and vice versa. Joining forces, sharing rights, or at least activities and commissions is a great route to maximize potential for all concerned. One of our mantras here at Rights Stuff is “100% of nothing is nothing.” Rights holders sitting on the rights and not exploiting them fully do not put money in your pockets or theirs, or new audiences in front of your films. 

Thus, new filmmaker roles are increasingly important. Instead of sitting back or abdicating to third parties, we find the more successful filmmakers and sales reps in VOD have to be quite active in social media marketing, audience engagement, and helping fans find their films once deals are done.

To learn more about the all the new service offerings available in Europe to the savvy producer or sales agent, read Wendy’s entire chapter in the new edition of Selling Your Film Outside the US when it is released later this month.  If you haven’t read our previous edition of Selling Your Film, you can find it HERE.

May 15th, 2014

Posted In: book, Digital Distribution, Distribution, International Sales

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

You may remember that I profiled a new digital distributor last year called Devolver Digital who was adding independent films to their existing line up of video games. Yesterday, Devolver announced a new initiative with the folks at Humble Bundle and VHX to release the “Devolver Digital Double Debut” Bundle, a package that includes five games both classic and new and the new documentary Good Game profiling the professional gaming lives of the world-renown Evil Geniuses clan as well as other films on the VHX platform. Proceeds from the bundle benefit the Brandon Boyer Cancer Treatment Relief Fund as well as The Film Collaborative.

You may remember, we are a registered 501c3 non profit dedicated to helping creators preserve their rights in order to be the main beneficiary of their work. We plan to use our portion of the proceeds to fund the new edition of our book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul which will be given away totally free upon its publication. If you’ve ever benefited from our advice, our speaking or our written posts, now is the opportunity to give us support in expanding even more of your knowledge as well as help Brandon Boyer, chairman of the Independent Games Festival (IGF), to help with his astronomical medical bills for cancer treatment.

Devolver Digital Double Debut bundle titles

You can find the Bundle here https://www.humblebundle.com/devolver  It is available only until March 16, 2014.

It is just this kind of out of the box thinking we love and we couldn’t wait to be involved.

As a follow up to last year’s piece, I asked Devolver Digital founder, Mike Wilson, to fill me in on how the company has ramped up and what this initiative means to gamers, to filmmakers and to the non profits involved.

In the year since Devolver Digital started, how has your games audience transitioned into an audience for the films you handle?

 MW: “When we announced the start the Films branch of Devolver Digital last SXSW, we did so for a few reasons.  The first was seeing an opening to create a more publishing-like digital distributor for micro-indies.  Curation, promotion, transparency, versus what we perceived as the status quo in the VOD distribution space where films were uploaded in bulk and they hope for the best.

One of the biggest reasons, though, was the knowledge that the biggest games platforms that we do 95% of our (very healthy) digital distribution business with on the games side were going to be moving to start delivering films this year.  Those platforms are still not very active in the film space, aside from Games/Movies bundle with Humble Bundle that just kicked off.  But they are coming, so we’ll know more about how much we are able to turn the indie game-loving audience onto indie films from the fest circuit a little later this year.  Our hopes remain high, as these are people who consume an inordinate amount of digital media, are very comfortable with digital distribution and watching films on their computers, and they have a community around independent content from small teams around the world like nothing we’ve seen on the film side.  It’s more akin to music fans, turning friends on to great bands they’ve never heard of, and gaining their own cred for unearthing these gems.  THIS is what we hope to finally bring to the independent film space, along with these much more sophisticated platforms in terms of merchandising digital content.”

Devolver Digital Double Debut Bundle

Where are you seeing the greatest revenues from? Cable VOD, online digital, theatrical? Even if one is a considered a loss leader, such as theatrical typically, does it make sense to keep that window?

MW: “We just started releasing films on cable VOD in the Fall, and most of that content didn’t hit digital until recently, so the jury is still a bit out.  We are now able to do day-and-date releasing on all platforms as well.  We have done limited theatrical, purely as a PR spend on a couple of our strongest releases, and that has been very successful in terms of getting press the films never would have gotten otherwise, but of course it does cost some money and it’s just an investment in the VOD future of the films. There is still no hope of breaking even on a theatrical run for indies as far as we can tell… but at least the cost to entry has gone down and will hopefully continue to do so.  For now, we still expect cable and iTunes to be our best performers, until the games platforms start delivering.”

What lead to this recent initiative through Humble Bundle and VHX? Have you partnered with them before? 

MW: “Humble Bundle has been a miraculous success on the indie games side.  We do bundles with them as often as possible.  The key was getting them and VHX to work together, as we needed a high-quality, low-cost streaming solution to deliver what we expect to be hundreds of thousands of ‘keys’ purchased in these bundles.

VHX is pretty forward thinking on this front, again watching the games platforms carefully, and has come up with an elegant solution that works. We have been asking Humble to let us do a movies bundle for at least six months now, since we’ve had such success with them on the games side.  They decided that this games+movies bundle would make for a stronger segue.  They have delivered other types of media before such as music, soundtracks, audio books, and comedy records, none of which has had anywhere near the attach rate of their games bundles, but are still quite successful when compared to other digital options for those businesses.  We expect films to do better than any of these other ancillary avenues they’ve tried.”

What is the split for all involved? There are several entities sharing in this Pay What You Want scenario, so is this mainly to bring awareness and publicity for all involved or is revenue typically significant?

MW: “In this particular bundle, since all the games and films are roughly $10 values, we’ve split it equally.  So you have 10 artists splitting what will probably average out at $5 or $6 bucks a ‘bundle.’  But the volume will be so high, we still expect each of these filmmakers to make more money in these 10 days than they will likely make on their entire iTunes run.

And, TONS of new people watching their movies who would never have found it otherwise, which as a filmmaker, I know counts for as much as the money.  I’d personally much rather have my film (and one of the films in the bundle is the last one I produced) in a bundle like this than shoveled onto subscription based VOD, and I know it’ll make more money and get more views.” [editor’s note: Those purchasing the bundle get to choose how the contribution is split between Devolver, Humble Bundle and the charitable contributions.]

Why did you decide to include a donation aspect to the Bundle? Is that an incentive to pay a higher price for the bundle?

MW: “Humble is committed to supporting charities with their platform.  It’s part of the magic (other than the tremendous value) that makes their 4 million + regular customers feel really good about taking their chances on games (and other media) they’ve never heard of.

From Devolver’s standpoint, our last weekly games bundle on Humble resulted in nearly $150k for charity in addition to our developers all making a nice payday.  It’s a miracle of a win-win-win.  In this case, hopefully a lot of filmmakers will feel compelled to try this method out since it’s new, an incredible value, and will support TFC, who have helped so many filmmakers learn to navigate these murky waters.  And there’s a very local, very specific cause on the games side, helping a champion of Indie Games like Brandon Boyer overcome his devastating personal situation of fighting cancer while battling mounting medical bills. It just feels good, and this is a big reason Devolver is such a fan of Humble Bundle.”

We can’t think of a better situation than contributing money to receive fantastic games and films while helping those who enable the creators to reach new audiences, keep rights control of their work and celebrate their creativity. Check out the Devolver Digital Double Debut on the Humble Bundle site. We thank Devolver, Humble Bundle and VHX for allowing us to partner with them on this initiative.

 

 

 

 

 

March 7th, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Bryan Glick

Just because you didn’t premiere at Sundance or Cannes doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Though not living up to the sales quota of last year, there are two dozen premiere films from SXSW that have sold in the U.S. Here’s a wrap up of the film sales from SXSW.

Anchor Bay stuck with their niche and took North American rights to two midnight entries Girls Against Boys and The Aggression Scale, while Cinedigm (who recently acquired New Video) went for U.S. Rights to In Our Nature and the midnight audience award winner Citadel. Pre-fest buys include Crazy Eyes which went to Strand Releasing for the U.S.  and Blue Like Jazz courtesy of Roadside Attractions. Blue Like Jazz was promptly released and has since grossed close to $600,000 theatrically in North America.  Lionsgate is handling DVD, VOD, and TV through their output deal. Meanwhile Crazy Eyes just started its theatrical run on two screens pulling in a little under $5,000 in its first week.

Millennium Entertainment took the gross out comedy The Babymakers and yet another midnight film, The Tall Man was bought for the U.S. by Imagine.  If you’re a midnight film at SXSW, odds are things are looking up for you. The same could be said for The Narrative Spotlight section where two thirds of the films have since been acquired including The Do-Deca Pentathlon  taken by Red Flag Releasing and Fox Searchlight. Red Flag is handling the theatrical (The film grossed $10,000 in its opening weekend off of 8 screens) while Fox Searchlight will cover the other ancillary markets. The Narrative Spotlight Audience Award Winner, Fat Kid Rules the World was bought by Arc Entertainment for North America and Frankie Go Boom was the first film to reap the benefits of a partnership with Variance and Gravitas.  It will be released in the U.S. on VOD Platforms in September via Gravitas followed by a theatrical in October courtesy of Variance.

And though they did not premiere at SXSW, both Dreams of a Life and Electrick Children had their U.S. premieres at the festival and have since been bought.  U.S. rights to the documentary Dreams of a Life were acquired by Strand Releasing. Meanwhile, Electrick Children was snatched up for North America by Phase 4. Phase 4 also nabbed North American rights to See Girl Run.

Sony Pictures and Scott Rudin took remake rights to the crowd pleasing Brooklyn Castle while HBO acquired domestic TV rights to the doc The Central Park Effect.  Meanwhile, after showing their festival prowess with their success of last year’s breakout Weekend (which was sold by The Film Collaborative’s Co President, Orly Ravid), Sundance Selects proved they were not to be outdone and got the jury prize award winner Gimme The Loot for North and Latin America.  Fellow Narrative competition entry Gayby sold its U.S. rights to Wolfe Releasing, a low 6-figure deal. That deal was also negotiated by TFC’s Orly Ravid. And not to be outdone, competition entry, Starlet rounds out the Narrative Competition films to sell.  It was acquired for North America by Music Box Films.

S2BN Films’ Big Easy Express became the first feature film to launch globally on iTunes. It will be released in a DVD/Blu-Ray Combo pack on July 24th by Alliance Entertainment followed by a more traditional VOD/Theatrical rollout later this year.

Other key deals include Oscilloscope Laboratories acquiring North American Rights to Tchoupitoulas, Snag Films going for the US Rights of Decoding Deepak, Image Entertainment’s One Vision Entertainment Label aiming for a touchdown with  the North American rights to The Last Fall and Factory 25 partnering with Oscilloscope Labs for worldwide rights to Pavilion.

Final Thoughts:  Thus far less than one third of the films to premiere at SXSW have been acquired for some form of domestic distribution. While that may seem bleak, it is a far better track record than from most festivals.  In The U.S., SXSW is really second to only Sundance in getting your film out to the general public. The festival also takes a lot of music themed films and more experimental projects with each theme getting its own designated programming section at the festival. Those films were naturally far less likely to sell. The power players this year were certainly Anchor Bay and Cinedigm each taking multiple films that garnered press and/or have significant star power. Other companies with a strong presence and also securing multiple deals were Strand Releasing and Oscilloscope.  Notably absent though is Mark Cuban’s own Magnolia Pictures and IFC (Though their sister division Sundance Selects made a prime acquisition). Magnolia did screen Marley at the festival, but the title was acquired out of Berlin, and IFC bought Sleepwalk With Me at its Sundance premiere.

While it is great that these films will be released, it also worth mentioning what is clearly missing from this post. There is almost no mention of how much these films were acquired for. The fact is films at SXSW don’t sell for what films at Sundance do and it is safe to assume that the majority of these deals were less than six figures with almost nothing or nothing at all getting a seven figure deal.

As for the sales agents, Ben Weiss of Paradigm and Josh Braun of Submarine were working overtime, with each negotiating multiple deals.

SUNDANCE UPDATE: Since the last Sundance post, there have been two more films acquired for distribution. Both films premiered in the World Documentary Competition. The Ambassador negotiated successfully with Drafthouse Films who acquired U.S. rights for the film which will premiere on VOD August 4th followed by a small theatrical starting August 29th.  Also finding a home was A Law in These Parts which won the jury prize at this year’s festival.  Cinema Guild will be releasing the film in theaters in the U.S. starting on November 14th. 75% of the films in the World Documentary Competition now have some form of distribution in the US.

A full list of SXSW Sales deals from SXSW is listed below. Box office grosses and release dates are current as of July 12th.

Film COMPANY TERRITORIES SALES COMPANY Box Office/
Release
See Girl Run Phase 4 North America Katharyn Howe and Visit Films
Starlet Music Box Films North America Submarine
The Babymakers Millenium US John Sloss and Kavanaugh-Jones Theatrical Aug 3rd
DVD Sept 10th
Citadel Cinedigm US XYZ Films and
UTA Independent Film Group.
The Aggression Scale Anchor Bay North America Blu-ray/dvd Epic Pictures Group
Girls Against Boys Anchor Bay North America Paradigm
Tchoupitoulas Oscilloscope North America George Rush
Gimme The Loot Sundance Selects North and Latin America Submarine Entertainment
The Tall Man Image Entertainment US CAA and  Loeb & Loeb August 31st
Elektrick Children Phase 4 North America Katharyn Howe and Paradigm
Blue Like Jazz Roadside US The Panda Fund $595,018
Crazy Eyes Strand US Irwin Rappaport $4,305
In Our Nature Cinedigm US Rights Preferred Content
Brooklyn Castle Sony Pictures Remake Rights Cinetic Media
Scott Rudin
The Central Park Effect HBO US TV Submarine Entertainment
Gayby Wolfe US The Film Collaborative
The Do Decca Pentathlon Fox Searchlight North America Submarine Entertainment $10,000
Red Flag Releasing
Fat Kids Rules The World Arc Entertainment North America Paradigm
Decoding Deepak Snag Films US N/A October
Big Easy Express Alliance Entertainmnet Worldwide DVD/VOD Paradigm and S2BN July 24th DVD/Blu-Ray
Big Easy Express S2bn Worldwide Itunes Paradigm and S2BN Available Now
The Last Fall Image Entertainment North America N/A
Pavillion Factory 25 Worldwide N/A Jan
Oscilloscope Labs
Frankie Go Boom Gravitas US Rights Reder & Feig and Elsa Ramo VOD Sept
 Variance Theatrical Oct
Dreams of a Life Strand releasing US Rights eone films international Aug 3rd

 

July 18th, 2012

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This post by Orly Ravid was published originally on the Sundance Artists Services blog April 15, 2012

1.  CARVE OUT DIY DIGITAL:

Distributors and Foreign Sales companies alike often want ALL RIGHTS and including ALL DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION RIGHTS.

No matter what, at least CARVE OUT the ability to do DIY Digital Distribution yourself with services such as: EggUp, Distrify,  Dynamo Player, and/or TopSpin, off your own site, off your Facebook page, and also directly to platforms that you can access.  Platforms and services can almost always Geo-Filter thereby eliminating conflict with any territories where the film has been sold to a traditional distributor and often times a distributor will not mind that a filmmaker sells directly to his/her fans as well in any case.

2.   PLATFORMS ≠ AGGREGATORS ≠ DISTRIBUTORS:

Platforms are places people go to watch or buy films. Aggregators are conduits between filmmakers/distributors and platforms. Aggregators usually focus more on converting files for and supplying metadata to platforms and that’s about it.  Marketing is rarely a strong suit or focus for them but it should be for a distributor, otherwise what’s the point? Aggregators usually don’t need rights for a long term and only take limited rights they need to do the job.  Distributors usually take more rights for longer terms.  Sometimes distributors are DIRECT to PLATFORMS and sometimes they go through AGGREGATORS.  It makes a difference because FEES are taken out every time there is a middleman.  Filmmakers should want to know the FEE that the PLATFORM is taking (because it’s not always the same for all content providers though usually it is other than for Cable VOD, for example) and know if a distributor is direct with platforms or goes through an aggregator.  Also, filmmakers should have an understanding what each middleman is doing to justify the fee.  On the aggregator/distributor side, we think 15% is a better fee than 50%, so have an understanding of what services are included in the fee. If a distributor is not devoting any time or money to marketing and simply dumping films onto platforms, then one should be aware of that. Ask for a description in writing of what activities will be performed.

3. THINK OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS AS STORES AND CUSTOMIZE A PLAN THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOUR FILM:

A film should try to be available everywhere however sometimes that is too costly or not possible and when that is the case one should prioritize according to where the film’s audience consumes media. Think of digital platforms as retail stores. Back in the DVD days (which are almost gone), one would want a DVD of an indie film in big US chains such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video but especially a cool, award winning indie would do well in a 20/20 or Kim’s Video store because those outlets were targeting a core audience. With digital, it’s the same. While many filmmakers want to see their films on Cable VOD, some films just don’t work well there and delivery is expensive. Some films make most of their money via Netflix these days and won’t do a lick of business on Comcast.  Other films do well on iTunes and some die there whereas they might actually bring in some business via Hulu or SNAG. Docs are different from narrative and niches vary. Know your film, its audience’s habits and resolve a digital strategy that makes sense. If money or access is an issue, then be strategic in picking your “stores” and make your film available where it’s most likely to perform. It may not be in Walmart’s digital store or Best Buy’s. Above all, if you dear filmmaker have a community around you (followers, a brand), your site(s) and networks may be your best platform stores of all.  Though there is something to be said for viewing habits so I do recommend always picking at least a couple other key digital storefronts that are known and trusted by your audience.

4. TIP FOR CABLE VOD LISTINGS:

By now many of you may have heard that it’s hard to get films marketed well on Cable VOD platforms. Often the metadata either isn’t entered or entered incorrectly and it’s nearly impossible to fix after it goes live. Hence, oversee the metatags submitted for your film and check immediately upon release. Also, since genre/category folders and trailer promotion are not always an option for every film, it is the case that films with names starting in early letters of the alphabet (A-G) or numbers can perform better. Then again, there’s a glut of folks trying that now so the cable operators are getting wise to this and not falling for it. All the more reason to focus on marketing, marketing, marketing your title, so audiences are looking for it and not just stumbling upon your film in the VOD menu. There are only going to be more films to choose from in the future, not fewer.

5. ART for SMALL:

Filmmakers, if there is one thing I must impart to you once and for all it’s this:  TAKE GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY!!!  Take it when making your film. Remember, most marketing imagery if not all for digital distribution (which will be all of “home entertainment”) must work SMALL so create key art and publicity images that also work well small and in concert with the rest of your campaign. Look at your key art as a thumbnail image and make sure it is still clearly identifiable.

6. KNOW YOUR DIGITAL DISTRO GOALS AND PLAN AHEAD:

I have seen distribution plans wasted because a vision for the film’s path was not resolved in time to actualize it properly. If your film is ripe for NGO or corporate sponsorship and you want to try that, you will need loads of lead time (6-12 months at least!) and a clear distribution plan to present to potential sponsors (who will always need to know that before agreeing).  If making money is a top concern, then know how YOUR FILM’s release is mostly likely to do that and plan accordingly. It may be by collapsing windows or it may be by expanding them. All films are different and that’s why it’s best to look at case studies of films with similar appeal to yours. And if showing the industry that your film is on iTunes matters to you for professional reasons more than financial then know that is your motivator but know that getting a film onto iTunes does not automatically lead to transactions, marketing does.

7. TIMING IS EVERYTHING | WINDOW WATCHING:

Digital distribution often has to be done in a certain order if accessing Cable VOD is part of your plan. That is not the only reason to consider an order and an order is not always needed, but it can be a consideration.  Sometimes Cable VOD is not an option for a film (films often need a strong theatrical run before they can access Cable VOD) and, in this case, the order of digital is more flexible and one can be creative or experiment with timing and different types of digital. However, Cable VOD’s percentage share of digital distribution revenues is still around 70% (it used to be nearer to 80%) so if it’s an option for your film, it’s worth doing, at least for now.

It is very often the case that if your film is in the digital distribution window before Cable VOD (on Netflix for example), that will eliminate or at least dramatically diminish the potential that Cable MSO’s (Multi System Operators) will take the film or even that an intermediate aggregator will accept it.  There is more flexibility with transactional EST (electronic sell through) / DTO (download to own) / DTR (download to rent) services such as iTunes but much less flexibility with YouTube (even a rental channel) or subscription or ad-supported services such as Netflix (subscription) or Hulu (which is both). Films that opted to be part of the YouTube/Sundance rental channel initiative (such as Children of Invention) could not get onto Cable VOD after. The Film Collaborative has to hold off on putting films in its YouTube Rental Channel if cable VOD is part of the plan.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule due to relationships or a film proving itself in the marketplace, but better to plan ahead than be disappointed.

Companies such as Gravitas are also programmers for some of the MSOs so they have greater access to VOD, but they too discourage YouTube rental channel distribution before the Cable VOD window and they do Netflix SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand), distribution after. In general, people often do transactional platforms first and ad-supported last with Netflix being in the middle unless it’s delayed because of a TV deal for example. This is not always the case and some distributors have experienced that one platform can drive sales on another but in my opinion it depends on the film and habits of its audience.  You should know that Broadcasters such as Showtime will pay more if you do your Netflix SVOD after their window rather than before.

WINDOW WATCHING: If you stream or distribute digitally before Cable VOD for example, you will often lose that opportunity so timing is key.  And of course festivals will often not program a film if it’s available digital or at all commercially.  For documentaries, one has to be mindful about the EDUCATIONAL window (though this usually most relates to DVD).  Broadcast and SVOD are competitive with each other so compare options in terms of fees and timing for best distribution results and maximum benefits.  Sometimes VOD is best BEFORE theatrical (it’s called Reverse Windowing and Magnolia does that for example, sometimes).  Sometimes Ad Supported VOD (AVOD or FOD (free VOD)) (e.g. regular HULU) or Broadcast airings are seen as useful for maximum awareness, relatively significantly revenue generating, and/or good for driving transactional VOD.  Whereas sometimes AVOD or FOD is seen as cannibalizing business and is delayed.  So again, know your strategy based on both your audience / consumer and your goals.

8. THE DEVIL IS IN THE DEFINITIONS

DEVIL IS IN THE DEFINITION: Remember that the term VOD means or includes different things to different users.  The terms in the space are becoming more customary but they are not fully standardized so be sure to have ALL terms related to digital rights DEFINED.  And the space keeps changing so be sure to stay current.

There is no standard yet for definitions of digital rights. IFTA (formerly known as AFMA) has its rights definitions and for that organization’s signatories there is therefore a standard. But many distributors use their own contracts with a range of definitions that are not uniform. When analyzing distribution options, be aware that terms such as VOD can mean different things to different people and include more or fewer distribution rights and govern more or fewer platforms.

Consider the term “VOD”. In some contracts, it’s not explicitly defined and hence can mean anything and everything. IFTA is clear to categorize it as a PayPerView Right (Demand View Right) and limit it to: “transmission by means of encoded signal for television reception in homes and similar living spaces where a charge is made to the viewer for the rights to use a decoding device to view the Motion Picture at a time selected by the viewer for each viewing”.

However in some contracts, it’s defined as “Video-on-Demand Rights,” meaning a function or service distributed and/or made available to a viewer by any and all means of transmission, telecommunication, and/or network system(s) whether now known or hereafter devised (including, without limitation, television, cable, satellite, wire, fiber, radio communication signal, internet, intranet, or other means of electronic delivery and whether employing analogue and/or digital technologies and whether encrypted or encoded) whereby the viewer is using information storage, retrieval and management techniques capable of accessing, selecting, downloading (whether temporarily or permanently) and viewing programming whether on a per program/movie basis or as a package of programs/movies) at a time selected by the viewer, in his/her discretion whether or not the transmission is scheduled by the operator(s)/provider(s), and whether or not a fee is paid by the viewer for such function/service to view on the screen of a television receiver, computer, handheld device or other receiving device (fixed or mobile) of any type whether now known or hereafter devised. Video-on-Demand includes without limitation Near VOD (“NVOD”,) Subscription Video-on-Demand (“SVOD”,) “Download to burn”, “Download to Own”, “Electronic Sell Through” and “Electronic Rental,” for example.  This example includes everything and your kitchen sink.

One has to ask if a definition of VOD or another type of digital right includes “SVOD” (Subscription Video on Demand) and includes subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. Why does this matter? Well if the fee to the distributor and/or to you is the same either way then it may not matter. If there’s a difference in fees depending on the nature of distribution, then it will.  Recently an issue in a deal came up with respect to distinguishing ad-supported specifically from general “free-streaming”.  Is ad-supported governed by a “free-streaming” rights reference?  Why wonder, Just spell it all out; better to be safe than _____.

Another example, if a contract notes a distributor has purchased “VOD Rights” but does not define them, or defines them broadly, then do they have mobile device distribution rights as well? The words “Video-on-Demand” sometimes are used only to refer to Cable Video on Demand and other times much more generally. In a “TV Everywhere” (and hence film everywhere) multi-platform all-device playable universe, the content creator needs to know.

The devil is in the definition that you must read carefully BEFORE you sign on the dotted line.  Know what you want for and can do for your film in terms of distribution and carve it up and spell it out.

9. PLAN FOR FUTURE: Digital distribution in Europe is not as mature as it is in the US but it’s growing.  The key platforms and categories of VOD now may not be key down the road.  Again, do deals wisely and plan for the future.  One way may be to set revenue thresholds for contract terms to continue.  Or allow for terms to be reviewable and adjustable into the Term.

10. IF YOU CANNOT MAKE PIRACY YOUR FRIEND by lets say monetizing it or using it to drive awareness… then think about shortening the time between your release windows and when you first start handing out DVDs and getting a lot of buzz for your film. Many folks would happily consume your film legitimately if given the opportunity in time.  Some piracy cannot be helped and can either be monetized or just enjoyed.  There are anti-piracy services one can employ as well.  In my experience, DVD is a bigger source of piracy than digital.

11. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS / OTHER WAYS TO PROTECT YOURSELF IN A DEAL: Before giving rights away for longer periods of time think about the future.  For example, the category of DTR (download-to-rent) is growing as is SVOD (Subscription VOD).  So you will want to make sure your splits are strong in your favor, especially for growing categories, and Cable VOD and transactional DTO (download-to-own) or EST (electronic sell through) are strong too and btw, some of these terms include each other.  Instead of merely focusing on rights classes even within the category of VOD one may also want to address gross revenues so that one can get an appropriate share of revenues at certain gross revenue thresholds.  You may want to have terms of a deal be reviewable for contracts with a longer Term.

Access to individual consultations for your film is available to members of The Film Collaborative starting at the Conspirator level. We also offer a menu of low cost festival and digital distribution services, marketing education and services, and graphic design for key art and websites. The Film Collaborative is dedicated to helping independent filmmakers receive the maximum benefit from their dedicated and creative work without the need to own rights. Send us a message to discuss your needs. 

 

 

May 8th, 2012

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, DIY, Marketing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Jeffrey Winter, Sheri Candler, and Orly Ravid

The old philosophical thought experiment “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” has never been truer for film distribution. With the incredible number of films available for consumption on innumerable platforms, getting some form of distribution for your film is no longer the core problem. The central issue now is: how will anyone know about it? How will you find your audience? And how will you communicate enough to them to drive them to the point of actually seeing it?

Before we plunge into that question, let’s take one step back and discuss the term “distribution.” In today’s convergence universe, where anyone with technical savvy can be surfing the Internet and watching it on their television, every single person with a high speed internet connection is in some way a “distributor.” Anyone can put content onto their website and their Facebook and de facto make it available to anyone else in the world. Anyone can use DIY distribution services to distribute off their site(s), and get onto larger and / or smaller platforms.

Even getting your film onto some combination of the biggest digital platforms – i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and Cable VOD – is not insurmountable for most films. We’re not saying it is easy…there are a myriad of steps to go through and rigorous specs at times and varying degree of gatekeepers you’ll have to interface with and get approval from. But with some good guidance (for example, we at The Film Collaborative can help you with that), some cash, and a little persistence…these distribution goals can usually be achieved.

But in a certain way, none of that matters. If you have your film available, say, on iTunes…. how is anyone going to know that? Chances are you aren’t going to get front- page promo placement, so people will have to know how and why to search for it.  This is why the flat fee services to get onto iTunes (which we now offer too) do not necessarily mean you will net a profit.  Films rarely sell themselves.  You are going to have to find the ways to connect to an audience who will actively engage with your film, and create awareness around it, or you will certainly fall into the paradox of the “tree falls in the forest” phenomenon… which many independent filmmakers can relate to.

So we arrive at the current conundrum, how do we drive awareness of our films? The following are the basic “points of light” everyone seems to agree with.

  • Use the film festival circuit to create initial buzz. If you can, get the film into a break-even theatrical, hybrid theatrical, non-theatrical window that spreads word of mouth on the film.
  • Engage the press, both traditional press and blogosphere, to write about the film.
  • Build a robust social media campaign, starting as early as possible (ideally during production and post), creating a “community” around your film.
  • Build grassroots outreach campaign around any and all like-minded organizations and web-communities (i.e. fan bases, niche audiences, social issue constituencies, lifestyle communities, etc.)
  • Launch your film into ancillaries, like DVD and digital distro, and make sure everyone who has heard of the film through the previous five bullet points now knows that they can see the film via ancillary distribution, and feels like a “friend” of the effort to get the word out to the public-at-large.
  • Be very creative and specific in your outreaches to all these potential partners, engaging them in very targeted marketing messages and media to cut through the glut of information that the average consumer is already barraged with in everyday life. This, above all, means being diligent in finding your true “fans,” i.e. the core audience who will be passionate about your subject matter and help you spread the word.

Our book SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL and its companion blog www.sellingyourfilm.com/blog  already highlight a good number of filmmakers who have used some combination of the above tactics to successful effect in finding a “fanbase” of audiences most likely to consume the film. Here, in this posting, we illustrate some additional recent films and tactics useful to filmmakers moving forward with these techniques.

WE WERE HERE, by David Weissman

Selected for the U.S. Documentary Competition by the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, WE WERE HERE tells the emotionally gripping story of the onset of AIDS in San Francisco in the early 1980s. The Film Collaborative handled festival release for this film, as well as international sales and grassroots marketing support on behalf of the theatrical and VOD (and US sales in conjunction with Jonathan Dana). Theatrical distribution, press, and awards campaigning is being handled by Red Flag Releasing.

On the face of it, WE WERE HERE is a documentary about a depressing topic like AIDS, and therefore doesn’t seem like the easiest sell in the world. However, it also happens to be an excellent film that was selected for Sundance and Berlin, as well as a film that has fairly obvious niche audiences that can be identified and targeted. As soon as The Film Collaborative came onboard, about a month prior to the Sundance 2011 premiere, we set about creating a list of more than 300 AIDS organizations in the United States, and reached out to each of them to ask them to get to know us on Facebook and our website, and also offered to send them screeners, in case they wanted to host a special screening down the road etc. Needless to say, we got an enthusiastic response from these groups (since we were doing work they would obviously believe in), but the goal here was not to make any kind of immediate money…we simply wanted them onboard as a community to tap into down the line.

Simultaneously, we created a targeted list of 160 film festivals we thought were best for the film — mixing major international fests, doc fests, and LGBT fests – and sent each of them a personalized email telling them about the film and asking them if they would like to preview it. The film (to date, is still booking internationally) was ultimately selected by over 100 film festivals (many not on our original target list of course).

As the screenings began, we reminded the filmmaker over and over to follow every introduction and every Q&A with a reminder about “liking” the Facebook page, and completely to his credit, filmmaker Weissman was always active in all aspects of Facebook marketing…always posting relevant information about the film and replying to many “fan” posts personally. Not surprisingly, a film this powerful and personal generated many deeply affecting fan posts from people who had survived the epidemic etc…, or were just deeply moved by the film. As a result, the Facebook page became a powerful hub for the film, which we strongly recommend you check out for a taste of what real fan interaction can look like. Warning….a lot of the postings are extremely emotional! One quick note – some of the most active subject members of the doc were made administrators as well, and also respond to the posts…a clever idea as it surely makes the FB fans feel even closer to the film, since they can talk with the cast as well. This would be an interesting thing to try with a narrative film as well…having the cast reply on Facebook (FB)… which is something we haven’t seen much of yet.

With the basics of community built – between the AIDS organizations, the Festivals, and the FB fans, we now had a pool to go back to…. both on theatrical release as well as upon VOD release (which just recently happened on December 9, 2011). For each major theatrical market, and for the VOD release, we went back to these people, and asked them to spread the word. We asked for email blasts, FB posts, tweets…whatever they could do to help spread the word. And without a doubt the film has gotten out there beyond anyone’s wildest initial dreams…although with VOD release only last month and DVD release still to come, final release numbers won’t be known to us for some time now…

But you can be assured we’ll be hitting up our community when the DVD comes out as well!  Also please note that these techniques and efforts apply to any niche.  For example, on a panel at Idyllwild Film Festival a filmmaker, Jeff Sable, talked about his documentary about his father playing for the Chicago Cubs and how he sold 90,000 DVDs himself (and he also did event theatrical screenings via Emerging Pictures).  He simply went after the niche, hard.

HENRY’S CRIME directed by Malcolm Veneville

Starring Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, and James Caan, world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Released in limited theatrical run in April 2011, and available on DVD and digital platforms as of August 2011. Although a film with “A-level” cast, the film was produced independently and distributed independently by Moving Pictures Film and Television. The film tells the story of a wrongly accused man (Reeves) who winds up behind bars for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. After befriending a charismatic lifer (Caan) in prison, Henry finds his purpose — having done the time, he decides he may as well do the crime. Ancillaries for the film are handled by Fox Studios. The Film Collaborative’s sister for-profit company, New American Vision, was brought aboard to handle special word-of-mouth screenings for the film, as well as social media marketing, working in conjunction with several top publicists and social marketing campaign companies in the business.

On the face of it, this film couldn’t possibly be any more different than WE WERE HERE. A narrative, heist/rom-com with major names sounds a lot easier to sell than an AIDS doc with no names. And yet, the process of reaching out to the public was surprisingly similar….both in terms of what we did and what other professional consultants on the project did as well.

First, we targeted major film festivals and major film society organizations around the country for special “word-of-mouth” (WOM) screenings of the film – seeking to create a buzz amongst likely audiences. Since the film was to be theatrically released in major markets, we targeted the festivals/film societies in these markets. This result was successful, and we got major WOM screenings in NY, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, as well as Buffalo…which was important only because the film was shot and set in Buffalo and used significant Buffalo-based crew and resources, making it a perfect market for the film.

Next, we broke the film down into logical first constituencies for the film, which we identified as follows: 1) fans of Keanu Reeves and fans of his prior movies, 2) fans of Vera Farmiga and fans of her prior movies, 3) fans of James Caan and fans of his prior movies, 4) twitter accounts that mentioned any of the cast as well as those dedicated to independent film etc., 5) web communities dedicated to anything related to the playwright Anton Checkov (because the film features significant and lengthy scenes dedicated to Reeves and Farmiga performing Checkov’s Cherry Orchard), 6) key websites dedicated to romantic comedies, 7) key recommenders of independent film, etc. Over the course of approximately six weeks prior to release, we reached out to these sites regularly, in an effort to build excitement for the film.

While this grassroots work was taking place, our colleagues in publicity organized press junkets around the film, and of course solicited reviews. In addition, marketing professionals from both Ginsberg Libby (http://ginsberglibby.com/) and Moving Pictures (http://www.movingpicturesfilmandtv.com/) were constantly feeding marketing assets for the film as well as exclusive clips both to the major press, key film sites, as well as to the official Facebook and twitter for the movie….all with the same goal in mind…i.e. to create awareness for a film that, although it had the feeling of a traditional Hollywood film in many ways, was actually thoroughly independent and lacking the resources for major TV buys, billboards, print ads, and other traditional marketing techniques.

Unfortunately, in the end, HENRY’S CRIME did not truly take hold, and the theatrical release was far less than stellar. The reviews for the film were not complimentary (it is a good film, but not a great film), and the word-of-mouth was also not sufficient to drive the performance of the film.

This of course often happens with independent film releases, and in this case the lessons learned were particularly instructive. It was apparent while working on the film that the community-building aspects of the marketing campaign started far too late to truly engage an audience large enough to support the release (it only began in earnest about six weeks before the film’s release…even though the film had had its festival world premiere nearly SIX MONTHS before). In addition, HENRY’S CRIME proves the old adage that, sometimes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink…meaning that the word of mouth audiences and press reviews didn’t particularly spark interest in the film in the wider community because they weren’t particularly excited by the film.

This is a lesson sometimes we all need to learn the hard way…that in today’s glutted market, it isn’t always enough to put out a decent movie….in fact in today’s competition, you really need to put out a independent movie that is actually great…or at least connects so deeply with your audience that they are compelled to see it.

Of course, one endless question rages on here. What are the long-tail effects of the outreach? Just because people didn’t turn out in droves to see a film in the theater, does that mean they won’t tune in on a later date in the digital platform of their choice. Certainly many people who have HEARD of Henry’s Crime who didn’t see it in the theater may one day rent it on an available digital platform, and that is why the grassroots work is so critical. We are setting up today what we can’t possibly know until tomorrow….or maybe several years from now.

TAKE-AWAY LESSONS from this post

By comparing these experiences, there are several take-aways that filmmakers should be encouraged to keep in mind when thinking about marketing their independent film. Here are some of them….

  1. Build a list, both in the real world and online, of every organization and cross-promotional partner you can think of (or google), that might be interested in your film.

    Reach out to them about your film, and ask for their support. This is arduous work, but it has to be done. From Sheri Candler: “Initially you will take part in the community before you tell them why you are there.  For example, I started researching where online the ballet community hangs out and who they listen to. I also endeavored to meet these people offline when I could. If I was going to be in their city, I asked to meet for coffee. Real life interface when you can. I then started following those online communities and influencers quietly to start with and interjecting comments and posts only when appropriate. They were then curious about me and wanted to hear about the film. If I had gone on to the platforms or contacted the influencers immediately telling them I was working on a film, chances are they would shun me and ruin my chances to form relationships. This is why you have to start so early. When you’re in a hurry, you can’t spend the necessary time to develop relationships that will last, you can’t build the trust you need. It helps to deeply care about the film. I think the biggest takeaway I have learned when it comes to outreach is the very personal nature of it. If you don’t personally care, they can tell. They can tell you are there to use them and people are on their guard not to be used. The ideal situation is they WANT to help, they ASK to help, you don’t have to cajole them into it.”

  2. Offer your potential partners something back in return.

    With a film like WE WERE HERE, this wasn’t difficult…because the film naturally supported their work. But, for most films, you’ll need to offer them something back… like ticket-giveways, promotional emails, branding, opportunities for fundraising around the cause, merchandising give-aways, groups discounts, etc. Be creative in your thinking as to why YOU should get their attention amongst the many other films out there.

  3. Community-building is an organic, long-term process…

    Just like making friends in the real world, the process of making “friends” in community marketing and online takes time and real connection. With WE WERE HERE, we had a year to build connections amongst AIDS orgs, film festivals, and attendees at numerous screenings. The opposite was true with HENRY’S CRIME….six weeks just doesn’t work. Ask yourself…how many “friends” could you make in six weeks?

  4. Community-building only really works with films that truly “touch” their audience.

    In today’s glutted marketplace, you need to make a film that really speaks profoundly to your audience and excites them ….unless of course you have a huge enough marketing budget to simply bludgeon them with numerous impressions (this, of course, is usually reserved to the studios, who can obviously launch mediocre films with great success through brute force). You, probably, cannot do this.

  5. You need to be very specific and targeted in your outreach to likeminded organizations etc.

    Don’t rely on organizations to give you “generalized support.” Provide them with very specific instructions on how and when they should outreach about your film. For example….make sample tweets, sample FB posts, and draft their email blasts for them. Give them as close to a ready-to-go marketing outreach tool as possible…with a specific “call to action” clearly identified.

  6. You’ll need warm bodies and some technical know-how on you side to accomplish this.

    There’s absolutely NOTHING mentioned in this post that an individual filmmaker with a talented team of helpers cannot accomplish. But whether its using HootSuite or Tweetdeck or Facebook analytics, or a compelling set of marketing assets and the time and energy to get them out there….you’ll need a team to help you. Remember, all DIY (do it yourself) marketing is really DIWO (do it with others), and you’ll need to build your team accordingly. If you are short on cash…you’ll likely need to be long on interns and other converts to the cause. But if you are seeking a professional team that’s long on experience and expertise, you can find many of them on The Film Collaborative’s new Resource Place page, located at http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/resourceplace/. There are many services out there to help you who have done this before….you are not alone! Sheri wonders: “how many people are reasonable”? Of course it varies, but I think 4 is safe. A traditional publicist with a big contact list for your target publications who handles press inquiries and placements;  an outreach/social media person who is a great fit for your audience to regularly post and answer questions/comments from the audience not the journalists; a distribution/booker who figures out how the film will be distributed and all of the tech specs, shopping carts, contracts, festivals, community screenings that are appropriate; and the graphic designer/web designer who figures out the technical and aesthetic elements needed to make the online impact you will need.

    It is still a big job for only 4 people but it would be completely overwhelming for just one person to do or a person who doesn’t know what they are doing and a bunch of interns to handle.

  7. A final take home:

    You may not see immediate results of each outreach and we know how dispiriting that can be. A lot of times early in the process, you will fail to connect, fail to get a response, but keep plugging away and you will very often come to enjoy the fruits of your distribution / marketing labor whether by emboldening a cause, generating more revenue, or enhancing your career, or all of the above.

Happy Distributing!!!!

January 18th, 2012

Posted In: DIY, Facebook, Film Festivals, Marketing, Social Network Marketing, Theatrical

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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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Don’t worry folks, I have not forgotten the 3rd and final part of the blog series “IF I WERE A FILMMAKER GOING TO SUNDANCE”… it’s posting this week. But in the meantime, this just in, well actually not, it’s been brewing for a while…

Festivals getting involved in distribution is all the rage. For festivals with very strong brand recognition, it makes sense to move into this arena. We’ve been recommending it to fests for years (since 2005) and we are happy to see some, such as Sundance, are getting into the fray. It makes sense for the biggest brand festivals to be using their name recognition to bring attention to the films they screen. We at TFC have a Foreign Language Oscar Initiative with Palm Springs International, a festival known for its curation of world cinema. It makes sense that together we will bring the recognition of PSIFF chosen films to a wider audience.

The Sundance brand, being strongly recognized with consumers even outside of the independent film industry, is ideal for filmmakers to use to their distribution advantage as close to the festival as possible. With the festival getting involved in distribution, the time between festival premiere and release will only help. For festivals that do not yet have a very strong consumer brand or niche it may make less sense.

An article today in the New York Times talks about some of the fests’ distribution plans.

We’ll be drilling more into this in the coming months. For now, we wanted to address TriBeCa Films distribution.

TriBeCa Films is a for-profit company and in that way they are acting like a traditional distribution company taking rights, offering Minimum Guarantees (MGs) but charging interest, all the usual stuff.  That’s the difference between TriBeCa and what Sundance has indicated its distribution will look like. The difference between it and let’s say a digital aggregator such as IndieFlix is that it has strong direct Cable VOD relationships (e.g. Comcast) and TriBeCa has a strong marketing partnership in AMEX (as noted in the article) which brings significant financial sponsorship support to marketing and we expect other partnerships are in the works.  It’s been said that overages from TriBeCa Films have been quite healthy and that the Cable VOD distribution paid off.

They started with 11 films last year and they plan to increase to 26 this year.  They partner with New Video for their DVD and for access on other digital platforms (iTunes, Amazon etc), an excellent partner but yet another middle man. The theatrical aspect of their distribution seems modest at this moment but that is no different than many other distributors and it may change in time.

Sundance is just starting to formulate its plans, but it is a non-profit and is not seeking to behave like a traditional distributor. Rather, their initiative will facilitate certain components of distribution access to key platforms under the strength of its brand and that would be a key difference.

The NYT piece cites Janet Pierson’s unwillingness for SXSW to join in the digital distribution business. As she rightly surmised, distribution is complicated, it is not always revenue generating, it can be cost-intensive, it can invite great scrutiny from filmmakers and industry and certainly does complicate a film festival’s activities and politics. So maybe for SXSW, it is enough to be at the top of the technology front and be a successful event for the convergence of art, technology and media happenings and leave well enough alone.

These are changing times indeed, with no shortage of options on accessing platforms where audiences could find your work. Branding and marketing are crucially important, and so on that note, until the next blog post.

February 28th, 2011

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , ,

I recently posted on our Facebook page a note about the fact that one has to be mindful about when to initiate a NETFLIX VOD window.  Sheri Candler asked to me blog about it.  I do everything she says.

We have heard consistently from Cable VOD operators and aggregators and Broadcasters such as Showtime that the Netflix VOD window is considered a cannibalizer of revenue for Cable VOD and TV so know that before licensing rights and resolving windows.  When it comes to Netflix they have gotten so successful that they are a more selective platform than Amazon. Amazon wants has recently passed the 80,000 titles mark and is racing to aggregate as many as possible. Netflix has over 100,000 titles on DVD and over 17,000 titles on its streaming service but is now getting more and more selective. Netflix SVOD rights are sold for a flat fee, at least for now. To get onto Netflix, first one has to get on their radar and into their system, and then get that demand up in their queue system to get a good fee offer.  One has to then resolve everything else before risking inadvertently killing any chances of a Broadcast sale or Cable VOD distribution. However, depending on the film, you may make more money from Netflix than by selling to let’s say EPIX which will want your Netflix SVOD rights anyway. And you may make more money distributing directly then doing a small Broadcast deal or going with a distributor or aggregator that will take all your digital rights anyway. Though it should be noted most filmmakers cannot get to Netflix directly.

As with anything in film distribution, there is no one rule that applies to all films. This is a case-by-case business. Some films are big enough that one can stagger windows and monetize them all. Some films are better served by being available on all platforms at once or close to it. Some films lend themselves more to rental or ad-supported free-on-demand and others can really generate the transactional (pay per download) business.

The point of this little missive though is just to note the conflation of TV and the Internet is happening. Google TV  is here and retailers, Television and device manufacturers, cable operators and telcos are all competing to aggregate and offer as much content as possible. Even print media companies are following suit wanting channels of content on their websites.  And soon enough it will be less a discussion of rights and more a discussion of PAYMENT METHODS or MONETIZING METHODS and I think that will always depend on the film and its demographic targets.  The options will always be: 1. Ad-Supported / Free on Demand, 2. Subscription 3. Pay Per View 4. Download to Rent, and / or 5. Download to Own. And now instead of focusing on packaged media the focus is is on whether one can play content back on as many devices as one wants and that aspect related to all the various payment methods options. The content providing industries are all racing to aggregate as much content as they can and for it to be playable across as many devices as possible and payment methods vary so far depending on service and distributor choices. Hulu (a platform backed by studios and that was once only ad-supported is now beta testing its Netflix imitation subscription model).

Brands will attract customers just like they always did when video stores were king and just like when you choose which cell phone provider to use or whom to get your Internet connection through, assuming you live in an area with choice.

The other day on a Digital Hollywood Conference panel, I learned a stat from Erik Opeka of New Video: iTunes has 130,000,000 credit cards on file. Some of you are thinking right now, “I’m in the wrong business”.

October 21st, 2010

Posted In: Amazon VOD & CreateSpace, Digital Distribution, iTunes, Netflix, Uncategorized

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