Direct Distribution & Marketing Roundup: A Who's Who of Today's Digital Tools
Whatever you choose to call it: self distribution, direct distribution, or as some prefer ”alternative-distribution” — the tools are out there for filmmakers to publish their work and get paid for it. It’s not a fast track to success and will likely require the full breadth of your attention to make it work, but it is quickly becoming the most viable way for filmmakers to carve out a market for themselves in this industry. Read on to get a roundup of some of the big players, a simple breakdown of what each of them offer and my first impressions.
Last Updated: 3/12/2014
Here’s a list of some of the major players in the sphere, with links to some of our more in-depth interviews (in alphabetical order):
- BitTorrent Bundles
- Chill (discontinued)
- Digital Film Cloud Network
- Fandor (will add)
- Film Annex (add)
- Fillim (will add)
- Filmbreak (will add)
- Indiereign (will add)
- KinoNation (will add)
- Open Film (will add)
- Simple Machine
- Vimeo on Demand
- Website design & web tools specific for filmmakers in Development, Production or Distribution
- Monthly payments ranging from $29-$100
- Optional design fee from $500-$1,500
- 10% transaction fee from downloads
- Email support / people to bounce ideas off of
- Production company websites
Impressions: Assemble’s web tools are custom made for filmmakers and make it really painless to get a very functional website running. It’s great to be able to email the team and ask for design advice, marketing strategies and other general support.
In my interview with Assemble, they say they feel “a little bit like part of the team.” Their websites have a lot of cool options, i.e. the ‘remind me’ feature for screenings, their branded trailer widget and easy product generation. These functions allow your visitors more opportunity to interact — much better than a static webpage.
Here’s what Sheri Candler had to say about them:
Assemble (formerly MovieSparx) is a tool for filmmakers and distributors who want to ease the headache of building audiences and selling films on the web. It is clever software that creates and manages your web-presence, gathers and tracks your audience and provides a sales mechanisms to sell your film and related products.
- Peer-to-peer distribution utilizing existing BitTorrent protocol
- Marketing endeavors to over 170 million existing BitTorrent users
- No rake, monthly fees or startup fees
- On Sept. 24th, Bundles for publishers opens up the platform
Impressions: BitTorrent are one of the most forward-thinking companies and have been for a while, I really admire what they are doing with Bundles. With the recent announcement of BitTorrent Bundles for publishers, it opens up the platform to more than just those hand-selected by BitTorrent. Utilizing their existing 170 million deep user-base to help market projects from a lot of different sectors is really exciting. If you want to be associated with bleeding edge distribution, Bundles may be the way to go. To get in depth, read nofilmschool’s interview with BitTorrent.
A note from the Verge:
It’s because of that negative association that the company is now fighting hard to establish itself as an ally to Hollywood, content owners, and small-time artists. The Bundle is its first major step in that direction, and it seems to be working so far.
- Marc Schiller’s marketing PR firm, “consulting with filmmakers on all creative and business decisions.”
- Project-specific solutions “Prioritizing the most profitable distribution windows”
- Filmmakers retain copyrights
Impressions: Marc Schiller knows his stuff, and he’s got a finger on the pulse of marketing and distribution for the independent filmmaker. Bond360 is a very new endeavor and has yet to introduce any real specifics as to their pricing or invitation model, but they are following the trend of working on a case-by-case basis with filmmakers to find the best way to market and distribute a specific film. I look forward to how their tools and approach develops. To find out more, watch the video below or read more here.
IndieWire‘s Bryce J. Renninger breaks it down:
Schiller also points out that self-distribution isn’t done by the just one person — or team — at all. Writing on Twitter, Ted Hope preferred the term “direct distribution” over “self distribution.” This term emphasizes the audience-building that needs to go on before the release of a film on whatever platform
- Direct-distribution platform, a home for your film to interact & transact
- 30% profit rake
- No upfront cost
- Rich real-time analytics
- Harnessing the power of the #hashtag and Twitter
- Crowdfunding integration
- Build your audience on Chill, then move to other distribution channels if you so choose
Update: As of November 22th, 2013, Chill is no longer operational and will be closed down within the next month.
Impressions: Chill has some of the most powerful tools I’ve seen in terms of analytics. Collecting data about your audience is vital and Chill seems just one step ahead on that front, with the ability to collect not only email addresses, but Twitter accounts, phone numbers, and more. They also really understand the utilization of social media to help source and grow an audience.
Jason Brubaker of Chill, who I’ve interviewed on this subject, is really passionate about helping filmmakers succeed. If you don’t like being connected to someone else’s branding, it does seem a little hard to escape with Chill. Your film will live at chill.com/yourproject and will be very much a part of the Chill family. This can be a good thing if you like their aesthetic and branding, but may be a downside for others.
If Chill can eventually monetize its fans (the film will be available to download for a fee later this fall), this could be one of the first real answers to how to turn nascent web video companies into viable film-making platforms. That would either eliminate the need to partner with mainstream entertainment companies altogether or offers Chill a tool to license to major studios.
- Amazon’s direct-distribution platform as VOD or DVD
- 50% profit rake on VOD purchases or rentals
- Amazon chooses pricing for both purchaes and rentals
- Make your film available on Amazon Prime’s Instant Video
- DVD duplication / replication / shipping services
Impressions: From a design standpoint, it’s one of the ugliest websites I’ve ever seen, but I suppose they’re going for function over fancy. Amazon’s track record with treating filmmakers fairly leaves something to be desired as well. The fact that the creator can’t choose their own pricing, coupled with a 50% profit rake makes this service obsolete in my mind. It might work for some people, but in a world of a new distribution paradigm, Createspace seems shockingly old-world, but hey — we’re talking about a giant corporation here.
- A place for filmmakers to get put in touch with distributors, studios, bankers, networks
- Designed to help filmmakers decided where to distribute
- Allows distributions to directly negotiate with filmmakers
- Currently in Limited Alpha
- Launch coming soon
Impressions: I’ve spoken with Alfredo Guilbert from DFCN and he likens their company to the “Match.com for the movie industry.” DFCN will provide a platform for filmmakers to allow their films to be discovered by distributors and financiers for future projects. From a distributor’s point of view, they can browse through films at a certain budget level and then directly negotiate terms of distribution with the filmmakers from there. In addition, DFCN can deliver content to their final destinations, much like Quiver does. Some investors behind DFCN include the Century Theaters CEO Ray Syufy, the Co-Founder of IMDB Alan Jay.
- One-time fee for placement in stores such as iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and Cable VOD:
- SD Film to iTunes = $1,295 (covers encoding, chapter breaking, tagging)
- HD Film to iTunes = $1,595 (+$399 to add Hulu, +$395 to add Netflix)
- Hulu placement = $750
- SD Film to Netflix = $595
- HD Film to Netflix = $795
- VOD = $5,000
- Flat annual service fee of $79 per film
- Creator keeps 100% of revenues
- Becomes profitable after 185 iTunes sales
- Keep your rights
- Track your sales
- Withdraw money quarterly via email or PayPal
Impressions: Distribber is a catchy name for this space, as would be expected from its parent company IndieGoGo, but is the service worth it? It’s an interesting model: pay up front, get 100% of your profits. You’ve got to spend money to make money, right? For those of you who are able to eat the initial costs, it might be worth looking into. However, there is a cautionary message in Nick Soares’s in depth review of the service, in which he notes:
I am not saying I am not happy with Distribber, but rather I am not happy with some of the process that occurs with Distibber and their game plan if that makes sense. It seems they are very unorganized and under staffed for the operation they are trying to accomplish. I wonder why IndieGoGo would not put more man power to this, but that might be because they do not take a royalty and therefor is not worth the time.
- Marketing tools & Distribution tools
- ~30% profit rake on film sales
- ~15% rake on merch
- Monthly fees from $20-$500
- No upfront cost
- Distrify trailer widget
- Retain all rights
Impressions: Distrify have been around for long enough to be a well-known name in the sphere, and their tools seem powerful and intuitive (and affordable) enough to work for a large variety of projects. The dynamic trailer widget allows you to rent or buy the film from directly within the trailer: The pricing model is flexible, but can be very steep. I’m still on edge about the idea of giving any service ~30% or more of my profits.
But what about filmmakers? Distrify is clearly a useful tool for reaching an audience. Your film won’t become a huge success overnight, and you do have to put the work in to spread the word about your project via the social media platforms – but with the right amount of effort, even without a distributor, if your film reaches the right audience, it could reap rewards.
- Global distribution platform for independent content
- Free registration w/ limited features, plans starting at $39 annually
- Filmmakers can keep up to 95% of the profits
- 3-4 week licensing application process
- No set up fees; Non-exclusive
Impressions: Filmbay offers a lot of really good information on their website, not only about distribution but filmmaking in general. However, their platform is very complicated. It requires a lot of reading on their website to navigate their pricing system and features, so much reading that I would put it in the TLDR category. Even their pricing page is confusing. The advent of these new tools stresses ease of use, to get out of your way so you can focus on building relationships with your audience, but Filmbay seems to not be quite there yet. However they say their goal is to “fully support and educate indie producers in copyright issues, E&O insurance, and ever-changing legal policy, when it comes to domestic and international distribution.”
Since writing this post, Hans Beyer from FilmBay reached out to me and described an example situation:
Just recently we got a feature film submission which was fine two-thirds through, but then there was Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” clearly audible in the background for nearly a minute. Thus, we had to return the material requesting this be altered in order to comply with standing copyright law. As you can imagine, distributing such material by mistake, or on oversight, can carry legal ramifications and lead to litigation against a distributor: a nightmare scenario.
- Distribution platform, upload & sell
- 5% profit rake + 25¢ charged per transaction
- No startup or recurring fees
- Likened to bit.ly for distribution
- Rich analytics
- Sell from anywhere with embeddable payment options
- Options for subscription fees for web series, etc
- Sales tax made easy
- Credit card payments, no Paypal payments
Impressions: Gumroad’s website is clean and straightforward, as well as their pricing model. They seem to be really successful at taking the confusion out of the selling process and making it extremely simple. Not limited to only selling films or video content, Gumroad has been used to distribution music, comics and even photoshop plugins. Used by Eminem, Bon Jovi, Kyle Webster and others, they’ve proven their system works. Check out this 25 minute video with CEO Sahil Lavingia walking through Gumroad’s process:
- Essentially Netflix for indie movies
- Revenue share based on Royalty Pool Minutes:
- 30% of total subscription revenue divided by minutes watched
- $6.99 / month or $69 / year for a viewer subscription
- Also earn money by referring new subscribers
- Xbox Live app
Impressions: They seem like the more open, welcoming version of Netflix. As a filmmaker you submit your film and once accepted it will stream on their site as part of their subscription service. Their revenue system works by paying filmmakers based on the amount of minutes subscribers have watched. It works like this: 30% of the subscription revenue divided by minutes viewed yields your RPM, or royalty-per-minute. So based on 3,000 paying subscribers, the 30% pool would be $6290, and based on 100k minutes viewed in a month, the RPM would be $.06. You can also earn cash by getting people to sign up for a subscription through their affiliate program.
From his own round-up post, filmmaker Douglas Horn adds:
They’ve grown a membership that is passionate about independent films—but that membership is still pretty small compared to Netflix. To me, it doesn’t have the same potential to gut your VOD campaign the way a Netflix deal does. Sure, you may lose some potential viewers since a lot of independent film lovers are already IndieFlix members, but what you lose in paid views, you’re just as likely to gain in word-of-mouth advertising from IndieFlix viewers who discover your content on the service and want to share it with their non-subscriber friends.
- Films showcased and curated by filmmaker and actor Kentucker Audley
- Submission fees $40 for features, $25 for shorts
- Rough cut submission for feedback, $75 for features $50 for shorts
- Built-in niche community of filmmakers and cinephiles
- ~3,500 unique views monthly and growing fast
Impressions: NoBudge is the kind of website I’ve quickly grown to love, and not just because of the grassroots approach, but because of the quality of the content and community. While these films may not be for everybody, many of the films I’ve discovered through NoBudge are exactly the kinds of movies I look for. Its founder Kentucker Audley has done a great job building the community and putting out quality independent films, columns, and commentaries. At only ~3,500 unique views per month it’s a very small channel to publish to, but often those views are from other filmmakers and fellow cinephiles. Non-exclusivity is also a plus, and as was said in our interview with NoBudge, it’s just “another place to put your film.”
- 30% profit rake
- Ability to share revenue across your team
- No startup fees, no monthly fees
- Fully branded channels
- Authors maintain ownership
- Established since 2010
Impressions: Pivotshare seems to have been one of the first to the direct-distribution game, or as they claim “the first.” And they’ve been growing, providing a lot of content creators with a way to monetize their content via their channels. However, are they still as good as some of their more recent counterparts? Well, it depends on what kind of content you’re creating. Check out some examples of films that use them: Sedona and Trashed. They seem like the alternative to YouTube, mostly for people who produce a lot of short-form content and are used to gaining subscribers to increase ad revenue. They also claim to have the only trailer embed that allows you to buy and watch the feature without ever leaving the widget to confirm emails, etc.
Erin Griffith from Pandodaily.com weighs in:
Now, the company offers what is essentially a white label option allowing content creators to host and sell their video content without the interference of a third-party vendor. Pivotshare’s branding is completely removed. Content owners can also easily create their own apps for hosting and selling content for iOS and Android. This puts content creators in control of their own platform, essentially.
- Distribution service for delivering quality-controlled content to Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Sony Playstation Network and Hoopla
- New website launched late October 2013
- Feature film flat cost of $950 for delivery ($175 each additional platform)
- Short film flat cost of $400 for delivery ($100 each additional platform)
- Episodic flat cost $225 ($100 each additional platform)
- No revenue share (filmmaker keeps 100% of sales)
- Closed Captioning services
- Free storage of your deliverables
Impressions: Quiver is one of the six worldwide houses listed as both an official encoding and official aggregation house for iTunes. This means that if your film is up to spec, Quiver will be able to get it on iTunes. In late October 2013, Quiver launched their new website and have removed their individual services to “simplify the shopping experience.”
- 6% transaction fee
- Partnered with Sundance
- Built-in crowd-funding component
- No ads
Impressions: Reelhouse has a really nice site, it’s well designed and really takes care in their overarching library and aesthetics. Since they are partnered with Sundance, you can expect ‘Sundancey’ content, or at least things that want to be. Their pages for films really add to the ambience of the particular film, something I really appreciated. No distracting ads or branding. It feels like a really good place for dramatic content, the overall aesthetic of the website pulls you into the film, and their transaction fee is very competitively priced. Read nofilmschool’s interview with the founder Bill Mainguy.
Christina Chaey at Co.Create notably said:
There are, of course, dozens of platforms where creators can peddle their film and video work, but Reelhouse strictly houses “just stories”–if you’re in search of cat videos, you won’t find them here. Reelhouse will work with Sundance’s Artist Services, which provides the Institute’s creators with resources for all steps of the independent filmmaking process, from funding to distribution to marketing.
- Distribution / Crowd-funding / Content Curation
- 20% profit rake from rented content
- 5% rake of crowdfunding
- Filmmakers keep rights
- Buy or loan items to filmmakers during crowdfunding phase
- Users earn ‘sparks’ to redeem them to watch films on the platform
Impressions: Seed&Spark is a cool all-in-one platform for filmmakers that comes with two sections: the STUDIO and the CINEMA. Think of it as a Kickstarter combined with a VOD platform, but with features specific to filmmakers. The ability for people to lend equipment / tangible items towards projects in the crowdfunding stage is really cool and is a feature I can see helping a lot of productions. Read nofilmschool’s interviews with the founder of Seed&Spark here and here.
- 10% transaction fee
- Anyone can upload a film
- Anyone can be a venue
- 3 simple profit (or non-profit) models
- Instant Online EPK
- Best for creators who have worldwide rights to their films
Impressions: Simple Machine is a platform/service/idea I’m really excited about using, as it provides a way for anyone to become a venue. What’s more fun than having your own screenings, reaching out to filmmakers and doing a little revenue sharing? As you can read in nofilmschool’s interview, Simple Machine is just getting off the ground, but this is a model for the future as independent filmmakers transition into a lifestyle more akin to a band: touring your film around and creating smaller, more contextualized events and communities around your work.
- Direct distribution service
- Average transaction via TopSpin = $20
- Standard Account: $1o / month
- Plus account: $50 / month
- Enterprise account: $100 / month
- Accepts credit cards and international currencies
- Sell tickets to events
- Send email blasts out to fans: 2k (Standard), 20k (Plus) or unlimited (Enterprise)
- Rich analytics
Impressions: Founded by Ian Rogers and chosen by many notable artists such as Arcade Fire and The Pixies, TopSpin clearly has a system that can work. Their pricing models are flexible, with accounts to fit any budgetary restrictions. TopSpin seems to be utilized a lot more by musicians, but it looks like they are now trying to target indie filmmakers too. I get a good feeling from the company, they seem to have a grasp on what’s going on in distribution right now, and their punk-rock attitude towards distribution is welcome.
- iOS / Android App Distribution
- Get into App Store / Google Play without upfront costs
- Once downloaded, no internet connected needed
- Set your content’s pricing
- Not yet launched
- Pricing / cost unknown
Impressions: Going direct to audience via their smartphones or tablets is interesting. For a price, Veam will embed your content inside an app, in which you can sell or rent your film or other relative digital content. It’s essentially a way to sneak your movie into the App Store or the Google Play market. The difficulties of this might be obvious, but watching films on phones is still a little scary to me. The idea of directing your audience to download an app to see your film also might be a shaky experience from a consumer’s perspective. It’s been over a year since we’ve heard much from Veam, but we’ll definitely have to keep an eye on these types of services as mobile content delivery ramps up.
- Distribution platform / channel
- No upfront costs
- 10% Profit rake + 50¢ Transaction fee
- Real-time sales dashboard / Rich analytics
- Your own website domain
- 1.25 million dollar venture capital
- Payments via Dwolla
- Partnered with Reddit and BuzzFeed for promotion
Impressions: VHX looks like they will be just as good as anyone else out there, as they have their finger on the pulse of the new content paradigm, as well as fingers in many pies around the industry. Recent films they’ve helped distribute are the Barnes Brother’s documentary East Nashville Tonight as well as the Calvin & Hobbes documentary Dear Mr. Watterson.
They also recently partnered with Drafthouse Films and The Act of Killing to release the film for free in Indonesia. Partnerships with Reddit means the potential for a more popular AMA session. They are busy at work designing their platform and I expect them to be a major player down the line.
Look who’s involved behind the scenes, from Techcrunch:
The funding also included participation from Bedrocket Media Ventures, indie film producer Keith Calder, Buzzfeed co-founder John S. Johnson, WordPress’ Matt Mullenweg, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, MTV founder and Clear Channel CEO Robert Pittman, and Chris Sacca.
- $200 / year for a Pro account
- 10% transaction fee
- Choose your pricing starting at $0.99
- Built-in community of filmmakers, videographers, VFX artists, etc
- Strong curation via Vimeo Staff Picks
- Well known-brand
- Advanced analytics
- Rentals / Pre-orders
- Xbox Live app
Impressions: Vimeo recently announced more dynamic pricing models, adding rentals and pre-orders to the mix. This definitely makes Vimeo a seriously contender in the sphere and showing their willingness to adapt and react to the ideas of other newer platforms. Improving to even more advanced analytics than before, they are now also able to compete with other platforms on data collection. I see Vimeo being a great home for a lot of content, though I have heard complaints recently that the overall quality of content has been going down lately. Do you find this to be true? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
In this post, Etan Vlessing talks about Vimeo on Demand distributing 2013 TIFF titles:
A host of world bows in Toronto will have distribution plans in place that bar them from taking up the Vimeo on Demand offer, But [Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor] insists putting up to $1.5 million in minimum guarantees on the table for 150 world bows in Toronto aims to get the industry talking more about direct distribution. Filmmakers are being asked to set the price at $4.99 or higher, and that the film be available on his platform for at least two years. The offer has the blessing of TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey, who sees Vimeo on Demand as a bonus to filmmakers debuting their movies in Toronto.
- Distribution channel / platform
- $3.1M in venture capital
- Transaction costs unknown
- No ads
- Released documentary Sirius and generated $250k in rental revenue in 48 hours
- Exclusive AffiliateConnect™ program
- Invite only
Impressions: Los Angeles based Yekra is arriving onto the scene strong with a substantial financial backing, strong and crisp aesthetics, and already a winning track record. We’ll have to keep our eyes on this platform as they develop.
Michael Carny from Pandodaily mentions:
Unlike the majority of existing solutions, Yekra is not ad-supported, but instead allows content creators to offer film rentals at the price of their choosing. The cloud-based platform handles video streaming, commerce, and also offers a variety of marketing tools in what it calls the “Backlot.” The standard rental lasts 72 hours and can be watched as many times as the renter chooses during that period.
- 45% profit rake
- Huge viewership
- Powerful advertising
Impressions: While many can and do make a living off their YouTube channels, it’s seeming to be less and less desirable for filmmakers who are creating long-form content. Is this true? In this post entitled “I ain’t gonna work on YouTube’s farm no more,” @Jason explains:
If you’re building a publishing company on YouTube, you now have no control over advertising and consumers, and you’re going to lose your talent next. YouTube is an amazing product and service, and we all love our friends at YouTube, but they are failing (some say hard) as a partner to content creators.
As you can see there’s a lot of variation in the types of tools that are out there. Some are one-stop-shop distribution pipelines like Chill and others are purely for marketing efforts. The important thing to keep in mind is that all of these are tools, and it’s not just about picking one of them. In fact, many of them actually work well together. It’s then about picking the right tools for the job on a case by case basis.
And the overall goal? As said in a recent interview with Nandan Rao, Simple Machine‘s founder, “curation is everything,” and it seems more now than ever finding and growing your niche market is what will be the key to being able to viably continue making films.
For anyone who has been following my posts about distribution, I am currently going through these choices for my own feature film Menthol, which I have just completed. I will be doing my best to write about which tools I choose and why, how I use them and their degrees of effectiveness. So, stay tuned in the coming weeks for my Microbudget Case Study on distribution and marketing.
Are there other platforms out there that you think deserve to be on this list? I’d like to keep it updated so this page can be a resource for filmmakers who are entering the marketing / distribution life of their films. As always, please add your voice to the discussion in the comments below.
[Cover image by David Mandel]
Links: Distribution — nofilmschool
- PUMit and Crowdstarter Bring More DIY Audience-Direct Promotion, Distribution, and Monetization Tools
- Introducing BitTorrent Bundle: Pioneering Decentralized Digital Distribution & Marketing
- Chill Distribution Platform Aims to Provide 'Studio Quality Tools' for Everyone