February 12, 2013

Disrupt and Distribute: VHX Helps 'Internet Revolutionaries' Self-Release Their Films

As promised, the team behind VHX is steadily working to change the independent film distribution landscape. Veteran experience in populist collaboration and the building of Vimeo means VHX understands web video, audience interaction, and tracking social trends. Can it really work? The likes of NPR and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl (as director) think so, joining the ranks of non-fiction VHX-powered releases like Indie Game: The Movie. VHX has also empowered documentary filmmakers spotlighting the 'hacker' community Anonymous, and the creators of the controversial BitTorrent tracker The Pirate Bay -- even with the latter doc's simultaneous free release through YouTube and BitTorrent.

Mission Objective: Help Creators Distribute Their Work the Way(s) They Want

The thing to keep in mind about VHX is that it's a set of tools, not a hub. It's not a forum, it's not a PR firm or an advertising agency, and it's definitely not YouTube or Netflix's home screen. Original content doesn't "live on VHX," it's managed in the background by VHX and displayed only how and where creators want it. Even its social video curating service is a find/share/follow feed that reworks the idea of a centralized video source. VHX is a "platform" only in the way WordPress(.org), for example, is a CMS platform. It's an engine that drives what you put into it.

That's also to say it goes further with more fuel, with 'fuel' likely translating to "a lot of hard work and time spent by the independent creator." VHX is by no means the only game in town within the wider world of video monetization, either. Vimeo's upcoming pay-to-view service is a pretty good example of an alternative. VHX stands out, though, for several major reasons:

  • It costs nothing for creators, except a cut of paid-view earnings.
  • All content ownership is retained by the creator.
  • It provides advanced back-end support: this includes analytics reports, social media integration, content management, and everything else necessary for a fluid user experience in accessing multiple DRM-free encodings, streamed or downloaded.
  • It provides powerful front-end customization:* see Indie Game's beautiful, beautiful homepage (including the 'buy/watch now' portal) for full thematic design consistency and visual brand-recognizability. *[A 'full treatment' from the ground up has applied to the films hand-picked so far, and will probably only carry over to the most major of projects once VHX is available to everyone. All others will be able to choose from mod-able pre-designed themes.]
  • Total non-exclusivity: iTunes, Amazon VOD, (in IG:TM's unusual case, even Steam), or physical copy 'simulcasts' are welcome and encouraged.

All of this, in particular the last point, comes across in the VHX mission statement PSA, and in the previously shared presentation by co-founder Jamie Wilkinson about the future of independent distro:

In Good Company: The List of Releases Builds and Builds

In addition to all of the above, VHX is rapidly growing its list of notable collaborations and collaborators. The following films are some examples.

Dave Grohl's recording studio documentary Sound City:

NPR's The Invisible Made Visible, an historic visual realization of what has traditionally been the radio-only program This American Life:

It's worth mentioning the release of the Ted Hope-produced Todd Solondz-directed Dark Horse, and the revival of martial arts midnight b-movie Miami Connection. The latter was also released theatrically, and on "real" home video: limited edition VHS! As of more recently, VHX has also played a part in co-powering the release of documentaries about internet revolutions -- and revolutionaries.

We Are Legion Examines the Identity of Anonymous, Explores Hacktivism

The internet community known as Anonymous has been called everything from cyber-terrorists to internet vigilantes, and characterized as both an indiscriminately aggressive hatemob and strong opposers of censorship. The group is also credited with a number of recent hacks and attacks on certain Twitter/Facebook accounts. Needless to say, all of the hacktivities are controversial, often misunderstood or misrepresented -- sometimes by accident. Enter We Are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists, a documentary which takes a closer look at Anonymous.

The doc was/is also available for viewing in multiple capacities, including limited screenings, DRM-free purchase on its homepage (VHX-powered), iTunes, and DVD independently as well as through Amazon. Additionally, the film was chosen as one of the first six titles available through Vimeo's early pay-to-view (rental) program. It received notable attention from the press, and its wide-openness in availability would seem to complement the film's theme well. The internet brings many new media opportunities, granting the 'little guy' greater power than ever before -- and neither Anonymous, nor the documentary about it, seem content adhering to convention. Al Jazeera said it better, referring to Anonymous with words that may apply to more than just that subject:

This is the future, whether one approves or not, and the failure on the part of governments and media alike to understand, and contend with the rapid change now afoot, ought to remind everyone concerned why it is that this movement is necessary in the first place.

There is another connection between self-released films: Anonymous was responsible for Denial of Service attacks against IFPI, who was a player in the conviction of the founders of the BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay, which itself is the subject of a recent internet-distributed film.

The Pirate Bay -- Away From Keyboard Released for Free on Youtube and the Actual Pirate Bay, or Pay What You Want $10+ by VHX

A DRM-free, Creative Commons-licensed film, released in full at no cost, isn't exactly new. Nor should it be, based on the way the internet has changed the landscape of distribution. VHX sees the validity of both these points, and has a) provided the monetization option for every one of its release collaborations while b) freely supporting alternative modes of distribution that may be case-specific. Again, there's Indie Game's unprecedented and yet-unmatched release on Steam. And now, as of a few days ago, there is TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay -- Away From Keyboard. Released as a VHX-powered pay what you want over $10, or full and free on YouTube. And of course, it's also free (and encouraged) to share via BiTorrent. Yes, that means via The Pirate Bay, bringing everything full circle:

Boundless non-exclusivity and openness in distribution just isn't right for every picture, but it's certainly something internet communities can appreciate. Due to the precedent set by the likes of VHX, filmmakers have the ability to choose the right angles for distribution of the specific film. You can even give your movie away if you want to, as was done above, and keep your rights and ownership of the material at the same time. I think that's the bottom line here, and I hope that's where some of filmmaking's future is headed.

What do you guys think? Can a movie-by-movie basis of distribution methodology take hold? How you think VHX or like-minded tools can affect the way you monetize your own work?

Links:

Your Comment

5 Comments

It would be better if they had a central repository of content and offered monthly plans that included a certain number of streamed movies for a set price. This would encourage viewers to take a chance and watch a movie that they might not have been willing to pay ten dollars for. The content providers could receive a set amount for each stream and there could still be a buy now button for downloading or a DVD on demand. They could also offer a marketplace where people could buy t-shirts and other merchandise customized for each movie. Content providers could upload a design that the site would imprint on their stock of blank merchandise. When someone orders an item, the site imprints the design and handles billing and shipping. This model would offer economy of scale for distribution and merchandising as well as provide repeat viewers who come back each month to make use of their streaming package.

February 13, 2013 at 1:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply
Richard

I think vhx is trying to set out a platform that filmmakers can use at their own discretion for their individual projects as.

I think you do have a point, in that having a service like this where several could combine their projects, especially if they were all in the same genre etc (if it doesn't already exist). I could see it being used as way of releasing a web tv series or selection of short films, where you pay $10 for the lot.

I do think $10 is as fair a price as you can get, when you consider vhx takes their cut.

I'm waiting keenly for it to come out of closed beta to have a play around with it. Their are films i'm working on that I would like to release online but don't won't to deal with the headache of processing money or hosting etc. I guess vimeo is another option now as well.

On another note I wonder if mastercard, paypal and co will block payments made to the anonymous film....

February 13, 2013 at 9:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

3
Reply
Zeb

Ever since I saw the trailer for Miami Connection I've been paying attention to VHX. I was talking to a friend of mine who is contemplating a digital distribution method and VHX may have the pieces in place to either be used as his venue of choice or at least as a case study for what he hopes to accomplish.

I really like the features of the service; hopefully independent cinephiles will latch on and embrace VHX, Vimeo's pay-to-view method or similar services like Seed&Spark.

February 13, 2013 at 10:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
DIYFilmSchool.net

In response to Richard's statement, Yekra is a digital distribution platform and partner that offers both a central library of content (for audiences to find new or similar independent content as it's rolled out) as well as the mobile toolset that allows filmmakers to maintain full control and release their films dynamically (the core technology of a traveling, embeddable film player allows films to be featured not only on the filmmaker's website, but also live simultaneously on an infinite number of other online destinations.) Yekra offers both DRM-free and DRM-protected options to filmmakers. The AffiliateConnect program allows filmmakers to find and incentivize the right destinations for each individual film, so that filmmakers are actually reaching their audiences, getting free marketing, and selling through VOD... it's a whole new ballpark. Oh, and Yekra also offers merchandising and fulfillment services through the dedicated film pages that are built for each film taken on, and will soon offer it through the film player. Something to consider. The technology is a force to be reckoned with.

February 13, 2013 at 7:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

Looks good. I would give it a try. I've used reelhouse and really like their system. I still feel like the distribution tools, like these, have got it covered for us indie filmmakers, but the marketing and advertising portion is the big challenge. I think you still have to build it organically from scratch or spend a lot of money buying eyeballs to compete.

May 27, 2013 at 7:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

8
Reply
Jeremy