Handling the digital release of your film yourself? The possibilities are exciting — and sometimes overwhelming. How do you get your film on iTunes, Google Play, Hulu, Netflix and other giant platforms where new audiences can see the film? It’s easier than you think, and the bottom line is: get an aggregator.
While in the past filmmakers have decried their dependence on the “middle men” of distribution, in this case, an aggregator can be a great ally. With the growing trend of aggregators towards flat fees and small-to-no profit share, the option is becoming more transparent and affordable for independent filmmakers with hybrid distribution strategies in mind.
If you’re looking into this option for your next film, here is a very quick crash course on what an aggregator does, and where to find out more.
Why do you need an aggregator?
Aggregators are the gatekeepers between you and the big platforms. iTunes, for example, will only accept content from an approved encoding house, many of which are also preferred aggregators. In theory, you can apply to send them content directly from an Apple-approved encoding house. However, most of us wont meet the application requirements — like having 5 feature films that were released theatrically. From iTunes:
Aggregators are experts in delivering content to iTunes. For a fee they can correctly format and deliver your content to Apple’s specifications. The majority of independent movies offered on iTunes is provided by one of our aggregator partners...All content must be encoded and delivered by an Apple-approved encoding house. The encoding house processes the content in the Apple-specific encode that is required for distribution on iTunes.
So why do you want your film to be on one of these platforms, again? The decision of where to put your film online is different for every filmmaker. One answer, however, is that getting on these big platforms gets you more eyeballs. A popular model for DIYers today is to get it two places: 1) your own site and 2) everywhere else you can get on for TVOD streams and downloads.
Quick video on demand vocabulary: “transactional” or TVOD is referring to where users pay a fee to watch your film, like iTunes. This is in contrast to “subscription” or SVOD based models like Netflix where you don't make money off individual views, but are paid a flat licensing fee.
The two-pronged approach above is based on knowing you will keep more of the profits from selling your film directly on your site. You’ll be looking at maybe a 90/10 split if you are using something like VHX to power your streaming/downloading option, and that's where you'll want your fanbase to go to see your film. On a platform like iTunes, the split is generally 70/30 or 60/40 depending on if the transaction is a sale or a rental. (That’s 70% to the filmmaker. Phew.) You're giving up 30% of your share to iTunes, but it's 30% of something you wouldn't have gotten if you weren't on iTunes. And with an aggregator, you can get to iTunes without giving up even more of that revenue to a distributor or sales agent. Here is Erik Andersen, on why he started his Sundance-partnered aggregator Quiver:
It starts with the filmmaker. With an idea for a story that needs to be told. This is the source of all value in the entertainment industry. So, why are they often the ones seeing the smallest reward? I first witnessed this while working at iTunes. Individual filmmakers would call me to beg for help. Their movie had been in the top 50 for six months and they had never received a dime, was there anything I could do? I would learn that their deal with an aggregator or sales agent took 10-50% of revenue and had a clause to cover “expenses” of anywhere from $10,000 – $75,000. Even if those criteria were met, it seemed like filmmakers still weren’t getting paid. I felt powerless. Until I realized that it didn’t have to be this way. I could change it. I quit Apple and set myself on the goal of turning indie film distribution on its head.
So what does an aggregator do?
Generally, you can expect an aggregator to encode your film to the specs of a particular platform, and then deliver it to them. This can include helping you pass QC, packaging your film's assets for CC and subtitles, and putting together all your artwork and metadata according to the required format of each of the platforms/territories. In some cases, an aggregator will put together a pitch, especially for a platform that selectively curates films (like Netflix, Hulu.)
Finally, once people start buying your film on a given platform, that platform will pay your aggregator, and your aggregator will pay you!
How much does it cost?
Fees are usually around $1K for your first feature film platform delivery, and a smaller fee per platform after that. Some aggregators also charge a percentage of your revenues. Revenue share could be worth considering if you are able to lower upfront fees that you don't have the budget for. Otherwise, there are many aggregators now who don't demand revenue shares, so it’s hard to justify forking over 10-15% for no reason.
Additionally, some platforms offer discounts, say for using Compressor. Others can create assets for you that you don’t have, like Closed Captions or Subtitles at a discounted rate. So you’ll need to research the right price points for yourself to find the best aggregator for your film.
Who are they?
Here is a handful of aggregators to get you started. While this is not a comprehensive list of every company out there, it is based off of US iTunes preferred partners. (Check out the full list here.) If iTunes is not high on your priority list, there may be other great aggregators out there for you. (And feel free to recommend those we’ve missed in the comments.) Pricing is included for aggregators who made it available. Feel free to visit each site to find out more specifics!
A simple and affordable way to distribute your movie globally.
From Erik Anderson, Founder:
You don’t have to give up a part of your dream to make it possible for people to see it. Don’t. Don’t sell your years of hard work for a small up front payment and a vague promise that will most likely result in nothing. You made your movie. You had the vision. You should be the one to see it through to the end. You should keep as much of the reward as possible. That’s why I started Quiver.
Flat fee for first platform: $950
Each platform after that: $175
Revenue Share: 0%
Juice distributes film and television content across the major digital download and streaming platforms – worldwide. We have highly coveted “preferred” distribution partner status with iTunes, Google, Amazon and Netflix. Cable/Satellite/Telco VOD services are presently available through Juice (Canada only) and VUBIQUITY (U.S. and International). We’re always expanding our platform reach.
Flat fee for first platform: $945
Each platform after that: $195
Revenue Share: 0%
Walla’s proprietary tools leverage technology to solve common VOD pipeline issues and reduce the costs associated with platform delivery. Our Studio Services dashboard was designed as an end-to-end solution to bring efficiency and accountability to our content partners.
Flat fee for first iTunes territory: $999
Fee for each iTunes Territory after that: $49
Other platforms: $199
Revenue Share: 15%
With over 15 years behind us as a purely digital facility, bitMAX is renowned as one of the world’s largest independent digital supply chain providers. Our storage and delivery platform is responsible for the distribution of thousands of films, TV shows and more music videos than any other company on the planet. bitMAX is the easiest path for global distribution. Our direct relationships with major platforms which include iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and vevo allow anyone anywhere on any platform, device, or operating system to access your Film, TV Show, Concert or Music Video . Contact us and we'll let you know what you need to do to get your content out to the world.
Flat fee: Film plans start at $500.00; contact for quote.
Revenue share: 0%
Giant Interactive provides digital and physical media preparation and delivery services for Blu-ray, DVD, digital video platforms and OTT services, as well as complete iTunes content aggregation. We’re experts at preparing your content for distribution wherever your audience may be. Our foundation in video makes Giant unique among most full-service digital studios, giving our clients a powerful resource that can enhance any distribution strategy.
Fees: Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out
We localize, manage and distribute entertainment and media content for the biggest names in the industry. Our revolutionary technology helps us to work smarter and deliver high quality, efficient, cost-effective services.
Fees: Request a quote based on runtime
Have you worked with an aggregator to get your film out there? Has getting on the big platforms helped your self-distribution? We’d love to hear your experiences and recommendations!