In my previous post on VOD for Independents 2014, I looked at how the landscape of direct VOD platforms had developed over the last year. This is an important topic to many filmmakers considering the jump to VOD sales. I have several films that I want to put in front of an audience and direct VOD seems the obvious way to go (for reasons I’ve discussed in the past few posts on the topic).
After a year of watching VOD platforms and audiences grow, I thought that this was the perfect time to get into the game and launch my best films and videos. Here I’ll share which platforms I chose and why. It was a hard decision. It’s one thing to make a table of each platform’s features and another to commit to all the work it will take to launch a film (let alone the 20+ videos that I am releasing at once, all with collateral images, synopses, etc.)
Like many filmmakers, my goals are to have my work seen by audiences and to make some money at it. Thanks to this blog and its readers I also have a chance to share some knowledge, so gaining as much expertise as possible is also a goal. I believe that direct VOD is going to become “the new home video” in time (probably in much less time that any of us expect) and I see it as a way to enable financing and financial success on future film projects. I mention the importance I put on learning here because it drives some of my decisions in ways that seeking just profit and exposure might not.
I am launching a feature film with a fairly marketable cast by indie standards (Entry Level), an 11-episode high quality original series with some extras (DIVERGENCE) and several short films, most either with past prominence or currant festival lives (Full Disclosure, Coffee & Pie, Tape Recorder and others). It’s quite a slate to release all at once—more than I initially realized. But it lets me try a lot of different approaches. Just preparing the launch has taught me a great deal.
In my previous article, I profiled four services that I thought were the most attractive platforms for filmmakers: Vimeo on Demand, Reelhouse, VHX, and IndieReign. Publishing that post gave me the opportunity to speak at length to people at most of these companies and those conversations went a long way to helping shape my perception of these companies. The most incredible thing I learned was that the people behind these services are deeply dedicated to helping filmmakers profit from their work. They see the future, they are innovating, and most were quite interested at how to better their offerings. Many of the people I spoke with treated my post as a critique of their services and a couple even made some modifications based on things I had seen as negatives. So they are quite responsive. I think that’s important because as VOD grows the landscape will change quickly and only those that adapt will survive and thrive. Any of these four services is probably a great solution for many filmmakers. Here’s what I decided…
IndieReign was the only service of the four that takes 30% of the sale. While this is reasonable in the realm of traditional distributors, for direct VOD platforms, it’s a big chunk and means that prices will have to be higher than I’d like. So I did not expect to pick this platform (and I didn’t). However, in my conversation with CEO David White, he pointed out that the 30% rate that IndieReign charges keeps them self-sustaining and therefore gives them longevity. Platforms charging very low rates may be doing so at a loss to build marketshare—which means that if things do not go according to their plans, platforms could be at risk of going under. It has happened to a number of VOD platforms already. Platforms that charge higher percentages may have an advantage in longevity—so that’s something important to consider because it would be a drag to have to re-launch on another platform when your platform goes under.
Vimeo on Demand
The fact that I did not choose to release my films on Vimeo on Demand really shocked me. I have used Vimeo for years and they are certainly the biggest player in the space right now and unlikely to fail. (With services disappearing regularly, this matters.) I was not able to make the same high-level discussions with Vimeo as I was with the other platforms, which is natural in a much larger company. I admire a lot about Vimeo and they are certainly cultivating an audience. However, I see a few behaviors that don’t seem as responsive as some of the smaller, hungrier services like VHX and Reelhouse. Another reason I avoided Vimeo on Demand was the price. The service starts at $199 per year but with the amount of films I would be loading, the annual fee would have been higher. I don’t begrudge the company a hosting fee, but since I already had reservations in some areas, I decided to avoid it. Had I been planning to release a new film, the fee would have probably meant less than it did with a lot of short films and a feature that had previously been released. That said, I really have no idea how much I’ll be able to make each year selling and renting films. It would be a drag to lose money on the proposition. So until I better understand the real economics here, I’ll be avoiding sites that have a base fee.
VHX just about took it all for me. The service is responsive and has some great features that they are constantly developing. I still think their dashboard and tools like coupons are fantastic. In the end, I decided not to release on VHX and the decision came down largely to the fact that VHX doesn’t really have an online browsing space for discovering films as most others do. I’m not certain that this is a primary way that viewers discover films—you really have to drive your own discovery—but I do think that some films are found that way, and people browsing a VOD platform catalog are probably more likely to purchase than others. I believe that this catalog browsing is a well established way to search for video and to ignore it means giving up an important channel for reaching viewers.
I’m Releasing on Reelhouse and IndieFlix
Of course the biggest reason I didn’t release on any of these other platforms is that I simply wasn’t as excited about them as I was about the platforms where I am releasing my films: Reelhouse and IndieFlix.
Reelhouse was the VOD platform that took the lowest percentage of a sale (just 6%) but that didn’t have anything to do with my decision to go with them over VHX or Vimeo on Demand, which take 10%. For me there were a few really significant factors in this decision. First, I just love the embeddable player. It looks great, works well on Facebook, WordPress, and other sites.
The other thing that really convinced me was how responsive Reelhouse was to my requests. In my previous article I wrote that if Reelhouse had 1080P video, better geo-blocking and could hide the number of views shown on videos that I would easily choose to use the platform. Well, in talking with the people at Reelhouse, it turned out that they did stream videos in 1080P (and some even in 4K) it just wasn’t a standard feature yet (but may be soon) so you had to ask for it. Also, they let me know that their geo-blocking was both better than I originally understood from their filmmaker FAQ and also in the midst of an improvement (which has now occurred). Finally, what I’d written about exposing the number of views on all videos was something they’d been hearing for a while, so they changed the feature.
So Reelhouse basically gave me every feature I’d asked for plus what I thought was the standout embeddable player. How could I not go with them at that point? On top of maxing out my feature list, Reelhouse really showed me that they were dedicated to making great changes for filmmakers. I expect that will translate into capturing a large segment of video content. I’m betting that other filmmakers are going to make the same decisions that I am and will go with Reelhouse as their VOD platform. That’s important to me because I believe that ultimately the most successful platform will be the one that captures the broadest audience, the best films, and does so in a way that best allows for creators to connect with viewers.
I’ll be speaking more about some of the Reelhouse features I really like—and how best to use them—in an upcoming article. For now, one last thing that I love about Reelhouse is how payment works. Purchasers actually buy their films directly from you, the filmmaker rather than Reelhouse. So if you sell a film for $3, a $3 payment goes directly to your PayPal account—minus the transaction fees. Reelhouse then immediately charges you its 6% fee ($0.18) as a second transaction. Every time a sale or rental comes through PayPal immediately notifies you of the transactions. I love this immediacy compared to traditional distributors but even compared to some other VOD platforms. Not only is no one between you and the money, but you know when a sale occurs down to the minute, which is amazing feedback to get if you’re running a marketing campaign. You could figure out what is working for you right down to the tweet!
Reelhouse also has the option of paid, free or “Pay to Support” videos. I’m doing a little in every area to fully explore the platform. I do wish that they made bundles easier and more intuitive, but I expect that with a platform as filmmaker focused and responsive as Reelhouse, that these features will be arriving soon.
The other platform that I’m very excited to be releasing my films on is IndieFlix. I covered IndieFlix in my 2013 VOD Roundup but not in the most recent one so as a quick recap, IndieFlix is a subscription-based service that specializes in top independent films and series. Unlike the VOD platforms I was profiling, IndieFlix is highly curated and the vast majority of films on the service are award winners at various festivals. I like IndieFlix as a subscriber because the quality is much higher and more consistent than what I find on most non-curated VOD platforms. Browsing the films on IndieFlix is the online equivalent of going to a great film festival—but the drinking is optional.
For me as a filmmaker, IndieFlix addresses that desire to have my films seen by appreciative audiences. They do great promotion of their films and IndieFlix subscribers are people who are passionate about independent film, so it’s a great discovery vehicle and way to get fans. However, unlike Netflix, it’s not such a broad viewer base that you’d be missing out on potential sales. I think that people who subscribe to IndieFlix probably use it as their main search avenue for independent films.
Also unlike Netflix, IndieFlix pays filmmakers more as subscribers watch more of their videos. IndieFlix puts 30% of its gross monthly subscription revenue into a royalty pool, which is split up amongst all the filmmakers based on how many minutes of content were watched that month. So, if your film was responsible for 1% of the minutes of view time watched, you would get 1% of the royalty pool (or .3% of the money that IndieFlix grossed that month). As IndieFlix gains subscribers the total royalty pool grows, but as it adds content, the number of filmmakers earning a share grows as well. I’m not sure yet how much that will add up to but I’m about to have a LOT of content on IndieFlix, so it will give me a good opportunity to assess that.
IndieFlix also acts as an aggregator helping filmmakers launch their titles on iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix. You can decide which of these platforms you may want to pursue. Since I believe that selling your film to Netflix will kill your chances at a successful VOD release—while iTunes will probably expand your audience to viewers who mostly shop there, I appreciate this flexibility.
If IndieFlix can make a placement, they begin to act more like a traditional distributor in this regard. For example in placing a film on iTunes, the money chain goes: Apple takes 30%, the aggregator IndieFlix works with takes 15% of the remainder, and IndieFlix takes 30% of what’s left after that—leaving the filmmakers around 42% of the sale price. There is no up-front fee for iTunes encoding, but it will be charged against future earnings at around $8 per program minute.
This may seem less like a new-model VOD option. My perspective is that there are alternatives that will return a higher percentage if you want to front the costs of encoding. However, this rate is nearly double what I’m getting from Shorts International for Full Disclosure (about 26% of the sale price). Also, IndieFlix is a lot more transparent than some aggregators; I simply trust them more. They also will work with the filmmakers to pitch and promote films to the platform, which has value. If I had a new feature film coming out with a lot of name actors, I would probably approach iTunes more directly but for the projects I’m launching right now, having IndieFlix work as the distributor is a fantastic option.
I’ll also be doing a more in-depth post on launching a film on IndieFlix in the near future. One final word on them for now: their videos look awesome. When you deliver your film and materials to them, they require a much higher bitrate than the other VOD services even allow and as a result the encoded videos look beautiful. This is great for the viewer, and since IndieFlix is ahead of the curve on working with set-top boxes like Roku and Xbox, there are a lot of ways to enjoy these high quality videos. (Nice perk: an IndieFlix subscription is free for all their filmmakers as long as you have a film on the service. Sweet!)
Releasing so many videos on two different platforms—each with their own specs for every piece of material—has proven to be a big project. It reminds me of how important it is to pick a good platform from the beginning. Even though these services are all non-exclusive and you could certainly release on all the platforms I mention, it’s just too much work for no greater return, I believe. I would also not want to bet on a company that was on shaky footing (of course, how can you really tell?) and have to re-launch on another in a year or two. Therefore I put a lot of thought and research into the decision and I feel great about what I chose. My hope is that this will be helpful to you if you’re considering a VOD release.
Please take a look at the films. IndieFlix is in the middle of launching my films and will have launched them all within a few days. You can see them here: http://indieflix.com/indie-films/?q=Douglas+Horn .
If you’re not already an IndieFlix member, I highly recommend it. You can sign up for a special two-week free trial and $25 a year for life here: http://indieflix.com/ac/A2_55331/
You can also see my current releases on Reelhouse here: https://www.reelhouse.org/douglashorn. Some are free, some are paid with free trailers and other content to view.
I would love to hear your comments on this thread or the IndieFlix or Reelhouse video pages.