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DouglasHorn.com

VOD Options for Independent Films and Series

by on Mar.15, 2013, under Distribution

 

Services like Vimeo's new Vimeo On Demand will change everything for independents.  Eventually.

Services like Vimeo’s new Vimeo On Demand will change everything for independents. Eventually.

Updated: 3/25/13

Vimeo has just launched its new VOD service that offers an exciting new potential for independent filmmakers to release their works online for pay.  But how good is the deal really and where does it fit in the landscape of existing services?  Let’s take a look.

Why VOD matters

Not long ago, VOD was a little throw-away right that got included in film sales but often didn’t even get exploited, let alone bring in any money—at least where independent films were concerned.  So why the growing interest now?  Because DVDs are dead.

Because DVDs are dead.

I had to say it twice.  It’s kind of a big deal.  DVDs—essentially the entire Home Video nut that spawned the independent film movement (back in the VHS/Betamax days) and has sustained it till now, is dead.  People don’t really buy ‘em anymore.  Wait a minute, you say, You are wrong!  My cousin knows a guy who bought a DVD just a couple years ago…

Picking away at the DVD carcass.

Picking away at the DVD carcass.

Sure, a few DVDs still get sold.  For blockbuster films.  Or for very niche stuff that is more movement than entertainment.  But if you have an independent film without stars then as far as mainstream distributors are concerned, DVDs are dead.  You aren’t going to be making any money off them from distributors, but you’re welcome to make your own and sell them on your web site if you want.  …And that brings us back to VOD.

VOD will be the new DVD

When was the last time you bought a DVD, then popped it into your player and watched it?  I’m willing to bet that you’ve watched a video on your computer or mobile phone a lot more recently than that.  VOD—whether it be via iTunes, online, or your cable system—is the future of home video.  So why make DVDs of your independent film or series to sell through snail mail when you can sell a link to a downloadable file instead?  You can save the postage, fulfillment costs, inventory, and time.  And your customers can watch it right away and on whatever device they wish to.

VOD has two drawbacks for independent film and series creators—audiences are not habituated to paying for online video (yet), and there VOD services available are not tuned to independent films (yet).  Both of these problems are rapidly sorting themselves out as more people get used to buying online and more services are launching to meet this growing market.  So it’s worth looking at the VOD landscape for independent film and series creators.

VOD services for independents

VOD can take a lot of different forms.  All of them give viewers nearly instant access to films for pay—but the specifics are very different from both the viewers’ and creators’ perspective.  Here’s a rundown of the major players.

Netflix

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Netflix “Watch Instantly” streaming service enjoys the widest VOD viewership.  Seriously, who doesn’t use Netflix—or at least borrow a friend’s password?  And more than just the number of subscribers is the frequency of their use—people who use Netflix are very comfortable using it.  It has become a cable TV alternative in many households.  So from the viewer standpoint, it’s a no brainer.  But as an independent creator, I have one word of advice about putting your film on Netflix:

Don’t.

A little background: When my first feature film, Entry Level, came out, you better believe I told everyone I knew about it and asked them to watch it.  And people were excited for me.  They promised they would not only watch it, they’d tell their friends to watch it too…on Netflix.  I will never complain about someone watching my film, but the fact is, when they watch it on Netflix, you don’t get paid for it.  Creators don’t always get that right away, and viewers generally don’t get it at all.  I’ve had people say to me, “I’ve watched it ten times!  How much do you get for each view?”  On Netflix, nothing.

Having your film on Netflix will gut your VOD campaign.

Having your film on Netflix will gut your VOD campaign.

Netflix licenses films by paying a flat fee for two years of unlimited streaming.  They used to have an output deal (now expired) with Showtime so that anything Showtime Networks licensed also went to Netflix.  I don’t know what the fees are at the moment—last I heard they were a few thousand.  If you are planning to release your film via a VOD service, my advice is do not release it to Netflix.  That is where people will watch it, because they are already very comfortable using Netflix, and you will gut your VOD campaign for a very small Netflix license payment that will probably end up getting pocketed by some middleman, anyway.  Don’t do it!

iTunes Store

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You may have noticed the comment about viewer’s comfort using Netflix.  I think this is the key concept in getting viewers right now.  The more comfortable the audience is in using a service, the more successful you can be in your VOD campaign.  So after Netflix, what VOD service are people really comfortable using?  The iTunes Store.

The iTunes Store seems to have it all—it’s well known, viewers are already comfortable spending money there for apps and music, so why not movies, too.  And it feels prestigious, right?  You’re on the iTunes Store?  Solid!  From the audience perspective, then, iTunes Store is a premium VOD destination.  They may not be quite as comfortable with it as they are with Netflix, but it’s close.  And they are willing to buy media there, so that’s an even bigger plus.

How is iTunes for creators, though?  My short film, Full Disclosure has been on the iTunes Store since 2006—just a few months after they started taking short films.  In fact, in September 2006, it was the #1 Short Film on the iTunes Store.  A lot of people have asked me about how to get onto iTunes over the years, so I know this one well.

The iTunes Store can work well for creators.  There’s a certain prestige to being there, viewers like it and will spend money there, piracy really isn’t a problem.  Those are important strengths.  So why isn’t iTunes flush with independent films?  Well, there are some negatives here as well.  For one, once your film is on the system, it can be hard to bubble up past the blockbuster films to have your audience discover you.  But the biggest negative about iTunes is that it really is not set up for independent films.  It’s hard to get into the system and iTunes seems just dandy with that.

To get onto iTunes you need an middleman.  The fine folks at the iTunes Store are busy revolutionizing how Earthlings purchase media and are not interested in dealing with a bunch of independent filmmakers.  (Can you blame them?)  So to get onto the service, you need to work with an aggregator.

An aggregator is essentially a distributor.  You make a deal with them.  They have a relationship with the iTunes Store.  People buy or rent your film, iTunes pays the aggregator.  …And the aggregator pays you, right?  Right?  Well, you hope so.

Again, an aggregator is a distributor.  Like distributors, some are better than others. The good ones pay you.  The others make you fight with them over reports, payments, fees, their high percentages for simply acting as a pass-though billing entity.   It’s important to know what kind of company your aggregator is—but often hard to find out up-front.  Nobody tells you they’re out to screw you.  And even the best aggregator is still one more set of pockets between you and your customers.  And in the world of VOD, there’s no reason to have a lot of middlemen.

So that’s a concern, but not a reason to avoid iTunes altogether.  Look for an aggregator with a good track record and low fees.  The iTunes Store splits revenue 70/30 with creators.  That means for every $9.99 sale, the aggregator is paid $7.00.  Aggregators under the old model often split this with creators 50/50—so under that model you’d walk away with $3.50 for every sale—assuming the aggregator reported properly and decided to pay.  Today, there are “new-model” aggregators who will return a much better percentage to the creators.  Some even pay the creators 100% of what they get from iTunes in exchange for an initial setup fee.

New Model Aggregators

New-model aggregators like Distribber can be a good way to get your film onto iTunes.

New-model aggregators like Distribber can be a good way to get your film onto iTunes.

Distribber charges $1,200-$1,600 to encode a film in HD for iTunes and submit it to the service.  After that, they say they will forward all monies collected directly to the filmmaker.  I haven’t used the service so I don’t know if they do this, how long it takes or what the certainty is of getting listed on iTunes.  But if you want to get your film set up, this is something worth looking into.  Distribber and other new model aggregators can also encode and distribute to other VOD venues as well.  Since discovery is still such a challenge for independent VOD, it can pay to be on a lot of services.  Apple has a list of other approved movie aggregators, and I’ve heard whispers that there are a number of other services preparing to enter this space, so keep your eyes out.

The App end-run

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There’s also a whole ‘nother way to get onto the iTunes Store—make your movie or series into an app.  Content creators can encode their content as an app and sell it or give it away on the App Store part of iTunes.  This is an end-run around the gatekeepers and expensive up-front costs of getting onto the iTunes Store.  And apps can have more functionality than mere movies, so it has great potential for connecting to your audience in deeper ways.  Plus there’s the option for additional in-app purchases.  Companies like Veam will create the app for iOS or Android devices (so you can also show up in the Google Play store).

For viewers, the app route means a bit of a challenge, since few people currently think about going to the App Store to download a movie.  However, once they’re there, all the trust, convenience, and installed base positives associated with the iTunes Store (or Google Play Store) are working for you.  I’ve seen a few of these and they’re great for video quality—at least on the smartphone I’ve been using.  Veam creates apps for some film festivals and to me, these are wonderful applications of art and technology.  This is a route that we will be seeing much more in the future.

For content creators, dedicated apps have some pros and cons, but there’s a lot to like.  Each service company will be different, so research this well before stepping in.  It seems that the typical deals involve an up-front fee to create the app.  This is generally a base fee, plus a per-minute of encoding cost for standard fare.  Additional features are extra.  But the additional features are what makes apps great so they shouldn’t be discounted.  Once the apps are created, the content creators either collect all of the revenues from iTunes or some percentage based on the particular app-creator’s deal.

Discovery is the chief problem with this route.  In the immediate future, content creators will have to push their audiences toward this route and educate them about the app because people are not just going to stumble across this on their own.  However, it’s my opinion that content creators are going to have to drive their audience to their movies and series in any VOD scenario.  Independent content just doesn’t bubble up to the top on services like iTunes.  So you’re always going to have to drive and educate your audience.  I think that apps make the most sense for content where it isn’t just an end-run—where the app is part of the experience.  A lot of my TV 2.0-type ideas would do very well on an app and I’m paying a lot of attention to this for the future.

Amazon Instant Video

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Amazon.com also has a streaming video service.  And if there’s anywhere that people are used to spending money online, it’s Amazon.  Amazon has put a lot of effort into getting people used to watching media through their service.  They give Amazon Prime members free video streaming of a lot of content.  They also incorporate it into their high end Kindles.

So customers trust Amazon with their money and Amazon is really working on getting the audience to be there.  That’s a good combination.  I know a few filmmakers who are selling their films via Amazon.com and seem happy with the experience.  I don’t know if they’re getting great returns, but for a while, Amazon has been the most indie-friendly game in town.  My understanding is that the revenue share is 50/50.

Hulu

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Hulu is a great destination for viewers.  They have the free version which is ad-supported and the paid version with more premium content.  In my experience, Hulu has a great player and seems to have a good-sized audience.  My understanding is that they share ad revenue 50/50 with content creators.

Getting onto Hulu can be a challenge, though.  They rightfully see value to their viewers in their curation and selecting great content.  It can take a long time to hear back from them, especially with independent films and series.  If you’re small, it can help to go through an intermediary like IndieFlix.

IndieFlix

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IndieFlix is also a subscription-based service like Netflix with some key differences.  I’ve been following the company carefully since IndieFlix CEO Scilla Andreen and I served together on the Seattle International Film Festival short film jury in 2008 and hit it off.  The service has grown and changed somewhat over the years, but I have always been struck by Scilla’s genuine interest in helping filmmakers find an audience.  This is reflected in the transparency and freedom of their business dealings with filmmakers.  I have just launched DIVERGENCE on the service, so I don’t know much yet as a content creator, however, their terms are quite filmmaker friendly compared to the majority of distributors I’ve worked with.  For example, the contracts are non-exclusive and can be terminated by the content owner fairly easily.  So you are free to work with IndieFlix and still control your rights in other venues.

As a subscription service, IndieFlix sells $69 annual memberships (or $49 through this discount link) to people who love independent films.  These subscribers can then watch as many films as they like on IndieFlix.  So in the broad strokes, it’s like Netflix.  However, there are differences.  First, rather than paying an up-front license fee, IndieFlix pools up part of each month’s subscription and divides it among the filmmakers pro rata based on how much people watched their content.  So if your friends watch a lot of your films on IndieFlix, you do, in fact, get more money.  At the moment, I have yet to receive statements, so I can’t say how much this comes to, but it’s something.

There’s another reason I think IndieFlix is very different than Netflix, where VOD campaigns are concerned.  IndieFlix is a great service and they curate their content well, so 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.

In addition to their subscription service, IndieFlix will act as an intermediary with larger organizations like Hulu and sometimes even networks—if you want them to.

By the way, if you haven’t already, do check out IndieFlix, every independent film and series creator should be a member.

YouTube

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Of course, YouTube is the giant in the video content delivery game.  So, why so low on this list?  Well, aside from special Pay-Per-View events like boxing matched, YouTube doesn’t really do VOD.  For now.

As the 800,000-pound gorilla of the field, YouTube could decide to jump into this game at any time.  They have a history of coming up with services and features similar to Vimeo, so with Vimeo’s launching of Vimeo On Demand, the Empire could strike back whenever they like.

Vimeo on Demand

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So finally we get to the newly launched service from Vimeo that’s mentioned in the title.  How’s that for a buried lead?

Vimeo just launched a new VOD service that lets content creators upload videos to their account and sell them online.  Now, this is a new service and much may be altered as it develops.  However, my initial reaction of excitement is somewhat tempered by the details of the deal.

From the viewer standpoint, there is good and bad.  At this point, Vimeo is a trusted name in online video content viewing.  The service is second only to YouTube in audience perception.  There was a time when Vimeo meant better quality than YouTube.  That time has passed—YouTube now has better HD content than Vimeo, for one thing—but the perception remains for many people.  A part of this—beyond pure specs—is that people who host their videos on Vimeo tend to care more about video quality, and therefore the videos are more worth watching than YouTube.  On YouTube, you get videos of people’s cats; on Vimeo, you get videos of people’s camera tests.

But unfortunately for viewers, to buy a Vimeo VOD video, they must sign up for a free Vimeo account.  While that sounds—and is—pretty simple, it’s enough of a hassle to lose a lot of prospective buyers.  And it seems unnecessary given that payment is via PayPal or credit card.  I predict that this is the place where a lot of potential viewers will check out, even if they would have spent the money to watch the video.  (Purchases are also US$ only at present which is a major turn off for most people outside the USA.)  But for those who do sign up—or already have an account—Vimeo really is an excellent service in many ways.  One great thing about Vimeo that sets it apart from the smaller VOD pretenders out there is that it hooks into so many devices right out of the box.  That means a lot to viewers because, ultimately, VOD only works if people can watch it on their giant Man-cave television screens.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

From a creator standpoint, the service is pretty sweet.  (If you’re willing to write off international sales and overlook the fact that a huge portion of your potential viewership is going to bolt rather than sign up for a Vimeo account.) You buy a $199 annual membership to Vimeo Pro (sorry Plus members—time to upgrade) and you can create paid VOD albums with videos.  These can be for one film or a season of a series.  You can set your price, how long a viewer can watch, and whether they can download the file.  You can also add new files like additional episodes, trailers, behind-the-scenes, and special messages.  These features really elevate the service from much of the others available.  And it’s cheap.  A creator has to pony up the two bills a year for their account, but they can release any number of VOD movies for that.  And the split is 90/10 (after credit card or PayPal fees).  So you net the bulk of your revenue.

This price is one thing I think is undeniable amazing about Vimeo’s VOD service.  I hope it makes it, I really do—they just have to iron a few viewer-side issues, which I expect they will soon.  But whether or not Vimeo pulls this off, they have effectively set the price for VOD services in the future.  This is what it should cost to release a film via VOD.  The iTunes Store’s mandatory encoding may have made sense in 2006 when that stuff was hard, but today I can do the same thing on my laptop overnight.  So take a cue from Vimeo and ditch the high encoding fees.  Add some nominal account fee to cover overhead, and then take a tiny percentage of each sale to keep the servers humming—so that the rest goes back to the content creators.  Reasonable fees and no one between you and your audience.  That is the model for the future.

VHX

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There are a number of other small services out there in the VOD space and Sooooo many waiting in the wings.  One of these is VHX.tv.  While you can’t quite get on it yet (and their deal points aren’t publicly available) it’s worth a shout out because it offers a slightly different model and is already enjoying some success.

VHX allows filmmakers to sell DRM-free downloads or streams of their videos.  From a viewer’s experience, this is freaking fantastic.  Viewers don’t like DRM, even if they have no idea of what it even is.  It just sounds bad.  So offering DRM-free content is a plus.  And the VHX early adopters like comedian Aziz Ansari and Foo Fighter Dave Grohl have given the service a high profile.  Well played, VHX.  (Plus props for the cool name, yo!)  VHX videos are also sold right on the content creator’s landing page and don’t require additional signup beyond inputting payment info and a credit card number.

As for creators, well, much remains to be seen.  Apparently, there is no up-front fee for the service.  Exactly how much of a cut they take will come out later this year when they open up the service beyond celebrity beta-testers.  But it’s important to note that the company seems to be ideologically firmly on the side of DRM-free content.  So if you like DRM and believe it’s important (or possible) to stomp out Internet piracy, then VHX probably isn’t for you, sir.

Distrify

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I’m going to round out this roundup with Distrify—the MLM of the VOD world.  Distrify has me a bit mystified (yes, I’m mostly covering it for the wordplay opportunities), but my understanding is, content creators set up their video with the service and create embeddable VOD players for each video.  These players can then be hosted on a variety of servers. You can put it on your own page, but you can also allow others to place it on their pages.  When someone pays to watch the video, Distrify takes 30%, you get 70%—unless an affiliate hosts the video, in which case they get 10% (the split becomes 65/25/10).  While this may initially seem like more hands in your pocket, it’s actually a great way to incentivize people to promote your content.  This is the age of the curator, after all, and this strategy could really extend your sales.

The viewer experience here seems pretty solid, since Distrify players can be embedded on any web site, don’t require additional service sign up like Vimeo, can be purchased in multiple currencies (Vimeo is US dollars only at present) and offers lots of options like buying, renting, bonus features, and social media links.   I’m not clear on the ability to stream videos to other devices, though.  This seems to be lacking at the moment—but all of these services are developing rapidly.  For content creators, the service also has lots of pluses.  I think it has particular value for videos aimed at affinity groups and other niches that are passionate about a subject matter and exist in lots of pockets around the country or around the world.  Distrify would be a great way to offer a decentralized VOD strategy where curators and other taste-makers have a real incentive to help spread the word.  The folks at Distrify seem to be well aware of this approach as they’ve built in a lot of great international features like multiple languages and currencies, geo-blocking, and more.

 

Wheh!

If this isn’t my longest blog post yet, then it’s darn close.  But I think it’s an important topic and this is the right time to discuss it.  So, for both of you who made it this far, thanks for reading along.  I’d like to hear your thoughts on this VOD revolution.

Updated: 3/25/13

In response to reader questions, I looked into two other VOD services.

Reelhouse

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A service I hadn’t found in my original research is Reelhouse.  It’s a VOD destination platform similar to Vimeo on Demand or VHX.  It’s currently in “live Beta” so filmmakers can use the service now.  Reelhouse seems to have a comprehensive suite of tools like paywall, download, blog, storefront, and crowd-funding that seems like a blend of Vimeo and Kickstarter.  From a viewer’s standpoint, it all looks fine in the broad strokes.  It’s a nice looking site with a good video player and some nice features.  But it seems there’s still a lot of work to be done in finding the site—I was researching an article on the topic and I didn’t find it.  Still, the service is new and may very well blossom into a trusted destination.  Like any of these destination services where the viewer must go to the site (rather than the player being embeddable), how quickly viewers start thinking of it as a source for great content will depend on whether the content creators load and promote their videos.

From a content creator’s standpoint, Reelhouse offers a lot.  Creators set their own price and Reelhouse takes just 6% after credit card or PayPal fees.  Content creators will like that.  There are also a lot of integrated social media, crowd-funding, and other features that seem to make Reelhouse similar to an online film festival experience.

Chill Direct

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Chill Direct is another direct VOD destination that claims it got the idea from the success of Louis C.K.’s self-distributed video release.  And true to that inspiration (but not affiliation), a lot of the site’s first crop of films are comedian performance films and documentaries.  It’s a nice looking site with a similar suite of tools as you’ll find on a number of the other VOD sites—plus an integrated storefront, which is pretty cool.  That said, a lot of what’s been written about Chill claims that they’re seeking to remove the middleman from content creators and audiences, but with an old-model revenue split, it seems like they are a middleman.

Content creators will probably like the easy account set up and toolset.  So far there doesn’t seem to be much more content available on Chill than on Reelhouse, so it’s doubtful that it has a lot of value in video discovery yet.  Of course, that may may come as the service matures.  Chill lets creators set their own price between $1.99 and $49.99 and splits these 70/30.

The emerging VOD price structure

As I said earlier, once Vimeo on Demand set the VOD hosting price at 10% (plus an annual fee), anyone asking for 30% suddenly has me asking, “For what?”  If iTunes is taking 30%, I get it.  It’s their store, they created a marketplace where people shop very freely, give each other gift cards, the whole shebang.  If you want to be on that site, then you’re going to pay that price—and  a lot of people will find it worthwhile.  But for a direct VOD destination site—particularly one that no one’s heard of yet, I have news for you…you aren’t iTunes.  Content creators still have to drive their viewers to your site if they hope to be successful.  Once they do, I just don’t see many choosing to give a service like Chill 30% of their revenues when Vimeo or Roadhouse will take 10% or less.  I see a new pricing structure in the future for VOD upstarts if they want to be competitive.  And for content creators, that’s a great thing.

 

Douglas Horn is a feature film writer-director and a creator of independent series.  Douglas and Dan Southworth founded the web media company Popular Uprising.  The company’s action/sci-fi series DIVERGENCE will release its first season in 2012.  More information at: DouglasHorn.com and WhatIsDivergence.com

 

 

 

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75 Comments for this entry

  • Chris Brandt

    Great post, Douglas. Your insights about the Netflix deal are spot on. Same with VOD aggregates. My own experience there was a $1,400 start up cost, offset by $1,400 in DVD sales…the VOD only having net less than $10 to date (to my pocket…I’m at best fourth in the chain of the distribution channel, and have no idea how much the first couple of pairs of hands are keeping).

    Fantastic post that will be of great help for my future decisions. Thanks!

  • Alicia De Fortune

    I figured out a way to get myself known to the public by writing transcript for many independent web series. Granted, I tried sending something to a group in Los Angeles, but they’re really busy with their own original web series. I wish them good luck on their endeavors.

  • Mark

    Would love it if you could add a Chill review to the mix. Seems like it’s going for about the same scope as VHX, and it’s already live, but I can’t find sufficient info about the process and model.

  • James stiles

    what about dynamoplayer.com

  • Jeremy Wilker (@TWEAK)

    We are using iTunes, Distrify and Reelhouse for TRIUMPH67. I noticed Reelhouse wasn’t mentioned anywhere and I’d recommend you take a look at it – from clean design and great features to a very friendly financial agreement.
    http://www.reelhouse.org/moonpost/triumph67

  • Peter Gerard

    Thanks for the shout-out!
    To answer one of your questions: Distrify works on most connected devices out of the box, including iOS, Android and many more.

    And I think you’ve misunderstood the definition of MLM. Distrify operates a shared rewards commission system that drives legal viral sharing, but there is absolutely nothing multi-level about it.

    Happy to answer any other questions to help demystify you!

    Cheers!

  • Douglas

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Chris. It’s very similar to my own and a lot of other filmmakers’ I speak with. Let’s hope there’s a better route for our future projects.

  • Douglas

    Mark – I added an overview on Chill Direct. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. The joining process seems easy enough. I did not fully review the terms.

  • Douglas

    It seems that Dynamo went out of this line of business a year ago. It seems from their blog posts that they might have suffered from entering the space just a little too early. They are now offering white-label tools for people who want to do their own VOD without any other company’s branding on it. I don’t know what their fees are but their website has links.

  • Douglas

    Thanks for sharing this Jeremy. Reelhouse looks interesting and I’ve added it to the lineup. What more can you tell us about your experiences with them? I think a lot of people would be interested.

  • Douglas

    Thanks Peter. It’s good to hear that Distrify works on Android and iOS devices. Is there a way to send the content to Roku and other set-top boxes?

  • Mary

    We used Indieflix for our first documentary,and really appreciated that they also got us on Hulu. It sounds like there are quite a few good options now—is there any reason NOT to take advantage of as many VOD options as possible (for one film)? We’re right now trying to figure out who we’re going to use for our VOD release for our comedy documentary, “The Unbookables”.

  • Douglas

    I think content creators should use as many platforms as make sense. Some of the platforms have their own audiences who will have a chance to discover your content on that platform. Perhaps some people who watch videos on the Reelhouse site don’t really visit Vimeo, so not being on the platform is missing out. Like I mentioned with IndieFlix, I don’t really think you’re cannibalizing your campaign by being there because they have created their own community which you’re releasing your content into.

    That said, I think that there’s a value in knowing where you’d really prefer to have people watch your content and focus your efforts on driving people there. But with many platforms not having setup fees and few requiring exclusivity, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to be on a lot of platforms, just to capture that incremental audience.

  • Jason

    Douglas, thanks so much for the thorough and well organized list as well as the informative reviews of the different VOD options. This is a great resource and one I wish I would’ve had available in 2010 when we put our doc “Veer” on Indieflix. From the sound of things, it seems like the options have increased in this short time and even Indieflix has matured. Thanks again, looking forward to reading through more of your posts.

  • Douglas

    Yeah Jason, the wealth of great new direct-to-filmmaker VOD options is restoring my faith in the ability of creators to be able to benefit from their works again.

  • Chase

    Excellent post, we’re working on one that covers a lot of the same things, as a company that offers a path to platforms like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and more for upfront service fee, like another company you listed above. I just wanted to note that, in regards to your comment above in the Vimeo section about being able to encode for iTunes on your laptop at home…yes, you indeed may be able to, but unfortunately, the majority of people are unable to follow the necessities of delivery for platforms such as iTunes, and has ruined that capability for most others, requiring “gate-keeper” companies like ours to help get the content on the store. From a lack of proper assets, such as closed captioning, poster art, correct 5.1 audio, etc, to an inability to correctly generate and list metadata according to the platform’s specifications, especially as metadata has become nearly as important as the video assets themselves to these platforms, most of these larger platforms are going to continue to require official and approved encoding houses to get content live on the stores. At least with our company, we’re trying to make it an easier and more transparent process by having the filmmakers and content owners retain 100% of their rights and 100% of their revenue.

    But again, great post!

  • Adriano

    Thanks for this post, Douglas. How feasible do you think it would be for filmmakers to bypass VOD platforms and stream directly from a personal website via services like tinypass or similar?

  • Reelhouse

    Hi Douglas and viewers,

    Thanks for the props and review!

    Just to point out, we actually do offer embedding of our players on other sites. We believe it’s crucial for the marketing and reach of your stories.

    Not only that, but we just pushed a new version of our player which includes a special feature on the embed that lets viewers know there’s lots more to experience on the film’s page. Unlike some of the other platforms, there’s tons of additional value for visiting the film’s Reelhouse page (store, extras, photos, blog posts, rewards etc..) so the embed player breadcrumbs viewers back to the film’s page where they will be engaged, interact with your world further and become a part of your connected fan base.

    We’re happy to answer any other questions!

    Stay tuned for a flurry of new and exciting features coming soon!

    Reelhouse

  • Douglas

    Chase — I am all for companies providing services to help filmmakers navigate delivery and encoding. The more services available to help filmmakers the better. My beef–if I have one–is in requiring an encoding house when the majority of professionally-minded filmmakers could meet a published spec rather easily if this were an option.

    I looked at Quiver’s site from your link. I’m interested in researching this more, since the response to this post has encouraged me to similarly look at other key services in this area.

  • Douglas

    Adriano — Interesting question. Just my opinion here (well, the whole site is, really), but I think there would be a lot of reinventing the wheel there. Could you do it? Probably. But I think it would take you longer and use more resources than it would be worth when services like Vimeo on Demand and Reelhouse are out there offering a lot of polish for peanuts. How are you going to beat that on your own?

    I also think it’s important to view each of these services from both the filmmakers’ and the audience’s viewpoints. And I think to most audiences there is a patina of trust that an established site like Vimeo engenders. People have heard of it, it looks cool, so they are more willing to spend their money there.

  • Douglas

    Hello Reelhouse-person — Thanks for checking in and clarifying that. I wasn’t able to find that info about player embedding when I researched your site, but I notice that there is a lot more information up there now.

    As I read more about Reelhouse, I get more excited about what you’re offering. It seems like a great platform for filmmakers. Please check in as you are ready to go public about these new features. Based on the remarkable number of hits I’ve had on this article, I believe there must be a lot of content creators eager for a great solution.

  • Chase

    I agree, and for people that don’t want to deal with the intermediary encoding houses, they’ll probably boost platforms like Vimeo On Demand, Distrify, etc. If you have any questions about Quiver, our model, etc., don’t hesitate to get in touch! We’re currently going through a major overhaul with our site to provide everyone with more info.

  • Tang

    Great article, thanks for your work Douglas. Do you know which site is most affordable for 1 movie apprx 4GB but more important safe in terms of protecting content from allowing user downloads? Distrify charges apprx $10 per month and gets 30% of each sale and Vimeo Pro is apprx $200 anuual and 10% of each sale from what I researched so that works out to be about the same so security is deciding factor. I know there is always some software to get around security but there are hundreds of programs that make it easy for youtube videos to be downloaded with 1 click of a button. Also does Vevo have VOD yet? I couldn’t find it anywhere online. Finally, some sites allow diret watch from website and others require download to aps. I wish there was some chart with all of these factors listed, but your research is the best so far. Thanks again!

  • Douglas

    Thanks Tang. Great questions. I am putting together a breakdown of what services cost what for an upcoming article (part 2 of the Open Source Short Film Business Model). I’ve also had some interesting phone conversations with some of the people involved in these companies, so I’m learning a lot to share soon. Bear with me while I pull it all together.

    About security–my take is that it’s likely to be similar among the various services. We should expect (and demand) that they all use standard practices and software tools on their servers. On the player-side, I doubt there is any solution that can eliminate 100% of piracy. I’m not sure that’s what we should be aiming for. I think there’s very little flow between movie pirates and purchasers. they just don’t swap camps much. So the pirates would likely never be our customers and our customers are unlikely to be pirates as long as the most basic security is present.

    The real problem for indies is to attract the customers and get them to purchase our films. Trying to simultaneously thwart pirates is an unrelated goal with little bearing on the customer equation.

    So, if cost is similar between services (which remains to be seen), and discovery is not really a definitive selling point for any service at the moment–since filmmakers really need to drive their own traffic, and security comes up as essentially a wash between services, then I would say that specific feature sets are where filmmakers will make their choices about who best serves their needs.

    For my part, I think there may be a significant price difference, but I’ll reserve judgment till I actually run all the numbers. But if one of these services would come up with the tools to promote the intermittent scarcity model that I think offers the best option for filmmakers—particularly of short films—then that feature set would probably win me over, even if it was at a slightly higher cost.

  • Rodolfo Walljasper

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  • Andrea Zangl

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  • Fran

    Great post!
    Do you have any figures/statistics about how many people are using VOD? I mean, you mention how much the creator makes, but what are the sales volume for an average indie movie (ar least a very very estimation…)

    Thank you!

  • JP

    We are experimenting with Video on Demand for Indie Films on an artist-run site called Indie Koala at http://IndieKoala.com. Check it out.

  • Steve M.

    Hello awesome post!! Just the info I was looking for, we have a reality based TV show and DVD series set to release next month. We have a PPV deal but we are also looking for other outlets as well.. its all about volume in our eyes. We will also sell our VOD right off our site as well as having it stream inside our members area. I was thinking of selling the DVDs on Amazon and thanks to you I now know they have VOD as well as many others.

  • Anton Cavka

    Excellent piece on the pros and cons of each VOD platform from the point of view of both the film makers and the audience. I’ve just finished my documentary 100 Man Fight http://www.100manfight.com and am researching where best to distribute it on the net.
    Vimeo is in the lead so far with its HD quality, user friendliness, low fees and its ability to be viewed on just about every type of device. If they just scrapped the sign up requirement and fixed their search engine they could take the VOD market by storm.

  • Dailey Pike

    Great post.

    Your subscribe button in the top right corner is broken.

  • John Quarrell

    Brilliant article, it really is great to come across something that is well written and well researched on the net these days! I have just about given up on the film festival route as I feel many are overpriced and I have learnt many films that are selected are inside deals! I would love my film to be seen on the big screen but ultimately it is about getting it seen and raising my profile!

    It was great to hear someone else publicly talk about vimeo vrs youtube quality! I find Vimeo slow to load and the quality is a long way of my HD file on youtube (and its free!) If I am going to stream it online I want to show a good quality file! Also the meta data about viewers on youtube is great, it is always up to date and will soon be real time! But can youtube viewers watch 15 minute films and pay for them? I fear not as it has always been about free content and short clips. If you can’t get the numbers then ‘monetize’ option is not going to work.

    I am feeling for distrify but need to check out quality and reliability first. Are most people purchasing these films from their iPad/laptop/PC/Mac or from an internet TV ?

  • Duck Rodger

    Please consider re-assessing Vimeo’s rank in your presentation: Vimeo offers independent filmmakers MUCH cheaper and easier placement/launch than iTunes, Amazon, YouTube or Google Play, & better payment model than all of these (Unlike Vimeo, iTunes &Amazon decide your sales price for you!). Also better picture quality than Amazon (which has only SD access to true independents), essentially equal picture quality to iTunes & Google/YouTube. Vimeo also offers a very wide, integrated availability on platforms such as iOS, Android, Roku, XBox, Boxee, Samsung, Panasonic, LG & Philips TVs, – and of course any laptop or computer. About the only thing you can’t watch it thru is PS3! People are more used to iTunes and Amazon, but Vimeo seems equally accessible. I’m a person with a film available on iTunes, Vimeo and Distrify – and who walked away from Amazon because their quality was bad, and the pricing shoddy.

  • Douglas

    Fran – I’m not sure there are good figures for this. Every project is unique. I think it’s up to the creator of each project to estimate his realistic market based on whatever data he has. Is the project starting from scratch or is there some established base audience to draw from. How will the creator advertise and what sort of reach does that campaign have. Lack of god numbers on sales frustrate most independent producers.

  • Douglas

    Yes, I agree. I think the account signup is the one bump in the process for Vimeo–and it’s a pretty big one. It will be interesting to see if they revise that. I think it would help.

    I’m also working on an update and in the process deciding which service(s) I will use for some of my films. So there will be an update soon(ish).

  • Douglas

    Dailey – Thanks for the heads up on the subscribe button. I’ll look into it. (no promises…though :) )

  • Douglas

    John – Great comments. Yes, there’s a conundrum. I personally believe that as there’s more volume in the system that places like Vimeo will be able to improve their offerings. I am looking to move several of my films to a platform (or platforms) and I’ll document that and my reasons why for readers. Actually doing this will real films is turning out to be a little different than the intellectual exercise of picking the best platform–which is good. I’m also factoring in a lot of intangibles like which platform is most likely to succeed because there will be benefits to being on the right platform that may outweigh being on the ‘perfect’ platform that didn’t have enough force behind it to garner a lead position.

    I do wish that more VOD providers would give us stats on who is purchasing from them and any BI they may have that could help us position our films.

  • Douglas

    Duck – Did you read the article? It’s not a ranking. I think Vimeo comes off quite well.

  • Douglas

    JP – Looks cool. How are you finding working with Vimeo On Demand? Is it a good experience? I notice on your site that you explain that viewers need to sign up for a Vimeo account. Have you heard any response from people about this? Is there resistance from your customers or are they fine with it?

  • JP

    Hi Douglas,
    Things are working out quite well with Vimeo on Demand. They add new features quite frequently. The requirement for a free account is in order to identify visitors when they return. For example, if they rent a movie for 6 months, there needs to be a way for Vimeo to determine that they have access to the film and don’t have to pay for it again. It hasn’t been an issue. Afterall, the same thing exists with iTunes. You need an account there to purchase a rental as well. I think the feature I would really like to see is the ability to give out a promo code for a free rental or a discounted rental, similar to the cards you can pick up at Starbucks for song of the week or free tv episode of the week etc. so we can further promote http://IndieKoala.com
    JP.

  • Faith

    Thanks Doug. Excellent discussion! Such an important topic. We actually offered our documentary on Dynamo Player, but they shut down their service earlier this summer, so we’ve been searching for a new VOD option. Amazon is very tempting simply because of the traffic they offer. I like the Distrify model where your biggest fans can share your film on their websites for a cut of the sales. Vimeo is next on the list to research. Thanks again Doug for the excellent in-depth info. Oh, just one comment about DVD sales. Not sure I totally agree that DVD is dead. We’re still getting a decent amount of DVD sales through our distributor, but it’s a topic that perhaps appeals to an older audience which may offer some explanation.

  • John

    Hi Douglas,
    I have been searching for different avenues for online distribution for a while now and you seemed to covered it all exceptionally well in this article. Have you come across indiereign.com? This is another great VOD site that we have our film ‘The Wick’ available on.
    http://www.indiereign.com/video/the-wick-dispatches-from-the-isle-of-wonder#.UfPv5mQ9xnI

  • Bill Motley

    It looks like Veem is dead, but why? I only recently learned that it may be possible to offer downloads and on-demand videos that behave like DVD and Blu-Ray disks, menus and all. In order to work, the content needs to somehow be converted to work with or as apps and connected to the appropriate players. This seems reasonable, and too good to be true. Maybe it is, but why? Do any of you folks know why this type of video delivery system isn’t taking over the world?

    So http://www.Veem.co is dead, but about 5 years ago a handful of folks with great resumes started http://www.LeapingBrain.com and the MOD Player. I don’t know what they are doing these days, but the product is available even though the site is quiet. No action in the forum… I mean none ever. Still, product looks like it should be available to every content provider who has more than a single, straight-run video to offer. As far as I can tell, a gaggle of people are using the platform for peddling a lot of instructional video courses and that’s about it.

    There must be good reasons for this technology to die on the vine rather than to become what I thought something like this would become… the most popular player ever. Any insights?

  • Meghan

    Good overview, and thanks for sharing this.

    Another good website for online indie film distribution is filmbay.com

    Should be mentioned, even featured in my view,

    Meghan

  • Michael Plumides

    Great article Doug. Very informative. I have been avoiding the inevitable for years hoping against hope that my project, GHOST TREK, would get picked up by television. Problem is, all of the production companies in Hollywood are attempting to sell their IPs to television – which kind of leaves guys like us out in the cold and unable to compute with their properties. I signed a production deal with Thinkfactory Media but they sat on my property for six months – so not to lose momentum I release our pilot episode, Ghost Trek: The Kinsey Report, on http://www.dreadcentral.com last Halloween. I’m finishing an all-new edit to release on Dread Central again this October but I wanted to couple it with a good aggregate or VOD platform – preferably both. I’ve already corresponded with Chill and Indieflix and I’m waiting on correspondence from Distribber. Interestingly, one of my partners is using an iTunes aggregate for music but the also do VOD – I know this will sound funny but… K-Tel. All of these deals so far have been non-exclusive. I don’t think it matters who the service is as much as how solid the deal is, whether or not the aggregate is established, and are they reputable. I’m learning exponentially, and your article has helped. And my advice regarding indie projects – don’t get discouraged by this process. Even though I’m still DIY on Ghost Trek, the work I did landed me a contract at Morgan Creek on Clive Barker’s Nightbreed as a producer and consultant – for the “Director’s Cut” of the original film, the TV show and comic reboot.

  • Mark

    Thanks for all the good info Doug. Here is another VOD tool that is just rolling out. Filmdemic is is a platform that allows filmakers to quickly and easily make their properties available on Facebook for a fraction of the cost of other solutions. Not just and embedded video player, Filmdemic is fully Facebook integrated for social media leveraging. Check it out at http://filmdemic.com/

  • Landon Wendolski

    Thank you so much for bringing this to our minds eye. This is a very informative article piece with a lot of information, good content!

  • Jith Paul

    We just launched Phase II of our VOD website Indie Koala, http://IndieKoala.com with on demand and free short films, documentaries and feature films by indie filmmakers. Check it out.

  • Paul

    What about a good VOD for indies wanting to get their products into the likes of China?

    My own indie movie is a silent movie of sorts – therefore not restricted by language in terms of its geographical appeal. While the above represents options for distribution in the Western English speaking world (and I personally like Vimeo VOD) – I really want to tap the much bigger Chinese market!

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