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DouglasHorn.com

VOD for Independents in 2014

by on Mar.16, 2014, under Distribution

VOD keeps getting better for independents

VOD keeps getting better for independents

Updated 3/18/14 – clarifications about IndieReign. Updated 4/4/14 – clarifications about Distrify and Reelhouse.

One year ago I wrote an article about the VOD platforms that had the greatest impact for independent film and series creators. It quickly became one of my most popular articles. As I prepare to release several of my own films on VOD, I am struck by how much has changed in this area in just a year. So here is the 2014 edition of the VOD rundown.

The 2013 article covered about a dozen VOD platforms and services in a number of sectors of this space. Much of that has not changed much in a year: you still (mostly) need an aggregator service to get onto iTunes; Netflix still seems to me like a platform that will kill your hopes for any VOD sales elsewhere. Rather than rehash that article, I’ll point you to it to read for yourself. This article will focus on VOD platforms that offer direct filmmaker to audience platforms. (I plan to cover how to get your film on iTunes in another article soon.)

 

What to look for in a VOD platform

Picking a VOD platform is not a small decision. Even with platforms that are non-exclusive and make uploading your materials easy, launching a film onto a VOD platform takes time. You need to upload images, films, trailers and bonus materials, set your pricing structures, customize your landing page, plus add all the extras like merch, soundtracks and perhaps screening info. This takes a lot of time. Once your film is loaded up, you’ll be forwarding this information to a lot of people and probably advertising it. So you want to choose your platform carefully since moving the film around is going to be time consuming and likely lose you some sales.

There are some elements of a VOD platform that I find deal-breakers. For example, if a platform is exclusive, I’m not interested—even if I ultimately want to be on only one online home. Other features are important but not crucial. Here are the characteristics I’m looking for.

Non-exclusive

The producer can sell his film on multiple platforms at once and can end the deal at any time. A three-month notification period is about the maximum I would consider reasonable.

About 90% of the sale price goes to the producer.

One of the things I found most important about the original release of Vimeo On Demand was that it really set the acceptable revenue split for VOD platforms at somewhere around 90/10 after transaction fees. In the year since, the serious players in the space who weren’t already there have mostly migrated to it. I’m willing to accept some wiggle room here in the form of annual fees but if a platform still wants 30% of a sale or more, it just isn’t interesting to me.

Page customization with an embeddable player

Most of these services will allow you to create a customizable page for your film on their site. I think the more a platform allows the producer to customize the page, the better—especially if this includes some cool additional tools like film news, merch sales and the like. Some also include an embeddable player that can be placed on any site—with the paywall built right in. I believe this feature has a huge opportunity to drive sales since potential viewers can purchase from wherever they first discover the film. It eliminates the need to follow a link to the point of purchase.

DRM-free sales

I don’t like piracy, but I also don’t like format obsolescence—and I don’t think audiences like it either. When I’m the customer buying media, I want to own that copy and be able to place it on all the devices I choose, rather than having to watch it only on certain devices. So I think that to anyone savvy enough to be buying indie films online, DRM is important. I also think it’s only fair.

Platform discovery tools

When platforms have smart ways to help their purchasers find your media, everyone wins. At the moment, a lot of VOD platforms are low on content and it’s easy to see what is there, but as VOD takes off, the tools will become increasingly vital. After all, people who are already buying similar content on the platform will be some of the easiest to convert into customers.

Geo-blocking

Most VOD platforms vehemently encourage producers to make their films available worldwide. And that’s great if you don’t have or expect sales in foreign countries. However, the distribution model that I recommend and follow with my own films is to sell foreign rights wherever possible. Perhaps as VOD grows there will be better money to be had by selling a film in a territory via VOD, but at the moment, it is certainly nice to get a sizable check for a territory. To sell a foreign territory, you must be able to ensure that it is not easily available there over the Internet—hence the need for geo-blocking. I look for easy-to-use tools to block off certain areas as I need to.

No barriers to sales

To me, VOD is a fragile kind of sale to make for an independent film. I think that anything that slows down the process for your potential audience will end up costing you sales. One of the very few concerns I had about Vimeo On Demand in last year’s article was that by making the purchaser have to sign up for a Vimeo ID in order to purchase (rather than simply providing credit card or PayPal information) they were creating a barrier that would lose some people. Unfortunately, this persists. To me, it’s a subtle barrier to sale, as is a platform that cannot embed players. However, I’ll be including some platforms that have these features because they may be less important to you than they are to me.

Set your own prices

You are the expert on your film and you should be able to decide how much to charge for it. Ideally you should be able to set multiple price levels for various media packages you want to offer. Bonus points for things like coupons that let you market your film more aggressively and innovatively. Another great tool in this vein is the crowdfunding fulfillment tool that lets a filmmaker easily distribute free copies to backers from Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms.

Open enrollment

Generally, you don’t want a VOD platform to be deciding what can and cannot sell on their platform (within broad guidelines, of course). First, this will slow down your launch and may make a launch date difficult to predict (this can be a problem for smaller films trying to launch on the iTunes Store.) It also sets up producers for a situation where they may build an audience for their work on one platform, only to have their latest work not selected. So open enrollment is a plus. However, I’m all for some curation by the platform in terms of what they choose to feature on their front page or “staff picks” section.

Visible advances on the platform

This type of VOD platform is very young. It is not yet in its ideal form. But if you are launching a film or series on a platform today, you are betting that they are going to survive, thrive and take your film along for the ride (and vice versa, frankly). At this moment in history, I am more interested in seeing a platform that shows it is growing in terms of audience, offerings and features. You want to make a good bet, and the best predictor, to me, is year-over-year advances—even more than present market-share.

 

The Platforms

After looking at all of the platforms on last year’s roundup—plus a few new options, I found five platforms that meet most of my core requirements: Vimeo On Demand, Reelhouse, VHX, IndieReign, and Distrify. These are the platforms that interest me the most.

I’ve created a grid of key features for each platform, based on my research.

 

Vimeo On Demand

Reelhouse

VHX

IndieReign

Distrify

Annual Fee

$199 +

$0 $0 $0 $0 or $199

Revenue percentage to producer

90% – t.f.

94% – t.f. 90% – $.50 70% – t.f.

65-70%

Homepage Customization

Good

Good Very Good None

Poor

Discovery Tools

Very Good

Good None Very Good

None

Sales + Rentals

Sales + rentals

Sales + rentals     (48-hr only) Sales only Sales + rentals

Sales + rentals

Merch sales tools

Yes

Yes Yes No

Free: No

Paid: Yes

Set-Top Boxes Roku, Samsung, Xbox

Chrome;   (others “coming soon”

No No

No

Barriers Must sign up Vimeo to purchase

-

Lack of marketplace to browse

-

-

Cool Tools

    Coupons; Screeners  

Revenue Share;     Pay it Forward

t.f. = transaction fee

 

Vimeo header

Vimeo On Demand

Vimeo’s launch of Vimeo On Demand last year not only changed the landscape of independent VOD, it set the price and basic services that any successful VOD platform would have to try to match. It was a pretty tall order and I suspect that some of the platforms, like Chill, that have dropped out of the race in the past year were building out their services based on old assumptions and discovered that they simply couldn’t stand up to the challenge that Vimeo had laid down. Vimeo On Demand is the big dog in this fight and for some people, that fact alone is all they need to know to go with Vimeo.

Vimeo On Demand requires a Vimeo Pro account, which starts at $199 a year (additional downloads and hosting space can come at higher prices—so the annual bill will go up for those with a lot of videos or downloads). After the annual fees, Vimeo gives producers a 90/10 revenue split (after transaction fees). Video can be up to 1080P. There is an embeddable player and a customizable film page with good analytics. Vimeo On Demand is also quite progressive in getting their content easily viewable on Roku, Xbox, and Samsung players. These are pretty important intangibles. Integrating with set-top boxes is a big feature—I would like to see more tie-ins with set-top boxes for all VOD services within the next 12 months. Additionally, the player is embeddable and includes simple geo-blocking tools. The discovery tools seem quite good—splitting films up by category and keywords.

Vimeo On Demand features a lot of content for viewers to find.

Vimeo On Demand features a lot of content for viewers to find.

 

Vimeo is clearly trying to break out as a leader in the VOD space. They make a lot of the right moves and have put money into attracting quality content. (See:Is Vimeo’s $10,000 Advance for Digital Exclusives a Good Deal for Filmmakers?) They seem really well backed and it’s hard to doubt that they will still be around in another five years. However, even though I really applaud Vimeo and have used Vimeo Plus for years for all my professional work, I do have my nagging doubts about the platform for VOD. First, I just can’t get past the fact that even after a year of filmmakers grousing about buyers needing to sign up for a Vimeo account to buy a film, they haven’t done anything about it. Vimeo is the only platform here that demands this and to me, not only is this issue a biggie, but the fact that Vimeo is not listening to their core audience is an entirely different red flag. In the digital age I worry very much about services that don’t heed the call of their core customers since switching is relatively easy.

 

You have to set up a Vimeo account to buy anything on Vimeo On Demand.

You have to set up a Vimeo account to buy anything on Vimeo On Demand.

This is not an isolated issue. In researching this article, I spoke to filmmakers using a number of the platforms to get a sense of their experience. One of them initially launched on Vimeo On Demand only to discover that about half their Kickstarter backers could not access the videos. And despite the fact that Vimeo’s API is open and this should be a real plus, apparently they were not responsive to the producer’s needs and did not resolve the problem, even though a similar fix was being offered to other films on the platform. Of course this was just one producer’s experience and I also spoke with others on the service who like Vimeo On Demand.

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blog-VOD-rev2_Reelhouse

Reelhouse

Reelhouse offers the best revenue share in the lineup: 94/6 after transaction fees with no annual fee. And they are anything but a bargain-basement platform. In fact, the site looks great and all of the films I’ve seen on it look pretty great. It seems to have less customization than some sites, but the way the platform looks is very cohesive—which is also nice. Certainly you can make your film’s page your own through your poster, background and other materials.

Reelhouse has several cool benefits that could add up to a winner for a lot of producers. The platform includes a “support” feature that lets viewers immediately crowdfund projects and filmmakers from within the platform. So, a filmmaker can upload a teaser and other materials for a project in development and solicit funds right on the site without having to go to a separate crowdfunding site like Kickstarter.

For those that have Kickstarter backers, Reelhouse allows producers to give free vouchers for downloads without transaction fees. The platform has some discovery tools, though it’s hard to tell how good they are because there isn’t a ton of content on Reelhouse at the moment. Oddly, there is Sundance and Warner Bros content on the site, but it’s handled and presented a little differently than the independent films. Only time will tell if the indie films will end up looking ghetto, or if people will come for Batman and stick around to watch your documentary.

Reelhouse makes it easy to find content.

Reelhouse makes it easy to find content.

Reelhouse has a lot going for it and seems like it will be a strong contender for many producer-distributors. I have a few concerns about the platform, however. The first is the video sizes it offers. HD is 1280 X 720 and SD is 640 X 320. Wow, what year is it? I have some real concerns about these formats appealing to the early adopters who are buying VOD content. It might be fine for watching on a mobile device, but for those who want to watch films on the giant man-cave screens, 720P isn’t a real wowzer. (Update: Reelhouse does offer 1080P and 4K encoding to projects on request. This may become a standard feature in the future.) Another red flag for me is geo-blocking. While the site says they can do it if you ask them, there doesn’t seem to be an easy interface to make changes when you get a sale in a territory (or an existing territory sale expires). Other sites integrate geo-blocking right into the dashboard and Reelhouse should add this feature as well. I don’t want to have to rely on emailing the company for something like this—I want it at my fingertips. (Clarification: Reelhouse does offer geo-blocking on each video’s dashboard. It is not as robust as some platforms but it is more that I originally perceived.)

Another feature I’m not really crazy about on Reelhouse is that the number of views, likes, and comments are easily viewable to anyone. This is great when you have two million views, but on the way there, not so much. I think that low view numbers tend to work strongly against a purchase decision. To me, this is a feature I would like to be able to turn on or off, but at the moment, it seems you cannot. (Update: Following this article Reelhouse has made displaying views optional.)

A film's page on Reelhouse is highly customizable with lots of bonuses, but everyone knows how many views your film has.

A film’s page on Reelhouse is highly customizable with lots of bonuses, but everyone knows how many views your film has.

This feature also reveals that there isn’t a lot of indie content on Reelhouse that has a ton of hits. The top two films I could find had about 550,000 and 300,000 views respectively—and after that it drops of really fast. The third highest indie I found had about 15,000 views and it just got worse from there. Eric Becker’s beautiful documentary Honor the Treaties, is one of the top films. It’s a free view, which probably helps. I asked Eric about his experience—he mentioned that the fine folks at Reelhouse helped promote the film and got it onto Upworthy, which is one of the reasons it got so many views in 18 months. Honor the Treaties has an element of advocacy to it that made Eric choose not to charge for it, even though it certainly merits being behind a paywall. He is very happy with Reelhouse, thinks the people who run the service are great and says it would be the first platform he’d consider for another VOD run. So, small issues aside, it’s hard to argue with a satisfied producer.

-

blog-VOD-rev2_VHX

VHX

VHX had been in invite-only “closed beta” mode for at least a year since I last wrote about VOD. I was just about to write them off as a service that would never really emerge when they announced their coming out party at SXSW a few days ago. (SXSW seems to be the venue of choice for VOD platform launches.) And I gotta say, I can see where the past 12 months have gone. VHX went from just a funky-cool name with some static pages to arguably the standout VOD platform of 2014.

VHX has no annual fee and takes 10% of any sale plus $.50 per transaction. For this fee they will even host your film’s web site, which is pretty remarkable. The player is also embeddable. One wrinkle with VHX compared to most of the other VOD platforms is that it seems there is not any discovery to be had on the site. I haven’t found a way to browse lists of available films like you can on Netflix, iTunes, or most of the other services here. You register your domain or choose a subdomain for an existing site and map that to the film’s VHX page. You can then customize the film page to your heart’s content including updates, video packages, etc. The player can be embedded in other sites as well—VHX even has a WordPress plugin to make it easier. There are links to tie in merch sales, though VHX does not do these (they have close tie-ins with Topspin and other merchandise ordering and fulfillment services). Similarly, while you can’t crowdfund films directly from VHX, they do support free fulfillment of Kickstarter video rewards, which seems to be a must-have service for VOD platforms going forward.

VHX is really impressing me by getting just about everything right. For example, their video compression is easy—you just upload a master (up to 1080P) to the site via Dropbox and VHX automatically encodes its streaming versions at 1080P HD, 720P HD, 540P SD, and mobile device sizes. They have free screeners that are streaming-only for distributing to press, festivals, potential business partners, etc. VHX also makes it easy to create discount coupons for limited time or limited distribution sales. This lets you easily offer discounts to people who learn about your film from certain groups or ads and it lets you track where people are discovering your work. Geo-blocking is built into the dashboard; You get the direct emails of whoever signs up for your service; Payment is through Dwolla, direct deposit or Paypal—in most respects VHX is the VOD platform that I would create if I could simply list a bunch of features and not have to, you know, actually work for years to make the thing work.

 

VHX makes it easy to buy films whether you're logged in or not. But you will have to find the films yourself.

VHX makes it easy to buy films whether you’re logged in or not. But you can’t rent them and you will have to find the films yourself.

But no platform is perfect. VHX lacks a couple of things that leave me scratching my head. First, there are no rentals. Some filmmakers are undecided about the value of rentals—do they win over new viewers who wouldn’t pay full price to own the film, or do they give them a way to watch it for less, ultimately losing revenue for filmmakers? Who knows? But at this point rentals are a part of the VOD landscape that both viewers and sellers expect. Why doesn’t VHX include them when they get so many other things right? It’s weird.

My other concern is the lack of discovery tools I mentioned earlier. I think viewers buy videos two ways—either by hearing about a film and going straight to its site and buying it there, or by going to a VOD site and looking through films to potentially purchase. (Frankly, I do that much more often than I go directly to the film I’m after.) To just ignore the browsers means missing a lot of potential viewers.

A VHX purchase page for a film is highly customizable.

A VHX purchase page for a film is highly customizable.

I do notice that these concerns haven’t prevented VHX from attracting films to their service, even before it came out of beta. The Oscar-nominated feature documentary The Act of Killing is on the service. It’s actually on Netflix, iTunes, Xbox Live, Amazon Instant Video, and Google Play, plus multiple cable PPV/VOD services. However, VHX is its only direct-sell VOD platform. Being on so many platforms may make the discovery tools less important. I spoke with Ben Dobyns, producer of The Gamers: Hands of Fate which is also on VHX (and many other platforms, as well). Ben raves about the company’s responsiveness, the features, the great server back-end and the deep level of customization available for the films web pages (you can get right into the code and API). I really had to press Ben for any concerns he had about VHX and the only thing he could come up with was that the video compression may have been higher than his liking. (There’s a limit to the file size you can upload on a film and it is further re-compressed from there.)

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blog-VOD-rev2_IndieReign

IndieReign

IndieReign is almost the inverse of VHX—the things I like about one bother me about the other. IndieReign has been around for the past year as an open platform working for filmmakers, rather than in the closed beta mode. As a result, there’s a lot of film content available on IndieReign…and perhaps as a result they have some of the best discovery tools around. I browsed the site and frankly I think that their discovery tools are at least as good, if not better than Netflix or iTunes. They have staff picks, new releases, themed groups like Zombies, Girls Night Out, Films of New Zealand—all in addition to traditional genres. If feels like they are really going out of their way to help viewers discover films they may like. You can also rent films, of course.

IndieReign makes browsing for videos easy.

IndieReign makes browsing for videos easy.

On the other hand, IndieReign offers almost no filmmaker to (potential) viewer dialgogue. A viewer can read reviews and forward links or even embed the player to social media, but this isn’t a venue for establishing a deep dialogue between filmmaker and audience as VHX and Reelhouse seem to be. IndieReign is, to me, very much like an older Netflix model where viewers browse material to rent or buy but not connect. Since I think that one of the reasons why people choose independent films is a chance to feel more connected to artists, I personally see this as less compelling, but many may see it differently–a lot of browsers are used to the Netflix/iTunes browsing model. Also important here is IndieReign’s 30% commission—the 70/30 split also seems like a holdout to another time.

An IndieReign film page doesn't offer any customization, cool tools, or opportunities to build a dialogue with the viewer.

An IndieReign film page doesn’t offer any customization, cool tools, or opportunities to build a dialogue with the viewer.

IndieReign seems to be missing some of the cooler features that make other services exciting. There is no ability to sell merchandise or tie in with a merch fulfillment partner like Topspin. There is a partnership with Indiegogo, IndieReign CEO David White tells me they will be fully launching free fulfillment for Kickstarter backers via discount codes in April 2014. (Apparently it is currently in service but not yet widely available.) Geo-blocking is available by territory from the dashboard and the platform supports video sizes up to 1080P HD. The service’s growth in the past year seems limited to me—without a lot of new features worth crowing about. (However, David White also let me know that new features are in the works.) That said, IndieReign looks like it has a solid feature set and good discovery tools. Though it may be a better look at where VOD has been than where it is going, I haven’t heard any complaints from filmmakers on the service and there certainly seem to be a good number of them around.

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blog-VOD-rev2_Distrify

Distrify

Distrify is a service unlike any of the others here because it allows filmmakers to give viewers an economic incentive to promote their films. Essentially, if you’re selling your film on Distrify, you can either get a 70/30 split with the service for those bought directly from your page or allow others to embed and promote the film on their page. The slit then becomes 65% to the filmmaker, 25% to Distrify, and 10% to the person who promoted the site on his or her page. I may have been a little glib in my original article in calling this the MLM of VOD. However, this is really a good way to think of Distrify’s affiliate service, and if you have a film that would benefit from others promoting it, then Distrify is the only platform at the moment that includes this option.

Distrify lets you share the wealth with those who promote your film...but it doesn't let you make very interesting looking pages, apparently.

Distrify lets you share the wealth with those who promote your film…but it doesn’t let you make very interesting looking pages, apparently.

I think there are films where this possibility would be an enormous selling point. For films that hit certain niche markets and communities, I expect that giving the fans an incentive to push the film could make a real difference in overall sales. I would love to see this type of feature enabled on other platforms as well. (VHX seems to allow producers to designate a certain percentage of sales to go directly to a 503(c) charity, for films that want to take this route, however, I only discovered this in reading the terms of service agreement—it isn’t publicized that I can see.)

This one unique feature aside, I don’t see a lot of compelling advantages in using Distrify. The 70/30 split is not really competitive with other platforms, especially when you factor in the $21 monthly or $199 annual fee for the base level of paid service (there is also a free service with much more limited space and features). Both sales and rentals are supported, as is geo-blocking. There are no browsable discovery tools, but there is an embeddable player with a simple-to-use paywall and some cool tools for promoting theater screenings. Distrify also has a cool “pay-it-forward” voucher feature that allows a viewer to pre-pay for videos for other viewers gift-card style. The customization does not seem terribly strong. I base this on one thing only: I have yet to see a single Distrify page that wasn’t ugly as hell. These things look like they were designed by MySpace users.

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Taking the plunge

Which of these services is really the best? Great question! The answer will depend on your particular needs—every project is different and some tool may make one of these platforms a clear winner for your release strategy. For one producer-distributor it could be all about the revenue share while another may not care about this in the least. (There are a lot reasons to make and distribute films and for some generating revenue may not even make the list compared to things like advocacy or professional development.) So the question of which is the best is really about which is the best for you.

This year’s roundup is a little different from the last—I am going to put my money where my mouth is. I have several film projects that I plan to launch on one or more of these sites. It’s a question that I wrestle with because at the moment, no one VOD platform screams out that it’s a clear winner. So many are almost there but lack a key feature that I have a hard time doing without. If Vimeo On Demand just got rid of the need to sign up for the service to purchase… Or if VHX had rentals and browsing… Or if Reelhouse could turn off the number of views and turn on better geo-blocking… it might be an easier decision. That said, when I spoke with users on various services, most were quite satisfied, so perhaps it’s possible to overthink this decision.

I will be wrestling with these issues as I decide where to put my films up online. I’ll also be looking at whether it’s better to use a single platform or multiples, plus pricing, marketing, and all the other questions that arise. I’ll be reporting on these in an upcoming articles—both my reasons for picking the platform(s) and how the process went. So stay tuned for that. And keep the comments coming. I want to hear about your experiences with VOD platforms and releases.

 

Douglas Horn is a feature film writer-director and a co-founder and producer-distributor at the filmed entertainment company Popular Uprising.

 

 

 

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35 Comments for this entry

  • Adriano

    Hi Douglas, very nice post. Could you articulate why would you want to sell foreign rights for your films? To me, clicking on a film’s page only to find a message telling me that the film is not available in my territory is quite disappointing, and, as you put it, a holdout to another era when distribution relied on scarcity. Having said that, geo-blocking is definitely a useful feature to have if your film is already locked into a distribution deal. I look forward to reading your follow-up posts.

  • Douglas

    Thanks Adriano. Great question.

    Pre-existing sales is a big reason for needing geo-blocking. That’s the case for my film Entry Level. Other films might pre-sell territories as part of their financing.

    For me with future deals, I will probably still be looking at selling off territory rights through a foreign sales agent because it can make for a good amount of revenue without having to advertise or promote the film in every territory around the world. At some point this may change and become more lucrative to go direct VOD to the world and avoid sales agent and market fees, but I suspect that we aren’t quite there yet.

  • Adriano

    Thanks, Douglas. I’d also be curious to know how VOD might fit into your open source business model for short films. Do you think it’s still effective to make a film freely available on the internet for a limited amount of time in order to create scarcity? Or maybe use a trailer/clip instead to drive audiences to the full version of it on VOD? Is the potential revenue from VOD sales worth missing out on a much larger audience who would watch the free version of the film? Thanks, A

  • Douglas

    The Short Film Business Model is very much on my mind these days. I will be picking a VOD home or homes for at least five of my short films including my new short film T>PE RECORDER and others like Full Disclosure and Coffee & Pie that have had a lot of success at festivals. So I’ve put a lot of thought into this and will be writing about it soon.

    The short answer is that I held off on my intermittent scarcity plan for a few reasons–it required developing some tools that didn’t yet exist, or else constant tweaking from the filmmaker. I had a couple of better ideas along the way, but in the end what I will probably end up doing is a little less groundbreaking but hopefully a better approach. For me, though it does still grow from the same set of truths about short films: people rarely want to buy a short film that they haven’t seen, but trailers ruin short films.

    Anyway, stay tuned. I am planning to update the Open Source Short Film Business Model article soon.

  • patrick

    Amazing article! Thank you so much for all of the great info. I do have a question, do you know of any sites/articles that actually divulge actual VOD numbers? ie is anyone out there sharing how much they’ve actually made from any of these (or other) VOD platforms? ie “my little indie horror movie has been on xyz VOD and I’ve made X number of transactions with a 70/30 split and seen revenues of Y? Also, one thing about these platforms you’ve not mentioned is their payment and update schemes. Do they all have real time data available for the filmmaker? Can the filmmaker “cash out” anytime they want as often as they want? Or do we have to wait for a 3 month reporting period? Cash flow is an important factor.
    Thanks again.

  • marc

    Wow, what an in-depth article !

    Please, let me add KiteBit to the list.
    It’s more than a regular VoD service, it’s a Direct-To-Fan tool that let’s you make the most revenue without leaving money on the table.

    The main highlights are:

    - Streaming + Direct Downloads (producer decides quality)
    - Direct Deposits (through Paypal or banks)
    - Let your fans pay what you want (10% revenue increase)
    - Sell Pre-orders
    - A set of Promotion tools
    - Sell any extra content (like soundtrack, scripts…)
    - Integration with social networks for virality purposes.
    - The simplest setup and checkout process (2-click)
    - Integration with existing e-commerce platforms in case you have your own.

    An example:
    https://kitebit.com/x/DREAMESP

  • Douglas

    Thanks Patrick. I have been looking for publicly available figures and found two case studies recently. Here’s a link to one that was presented at SXSW. http://www.scribd.com/Dana_Harris_6731/d/85064863-American-the-Bill-Hicks-Case-Study I’ll have to look for the other one.

    I have been having lots of conversations with producers going the VOD route, though as usual, what is detailed is told to me in confidence. I am consolidating a lot of this information for my own research, but it can be hard to share without citing the sources.

    I agree, how these companies pay out is important. It was part of my original research, but I dropped it because the article was taking too long to put together. I believe that most pay with fairly good practices though all differ a little. I’ll try to include this in a future article.

  • Douglas

    Thank for pointing this out Marc. I’m taking a look at Kitebit now.

  • patrick

    Hey Douglas, thanks for the reply and for the link to the Bill Hicks case study. Here is one for you, Byron Q and his movie Bang, Bang. The article is more of a review on Distribber (his one time aggregator) but in it he revels that his movie made about $9,300. from the looks of his trailer, it appears to be a lower budget movie without any real star power. http://beyondcinemaprod.blogspot.ca/2013/08/review-of-distribber-indie-gogo-company.html
    I have also come across numbers in conversations where people with small low-budget movies have seen in the $10k area, but that their aggregators felt these numbers could have been doubled with some marketing. Marketing seems to be the most important part of this equation. But I still cannot understand why these platforms take 90 to pay? it’s all electronic transactions, the money should be available much, much sooner.

  • Douglas

    Thanks for sharing that link. Well worth reading. Byron Q sounds like he is not happy with Distribber. From what I’ve heard about the service, I am not really surprised–this sounds like a typical experience.

    Making $8,000 (after the $1,300 Distribber fee) is not great. My research indicates that there is a LOT more to be made on VOD with the right film, marketing and release strategy.

  • Patrick

    I think a lot of how well a movie does is obviously related to the marketing. From your research, what are the more effective methods? Facebook ads, twitter ads? Also, if I’m looking for a flat fee based aggregator to get onto US cable VOD (other than Distribber), can you suggest someone?

    Thanks,
    Patrick

  • Douglas

    Right. Marketing is key. When my short film Full Disclosure was the #1 short film on the iTunes Store (this was the earlier days when there was less content), it just happened to coincide with a time when I was running a banner ad on FilmThreat.com. (This was 2006 or 7). There was also an article about me at the time. I think it took very little marketing to have impact. Frankly, I still think it takes a small amount of really targeted advertising/marketing to reach an audience for a film on VOD, but NO marketing will yield very small results.

    I’m actually planning to write about both of these topics coming up: marketing videos on VOD and getting films onto Cable VOD. The latter is a bigger topic that doesn’t easily lend itself to a blog post, but I know there’s a lot of interest. As for marketing, I will be releasing my own films soon, so that’s some of what I will be doing to support the release. Having a direct line to your sales numbers is a huge benefit when you’re running your own campaign. Back with Full Disclosure, I couldn’t tell if the money I was spending on advertising was a good investment because I could not get any numbers from iTunes or the aggregator for 6-12 months.

  • Alejandro Diez

    hey there, the article is of great value to me.

    I ended up last year two movies (or let just say one and 3/4) and i ve no clue of how to start trying to sell them to distributors (which??).
    Or whether should i try that or start directly on the VOD market area.

    One is about new tango in Argentina and the other one is about an NGO working in Senegal. Thanks for any clue!

  • Joe de Kadt

    Hi Douglas,

    Wow, I wish I had found your blog six months ago! Excellent info and very well written. Thanks so much for taking the time to engage on this subject. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing your thoughts on marketing as that’s one area where I made a huge mistake :p

    I started by setting up a website (http://www.allthegoldyoucaneat.com/) using Vimeo as the back end video provider and http://cleeng.com/ to power that paywall. On average I get about 15-20 purchases a week driven just by people finding my website organically. But driving traffic to the site is extremely labour intensive and something i’m not very good at. Because of the nature of the documentary (a science discovery story) I decided to spend my entire marketing budget on a PR agent rather than splitting it between direct marketing (adverting) and PR. But my PR agent totally failed in his job and got me literally zero exposure (I actually thought about litigation but for the effort involved…)

    I’m in the process of figuring out the best way to move forward again and one of the tools I am trying is Vimeo-on-Demand. (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/allthegold). VOD sites offer the chance to tap into their audiences so they naturally seem quite attractive. However, what I have come up against is a huge issue with vimeo in the way that they curate their content. The simple and vital option of searching by most popular or highest rated is simply not available on vimeo (or many VOD sites) and that’s a real problem. Vimeo-on-demand has huge amounts of actually quite rubbish content with zero reviews or ratings and if you are not selected by their staff or put into one of their curated collections (again staff picked) your film will immediately get lost amongst the thousands of titles. This means there’s nothing I can do to attract the attention of Vimeo users to my film no matter how good it is or how many times it is watched until the staff decide to feature it. Which is kind of contradictory to the whole point of the democratisation of film distribution…

    In that respect IndieReign really seems to have the best option but their collection of films is just too small and actually quite shabby. Hmmm, so I’m still wondering about direction…

    Thanks again for writing sharing your thoughts and writing your blog : )

  • Joe de Kadt

    Hi Douglas, I thought you might be interested in the reply I got from Vimeo about a search facility based on popularity or view count;

    “Vimeo has never emphasized or valued the amount of plays or comments as a tool for finding content on the site. Even with free content, our emphasis is on curation, most prominently evidence by our channel Vimeo Staff Picks. We have therefore chosen, thus far, to take the same route with VOD. That isn’t to say we won’t add a “popular” category in the future.”

  • Douglas

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for your comments. I hear your frustration. Right now, there’s no perfect platform that fits all needs, but I think that they’re all listening to filmmakers and doing what they can. Personally, I’m not sure that featuring videos simply based on number of views is a good way to go. The iTunes Store does that and you end up getting some films that live at the top of the list for a long time and others that never break in. It’s generally accepted that once your film bubbles down past page two in the search listings, that discovery from the site drops. So curation is not a bad way to go on the whole. I do believe that content that gets a lot of sales will eventually come to the notice of the curators.

    Overall, we have to promote our work outside the discovery tools of the platform. I think platform discoveries are important incremental sales, but not a primary way to find your work anymore.

  • Sheila Seclearr

    Hi Douglas. I’m so glad you updated the blog from last year – everything is changing and in both, you did a great job of investigative reporting. I wonder if you’ve looked into yekra.com yet or if they’ve made it onto the radar screen. They recently launched the film SIRIUS and claim 250K in 48 hours, largely by setting up affiliates and coordinating the launch. With 3Mil in startup capital, I’d like to think they’d put it all together, but their info/help pages are sadly lacking. I look forward to hearing if you’ve checked them out. Thanks for the great posts!

  • Dani Rebner

    Hi Douglas;
    Thank you for such an amazing report about VOD!
    I’m a producer and want to start selling my documentaries in some of these platforms. As Sheila mentioned, I’m also interested in your opinion about Yekra, but most of all, what’s your opinion about pivotshare.com ? We have a big catalogue of documenatries about History and War and I think it could be a great option.
    Thanks and all the best!

  • Sheila Seclearr

    Douglas and Dani,
    Just a little update since my last note: I’m pretty frustrated with Yekra.com. It seems like they should have better technology wrapped around them with all the capital and big heads they’ve acquired. Even just trying to rent a movie is complicated plus the process to pay and stream takes a long time. I couldn’t get into a full screen view and could never get the dumb Yekra buttons off the screen. Even if they tout a great affiliate scheme, if the user has a hard time, the project will be limited. Thanks Dani, for pointing out pivotshare.com. It seems like they’ve tackled all of my previous gripes and have a good setup for someone like you especially, with a catalogue of films. I like their demo with the TED talks. I’ll keep checking into them and look forward to Douglas’s reply.

  • Klaus Badelt

    We have launched Kinonation.com (disclaimer: I’m one of the founders) based on exactly the need described in your post – to get *any* indie title on virutally all VOD platforms worldwide, for zero upfront cost, a (what we think modest) revenue share, and without an exclusive long-term contract so common in our world. We are making this model possible through cloud technology and bypassing men-in-the-middle.

    You might have heard of CDBaby.com or tunecore.com for music – that’s what we are for film, simplified. Access to Hulu, Amazon, Cable, iTunes and many others – for everyone. We don’t believe in gatekeepers – let the audience decide.

    The difference to the platforms mentioned above – which to some we deliver to as well – is that we distribute to many platforms worldwide, without any technical or financial burden on the filmmaker’s side – just a single upload. Accounting is transparent (and will be almost realtime “soon”). We’re currently in beta, no marketing started, but are open for submissions, comments and thoughts. Shameless plug: kinonation.com.

  • Timothy

    SO Much great information here. Thanks for sharing. After reading about your experience I was able to make an informed decision about where to release my short film, The Booker, online. I went with Indieflix to start. If interested take a look…
    https://indieflix.com/indie-films/the-booker-39152/

  • Tom van dyke

    Thanks! Very informative. Would like to make our film NCM available by VOD

  • Olivier Adam

    Thanks for the info. Very helpful.

  • Niels

    Thanks for al the good thoughts, help a lot and i will hope to find the right platform – but it will be hard :)

  • Thomas Fall

    Hello here is a Video On Demand CMS : Magevod, the best VOD CMS built with Magento. Please visit Magevod Video On Demand software here http://www.magevod.com

  • J P

    Thanks @Douglas, its a great effort towards explaining what VOD means for the industry.

    Just like you at http://www.studio.muvi.com we help people to harness the power VOD Platform.

  • Muralidharan

    Really great article.

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  • Ryan

    Great post, very informative and smart. We are strongly considering vhx with a feature so I appreciate the honest info.

  • Jay Schwartz

    Just a quick word of thanks for posting this very useful article and sharing your research and experience. For the uninitiated and also cash-strapped (like me, an American dadaist living in Greece), your information is invaluable in helping me to filter through all the marketing hype and pollyannish glitz. Vimeo Pro is currently offering a %50 off discount to Indiegogo partners … but even with that, the money up front required for someone with no budget is prohibitive when compared with services like VHX and Reelhouse. Still, as the devil may very well be in the details’, the caveat of ‘you get what you pay for’ rings in my nervous, albeit hungry, gut!

    As you suggested, I will soon just ‘take the plunge’ (or in the case of my film, Dada Venduza, take the plunger) with one one of the services you mentioned. Again, many thanks for sharing your ‘due diligence’!

  • Greg Kobela

    Just my experience,…but on these indie sites in particular,it seems like we’re all tryin to sell to each other.Too many chiefs,not enough Indians.I also COMPLETELY agree on your film getting lost on these sites.I found their search engines to be not always accurate which really hurts the film.But hang in there guys,we shall overcome ! …great article by the way.
    Greg Kobela
    Producer
    HOW TO UNDERSTAND MEN

  • Gary

    Thanks for posting these very informative articles.

    I am trying to help a friend post her feature length productions on a VOD platform. Her films have been published on DVD, but the self distribution has been limited and local.

    Douglas, have you had experience with the Amazon (CreateSpace) or Youtube VOD platforms? (I thought the Amazon process seemed pretty straightforward, but the producer’s films are Spanish language, and Amazon requires hard coded English subtitles…Burned in subtitles are a non-starter as far as we’re concerned).

    My friend has a number of associates that also produce low budget, full length movies, but the traditional DVD distributors are gone, so a lot of these enterprises are, for all intents and purposes, orphans.

    Vimeo would otherwise be a good choice, but like you, I’m really turned off by the membership requirement for viewing. (My last personal download purchase experience was frustrating, as I couldn’t remember my user name and password. If I was a less motivated consumer, I would have simply given up). Also, I would prefer a smaller percentage in lieu of annual fees.

    Just over the past year or two, VOD has taken off like a rocket. I just wish there was a more streamlined launching pad.

  • Murray

    Hi Douglas, I’m loving your articles on VOD platforms especially the bit about costomizable home pages. I’m shooting a movie with distribution in mind and I’m wanting to feature a noodle brand product tie-in with the sale of the movie. Does iTunes have a product tie-in feature? Thanks for any advice.

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