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December 13, 2013
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Breakdown Of The Major Online Indie Film Distribution Platforms

Seeking out distribution can be a very scary task for independent filmmakers. The good news is that now there are more online distribution platforms than ever…and many of them can be quite lucrative if approached properly.

Online Film Distribution

Before the Internet paved the way for online film distribution platforms (like Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, etc.), the only real path to distribution was to find a sales agent or a distribution company that could get your film out there into the world. For most indie films up until the last 5 years or so, the most realistic outcome would be for a straight to DVD release, with profits split with the distributor. This type of distribution still exists, in some cases it could still be the best option for certain filmmakers, but personally I’m a lot more excited by the potential of self distribution as it puts the power back in the hands of the filmmaker.

Last year, when I was looking for distribution for my first feature film ‘Footsteps‘, I realized almost immediately that self distribution would be the way to go. I had a number of offers on the table from distribution companies, but when I really broke down what they were offering, I realized I would be able to do just about everything that they were offering myself, and I could avoid paying them a 30% commission on the film’s profits.

That said, I also came to terms with the fact that self distribution is a relatively new concept and there is a lot of terrain to navigate. There are literally HUNDREDS of options out there, but below I’ve broken down a few of the major players that I would recommend looking into as a starting point.

Keep in mind, if you find alternative options that seem to suit your needs better, than by all means go for it (and be sure to share them in the comments!) These film distribution platforms should give you a good baseline to draw comparisons from:

iTunes Film Distribution

Available on iTunes

Probably the largest and most prevalent distribution platform, iTunes can connect your film with an absolutely massive audience.

Advantages of iTunes film distribution: For starters, your film will be available on the same platform as major motion pictures and that alone adds a sense of legitimacy to your project. If the same person came across a film on an industry standard platform like iTunes, they may be more likely to actually watch that film than if it was hosted on a platform that the person was not familiar with. iTunes users already have accounts set up with their credit card info plugged in, so if they want to buy your movie it’s really easy – literally just a click away.

Disadvantages of iTunes film distribution: There are a few downsides to going through iTunes (other than the fact that it is one of the more costly options). For instance, in order to get your film on iTunes you’ll need to go through an ‘aggregator’, which is a company that you pay to deliver your film to iTunes (one example is Distribber). The fee to do this can be fairly hefty (in the $1500 range), but is well worth it as the aggregator is a sure way in. It is also possible to submit your film to iTunes yourself, but it is a fairly complex and difficult process which still may leave you rejected. If you do wind up on iTunes, they will take 30% of the profit from each sale and leave you with 70%.

BitTorrent Film Distribution

BitTorrent Bundles For Publishers

BitTorrent you ask? Yes. BitTorrent. Believe it or not they are quickly becoming one of the best options for independent filmmakers that want to self distribute films after they released their new ‘Bundles’ platform. Essentially a bundle is a downloadable package that you create which can include your film, trailer and any other materials you want to share.

The bundle is hosted on BitTorrent and is accessible by their massive user base of approximately 180 million users, but only if they unlock it by performing an action that you specify. For example, you might ask users to pay you $5 for the film. Or you may want to give users the film for free if they first share a link to your film’s website. You might ask for a kickstarter donation or an e-mail address. The options are almost limitless.

Personally speaking, I think their model is structured better than any other platform out there today as it gives the content creators the power of choosing how they want to benefit from their film. I also love the fact that it can deliver lighting fast download speeds as it is all peer to peer. While I will be releasing my film on multiple platforms, I chose BitTorrent as a starting point as I really wanted to be a part of what they are doing. Now my feature ‘Footsteps’ is amongst the first films to ever be released on the Bundles platform.

Keep in mind though that Bundles is still in the alpha stages (as of this writing) and not yet available to the public.

Vimeo On Demand Distribution

Vimeo On Demand

Another big up and coming platform, Vimeo On Demand effectively lets anyone with a pro account upload their film to Vimeo and charge a fee to view it. It’s one of the best options out there as it’s open to anyone and is directly accessible by the filmmaker.

Unlike iTunes where you need to go through an aggregator, Vimeo On Demand allows you to go straight to the source and really simplifies the process. Once your film is hosted with them, it’s also being seen by a growing number of users who are not only accessing Vimeo on their computers, but also through devices like their Apple TV’s.

think Vimeo’s platform is ideal for filmmakers that have preexisting websites or any other forms of a preexisting online presence and are able to direct their traffic to Vimeo. I would speculate that it may be harder to get your film discovered on Vimeo than let’s say iTunes, without heavily promoting it yourself as there is an abundance of unregulated content populating the site. The other factor to consider is the cost involved which is about $200 a year for the pro account.

All in all, Vimeo is offering a really nice alternative solution here.

Netflix Film Distribution

Netflix Logo

Like iTunes, Netflix offers one of the best platforms for getting your film seen by a massive amount of people. Their user base is huge and growing everyday, and with the new original content that they’re producing, it’s likely they will grow exponentially over the next few years.

Also like iTunes, the most effective way of getting on Netflix is to go through an aggregator (like Distribber), which will in turn cost you somewhere in the $1500 range, depending on which service you choose.

That said, Netflix doesn’t have the best track record with independent filmmakers as their payment structure isn’t flexible. Typically they will offer an up front fee (let’s say $12,000) which will give them unlimited usage for anywhere from 1 – 2 years. This isn’t bad if you have a no-budget film and just want to get it out there and get noticed, but if you are really trying to monetize your film there are better options out there.

Amazon On Demand / CreateSpace Film Distribution

Amazon On Demand

I’ve always really liked the way Amazon’s platform is set up. As a filmmaker, you can upload your film, DVD artwork and other materials to their service ‘CreateSpace’. You can instantaneously start selling DVD’s online while also streaming your film as you would on any other streaming site.

If a user wants to buy your DVD, they can order it off of Amazon like any other DVD, but you as the filmmaker aren’t responsible for actually producing the copies. It’s fully automated by Amazon. They print the DVDs, label them and ship them off themselves.The user can also download your film either as a rental or as a purchase (much like iTunes), which allows for a more flexible pricing structure.

There aren’t many downsides to this platform other than the fact that Amazon takes a larger percentage than most other online platforms (50%). That said, the 50% fee is completely reasonable as they have more costs associated with the physical creation of the DVD discs and cases.

So, Which Option Is Best For Your Film?

None of the above options are necessarily better than the other, they simply provide alternatives for different types of distribution strategies.

If you have a no-budget film and your primary goal is exposure, you might be best off going through a service like BitTorrent or Vimeo On Demand where your costs are kept low and you have access to a large audience.

Conversely, if your budget is a bit healthier and you can afford to go through an aggregator, iTunes is a standardized platform that has the potential to get your film seen by the masses. Netflix would fall into this category as well.

Amazon is a flexible platform that may be suitable for many films, but generally might be preferable for those filmmakers who have an audience that is going to want physical DVDs, as right now it seems to be the best solution for delivering DVD content to your audience.

The key to choosing a platform is deciding what is best for your film and your career. Do you need exposure? Profit? Accessibility? Answering these questions will help you determine which path is best for you.

We want to hear about your film distribution experiences. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  • Indiefilmguyz

    Working with Distribber was a huge mistake. No visibility into sales data and they have established a reputation of not paying their filmmakers. At this point, it’s just irresponsible for anyone to even suggest them as an option.

    • hventure22

      I agree. The one guy I knew there left after a year I think for this very reason. The funny thing is; they couldn’t even get either of our films placed. At least they gave me back the initial fees. I wouldn’t recommend Distribber at all.

    • Richard

      I have sales data from Distribber. They seem to be working fine for me.

    • James

      Thanks Rich for directing me here, I felt compelled to defend Distribber as they have successfully got our film on Netflix, and iTunes while providing sales data. Jason Brubaker always answered my phone calls and to be honest its probably hard to pay filmmaker when their bad film is not making any money. I have seen a few complaints but have you seen the films the filmmakers tried to submit? Non the less, Distribber has done very well for us and we now have 4 titles with them.

  • AnotherHappyValleySunday

    Full Moon has a new cinema distribution label: WIZARD Studios.http://fullmoonstreaming.com/wizard

  • http://www.deathtoprom.com/ Jeremy Wilker

    from reports of filmmakers I know with films on netflix, if you are an indie with no names and you get $12,000 you are doing pretty well.

  • Distribution411

    This article is a good start; there are about 1 dozen very important platforms today, for those wanting to monetize their film in the online markets. Noam Kroll nails 3 of them (Amazon, Netflix, iTunes) but there are a good 9 others. BitTorrent’s new service is unproven at the moment (although their audience is quite large, as pointed out), and Vimeo on Demand does not have the millions of eyeballs looking for movies to buy & watch. (i.e., the typical consumer isn’t going there to buy movies — they’re going to the platform where they’ve been buying movies for the past couple years.) This may change, but we’ll see. Mr. Kroll is correct, though, in that if you’ve built an audience for your film, you can certainly drive them there, or drive them to wherever you see the largest cut of each sale.

    J. Courshon
    THE SECRETS TO FILM DISTRIBUTION
    http://www.Distribution.LA
    http://www.facebook.com/FilmDistribution

  • Guest

    Kinoflix is another online film distribution platform worth considering. The new network will be launching beta this Summer.

  • Mladen Lučić

    Filmmakers should consider Kinoflix for their distribution needs. The new network is launching it’s beta sometime in August. They can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Mikito Ohara

    Here in the Philippines, indie film is trending and it is produce more than any original films..

    Video Productions Perth

  • Janet Tanner

    This was very useful. I’ve signed up for an online class on this subject that I’m really looking forward to- the teacher is going to actually help the students build an online distribution platform. it’s on Stage32 for all interested https://www.stage32.com/classes/8

  • Janson Media

    This article is definitely a good rough sort of guide for self distribution techniques. I’d like to make just a few corrections from a distribution company stand point. Quickly, we’ve been in the business for 25 years and know the business well. Our company site: http://www.janson.com

    Corrections/Clarifications/Suggestions:

    – iTunes takes 30% of sales no matter what. So going through an aggregator or encoding house and paying the $1,000 to have your film in iTunes and keeping 100% of your royalties, you are still only really getting 70% of what the film is listed for in iTunes. iTunes is not the winner in digital platform revenue for films these days too. I would suggest giving an aggregator 20-30% of your film’s iTunes royalties in order to save yourself the upfront $1,000-$1,500. You may never recoup that form iTunes, unless you have a popular film.

    - BitTorrent is great and we make use of the BitTorrent Bundles with our films for additional promotion and marketing as well as collecting emails from interested users. For example, we will often release a BitTorrent Bundle for a film featuring additional clips, artwork, and bonus items in exchange for a user’s email. This gives the producer and us a targeted list of people to market to in the future or for news about the film. I feel that BitTorrent is best for this, the downside is that they don’t stream video. You can download video (large files), but a user can’t watch them. But, producers should make use of the platform for additional marketing.

    - Vimeo VOD is a great self distribution platform and if your film has a strong social media following or grassroots community behind it, then I always suggest first digital releases on Vimeo VOD. The producer gets to keep 90% of sales made and the money gets delivered instantly. The user can stream the film for a set period wherever the player is embedded. This makes it easy to launch a film website and offer online streaming directly on site. The only downside is that you are limited to the Vimeo user base, if you don’t have the additional film following behind it. So, just putting a film on Vimeo VOD is not going to generate sales. You need to be very active with the film and it’s sharing.

    Netflix is not easy by any means. It take a relationship and a pitch session. The article makes it seem as though anyone can pay Distribber (now defunct fyi) and get on Netflix. This is not the case. The pricing though is somewhat accurate. But, it really depends on the terms, territory and exclusivity of a title. Ideally you want to get on Netflix first and give them worldwide exclusivity. But, you’re going to need a distribution company or sales agent to make this happen. Aggregators often claim the Netflix connection in order sign films, so be weary and ask in detail about their Netflix success and relationship.

    Amazon CreateSpace is a great route for selling DVDs on your own. The majority of all DVD business these days is through Amazon. It’s about 60% of our DVD revenue currently. But, DVD revenue is only there if a film has a strong niche following or some popularity. Either way CreateSpace is excellent for DVD selling on your own.

    A few distribution platforms not mentioned…

    HULU is another platform that is generating a significant revenue stream for our films. The ad rates are high and the content is free for users to watch. The more views watched, the more money earned. HULU though is a pitch and relationship situation, so you will need a distributor, agent or aggregator (with relationship/history) in order to get your film on this platform.

    Amazon Instant Video / Prime is quickly becoming a major revenue stream for our films. You will need a company or agent for this platform as well.

    YouTube. YouTube is often overlooked as a platform to make use of, but while the ad rates are low, the views are enormous. If you can stay on top of the piracy (a distribution company should manage this for you), then allowing your film on YouTube is an easy way to generate additional revenue.

    As a distribution company in the age of self distribution, we often work with producers for specific platforms. For example we will work on Netflix, HULU, Amazon Prime and they can release on Vimeo VOD, iTunes, or another route.

    But, even with lots of self distribution tools for producers, there are markets where you will want to sign with a distributor. Definitely for TV broadcast/satellite licensing worldwide and the digital platforms that are only accessible via relationships and presentations. Often it is easier for a producer to allow a company that is knowledgeable and has these long standing relationships to just maximize a film’s revenue for a percentage. I know I would rather have 75% of $10,000 than 100% of $5,000 ;)

    Good luck on your film’s distribution and feel free to submit your film for distribution with Janson Media. http://www.janson.com

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