Anyone who reads my blog or follows my Facebook page knows I am dedicated to encouraging filmmakers to take control of their own work and bring it to audiences in the most direct way possible. I especially feel this way when it comes to online digital distribution. Why give the rights (and fees and percentages) away to a distributor when you can easily use tools to distribute your work directly and in the most expedient manner?
Lately, several companies have emerged to help filmmakers do just that. Instead of looking for outside distribution companies to buy your work's rights, hope they treat you fairly, and wait for them to bring it out for sale consider these tools to go direct. When you can cut out as many of the layers separating your work from its audience, you'll profit more.
I first became aware of Dynamo Player last year, maybe around SXSW 2010 time, but it wasn't until my friend Chris Jones started using it for his short Gone Fishing that it caught my attention again. Chris raved about the player's simplicity, affordability and great analytics. Rob Millis, co founder of Dynamo, explained that was the aim of the product from the start. "Dynamo is as easy to access as any online video platform, with no restrictions or qualifications. It is available for any legal content you own the rights to, except pornography. There's no special expertise required and we accept all digital video formats but for best results, we recommend uploading a video file that is 1920x1080 in h.264 or a similar codec."
The player allows you to upload your film, set a price for streaming it on a website or on Facebook, and publish it with no upfront costs or monthly fees. Fans, bloggers, online publications and organizations can host the player on their sites too in order to share their love of your film with their audience. At the moment there is no affiliate program associated with Dynamo, but one is being developed so that those who share your film can also earn money for doing so.
In addition to hosting the film, the player can also feature trailers, additional video content like outtakes, deleted scenes, behind the scenes material, and multiple language versions of your film. Things you might have included on the DVD version can now be included digitally saving costs and the environment.
As with all of these tools, Dynamo does not take any rights ownership of your film. "Dynamo is a completely non-exclusive service. We believe strongly that filmmakers should not have to give up rights in order to reach their audience directly," said Millis.
So what kind of fees are we talking about for this service? "There is absolutely no up-front or monthly fee to use Dynamo Player. Filmmakers receive 70% of every transaction, every time, with no hidden costs, no matter what features they use. They also are completely in control of the rental period and can set it to be anywhere from 6 hours to 30 days." For those who do want to make distribution deals, but keep some ability to sell the film themselves, a Dynamo Player can also be configured to exclude certain geolocations where a distributor has rights or prefers that the film not be available until their release window is closed. "Filmmakers can control access by DVD Region, continent or country with a simple set of checkboxes. Dynamo is the only online service to enable geo-blocking at no cost because we consider it absolutely necessary for independent filmmakers to have this option while shopping their films in different markets."
Payments are collected from the viewer via PayPal, Amazon or credit card and a single auto-debit option is coming soon. They are sent to the filmmakers immediately via the same channels. The service is open to filmmakers and viewers anywhere in the world and can handle multiple currencies. "We provide sales numbers and a range of related data by day, week, month or by a custom range of dates. Sales statistics are immediately available, so there is never a need to wait for a monthly report to see your sales performance, but a formal downloadable or printable monthly report will be available in July. Filmmakers can also see statistics for trailer views, player interaction, payment follow-through and more, so they can gain insight into viewer behavior and tweak the presentation of their film to boost sales," said Millis. Dynamo provides geographic data and an opt-out list of viewer emails to filmmakers. Early feedback made it clear that film sales would suffer if viewers were required to share their emails, but a majority are willing to share their email addresses with filmmakers they love.
As far as the ability to share the content via social networking channels, Dynamo Player includes a share button so viewers can publish to their social networks while watching the film on the main website or they can link to it from secondary sites also hosting the film which encourages additional traffic to those secondary websites, an incentive for them to host the player. This is a great feature for review sites. They can review the film and host it right on their site which will encourage impulse buys from those reading about it. When the affiliate program becomes functional, this will provide even more incentive.
Even though the player can be embedded on a Facebook page with ease, Millis says the vast majority of online film sales come from filmmakers' main site and fan blogs. "Facebook restricts player size and presentation, and is not typically a destination for viewing. While Facebook is a great buzz machine and marketing tool, most sales we see for films published on Facebook still tend to come through clicks back to the main film site where filmmakers can present films in a more appealing way."
The company often includes films using their platform in public announcements, blog posts, tweets and other marketing efforts. Dynamo filmmakers have been featured in stories on IndieWire, GigaOm and other media sites, and have earned new sales when their films have been embedded within the articles. I would stress that filmmakers still have the bulk of the responsibility to market their films themselves, though it is great to have help from Dynamo when it is possible. "We are always happy to work with filmmakers to boost sales, and there are a variety of ways to use Dynamo before official release too. For example, we are helping Ed Burns pre-sell his new film, Newlyweds, by providing free passes to watch his last film, Nice Guy Johnny, when fans pre-order."
Two filmmakers from Scotland, Andy Green and Peter Gerard, founded this service. I spoke with them to find out what led them to create this tool to help filmmakers. "We wanted a better business model ourselves so we worked out a technical solution where we'd actually get some of the money from the films we produced by making it easy for fans to buy our films directly," said Gerard. Green adds: "We realize that all filmmakers outside the corporate studio system have real difficulty seeing any overages, so the innovation in Distrify is to cut out several links in the film value chain - connecting filmmaker with audience and directly monetizing this relationship."
The platform provides a simple way for someone to see a trailer and immediately buy the film or find out where it is playing, while they are still excited and it is in top of mind. "Anywhere someone sees your movie trailer online they can immediately purchase it (and watch it), with a couple clicks directly inside the video-player window. Distrify's player adapts to support your film's marketing at every stage of the value chain. If you're crowd-funding for example, the Distrify player helps drive viewers to your crowd-funding campaign. If your film is at a festival, you can list all the screenings directly in the trailer, with links to ticketing sites. If you're doing an indie screenings campaign, Distrify lets your fans sign up to your mailing list, giving you a location-based map of where the demand is for your film. Whenever you add new screenings or products to your film, every player that's embedded around the web is automatically updated to ensure your fans will always be able to engage with or purchase your film," said Gerard.
Distrify also includes an affiliate program that could prove motivational for fans and online publications to host your film on their site. If a fan or blog writes a great review of your film, they can embed the Distrify player right on the page with the review and generate a percentage of sales for themselves. If your film is tied in to a cause or a charity organization, then those groups can earn money for the cause just by hosting your film's player on their website. "Filmmakers can set their affiliate share from 10% to 72.5%. A lot of our filmmakers are trying out higher affiliate percentages to encourage viral sharing. One recent filmmaker went straight to offering 30%. Our affiliate tracking works through the player embeds, as well as sharing via Facebook, Twitter, email, and blogs. Any time a customer gets you a sale, they earn a commission. We believe that if we allow our audiences to participate in the value chain of a film, by earning money through sales, we engender a community where people trust each other and are then less likely to copy your film illegally."
The platform does not take any rights from the creators and anyone is allowed to use it provided that they own the distribution rights to the material. "This allows producers to take advantage of distribution contracts that reserve them the right to sell direct. If you need help ensuring this is in any contracts you're negotiating, get in touch and we'll give you the clause you need to make the deal," said Gerard. Distrify does not allow any pornographic material and is as easy to use as uploading films to YouTube.
The player can be easily embedded on a film's Facebook page and the social nature of selling film is a feature the founders of Distrify find most appealing. "Distrify is the 'Sell Movies Socially'™ service. We have built-in Twitter, Facebook, and email sharing tools all in the player. We have a Facebook app that takes less than 30 seconds to set up. The Distrify player works the same on Facebook as it does anywhere else. We take payments via a full range of credit/debit card options plus PayPal. We are also working on some exciting and innovative payment methods that will break down the barriers to purchase for millions of users across the globe... stay tuned." If your film does not have a Facebook page, Distrify can create one for you and configure the player application.
As with Dynamo, rights owners can geoblock any territories that are sold or where the distributor who owns certain rights does not want digital capability in his territory. "For example, if your streaming rights are not available in France because of a TV contract but you have the right to sell DVDs there, Distrify shows the customer the products they can buy. There is never any 'this is not available in your area' message - customers just see what options are available to them or get the option to sign up to the film's mailing list, letting you see a picture of demand in other territories and directly engage with those audiences," said Gerard.
The fee for a basic account is free which allows for distribution of one film and any associated products of that film. "We limit the basic service to one film in order to keep our prices low. We don't want filmmakers using Distrify as a parking lot for lots of old films they aren't actively selling. We encourage people to only put on films if they are going to market them and make sales." There are corporate accounts for distributors or filmmakers with a slate of films they want to sell where a small monthly fee is assessed and that includes additional features and consultancy to support larger businesses. In addition, the platform takes a 30% cut of each sale.
Filmmakers can see sales statistics at any time and the money is available as soon as the payment clears.
The platform is open to filmmakers and audiences worldwide. "We remit payments via PayPal or bank transfer and will convert to your chosen currency. This is really important to us - our process is transparent and you'll always know who paid for your film and how much your film has earned. Our filmmakers typically prefer to receive payments only after reaching certain income levels, so they can reduce the impact of bank/PayPal charges for receiving the transfer. Filmmakers selling on the web are trying to reach global audiences and in order to target niches in foreign countries they need to be able to charge in local currencies at local prices. As a quick example, last week we had a request from a filmmaker in Mexico who has been looking for a VOD service that supports his fan-base. We added Mexican Pesos to our currency options, he uploaded his film, and now he's making sales every day via his Facebook page."
Distrify was part of a panel at the Edinburgh Film Festival where they held a live premiere via LiveStream for the British film Being Sold.( http://www.beingsoldthemovie.com/) Instead of having a red carpet event and a screening in a theater, the producers and cast were on hand at the panel and online to take Q&A from anyone in the world and the film went live on the Distrify player so that all could buy the film immediately. As each sale was made, a bell went off in the room so all would know. Normally, premiere events are invitation only and a great expense to the filmmaker while no one is charged for a ticket to attend. With this event, the premiere was streamed live to anyone in the world, it cost little to no money to produce and sales started immediately!
One of my pet peeves about services like Amazon and iTunes is the lack of customer data a filmmaker receives when sales are made on those platforms. It is important that filmmakers keep up with their buyers so they do not have to keep starting over again from scratch when they have new projects coming out. Distrify allows filmmakers to see contact details for every sale. "Your audience is your audience and you need to be able to interact with them. At any time, you can export your mailing list to your email provider account and send direct email marketing. Of course, users must give their consent to be added to any mailing list. Last week we added a clever tool that allows people to embed faux-players in their direct email marketing – putting the trailer and shop right in your fan's inbox."
Founded as the first global indie movie distribution platform built on Facebook, I spoke with CEO Craig Tanner about what makes Flicklaunch different as a way to distribute films. The site is in beta. "Flicklaunch was built around the 'Like' button. A filmmaker can give away a predetermined amount of free views in exchange for a 'Like' to the film page. For example, a filmmaker can give away 1,000 free views and with the average Facebook user having 140 friends, it creates awareness for that film of 140,000 people. "
At the moment, films using Flicklaunch are only available on Facebook, but the plan is to roll out more capabilities for the player. "Since Facebook is global, Flicklaunch is available to audiences and filmmakers everywhere." The rental period for streaming the film is 7 days and audience can choose how they want to view it (through any web enabled device connecting to Facebook). Soon FlickLaunch will offer badges and perks for film fans that drive the most traffic to the film. The Executive Producer badge will enable those who earn it to unlock premium deals like invitations to red carpet events, special promotions and free viewing credits. The service also encourages communal viewing by allowing the filmmaker to lower the cost of the film depending on the volume of viewers. Movie viewers can decide to meet at a predetermined time to watch together which will lower the cost of the rental for everyone and while watching together, they can chat and comment together.
Flicklaunch is extremely easy to access. The filmmaker and film need a Facebook page and a PayPal account. "The film needs to be in 640×360 (16:9) FLV file, MP4 (iPad) encoded at least 500kbps with maximum of 700kbps. The filmmaker emails the file to us via YouSendIt and we load it onto their Facebook fanpage. Soon the filmmaker will be able to do everything themselves." There is no qualifying factor for using Flicklaunch like festival laurels or a large following on Facebook. "Our model offers a low cost, high-quality viewing experience with social engagement to a ready-made audience. We do expect the filmmaker to work and cannot have the attitude of 'if we build it they will come' though," said Tanner.
Payments can be tracked in real time. "Through PayPal we have created an Adaptive API that takes care of all accounting and sales statements. The filmmaker can track every transaction in real time and payment is immediate. This works the same way in all countries." Flicklaunch collects 50% fee off of every sale. The ability to pay with Facebook credits is coming in the near future. In addition, there is a fee for using the service. "The charge depends on the number of 'Likes' or free views the filmmaker wants to give away. For the first 200 films to use the service, FlickLaunch will charge an introductory rate of $50. After those first 200, there will be a minimum cost of $100 which includes up to 500 free views in exchange for 'likes,' if the filmmaker prefers, they do not have to give away any free views." Paid viewings can range in price from $1-$5 depending on what the filmmaker decides. It is also possible to change the prices while the film is actively on Facebook. Payments are sent to the rights holder as soon as they clear PayPal.
At the moment, it isn't possible to restrict access by territory, but that feature is coming soon. "By using the internet to democratize film distribution, our goal is to empower the filmmaker to self- distribute eventually making traditional film distribution obsolete," said Tanner.
My friend, filmmaker Lucas McNelly, is using both Dynamo and Distrify to distribute his film Blanc de Blanc (http://www.blancdeblancfilm.com/ ). He likes the ability to upsell merchandise like DVDs and tshirts with Distrify as well as the affiliate program because as he says "who doesn't like to earn money?" He thinks that the Dynamo player interface looks better, but the Distrify player does more. He wrote posts on his blog comparing the two services if you would like to take a look. http://www.ayearwithoutrent.com/2011/05/vod-ftw.html and http://www.ayearwithoutrent.com/2011/06/vod-ftw-part-ii.html
Filmmakers should be aware that none of these platforms will market your film for you. Part of the responsibility of self distribution is making audience aware that your film exists and where they can watch it or buy it. Hollywood studios spend millions of dollars on advertising and PR firms to saturate the market. Microfilmmakers do not have this luxury so the time to start marketing and building awareness and excitement is at the start of your project because it takes a long time to achieve this. If you wait to start building a Facebook following until you are ready to launch, you won't see great sales results for a while.