VOD Release Windows

Whenever someone mentions VOD release windows, I am instantly transported back to a time before video on demand.

And yes. . .

In this film distribution article, we are going to talk about VOD Release Windows so you can improve your chances of having a successful film distribution experience!

But first, a little context.

As a kid, I remember one night when my mom and dad took me to see the original Karate Kid.

Maybe you remember this too.

(I’m referring to the one where they actually did Karate and not Kung Fu.)

But anyway, after the movie, I was so emotionally charged that I distinctly remember the ride home.

I was in the back of my dad’s cherry red MGB with the top down and I was slicing the hot summer air with a poorly made, toy Viking sword.

To this day, I’m not sure why I had a toy Viking sword or why my mom and dad let me to sit in the back of an MGB. If you ever rode in an MGB, you know that there isn’t actually a back seat, or a seat-belt – Just a compartment that holds the battery.

But those were different times. We were living in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. And if I wanted to see Karate Kid on video, I had to wait…

I hope this doesn’t sound too hillbilly, but where I’m from, movies were a special treat.

Outside of actually going to the movie theater, we only had Rhyne’s Video. It was one of the first video stores the area. And they didn’t have Karate Kid. I know this because I repeatedly asked the owner when he would have it.

“Any week now.”

Unbeknownst to me, my frustration was the result of Hollywood’s movie release windows.

Before we talk VOD release windows, it is important that you understand that traditional release windows.

In a traditional movie release sequence, movies like the original Karate Kid were first available in movie theaters.

And to determine when and where the movie would be released next, deals were made for territories all over the world. Subtitles and language dubs were created. And back in the days of VHS tapes (later replaced by DVDs) – These physical goods had to be manufactured and shipped. From there, the movie may end up on airplanes and other ancillary outlets. And eventually, the movie may make it’s way to free TV.

In my case, the Karate Kid eventually made it’s way to my local video store in small-town Pennsylvania. When that day came, all was well and good in the universe.

In the years that followed, big box video stores like Blockbuster had replaced Rhyne’s video. And these conglomerates were good at keeping customers tuned into their “coming soon” announcements, which replaced frustration with anticipation.

But we still had to wait. . .

VOD Release Windows

Fast forward to today.

The DVD market is on the demise and most video stores are out of business.

With VOD release windows, you no longer need to wait for a physical DVD. Between cable, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and platforms like The Watchbox, the time between release windows has diminished. Movies go from the theaters to your living room in record time.

And these buying habits have had paradigm shifting consequences in the marketplace.

As a result of these changes, many traditional DVD distributors have jumped onto the VOD bandwagon hoping to recoup lost revenues.

Here is my graphic to describe how traditional film distributors view VOD release windows:

VOD Release Windows

But the truth is, film distribution has become a commodity.

There are now a gazillion platforms that allow you to get your movie seen and selling. And even more sobering for the old film distribution guard is the fact many of these platforms are accessible without their help.

This means traditional distributors have to come up with interesting ways to secure your VOD rights.

The pitch usually goes like this:

VOD Aggregator
Give us your movie for 15 years.

New Filmmaker
Will you pay us an minimal guarantee?

VOD Aggregator
No. But we will get you on Amazon.

New Filmmaker
Some guy named Jason Brubaker said I can get my own movie onto Amazon.

VOD Aggregator
Well, I know the guy there and I can ask him to give your movie special placement. Besides, we have been in business for 250 years. So we have more experience to help you.

New Filmmaker
Wait… VOD wasn’t around 250 years ago. And besides, I have thousands of people  on my mailing list asking to buy the movie. Wouldn’t it make sense to sell my movie directly to them?

VOD Aggregator
Yes. But please don’t start selling your movie until you and I make a deal. After that you are free to sell your movie to your list. In fact, we encourage you to start marketing and selling your movie. But only after we make a deal. You wouldn’t want to shatter your VOD release windows, would you?

To be clear, not all VOD Distributors and aggregators are terrible.

Go with the right company and they will serve as an equal partner.

Unfortunately, the good guys make up the minority. Go to any film market and I guarantee you will meet a bunch of bottom feeding jerks touting this pitch, over and again. Here is another video I did for Film Courage that provides tips for getting your movie into the popular marketplaces.

VOD Release Windows

Because finding a great distribution deal is rare, many filmmakers choose to create their own marketing, sales and distribution plan.

And if you’ve been reading Filmmaking Stuff for any length of time, you know I LOVE direct distribution.

But if you choose to go direct to your audience, it’s important to understand that Video on Demand is comprised of several distinct categories.

Transactional Video On Demand

With Transactional VOD, people can only watch your movie after they make a payment. Some of the platforms such as Amazon and iTunes have made transactions easy. They keep customer credit card information on file, which means prospective viewers are only one or two clicks away from watching your movie.

Popular transactional platforms for filmmakers are Amazon, iTunes. Additionally, web based platforms like The Watchbox, Vimeo and Chill also fit in this category.

Subscription Video On Demand

Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) is a convenient model that allows subscribers to sign up for a service, pay a monthly fee and in exchange, have access to unlimited programs. This model is great for consumers because, well, they can watch anything.

As a filmmaker getting your title onto a subscription based platform could be a great play for getting your title discovered. As a possible downside, unless you strike an awesome licensing deal you may be a little disheartened if your title gets a gazillion views and you end up with very little money.

Advertisement Supported Video On Demand

Many platforms make money by placing targeted advertising in front of the viewer. This type of model can be win-win, as many ad supported platforms provide the filmmaker with a portion of the ad revenue. The viewer gets to watch your movie without making a transaction.

In the United States, Hulu has gained popularity as a great way to watch popular television shows and movies on demand. Unlike transactional platforms, Hulu makes their money by peppering content with advertisements. And assuming they acquire your title, Hulu will pay you a portion of the advertising revenue.

Embeddable Player for Filmmakers

While best practices emphasize the importance of getting your movies seen in selling in the popular video on demand marketplaces, there are many filmmakers who have strong audience engagement and heavy, targeted internet traffic. As a result, it makes a lot of sense for these filmmakers to sell directly to their audiences.

Leveraging VOD Release Windows

Moving into the marketplace without a comprehensive release strategy could have unintended consequences. So there are some best practices you should consider when strategizing your VOD release windows.

Most distribution professionals agree that that you should explore your opportunities in the following order:

  1. Transactional VOD
  2. Cable VOD
  3. Subscription VOD
  4. Ad Supported VOD
  5. Free VOD

The reason for this VOD Release Windows sequence is pretty simple. If you make your movie available on Hulu and Netflix first, will anybody bother to actually pay for it? Worse, will a transactional platform actually take your movie if it’s already free somewhere else?

There are exceptions to this rule. So you will want to make sure you fully evaluate each option before taking action. And if you like this sort of filmmaking stuff, you’ll love the indie producers guide to digital distribution. Click here.

Movie Distribution Company Pipe Dream

As a feature filmmaker, it is important to maintain positive thinking and keep your fingers crossed for a great distribution deal. But the reality is – the movie industry is changing. New methods of distribution including Video On Demand and internet viewing continually erodes traditional sales channels.

Good news and bad news: The good news is, you now have one of the most amazing opportunities in movie making history to make a movie, reach your audience (globally) and collect cash.

And here is the not so good news.

In order to benefit as a modern moviemaker, you will have to become masterful at creating buzz, establishing and maintaining a sales funnel website, while simultaneously focusing on increasing your targeted web traffic and converting your visitors into a paying audience… Only then can you create a profit and possibly pay back your investors.

And despite this reality, many filmmakers will still waste time waiting for someone else to “discover” their project.

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How To Make A Living Filmmaking

Logistic Center Amazon in Bad Hersfeld industr...

Filmmakers can sell their movies on Amazon. Image via Wikipedia

Recently a question posed by filmmaker Ben Rock over at Neptune Salad gave me a good reason to think about (and share) my filmmaking business philosophy in detail.

Here is the question: “Is there a way to make enough money on any kind of self-distribution that a filmmaker can repay investors and eek out a middle-class existence?”

I felt like this question required a detailed response. So for Ben and other folks with similar questions, I broke it into 2 parts. Here we go…

1. Can any form of Self Distribution make you enough money to repay investors?

This depends on two factors. How much investor money did you spend? And how much of your investor money do you have left to reach your targeted audience?

Getting money to fund independent movies has always been a challenge regardless of what technological innovations have taken shape. But the big difference now is more emotional than factual. These days, whenever filmmakers go out to shake the money tree, their confidence is considerably lower. I mean, in the past, you could at least present speculative opportunities to to prospective investors with a measure of excitement: “Look what happened with The Blair Witch Project! Paranormal Activity! My Big Fat Greek!..”

But what do you say now?

“We are going to sell DVDs on Amazon!”

Yippy.

And even funnier is this. Let’s say you get the money, make your movie and get a (more traditional) 3rd party distribution deal – your deal probably won’t involve theatrical distribution. Add the demise of video sales outlets and video stores, and it is a good bet that your movie will end up on iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon.

Given these outlets, I now wonder why any filmmaker would even approach a 3rd party distributor. I mean, if filmmakers can simply set up shop and reach those outlets on their own, why pay a middle man? Do filmmakers really need 3rd party validation?

So my suggestion is this: If you’re trying to make a living as a filmmaker, you need to care less about traditional validation and more about your bank account. If the numbers don’t work, you nave NO DEAL!

“Ah… Filmmakers should be MORE excited to approach prospective movie investors!”

Unlike years past, you can finally eliminate much of the speculation from your business plan – and you can finally present a deal built on a measurable framework that YOU control. In other words, as a filmmaker you can now pick and choose your sales outlets and come up with an entire step-by-step system for reaching your target audience and then getting your movie seen and sold. Investors like that. It’s less risky!

From this perspective, you can create a reasonable plan and work backwards.

What? You can’t figure out how to repay 1,000,000 dollars in 5 years? Then you have two choices. Change your plan or change your budget (which may involve changing your screenplay and schedule).

And onto the second part of the question…

2. Can a filmmaker eek out a middle-class existence (with digital self distribution)?

Yeah. But like I was saying, you can not think about distribution in the traditional sense. In the past, filmmakers made a movie, got lucky and ended up with a BIG paycheck with incremental increases on the back end. These days filmmakers need to think about their movies in ways akin to how traditional investors think about dividends from bonds – once you make the investment, it’s a long term game!

In other words, you create your movie product this year, get it selling and then you repeat the process. Conceivably in 10 years, you’ll have a library of 10 movies. And with luck each movie will passively pay you thousands of dollars per month.

Moving forward,  if you want to make movies and make money making movies, your strategy has to include oodles and oodles of cash for marketing. I heard one colleague talk in terms of  applying 3/5ths of the budget for the marketing, 1/5th for “name” talent and 1/5th for your below the line costs. I’m sure there is room for variation – but we can all agree that your marketing (more than movie making) is going to provide you the difference between pocket change and profit.

What are your thoughts?

– – –

This is a huge topic. So I will break it into a series. My next article will pick up where I left off. And we can get into a systematic approach to how to make a living through your filmmaking.

In the meantime, get my filmmaking book FOR FREE. Just follow this link: www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com