Film Distribution: What You Need To Know About Encoding

To get your film into popular platforms like iTunes, FandangoNow, Google Play, Netflix, and more, your video, audio and artwork will need to undergo a comprehensive encoding and delivery process. This process is usually performed by an encoding house, approved to make deliveries to your desired platforms. In a typical distribution deal, the process looks like this:

  1. You make a deal with a distributor (or aggregator.)
  2. You deliver all your video files and artwork.
  3. An encoding house processes the files and delivers.

Think of an encoding house in ways akin to how you about a film lab. It is a company that specializes in processing your motion picture files to the highest quality. Most distributors and aggregators work with a preferred encoding house. So when you agree to a distribution deal, one of the first things you receive is a comprehensive list of all the stuff you need to deliver.

encoding

What You Need To Know About VOD Encoding

Prepping your film for distribution begins in production. As a general rule, you must produce your film in the highest quality. Then later, when you wrap post production, you will want to export your film inline with current delivery specs. At this point, you’ll often hear the terms “source” and “asset.”

Source – This refers to your movie file. Most encoding houses will request a completely uncompressed file, which is usually over 100 gigabytes. As a result, most encoding houses will provide access to special file delivery software or request that you ship your files on an external hard drive.

Asset – In the context of VOD film distribution, your assets are anything outside of your source file. This would include poster artwork, photo stills, video metadata, your trailer, subtitles and closed captions.

Video on demand content and delivery standards are constantly improving. While this assures that the viewer will have an awesome viewing experience, this sure creates a lot of headaches for both the filmmaker and the video encoding service. Each platform will have different requirements.

Top Five VOD Delivery Requirements:

Once you send your source and assets to the encoding house, keep in mind that the process can be frustrating. Encoding houses need to maintain a good relationship with the end platforms, so most will scrutinize each frame of your video for compliance. If even one frame of your film does not conform to specification, then the encoding house will likely attempt to fix the issue in-house.

Here are some issues to avoid:

  1. Assuming your movie has been approved to appear on the platforms, both your source and assets (including your trailer) CANNOT contain any product tagging, logos, website references or URL’s, including film festival references.
  2. Watch out for 4:1 Cadence – this happens when a frame rate is converted incorrectly. You will have four frames progressive and then one repeated frame. A common example is when you mess up a conversion from a 23.98 frame rate to 29.97. And get rid of ALL repeated frames.
  3. If you’re delivering to the US (in popular platforms), you will need closed captions. Don’t do these yourself. Your distributor or aggregator can suggest a reputable captions house with a track record for consistently delivering captions that pass quality control.

Since no two deliveries are identical, fixing any issues with your file can take time to do it right. In a best case scenario, my suggestion is to manage your expectations. Allow at least 45-90 days from the time all your files are submitted to the encoding house before going-live. And also keep in mind that if you hit a major issue, the process can be delayed even longer.

Assuming your movie passes QC and goes live in your preferred marketplace, a lot of filmmakers rely way too much on their film being “discovered” from within the various platforms. Keep in mind there are a gazillion other films competing for eyeballs. Movie studios spend millions of dollars promoting their movies. And indie filmmakers also need a marketing strategy to drive targeted traffic.

I know taking about encoding houses is less exciting than creating fake blood, filming a car chase scene or leaping a tall building. But knowing a thing or two about aggregation and encoding may save you time in the long run. And planning for the unexpected is only going to help you plan an effective release strategy.

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ARTICLE BY Jason Brubaker

If you'd like more tactics like the article you just read, make sure to grab a copy of the filmmaker checklist. You'll get 65 useful steps you can employ to produce your next feature film.
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