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…
How To Leverage VOD Release Windows — The Ultimate Guide
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. But 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:
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:
Give us your movie for 15 years.
Will you pay us a minimal guarantee?
No. But we will get you on Amazon.
I can get my own movie onto Amazon.
Well, I know the guy there and I can ask him to give your movie special placement. Plus as a distributor, we have access to more Amazon territories than you do. And we have been in business for 250 years. So we have more experience to help you.
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?
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.
The Basics of 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.
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, Tubi 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.
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:
- Transactional VOD
- Subscription VOD
- Ad Supported 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.