Download This: The Future of Distribution is Just a Click Away
A selection of internet distribution venues -- Movieflix.com, EZTakes.com, Jaman.com, and FilmOn.comMarch 27th, 2008 | Michele Meek
Video blogs, vodcasts, YouTube -- in many ways it seems that independent filmmakers have taken the internet by force. But what about independent films picked up for distribution? In many cases, they are notably missing from the online arena. Companies like Zipporah Films, Women Make Movies and Davidson Films still stick with their tried-and-true model of charging a few hundred dollars per VHS and DVD and have yet to make a switch to online downloads.
In fact, many independent distributors fear the gradual (or dramatic) shaving off of their profits by a move online. This has been an issue for independent filmmakers and distributors for decades — the conversion from film to VHS in the 1980s led to a tenfold retail price cut. As a result, many distributors proceed with trepidation, believing new technologies may destroy them and sharing profits simply means less profits. For many distributors, there is just too little confidence that the market could be expanded. The piece of the pie is fixed -- and it's small.
Although exaggerated, their fear is not entirely unfounded. The film industry in general has seen prices continue to drop. Companies like BestBuy and Wal-Mart keep lowering the bar, leaving consumers wondering why they should pay $39.95 for a film no one's ever heard of when they can get the latest James Bond flick for $9.95. Even the educational video market, which has long been a safe-haven for hefty price tags, is feeling pressure from giants like Amazon.com and Discovery Education.
Meanwhile, Hollywood's move online has been hesitant, at best. Apple announced its launch of iTunes movies just recently but even a few months later there are only a few hundred films available. Perhaps even more problematic is the fact that purchases as well as rentals come only in a 'locked' format making it difficult to transfer it to non-Apple phones or devices (and even some older Apple devices). Hollywood seems poised to make the same fatal mistake the music industry made — offering an absurdly small selection of titles; charge the same price as physical formats; and then lock buyers into a useless format they can't maneuver as easily as a plain old DVD. And simultaneously, there is already an arsenal of websites and peer-to-peer networks offering pirated downloads with a wider selection of films for cheap (or free) in flexible file formats.
So where does this leave the independent filmmaker and distributor?
They say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. In fact, now is the time when independents have the real opportunity to win over audiences. As Hollywood falters, online movie sites are more open to independent and off-beat content. And eager audiences await. Why not grab the views when you can? The money will surely follow, right?
It just may be, especially when you consider companies like Movieflix.com's revenues are over $1 million per year — and only 20 percent of that comes from after-hours films. And EZTakes has noted that when they put a movie online for free with ad-supported viewing, the download-to-DVD sales of those movies increase by an average of 20 percent (ad revenues are shared with rights owners as well). And even companies like Documentary Educational Resources found that when they put their movies online through Google Video their market did expand (although unfortunately Google shifted out of the educational market when they purchased YouTube).
For independent distributors and filmmakers eager to join the online revolution, there are dozens of sites that distribute. So The Independent did some research to figure out which sites you were most likely to come across in your research and what you should know about each.
Details provided by EZTakes marketing department
Created: June 2003
Elevator pitch: EZTakes lets consumers buy movie downloads that will play on PCs, Macs, DVD players, iPods, Zunes, and just about any other portable device.
Number of films: About 4,000
Source: Mostly from distributors.
Criteria for new films: We look for marketable titles that you don't trip over in Wal-Mart. However, we usually don't take one or two films, unless those films promise to be extremely marketable. Right now we're looking for catalogs. In the future, we'll also be offering self-service publishing option that will give smaller publishers and opportunity to sell via EZTakes.
Technical rundown: We require an authored DVD. If the rights holder has art work (cover, label, poster) and meta data (director, producer, plot, etc.) in digital format (e.g. spreadsheet), that's even better. It's also very important to get a good-quality trailer when you're selling online. After we get DVDs, they usually start showing up on EZTakes in a few weeks. Some of our distributor partners simply send us shrink-wrapped DVDs as they become available, and we get everything else we need from their website.
Fees: In the 'independent' category, downloads run anywhere from free to about $20, but most DVD downloads fall in the $6-7 range. EZTakes also sells physical DVDs which can be mailed.
Payment to filmmakers: Two thirds for the rights holder and one third for us. Plus we give a 50-50 split on ad-revenue.
Advice for filmmakers: Don't fall for the lie that Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy protection can do anything for you. Even just one copy of digital content on a file share can be copied an unlimited number of times. All DRM will do is penalize your paying customers by making what you sell much worse than what they can get for free. DRM is pushed like heroin by companies like Microsoft and Apple who only want to lock you and your customers in with proprietary technologies. Once they have you hooked, they can increase switching costs, block competitors and extract more money from you.
The future of the industry: Like the music industry has already discovered, the film industry will have to learn that customers rule. Successful models will be the ones that create customer value, not the ones designed to protect existing businesses. Once the film industry realizes that, they can begin to make money by exploiting innovative services that cater to consumers.
Author's Take: This seems like the least buggy of the sites. In addition, it's easy to navigate, professionally designed and prices are easy to see and understand for consumers. Downside is they may not take your film if you are just trying to market one.
For more information: www.eztakes.com
Details provided by Gaurav Dhillon, founder and CEO of Jaman
Created: Jaman founder and CEO Gaurav Dhillon has long been a film lover and perhaps most importantly, he loves movies from around the world. He visited Argentina two years ago and saw some extraordinary movies, but when he came back home, he couldn’t find them to share them with friends and family. (As you likely know, less than 1% of the world’s movies make it to the US theaters). Quality movies are made in every country, but before Jaman, there wasn’t an easy place to get them. He founded Jaman to change the way people around the world discover, enjoy and share movies.
Elevator pitch: Jaman is pioneering entertainment on the internet by delivering high-definition films to a growing online community of fans and filmmakers. Viewers around the globe can browse and select from Jaman library of thousands of unique films and then download these movies directly onto their PCs, Macs, televisions and home-set-top boxes such as AppleTVs and TiVos. Jaman’s popular community features provide a forum where people review, discuss and share world-class films with each other. Jaman is based in San Mateo, California and is backed by luminaries in technology and media.
Number of films: Over 3,500
Source: Mainly distributors, but there are some cases where we’ve been moved by a particular film and went directly to the filmmaker to get the movie up on Jaman. We go to film festivals and see films; we have a film-loving team at Jaman who is always sniffing out great movies; and we track the buzz of films.
Criteria for new films: Media that matters. We have quality films, many which have important messages.
Technical rundown: We have a number of film industry folks on staff – they make up a little transcoding factory here.
Fees: Most rentals are $1.99 and most purchases $4.99. There are many shorts available free. Included in this list are the recently added Mira Nair’s AIDS Jaago shorts, four dramatic mini-movies that aim to dismantle myths about HIV/AIDS. Additionally, in the near future, a good majority of our films will be made free with advertising (people can opt of the advertisements and continue to pay the rental or purchase price).
Payment to filmmakers: First dollar gross. [Author's note: First dollar gross means an adjusted gross participation payable from the first dollar of receipts.]
Advice for filmmakers: Yes, there is a big world out there so go global! Jaman’s traffic comes from 220 countries, we know that the world is hungry for film and the audience is large.
The future of the industry: Very bright. There is perhaps a change in perspective on this – instead of the goal being to sell films, the internet provides more of a 'democratization of film' where independent filmmakers are in the business of renting our their films. In other words, they own the film and get revenue by leasing it out non-exclusively.
Author's take: Probably the most professional design of all the sites, they have a good selection of mainstream indies like Italian for Beginners to personal indies like Kintaro Walks Japan. They also have a cool filter to help visitors sort movies. Fees are hard to find but consistent once you're logged in and looking at films.
For more information: www.jaman.com
Details provided by Alki David
Created: by Alki David in 2006 because he was fed up of being ripped off by distributors.
Elevator pitch: Filmed Entertainment Portal to the Future.
Number of films: 38,000 premium titles aggregated. Currently 2,500 online now.
Source: Filmmakers and distributors. We have over 60 content partners from Paramount to Granada to Playboy to individual producers.
Criteria for new films: Is it good. Is it legal.
Technical rundown: DVD is sent to London office where it is encoded to a MPEG2 file. Then it is put on the servers and copied to raid clusters in New Jersey, London, Amsterdam and Hong Kong. It is converted to MPEG4 and available via our proprietary network for distribution. Images and text update from the London office.
Fees: Prices around $2-$4 for most movies.
Payment to filmmakers: 50-50 revenue share on all sales. Also get your own white label for free and you receive 100% of white labels revenue.
Advice for filmmakers: Only the obvious. Find the portal that suits your market and get on it.
The future of the industry: The future is now. You can build a following through FilmOn's upload service at http://moviebuffs.filmon.com. If you have a serious commercial offering contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's Take: It's kind of annoying how you have to register before you can even see what movies are available -- seems like an unnecessary barrier that might turn users away. Also some films are not available for download in the US (FilmOn.com is a UK company). Still it seems that they have a lot of films and resources, and they are definitely poised to make a dent in the industry.
For More Information: www.filmon.com
Details provided by Robert Moskovits from MovieFlix.com
Created: We began in 1999 as place for independent filmmakers to show their work.
Number of Films: We have approximately 4,000 movies as well as over 2.5 million members.
Source: Both distributors and filmmakers. We are always open to submissions from indie filmmakers.
Criteria for new films: It depends really. We just have to like it.
Technical rundown: We receive the film. We capture and then encode the film. Now it's ready to be added to our streaming servers as well as the MovieFlix.com website.
Fees: MovieFlix Plus has a $9.95/month for unlimited streaming as well as downloading. The download is download-to-own option. They also have about 1,500 free films.
Payment to filmmakers: We usually do a revenue share. Each agreement is different.
Advice for filmmakers: Read the agreement before submitting your work.
Author's Take: Revenues are impressive. Not sure the 'family filter' works properly -- I tried turning it on and still got films like 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Not that I have anything against 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, just might not be something you want to watch with your mom. Company response was that film had slipped through and was now added to the filter.
For More Information: www.movieflix.com