I met with Nolan from Gravitas, who I feel is one of the companies that really gets VOD for independents, and he started saying – “filmmakers should watch out for this… it would be great if filmmakers would do…” And since he was listing them off – I immediately asked him to write up 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts of VOD for filmmakers – and he graciously obliged – and here it is – Thank you so much Nolan for your continued generosity in helping filmmakers navigate this new space:
By Nolan Gallagher, Founder and CEO Gravitas Ventures
Jon Reiss was gracious enough to ask me to write this blog post to help shed some perspective on how to navigate the increasingly exciting (and complex) world of Video On Demand film releasing.
I believe Jon asked me to write this because our company, Gravitas Ventures, releases over 500 films a year on VOD in all of its flavors/windows including transactional, subscription, and ad sponsored. Since more and more people have been enjoying films through digital cable, their Netflix or hulu Plus subscriptions, or on Apple iTunes, VOD has been driving a majority of deals out of film festivals.
While VOD is increasingly important right now, the ability to enjoy films in this manner has actually been around for almost a decade. During that time I had the good fortune to work for a cable operator (Comcast), a studio (Warner Bros) and for the last six years Gravitas. It’s from those experiences, plus some great feedback from my team at Gravitas, that I offer these suggestions for a VOD release:
5 Do’s on a Successful Video On Demand Release
1. Do Watch Windows- There is potentially big money in digital distribution. Especially, if the timing of a release is coordinated by an industry expert with deep contacts within VOD specifically. A filmmaker should avoid licensing rights to one VOD platform first (say an online site) in an effort to “get the film out there.” Unfortunately, this happens often and can cost filmmakers tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are over one hundred different cable, satellite, telco and online VOD platforms and they do not like to be disadvantaged against each other. There are industry norms in the releasing of a film and by giving one operator an earlier window than the rest, you may jeopardize both carriage and favorable merchandising placement.
2. Do Reach the Masses. Today, filmmakers can reach over 100 million North American homes inexpensively. VOD is also flexible, so that as technology evolves, your film will find ever more opportunities to be seen. Working with knowledgeable companies that are on top of the daily changes in distribution will allow filmmakers to reach a wide audience today and tomorrow.
3. Do Engage those Masses- Do spend a lot of time early in the process making sure that you are dedicating someone to build out your social media presence. Facebook, Twitter, and even your own website can be very powerful tools for getting your message out, but building presence take plenty of dedicated work. We have seen remarkable results from producers who do this right versus those who just go through the motions.
4. Do Your Homework- Soak up VOD insights like a sponge. Talk among your filmmaking community about what has and has not worked on past films. Read blogs, attend panels, follow industry people on twitter and do not be afraid to ask distributors the tough questions. An informed filmmaker allows distributors to spend less time on basic education and more on finding creative ways to make your film release a success.
5. Do Try to Be Nice- It’s easier said than done some days, but Patrick Swayze nailed this advice in Roadhouse. Courtesy goes both ways for filmmaker teams and those distribution companies fortunate to work on a project. The entertainment industry is filled with no shortage of shall we say interesting personalities and the nice ones often do finish first in VOD.
5 Don’t’s on a Video On Demand Release
1. Don’t Hide in Anonymity- The most unsuccessful VOD releases are the ones that do not happen. Put another way, if Gravitas or any other distributor cannot reach you to have a conversation, it will be hard to get your film into 100 million VOD homes. Each film should choose one person as a point of contact for distribution inquiries and include a real phone number and personal email address (not firstname.lastname@example.org) on your film’s website and on its IMDB Pro page. It seems so simple, yet about 25% of films make it very difficult to engage in a conversation.
2. Don’t Get stuck in the “Library”- to reiterate the importance of windows, avoid putting your film up on any internet platforms and/or releasing your DVD prior to your cable VOD launch. Cable VOD makes up approximately 70% of your digital revenues and if you “street” your film prior to it’s cable VOD launch you will be a “library” title which means a lower price point, less visibility in VOD guides and far less revenues.
3. Don’t Run out of Gas at the Finish Line – While VOD is less expensive than replicating DVDs, it is not necessarily free to reach tens of millions of homes. Please remember that encoding and delivery costs could be thousands depending on the various VOD opportunities. Often post production gets the short end of the stick when making a film, but what are going to do with a completed film that you can’t afford to deliver to your audience?
4. Don’t Rush into an All Rights Deal- Technology and consumer habits are changing rapidly. Savvy producers looking to harness these opportunities are increasingly skeptical of 10-15 year all rights deals for marginal upfront fees. Independent film distribution is awash in innovation and you will want a company with a strong VOD track record to help seize these lucrative new opportunities.
5. Don’t Go it Alone- It takes a team (filmmakers, producers, distributors, PR agencies, post production vendors and trusted advisers to name a few) to help usher in a successful release. One of the most rewarding aspects of film distribution is collaborating with the thousands of fellow movie enthusiasts to bring great stories to VOD. There is so much knowledge and friends to be gleaned from a great team effort.
I look forward to reading more suggestions for good do’s and don’t in the comments section. Should anyone have any questions for me directly, I can be reached at Nolan@gravitasventures.com or @gravitasvod.