Desolation Center’s Innovative VOD Release Strategy and Practice

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Stuart Swezey’s Desolation Center, a story of the Reagan-era desert performances featuring Sonic Youth, The Minutemen, Redd Kross, Meat Puppets, Einstürzende Neubauten & Savage Republic that influenced some of the world’s most famous music festivals (Burning Man, Lollapalooza, Coachella), launches tomorrow on VOD after finishing a 50+ city theatrical release that culminated in NYC screening at the IFC Center in February just before Covid-19 hit in March.

I have had the pleasure of working on Desolation Center since the beginning and am excited to have seen their success (festival premieres at CPH:DOX, Sheffield and Slamdance) and how they are launching their VOD campaign so creatively.

In order to boost their rankings on iTunes in advance of their release tomorrow June 23, they have been motivating people to pre-order the film on iTunes by conducting a contest, promoting their pre-sales on iTunes.  Pre-sales can help the iTunes algorithm take notice of your film (even with as few as 100 presales) and help put you in the top 50 documentary or indi lists. To enter,  a customer must upload a photo of their iTunes purchase receipt and a Google form with the rest of their information.


Photo: Mariska Leyssius

Contestants have the chance to win a prize-package worth $370, including an art-card, stampbook, -shirt, mug, journal, and a Flag of the Republic: Desolation Center Edition designed & signed by Bruce Licher (one of only 75 in existence). Ten “second-prize” runner-ups will win a poster of the film signed by director Stuart Swezey, and anyone who participates will also win a free Desolation Center button & sticker.

And it is working – they are now the #1 Doc Pre-order on iTunes for this week – right next to Trolls World Tour! :

To promote the contest and the release they have been executing a very cost effective social ad campaign with some high quality content.  I’ll write more about the results of this campaign in the larger case study I am working on and will be releasing later.

Throughout the life of the film, Stuart and his team have smartly taken advantage of merchandise to not only promote the film but to raise money along the way. Together with Co-Producer and photographer Mariska Leyssius, they first began with an art show featuring photography and work from the concerts and from people who were participants, such as Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets. This show preceded and influenced their crowdfund campaign which they used to see what merch was the most popular with their audience. They are continuing to create new merchandise, and recently partnered with Third Man Records in Detroit to work on releasing a vinyl 45 with live music from the original desert shows

In addition to the contest they have been setting up affiliate promotions with a number of key partners, such as Amoeba Records, WFMU, Sonic Boom Records, and Boston Hassle. Stuart wanted to support record stores that are suffering now during the Covid lockdown by giving them a cut of any of the sales that are generated through sales those stores promote to their lists.  Many of their partners were developed during their theatrical run by outreach director Derek Kane-Meddock who is now in charge of the digital release partnerships.

Finally – they are still working on a series of virtual panel discussions with a number of the musicians from the film – these should roll out in the next weeks – and because this is a long tail – there is no reason to only run these in the beginning of the campaign.  If any of you have seen the Fantastic Fungi campaign, they roll out new events every week or two well after the launch of their VOD.   However this week Perry Farrell is doing a series of Zooms in coordination with Sirius XM on June 23rd for the launch.

With a combination of iTunes promotional contest, social advertising, partnerships and virtual events – the Desolation Center team is creating a unique VOD release strategy worth paying attention to.   Look forward to the release of Swezey’s insane “punkumentary”, as well as a case study on Desolation Center’s distribution strategy that I’ll be releasing in the near future.

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