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Download This: The Future of Distribution is Just a Click Away

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.

EZTakes

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

Jaman

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

FilmOn.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
info@filmon.com 

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

Movieflix

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

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One Response to “Download This: The Future of Distribution is Just a Click Away”

  1. Anonymous

    Independent distribution should be self empowering for filmmakers.
    Filmmakers need to be mobile on the internet with all the ways he/she might be providing to purchase their film, if it be DVD, download or stream. It should all be affordable and manageable, with the ability to set up a store on their own website, blog, and in any social media group that will accept them.
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