Monday, June 19, 2006

Emerging Distributors

Problem: Currently to have a movie make it to an audience, a film needs to a) get acquired by a large distributor or b) make the endless film festival route where if distribution does occur, said film then is pushed with a front loaded marketing/advertising campaign to promote it meaning it better catch on immediately or its lost in the distributor's closet.

If you ask me, that's a pretty big problem. As a filmmaker, you face huge bottlenecks including creative control, who's overseeing the marketing, is there a decent budget behind the advertising, is the festival worth paying for, how exactly is the distributor's lawyer looking to stick it to you...

Let's move past the given (it needs to be more of a given - but more on that later), the story needs to be good! It needs to hook. OK, so your story has a great setup and payoff. People who see it, love it! They tell their friends about it. But what does that do for you if you can't get the friggin thing into another theatre?

Welcome to 2006, the start of something big! Broadband is keeping the promises that the Internet is the great deliverer for the little guy. Throw out what you know and start thinking differently. You now have a CHEAP distribution route. Reverse what you know about movie marketing. You now are looking at a promotional ramp up. Let me explain. It is now becoming possible to push your media anywhere in a protected format. That means mobile, computer desktops, even the television settop box, and if you can hit that, you can begin thinking how small theatres will be able to also pickup and stream a film. 2929 Studios and Mark Cuban has the right idea, release in a manner that anyone can get however they feel like getting it. When they signed the deal with Steven Soderbergh to produce a series of low budget films that would be immediately released on dvd, HDTV and in the theatres, they set what I believe will be a common method for moviemaking in the near future. Does this mean every film will be and should be? No. There will probably always be the big budget blockbusters and superstar love stories. What is different however is there is now a way for a filmmaker in the middle of Ohio or Croatia to make a movie and look to distribute it for longterm gain... and make a living!

Keep an eye on trends like the following:
  1. More studios like 2929 releasing pictures across multiple venues simulateously
  2. The bigger Internet players like AOL, Yahoo, and Apple among a plethora others looking to acquire more independent content and moving away from simply being a web portal but more of a content company providing it across many devices and venues... (Want an example? Look at the agreement with Brightcove and TIVO and check out this vid with Jeremy Allaire talking more about what they're up to.)
  3. Its getting cheaper - you know longer are required to produce packaging and author and print a large load of DVDs the Blockbuster will send back if the rentals suck.
  4. Word of mouth, the gem of and envious drive of every advertiser, is becoming easier - though it may take longer than you hope. Look at the YouTube and MySpace successes within the past month that you can remember getting a link for.
  5. File level DRM isn't too bad if you arent a fanatic like the big distributors. Learn how to make it work for you. DRM can and will provide you opportunities to make your money as well as giving you the level of control that doesnt piss off your buyers while making sure friends pay their dues as well.
  6. Portable and mobile devices with big storage and Internet connections. Think small again because that DVX100 you are shooting with is all you need to push some great quality to these little media hungry devices! Short form works best here too...
  7. Convergence between devices, formats and delivery channels. Watch for big and small companies to pop up and give consumers the option of picking up their entertainment across any device. Imagine watching half a show on your TV and the rest while you are waiting for your flight at the airport.
  8. Advertising is moving online, particularly preroll and postroll video ads.
Here's the opportunities its creating for filmmakers:

  1. The ability to distribute at a low cost as well as produce at a low cost - just PLEASE be sure the story is good!
  2. Long-term word-of-mouth and guerilla campaigns that allow film payoffs to be more profitable in the long term rather than a quick shot in the dark upfront.
  3. Many more routes to distribute like on the desktop, the TV, portable devices, mobile TV and a ton of emerging channels or content aggregators.
  4. Since big boys in other mediums are now able to compete, look for more opportunities to sell your content.
  5. Shorts are going to be in more and more. The lunchtime fixation, the stuck in traffic boredom killer, the "I-hate-this-get-together" movie all need something to watch.

The rules are changing. There will always be the case for the big business model but keep an eye open on the changing landscape at the bottom and how it could have the ability to make you the next media darling.

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