With more opportunities than ever for videos to achieve true distribution, independent producers are able to find audiences and revenues for their projects that were not available as recently as a year ago.
The Internet has provided the biggest boon to video sellers, offering viewers and buyers online sales and rentals (via companies such as Amazon and NetFlix) and technologically-infused avenues (via on-demand, download, streaming or PPV).
Additionally, because of the Internet, consumers have become more educated about the breadth of video programming available. Many libraries, specialty stores and non-traditional sales outlets have begun purchasing independent productions to please their customer base.
Regardless of the method of delivery, you need to understand how videos get from your camcorder to an interested consumer, before you start raking in the serious dollars.
Most independent video productions – from feature-length films to educational programming to made-for-broadcast documentaries – will be sold through existing and developing non-theatrical channels. Sure, the occasional breakout shot-on-video movie, like The Blair Witch Project or TV series (Jackass) can become a huge, theatrical event. But everything else is better suited for distribution and sales through the home entertainment market, which encompasses every mode in which an audience receives video in a paid manner outside of a movie theatre. Note that consumers don’t necessarily have to receive the programming in a “home,” as mobile phone video is now one of the fastest growing segments of this marketspace.
Chain of Players
The starting point for distribution of any video is identifying the chain of players in your sales path and working to the endpoint of making a video available to an audience. This chain begins with you, the producer, and can include all of the following:
- Producer – you, the video producer, the creator of the “product”
- Representatives – people who act as liaisons, between the producer and various markets and buyers
- Traditional distributors – a major studio, independent or boutique
- Wholesalers – companies suppling major retailers (Best Buy) and those that sell DVDs (Blockbuster)
- Aggregators – companies that exist to allow smaller, independent video producers to supply their productions to the wholesalers, for eventual sale through major chains
- Acquisitions executives/buyers – individuals who make or recommend buying and acquisition decisions for studios, distributors and various sales channels
- Audiences – those channels of sale and end-consumers that pay to resell and watch videos
While this maze-like path of distribution can appear overwhelming, technology has made it easier for video producers to leapfrog many of the players in the chain, effectively allowing you to sell your product directly to the audience.
Buyers’ Wants and Needs
Audience and buyer needs vary with the type of video you are producing. If you’re making a feature-length film, then you’ll be competing with everything Hollywood is selling. Production value, good storytelling, high-end special effects and recognizable talent will all be considerations for distributors and viewers alike. Specialized documentaries and instructional and educational videos gain appeal by applicability to the subject matter, uniqueness and sometimes price. Niche productions like this are a great starting point for video producers to explore distribution. The power of the Internet has allowed for “pinpointing” of specialized and small audience segments that previously were too costly to locate. For example, a “How to Archive Family Photos” DVD can now find sales worldwide and gain placement in libraries and photo specialty shops.
If you are planning on a feature production (usually 75 minutes or more in length), and you haven’t decided on the project’s subject matter, consider a family or faith-based theme. This is the fastest-growing segment of films today, and most of the major studios have now created faith-based divisions to produce, develop and acquire movies that appeal to this audience segment. Rather than relying on star power or elaborate special effects, these films are dependent on a good story relevant to faith or family values, making them more doable for the budget-minded producer. And the market of buyers for movies in this category continues to expand.
Finding Buyers and Being Found
There are numerous markets to exploit when selling your video, including DVD (retail and rental), cable channels, pay-per-view, Web-based outlets, institutional, organizational and educational sales and direct response. How do you find the person in charge of making a purchase, and how do they find you?
Soliciting distributors and other buyers directly is always a good approach for independent video producers. It is these folks’ business to look at your project, and, if you have done your homework and approached a buyer that makes sense for your video, they’ll be glad to take a look at what you’ve got.
Be prepared for this process by having a Web site with a trailer of your program and some DVD screening copies of the project on hand. And, though it sounds basic, make sure you have a phone with voicemail.
Begin by surveying the pool of companies that sell videos similar to your own. If you have created an educational video on the history of Paso Fino horses in America, then look for those firms that offer programming of that nature. Be sure to cover all channels of delivery, including DVD distribution companies, cable stations, catalogs and online outlets. Make a list of the best matches and contact the company, asking for the person in charge of acquisitions or the new-video buyer. Describe your project and ask if they’d like a screening copy of your program for review. You can do this via the Web, using e-mail communication and a link to your Web site. It is much more time-efficient for a buyer to screen a Web-based trailer and make a decision on whether he wants to pursue a purchase, rather than making and taking multiple phone calls. Send the full-length screening copy if requested, and follow up with the individual in two weeks. Be warned that even the smallest distribution companies and resellers are inundated with solicitations, so it often takes a while for your project to get viewed.
Fests and Reps and the Net
In addition to calling on buyers directly, video producers can utilize video and film festivals to showcase their work. Always a popular destination for acquisitions executives, video festivals offer an audience-based experience where potential buyers can view your movie. Currently, there are more than 1,000 festivals every year, so it is important to enter only those that make sense for attracting buyers.
Independent video representatives are another way to get your video in front of a buyer’s eyes. Reps can be brought in at any part of the process, but earlier is better, as they can help shape a video into a more marketable entity. Know on the front end that distribution reps usually work for a fee plus commission of sales. If you go this route, be sure to find a rep who is knowledgeable and familiar with selling videos like your own.
A number of Web sites function as “reps” for the independent video producer. Mandy.com is still a great way to freely communicate the availability of your production to buyers. Simply list your project’s details in the site’s Film Market section. Another free service to promote your work is InDplay.com. Buyers interested in licensing or acquiring the rights to your video project can gain immediate access to a customized InDplay page that provides your video’s synopsis, talent, list of available rights and a trailer.
Many video projects can benefit from a direct selling approach, in which the producer performs the distribution and sales functions. This is a very practical technique for productions of all kinds, yet it is extremely advantageous for niche-oriented videos with scattered audiences.
Selling DVDs directly from your own Web site is a great idea, and it is easy to set up with the numerous secure e-commerce packages available via Web-hosting companies. If your video becomes a popular seller, then you may want to consider using a third-party fulfillment or on-demand service to help with getting product to customers. CreateSpace (formerly CustomFlix) manufactures, packages and ships DVDs on demand, when customers order, so producers don’t have to worry about the cost of creating stock, and the video is always available. The company also offers support for Amazon Unbox Video Download, which enables customers to buy your video as a download to own or rent. As part of its service, CreateSpace can create an e-Store for sales, provide free UPCs (necessary for many online sales) and give independent producers the eligibility to list titles on IMDB.
IndieFlix, IndiePix, RocketIndie, TitleMatch, FilmBaby and others all offer similar low-cost, on-demand or low-inventory direct-to-customer sales channels via the Internet.
Producers can also sell their videos through the Amazon Advantage program. Giving access to tens of millions of customers, the Advantage program costs $30 to set up, and Amazon keeps 55% of the video’s sale price.
As downloading continues to gain popularity, EZTakes is one of a number of new services that allow customers the ability to “download-and-burn” a copy of your video to their own DVD. The system eliminates the “residency” issue that many consumers have with downloading a copy of a movie or video to a computer and not being able to watch it anywhere else.
One final note: when dealing with any Internet sales or distribution outlet, be sure the agreement you sign is non-exclusive. This means you as the producer have the ability to sell your video via as many outlets as you are able. There is no reason to have all your eggs in one basket, as no single Web-based portal can offer the ability to reach your entire potential audience. When going it alone, you want your video available in as many “storefronts” as possible!
Mark Steven Bosko is a freelance writer and an independent video and film producer.