The Top Ten Video-On-Demand VOD websites for independent film distribution
The advent of video-on-demand (VOD) has been both a curse and blessing for many. A curse for some, as DVD sales continue to decline, but a blessing for those seeking alternative forms of entertainment. No matter what you call it, be it self-distribution, direct distribution or alternative distribution, these websites offer services for filmmakers to publish and monetize their work. At present VOD is the most viable way for filmmakers to get attention for their work and establish a market for themselves. Some argue it is an entirely new industry in its own right, thus making it challenging for anyone wishing to be a player in this market. Here are the Top Ten services, a breakdown of their offers and annotated reviews.
In order to determine the top websites, a combination of tools was used. The goal was to establish the main players, not by means of outdated methods, such as hits, Alexa rankings, IMDB or Wikipedia pages, but by using unbiased publicly verifiable source tools such as the long tail index and sales audit. Note that this was done since Alexa and IMDB are owned by Amazon.com, thus biased as corporate entities, and Wikipedia being both unreliable and biased. Using the long tail index (1), and certified Deloitte audit (2), the combined revenue of all scrutinized companies, divided by each individual profit margin, establishes the key median value as its arithmetic mean. Thus all Top Ten VOD websites fulfill aforementioned criteria, and all have minimum total annual sales of over $5m in total revenue, $2m+ in net profit, with a profit to sales ratio of 40% or more.
The Top 10
Here’s a list of some of the major players, with links and sources (in no alphabetical order):
Vimeo on Demand
45% profit rake
Constantly changing technology
Limited User Support
Review: Youtube is by far the largest player of the pack. The user interface is constantly changing, thus making it ever harder to keep on track with all developments. The analytics section is good, but where is the point of all of this, if you are only making pennies in royalties. Content creators have virtually no control over users and advertisements running over their content, which does not help a content creator. The question remains: can people make money on YouTube? Unlikely. Why? If mainstream music labels need to resort to click fraud on Youtube something is definitely wrong; Major record labels were stripped of more than two billion video views, the biggest hit taken by Universal, which alone lost more than one billion, ‘an enforcement of view count policy.’ (3) In other words, if your film is not viral, i.e. has 1M+ views, you are not going to make any real money. Apart from not being treated as an equal partner, Youtube does not really seem to care about its users, as it makes constant updates and changes, especially the recent Google+ integration. (4) That said, Youtube may be a good starting point for short film projects, but indie feature films may not meet revenue expectations.
Amazon’s direct-distribution platform as VOD or DVD
50% profit rake on VOD purchases or rentals
Amazon dictates pricing for purchase and rentals
Access to Amazon Prime‘s Instant Video
Review: Createspace is among the pioneers of VOD, apart from a wealth of issues to contend with, if you are an indie content producer. Go to Google, type in the following two words: createspace sucks. This should speak for itself. Nevertheless, its service is making money, hence the enormous profit rake, taking away half of all net profit. They have about 8,000 titles currently available, broken up into different genre. Owned by Amazon, the service is highly user-unfriendly, and it appears that no effort has been made to update the website design or functionality. The details of services available, are easy enough to understand, and don’t require much deliberation. (5) You give up half your profits, Amazon dictates your selling price and the rest is being patient.
Global distribution platform for independent content
Free registration w/limited features, plans starting at $39 annually
Filmmakers can keep up to 95% of the profits
Complimentary Social Media Marketing
Reach, Reliability, Track Record, Player mobility
Video-On-Demand & Traditional DVD
Home for Shorts, Docs & Features
2-3 week licensing application process
No set-up fees; Non-exclusive
Review: Filmbay offers a lot of really good information on their website, not only about distribution but filmmaking in general. However, their platform is very complicated. It requires a lot of reading on their website to navigate their pricing system and features. With a focus on building relationships with your audience and their complimentary Social Media Marketing services as asset for publicity, they offer a lot, and realize the need to be proactive in supporting independent content creators. Additional professional services include script optioning, open crowdfunding and community features, such as showcases and showreels. (6) With a huge library of available feature titles (12,500+) they offer a wide selection of indie feature films from around the globe. The licensing application process takes a few weeks, but the service team is open and friendly. They are also now expanding their services to include shorts, and experimental short films for domestic and international distribution.
Vimeo on Demand:
$200 per year for a Pro account
10% transaction fee
Choose your pricing starting at $0.99
Built-in community of filmmakers
Curated by Vimeo Staff Picks
Rentals / Pre-orders / Xbox Live app
Review: Founded in 2004 Vimeo which bills itself, as “home for high-quality videos and the people who love them,” is among the older and greater players in terms of overall revenue. As with createspace, though, there seem to be issues, so again, go to Google, type in the following two words: Vimeo sucks. In my view, any company that appears to be oblivious to such responses, may or may not be a first choice for independent producers. However, be that as it may, Vimeo recently announced integration with iOS 7 and new iOS App: certainly a plus. (7) Their current library is vast with 201K+ videos, which include 8mm, 16mm, Indies, Short Film, and Student Films. Their pricing scheme is pretty steep though, and it may not be profitable for indie content newcomers. They do not offer any aggregated services though, and as it stands may not be the first choice for full-length titles.
Peer-to-peer distribution using existing BitTorrent protocol
Marketing endeavors to over 170 million existing BitTorrent users
No profit rake, monthly fees or startup fees
High download speeds, using big pipes
Bundles for publisher platform
Review: BitTorrent? Yes, BitTorrent. BitTorrent, at first glance, may not seem to be a likely contender in the distribution game. However, with a high long tail median index, it is making money. Technically, there is a lot going for BitTorrent, as it is very fast in terms of downloading. Speeds improve as more users join the network. If you pay for a file, you’ll get it at a reasonable speed. BitTorrent downloads can be delivered to you using any BitTorrent client app. However, there are a bunch of additional issues that must be addressed. The current device support is limited, and the store is poorly organized. It is hard to browse series of TV shows. All the episodes from a particular network show up in a giant list. No easy way to buy a season or a series in one transaction. BitTorrent clients keep running once your download is done. You’re paying for the company to distribute its files, yet the price of BitTorrent content is the same as it is from other centralized distribution networks. The real downside is that with less than 1% of files on BitTorrent confirmed to be legal, the stigma of piracy is greater than ever. (8) The recent artist survey conducted by BitTorrent is admirable, outlining conversion gates to receive value for content (free, pay what you want, pre-roll ads, revenue shared with publisher). Yet, there is a perceived lack of trust when it comes to BitTorrent, as a result of torrents in general. Once a torrent is created, there is no way to control it anymore, as torrents are spidered off and spread around the net within a few seconds. Your torrent may even be removed by a clearing house (9), which deems it in violation of DMCA, and there is not much that can be done. If you have already made a film, it may already be available as torrent (unknown to you), so as indie producer, you face the same challenges a major studio has. If a worldwide ban of torrents ever takes effect, with search engines and ISPs being forced to block access to and remove torrents, like in the U.K., this may be a situation you may not want to deal with. (10) The technology is outstanding, the concept amazing, and it as indie filmmaker it depends what your goal is. If you want to get popular, and don’t care about making money, BitTorrent Bundles probably is a good choice.
Marketing and Distribution tools
30% profit rake
Monthly fees from $20-$500
No upfront cost
Keep all rights
Review: First off, Distrify is among the more expensive options for independent producers, with a profit cut of 30% it may not be a first choice for everyone. However, any service that also legally offers Alfred Hitchcock and Peter Greenaway Films, making up to 300 titles available to rent or buy certainly has clout. (11) Distrify also aims to ensure that the majority of the revenue earned back by films is passed back to the filmmaker and gives filmmakers a somewhat viable way to get international distribution for their films. The service is easy to use and there is no upfront cost. What remains questionable though, is why there are no true view ads or comparable add-ons. That way an additional revenue stream could be made available, since you only pay when a viewer chooses to watch your ad, similar to pay-per-click advertising, so you are only paying when a prospect has seen an ad. This is not very innovative to say the least, and, as such a lost and wasted source of revenue to compensate the high profit cut intake and very high monthly fees Distrify collects.
Submission fees $40 for features, $25 for shorts
Built-in community of filmmakers
Review: NoBudge offers works by independent filmmakers and showcases them in unusual and original ways. The films represent a good mix of artistic work and the user is given a good selection of choices. With only a few hundred films, it is a smaller player, yet the films stand out in terms of quality. In fact, there is a good case study available to see how traditional and online cinema can merge into one, as seen in “Marvin Seth and Stanley, ” for example. (12) The website is well-designed and easy to use, making it fun to browse along the various offers. Since it is non-exclusive, the one-time fees seem reasonable, and this may be a good first choice for indie filmmakers to submit to.
30% profit rake
Ability to share revenue
Authors maintain ownership
No startup fees, no monthly fees
Review: Pivotshare claims to be “the first company to design and engineer a platform to monetize media,” and the “premiere video monetization platform.” (13) True or not – createspace, formerly CustomFlix was established in 2002 (14) – the site has multiple revenue options that are fully customizable. Publishers control the pricing and only pay when they sell anything. They can sell their content (instructional, by pay-per-view, purchase, download, monthly subscription, tip jar or any combination of those, directly to their fans. Pivotshare takes a 30/70 split of revenue. The website is fairly complex and it takes a while to find your way, but once you get to the full features overview page all functions and modules are well-explained. (15) As tool for the distribution and monetization of video content, the Pivotshare player can be embedded just anywhere, and it can be resized to fit just any environment. If a publisher needs a bit more support, Pivotshare’s Tip Jar allows for donations or good old-fashioned tips across any and all videos, a very useful gadget. Overall, Pivotshare fares well as tool, and since there are neither startup fees nor monthly fees, it may be a worthwhile service to explore.
65% profit rake
creator gets profit share of all revenue streams from the film
Authors keep ownership
How it works: 1. Pitch, 2. Media, 3. Script, 4. Option, 5. Greenlight
No startup fees, no monthly fees
Review: Juntobox, aka. Juntoboxfilms is one of those websites where past and present merge. It is run by nobody lesser than award-winning actor and producer, Forest Whitaker. In the past, unlike others, he has provided opportunities for emerging filmmakers by mentoring and producing their films. The website reflects this: It is setup easily and logically offering to start a project, join a team or browse projects. The five step process of getting your film made seems a bit challenging though, and it is not fully clear how many successful projects are currently available. However, on the FAQ page (16) most questions are answered, and it is worth noting that the creator gets profit share of all revenue streams from the film. Funding and producing films are rated by their online community.
15-35% profit rake (depending on views)
Author keeps ownership
easy to use interface
streaming fees deduction
lump-sum pay outs (as of $75 earned)
No startup fees, no monthly fees
Review: Vuier enables Video on Demand online, pay per view for everyone, upload, set a price and broadcast. Simple enough. The website is designed to be a fast and easy way to self publish pay per stream video content online. There is a series of free tutorials that will help run you through the basics. But, if need be, additional support is there, since they “love answering questions from Vuiers!” The revenues & fees are well explained (17) and a cool Profit Estimator app helps to figure out all potential returns. It should be mentioned that they deduct all streaming fees (which is listed as the minimum price allowed when you published your video) plus a 5% merchant transaction fee (it costs them slightly more, but we’re willing to eat the extra cost). Vuier is one of the easiest to use services available, you can get started and make money almost instantly. Overall, the service is fast and friendly, with a quick response time, and good turnover. Certainly, worthwhile checking out.
As seen, there are multiple VOD services available to the independent producer. Most services reviewed are user-friendly and transparent when it comes to fees and royalties. Some services, such as Vimeo have a prohibitively high set-up fee and you may or may not make your money back. The various brands offer a lot of choices, and since they are non-exclusive it may be useful to sign-up depending on your target audience. So if you are looking for a younger audience demographic (18-34) Vimeo may be your best bet. For, smaller projects, music videos and shorts, Vuier may be your best choice. If you are looking for global distribution and are targeting a worldwide audience requiring a specifically designed Social Media marketing campaign, Filmbay may be your best choice. If you don’t care about making money, and just want exposure, Youtube and BitTorrent Bundles might be your best option. Keep in mind though, that you (likely) have spent a lot of time, effort and money in getting your film made, and therefore should develop a distribution strategy based on what it is YOU want. Oftentimes, producers are just tired after many years of struggle and just want to get the product off their backs; they sign up with any distributor, often exclusive, get a few hundred dollars, and their film disappears forever on some back shelf. Other services exist, that do not meet minimum eligibility criteria (1) and thus may only bring in a few pennies. Also, other services are exclusive (read their small print) and that is the last thing you want as a filmmaker, unless they offer you a chunk of cash upfront. End of story. So whatever service you decide to use, make sure, it meets YOUR specific needs as indie content producer. With so much content available today, there is enough to go around for everyone.