Timing Is Everything for Independent Filmmakers, While Cable VOD Still Holds Sway
Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Digital distribution has to be done in a certain order if Cable VOD is part of your plan. If Cable VOD is not an option, your digital release pattern can be more flexible, allowing for experimentation with the different platform options and timing. But for now, for films with Cable VOD potential, holding off on digital plays until Cable VOD has run its course is certainly worth it, given that it still accounts for 70-odd percent of your digital distribution revenues (it used to be approximately 80%).
Very often, if a title has gone through digital distribution before Cable VOD, it will eliminate or at least dramatically hinder the possibility that Cable MSOs (Multi System Operators) or even an intermediate aggregator will take the film. Companies such as Gravitas are also programmers for some of the MSOs, so they have more flexibility, but they too discourage putting your film on YouTube rental channels before Cable VOD. After Cable VOD, Gravitas and other aggregators will usually follow with platforms such as Netflix SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand), which is the Watch Instantly service, and Amazon Prime (Amazon’s subscription service), to name two.
There is more flexibility with transactional EST (electronic sell through)/DTO (download to own)/DTR (download to rent) services, such as iTunes, but much less flexibility with YouTube (even a rental channel) or subscription- or ad-supported services such as Netflix (subscription) or Hulu (which is both). Films that have been available on Netflix usually can’t go to Cable VOD after. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, perhaps because of relationships or a film proving itself in the marketplace — but it’s always better to plan ahead.
In general, on the digital plays, people often go to transactional platforms first and ad-supported last, with Netflix being in the middle unless it has to be delayed because of a TV deal, for example. It’s not a hard and fast rule, though. Some distributors have experienced that one platform can drive another, but in my opinion it depends on the film and the habits of its audience. You should know that companies such as Showtime will pay more if you wait to do your Netflix SVOD after their window. Best way to go is to assess the value of each option and find out how changing the release pattern could affect revenues for your film.