Video On Demand: Streaming for Profit

The biggest question for many filmmakers working outside of the studio system (and more recently, even for those working within it) has been how to distribute their film and have it make money. Traditionally, getting your film full box office distribution has been a challenge if you are an indie. More recently, Video On Demand (VOD) has been offering a way to close the gap.

What Video on Demand allows the filmmaker to do is “rent” streams of their video to the viewer. This is occasionally done on their own site, but more often on a site like Jaman, IndieFlix, or others like them. The VOD concept includes the DVR and PVR systems available through most television (cable or satellite) providers now, as well as TiVo, AppleTV, Boxee, Pay-Per-View and other delivery methods already found in many homes. This keeps more of the profit in the filmmaker’s pocket, instead of hemorrhaging money back to a bloated system. With more and more people getting their movie fix online, this is a fast and cost effective way to get your film seen.

Keep in mind, however, that VOD doesn’t allow the viewer to own the movie outright for future viewing. It acts as a streamed rental system. This is fine if your audience is made up of people who don’t feel a need to own the creative content they buy, who prefer streaming. These people may also prefer to listen to music through sites like Pandora, Last.FM and Grooveshark also, and gravitate toward downloadable ebooks instead of audio books and print. That’s only half of the equation, however; and other distribution and sales methods may work better than VOD for the people who like to own their content files outright. It’s best to have a multi level strategy.

When an independent filmmaker decides to include VOD as part of their over all strategy, it helps to research the percentages carefully. Not all VOD sites and systems are created equally. With so many to choose from, it pays to find out precisely what the cut to the company will be to avoid being gouged. The whole point of VOD as an option is to free yourself from the mercy of the studio and make money, not to simply enslave yourself to a new master: high fees.

Don’t let the vast array of options and the need to do your homework before choosing the right VOD vehicle (or vehicles) for your film scare you off! Already there are festivals and outlets popping up to help you navigate the challenge, like the From Here To Awesome Festival. These are designed to take your film, help you get it seen, and help you make money doing it, on a large scale. The From Here to Awesome Festival was created by the people who made the film Four Eyed Monsters, which achieved both limited theatrical release and managed to turn a bit of profit, as well as winning the Undiscovered Gems 2006 Showcase and receiving monies to be used in development of a television show, all using a DIY distribution system, thus proving that the right combination of VOD and other methods can take an indie film far.

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