Online Video Distribution for Indie Filmmakers

In the past, most indie filmmakers needed to promote their work through festivals to gain enough support for distribution. Few studios pick up films, and so many others wonder aimlessly around the States, or even the world, hoping for a chance to be recognized… Behold! There is a light rising, and its warm rays may spell out your opportunity.

Enter, online distribution. In short, your film can become a pick for the same multitudes who seek out the latest blockbusters, even though it didn’t get to the Big Screen. Rarely has this happened in the not-to-distant past, but now, it’s actually becoming normal. Online technology, distribution methods, HD television sets, and powerful home sound systems are often the norm in America, now. The convergence of web and television (Google TV) is now coming to fruition so that the bulk of online footage, television shows, and even home videos can be searched out and viewed from an ever increasing number of providers. Producers should now start considering online options just as much as the festival circuit, if not more. Why? It gives you the ability to get your work into the hands of those that you really want to see it – home viewers. It also opens the door sooner to provide a revenue stream to recoup your production costs.

How do you, an indie filmmaker, get your work to the masses? It looks like Amazon is a good place to start. They have both DVD/Blu-ray distribution and online distribution. Through an agreement with them, Amazon will literally handle the duplication and shipment of disk-based formats for you. Online distribution is totally free, and a royalty is earned from each download. See information on it here. Beyond Amazon, there’s also Netflix; they have an Independent Film Channel that can be readily viewed. Caution, though, as the income stream from Netflix is pretty low. A friend of mine who was looking into distribution through Netflix said that his portion from each streamed video was between 40-60 cents. You’ll need a bunch of viewers to get much out of that one. In time, others of this type will be added to the ranks. One could also look into, which serves as an online portal for the episodic content of independent creators. Partnering with other distribution companies on the World Wide Web like YouTube, NBC, Apple, TiVo and AO, advertising income is paid out based upon the number of views each of your films gets (currently a 50/50 split between you and

Now, have you considered AirBorn TV? AirBorn is another very new method. In fact, AirBorn is not slated for launch until late into 2011. Jennifer Valenti let the cat out of the bag back in October when she spoke on a panel at the Jacksonville Film Festival. I’ve been really looking forward to what AirBorn has to offer. It appears that AirBorn TV will be allowing producers to pitch programming for their website, and based upon the resulting online viewership of particular programming, AirBorn TV will promote individual shows to the big TV networks. I would guess that there would be some funding for accepted projects through online advertising, but that is speculation on my part. The benefit to ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and the others is that the content is already produced and the chances of flops are reduced, due to accurate statistics captured on AirBorn TV’s site (from user contact and demographics information). Keep your eyes on AirBorn TV, because they may have found a niche in getting your work onto broadcast television.

Problems to consider:

  1. The need to create an online advertising strategy and drive people to your work. Advertising on social networks, email blasts… All of these will become essential to get people to your content. Also, utilize personal relationships and promote your film where you live, where it was shot, and even look for ways to get it into the hands of special interest groups that fall under your film’s focus, theme, genre, methods, etc.
  2. Greater competition for viewership. Obviously, with the masses of people putting their stuff online, there is a huge amount of garbage to sort through. Likewise, you’ll be competing with the other good creators out there who are worth watching. This is not a call to drop your quality but to elevate it so it stands out.
  3. Minimal return from some vendors. With several vendors the return can be almost a joke (my opinion), so you’ll need to seek out those places where you feel you will get the greatest return. However, don’t leave them out of your consideration! Your film found on a low return content provider that is built on a very large number of users could be the catalyst to your getting recognized and sought out.

This was a very quick survey of distribution methods. Your input is very welcomed, and I am sure that there will be multitudes of changes as time progresses.


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Video Producer, Director, Writer, Editor.