The research on the current state of distribution I completed for a recent marketing assignment. Brief and basic, but some of you may find it helpful.
Film distribution is a complex industry encompassing many different intermediaries and processes in order to make a film accessible to an audience in the numerous mediums now available.
Historically film distribution followed a simple step-by-step path shown in the below tables (Bosko, 2003).
These steps are referred to as the distribution windows, with each window observing a certain period before moving on to the next (Bosko, 2003).
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s before the invention of digital film cameras there was very little competition in the independent film market and filmmakers would likely be guaranteed a large distribution advance from the distribution companies allowing them to recoup their budgets and likely profit from the initial purchase. Once digital filmmaking became a possibility the market became flooded with films. Around the same time the popularity of DVD increased and distribution companies were still snapping up independent films to keep up with the demand of video outlets like Blockbuster. Distribution advances, although not as lucrative as before, still made traditional distribution a possibility (Parkes, 2012) throughout the 90’s.
Today however, traditional distribution companies are spoilt for choice when it comes to independent films. Without awards from major film festivals or A list stars filmmakers are unlikely to see a distribution advance for their picture (Parkes, 2012). This reality places the power for traditional distribution firmly in the distributors hands and has left filmmakers looking for alternative models of distribution. A low-budget independent film would have difficulty finding lucrative traditional distribution in the current marketplace.
Technological advancements have also seen changes to the order of the distribution windows timeframes by both traditional distributors and independents (Abrams, 2012). The prime example of this is releasing a film on a VOD (video on demand) platform before a theatrical release.
The first Internet platforms to become popular were I-tunes (a sales store) and Netflix (a DVD & digital download rental service). Unfortunately the popularity of these has become such that filmmakers can no longer approach them without an aggregator. New Zealand film industry leader John Barnett has even spoken about the difficulty in making New Zealand content accessible on I-tunes (Keall, 2012)2012) as they will not deal directly with Producers or production companies. Netflix, once known for stocking independent films, has also become picky about the films that it takes and is not renewing independent films deals (Kaufman, 2011). There is currently no information about New Zealand providers Fatso (DVD rental) and Quickflix (Internet movie streaming) and their dealings with Independent film producers.
Through the use of the Internet, self-distribution has now become a lucrative alternative for independent filmmakers (Parkes, 2012). Cutting out the numerous middlemen obviously enables the filmmakers to keep a larger cut of the profits and there are now numerous companies available to assist filmmakers with this. These companies include websites like Amazon.com with its self-distribution arm Createaspace, website Hulu and many others offer simple fulfillment services.
For more ambitious filmmakers there are now service companies available which act like a traditional distributor for hire. These companies can assist filmmakers with a self-funded theatrical release as well as a DVD launch and successive sales.
Films are also sold by territory. In order to sell internationally a filmmaker would usually engage an international sales agent. The sales agent’s job is to find international traditional distributors for various territories (Bosko, 2003). The Internet has made the complexities of selling to territories more difficult as the Internet allows consumers to buy from anywhere in the world but there are still countries for which selling rights to a distributor can be profitable.
Television broadcast deals is another distribution option available to filmmakers. This is made up of both Free to Air and Pay TV options. In the US it is becoming increasingly difficult for independent films to receive a broadcast deal as channels have output deals with major studios. Move towards creating their own content or acquire films from the major festivals (Parkes, 2012). In New Zealand broadcast deals are possible but generally provide small returns (NZFC, 2010).
With the film distribution landscape changing rapidly there is no longer a distinct distribution channel or pathway that will guarantee success. The recommendation for a film low-budget independents is hybrid distribution, preparing self-distribution strategies whilst still pursuing traditional distribution for some mediums (Parkes, 2012).
Taking a different route towards distribution completely film like Australian ‘The Tunnel’ have launched the film for free over the Internet as part of their initial launch strategy (Watters, 2011). This film aims to recoup the budget of the movie by selling individual frames of the film for $1. Whether this will prove to be profitable for the filmmakers is still unknown but in terms of gaining an audience their film was downloaded 75,000 times in the first five days of release (Buckmaster, 2011).
Abrams, R. (2012, March 16). Distribs focus on niche opportunities. Retrieved August 03, 2012 from Variety: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118051531
Bosko, S. M. (2003). The Complete Independent Movie Marketing Handbook. Saline, Michigan, United States of America: Michael Wiese Productions.
Buckmaster, L. (2011, May 24). The Tunnel movie review: a blast of eerie innovation. Retrieved September 22, 2012 from Crikey : http://blogs.crikey.com.au/cinetology/2011/05/24/the-tunnel-movie-review-a-blast-of-eerie-innovation/
Kaufman, A. (2011, September 27). The Decline of Indies on Netflix: Were They Amputated With the Long Tail. Retrieved August 03, 2012 from Indiewire: http://www.indiewire.com/article/the_death_of_indies_on_netflix_greatly_exaggerated_or_just_another_mistake
Keall, C. (2012, March 03). Why so few Kiwi films on iTunes? SPP boss explains. Retrieved August 03, 2012 from The National Business Review: http://m.nbr.co.nz/opinion/why-so-few-kiwi-films-itunes-spp-boss-explains
NZFC. (2010). Marketing Your Documentary Film. New Zealand Film Commision.
Parkes, S. (2012). The Insdiers Guide to Independent Film Distribution. 2nd Edition. United States of America: Focal Press.
Watters, A. (2011, May 18). Indie Filmmakers Opt to Distribute Their New Film “The Tunnel” for Free via BitTorrent. Retrieved September 22, 2012 from Read Write Web: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/indie_filmmakers_opt_to_distribute_their_new_film.php