Distribution as a service

March 8, 2011
posted by sheric

About half a year ago, I wrote post for Ted Hope’s Hope for Film site on the role I see film distributors taking in the future; their new business model. I want to revisit that post again since I read this post on the O’Reilly site called Publishers: What are they good for? in which the same kind of discussion is going on, but for the publishing world.

In my post, I suggested that distributors should concentrate more on building an audience for themselves, building a brand around the type of content they distribute and that content should be clearly defined, not appeal to a wide audience. The O’Reilly piece reminded me of another role they could fulfill when dealing with creators; that of a service instead of rights holder. In order to evolve and survive, I think film distributors should be offering their expertise in audience research and outreach, marketing, advertising, sales, booking, online distribution etc as a paid for service. All of the things that creators need, but are not expertly versed in. The rights would stay with the creator.

Some may say they do this now and some companies do, but the vast majority are still buying rights and imposing a distribution process on creators that is simply not needed. Access to distribution is wide open, easy to obtain. It is attention that isn’t easy to obtain.  While there are some hold outs like iTunes who will only deal with aggregators (which is largely a service agreement for the creator), those will only remain for a little longer as more and more portals will open and more and more viewing devices catch on with consumers or as creators will distribute direct to audience themselves with new tools.

Also mentioned in the O’Reilly post is the role of cheerleader.  This cannot be underestimated either. In my business model post, I offered that distributors become the outlet for specific types of content created by filmmakers whose style or penchant for a certain subject would be a source of material to populate the distributor’s offerings. The distributor would then have an interest in encouraging that filmmaker in their creation efforts, pushing them to make their best work, helping to craft it by being a sounding board, much like an editor is in the publishing world. A feeling of mutual trust and dependency would form long lasting partnerships that could be financially beneficial to both. As it stands now, there is no loyalty, no trust in the industry from either side.

The savvy distributor would build a profitable ecosystem that includes benefits for all involved; the creator, the distributor and the audience.

TFC books film festivals for filmmakers when that work is too time consuming for the filmmakers themselves to handle.  Bookings can be done by yourself and you can charge fees for an in demand film. However, there is something to be said for the ability of a distributor to command more in fees and know of more fests to get the film placed more broadly.

Know your film and yourself to determine how your festival run is best handled. Especially with niche films, make sure you are working with someone who has the knowledge of all the appropriate fests and can command decent fees, or make sure that person is you. More to consider if working with an outside company: make sure they are not too glutted with so many films that cannibalize each other both attention wise and content wise and ask what they do to work the film at the festival level.