Like everyone else trying to forecast the economic landscape of independent film, over here at the MovieMaker offices, we think a lot about innovations in the VOD marketplace.
The future of distribution and investment recoupment is probably rooted in digital sales. Netflix is the next generation television network. iTunes is the new Landmark Cinemas. But those companies—Netflic and Apple—are both publicly-traded monoliths, enriching investors not necessarily at the expense of independent moviemakers, but certainly not at their gain, either.
iTunes earns the majority of its film sales revenue from studio films post theatrical run, and Netflix is pivoting toward original content production. Iron Man 3 is going to net more this fall for Apple than the entirety of the offerings on the iTunes’ Sundance Institute page, and “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” will attract more subscribers than Netflix’s slate of Joe Swanberg films.
So where does that leave independent moviemakers trying to exploit VOD technology to monetize their films? Enter Yekra.
This April, the Los Angeles-based VOD startup generated over $250,000 of rental revenue within 48 hours of releasing the documentary, Sirius. You read that correctly. A documentary, with no theatrical distribution and no P&A campaign, earned $250,000 in 48 hours on the Internet.
Full disclosure, MovieMaker is partnering with Yekra later this year to create a VOD portal on MovieMaker.com. But we chose Yekra for the job because their revenue-sharing technology outpaces all of their competitors. Let me explain.
The out-of-the-gate success of the Sirius release (an opening weekend record for an Internet-only VOD title—though a similar title in Yekra’s library, Thrive, eventually grossed $5 million online) has two contributing factors. One is the subject matter of the film, and the other is Yekra’s AffiliateConnect program (they’re closely related).
Sirius, as its website states, concerns the following:
The Earth has been visited by advanced Inter-Stellar Civilizations that can travel through other dimensions faster than the speed of light. What we have learned from them about energy propulsion can bring us to a new era, but those in power have suppressed this information in order to keep us at their mercy. It is time for you to know… and this documentary will let you in.
Even if Sirius sounds to you like irresponsible, conspiratorial madness, hold your horses. It may be easier to inspire the free energy crowd to watch your movie about alien technology than it is to rally the art film crowd to rent your black and white homage to Persona, but there are lessons to be learned—even if the target audience for your film doesn’t believe the government is hiding evidence of extraterrestrial contact.
Sirius utilized pre-existing, free energy website and blogs to promote their film, not with banner advertising or sponsored editorial, but by employing Yekra’s AffiliateConnect revenue-sharing platform.
AffiliateConnect allows the content owners (Sirius’ producers, in this case) to share a portion of the proceeds from each rental of the documentary with every website (or individual) promoting the film. This empowerment of potential evangelizers is, in essence, the distribution equivalent of crowdfunding: Incentivize your audience to sell your film, and suddenly you have thousands of salespeople helping you earn revenue. Sirius’ sales figures—$250,000 of rental revenue in two days—stems from the network they were able to build. Within the first week of the documentary’s release, more than 3,500 sites were promoting Sirius as official affiliates.
The lessons from Yekra’s release of Sirius do not translate perfectly across all subjects and genres. Sirius contains footage purporting to show a real alien corpse (throw that tidbit ina press release and even NPR might send a reporter to investigate). But the basic tenets of Yekra’s VOD business model do apply to independent moviemakers across the spectrum. The future of digital distribution is in audience empowerment. If you can identify your salespeople, and entice them to promote your film, the profitability potential is boundless. “Crowdselling,” to coin a phrase, is the future of revenue. And Yekra, for the time being, is at the vanguard of that trend.