Anyone can make a movie, but not everyone will receive distribution. Much is made these days of advances in technology that enable individual content creators to make high-quality films at an extremely low cost, but who will watch the content if it is not siphoned through the right distribution channels? Unfortunately for content creators, name brand still matters and online distribution channels will soon begin to mimic Hollywood. For the purposes of this post, we will focus solely on online distribution platforms to demonstrate that name brand matters.
Recently, Dana announced an original series with Kevin Spacey and David Fincher that will be distributed direct to Netflix. Dana, Kevin and David are thrilled about the project, and feel privileged to take part in innovations like this (in this case, foregoing some of the more “traditional” distribution channels).
That said, one of the questions Dana is often asked by aspiring producers is “How do I get Netflix to hear my pitch?” The answer: There is no formula. Netflix was simply one of the companies that the team met with, and the offer was the one that most met the project’s needs and interests. Dana, Kevin and David’s reputations mattered to Netflix, and the team was fortunate to receive the opportunity. Indie producers can get their work distributed through Netflix, but are not as likely to receive financing, the same distribution deal, or the level of promotion that “House of Cards” will receive.
Hulu recently launched a slew of original series, again deciding to go with “name brands” to receive production budgets/favorable distribution (Morgan Spurlock, Richard Branson). Like Netflix, Hulu has the ability to reach an enormous audience due to its access to TVs and set-top boxes. In Hulu’s case, its stakeholders essentially are the studios, and its major content partners are the cream of the crop. Name brand content = more eyeballs = more ad revenue.
Funnyordie is perhaps the best case-in-point example of why name brand matters (even with short form content). Funnyordie has amassed a wide set of content partners, including ESPN, thanks completely in part to its association with name brand talent. Funny Or Die is also one of the few examples of “reverse” distribution – starting off as a digital distribution platform, and having its content picked up by traditional distribution (HBO). Another example of this phenomenon is “Goodnight Burbank”, featuring Lord of the Rings actor Dominic Monaghan (recently acquired by HDNet).
There is Plenty of Opportunity for Up and Comers, but does Content Quality Really Matter?
Up and comers make it on a daily basis thanks to burgeoning social media platforms, whether they have a strong editorial voice, or are just plain lucky. You don’t need to look any further than Rebecca Black, or “The Star Wars Kid” to realize that name brand/content quality sometimes means absolutely nothing. Still, even in those examples, there is a special something that entertains and gathers an audience.
Though it may seem like the Wild West out there in digital original content distribution, name brand still matters, but — just as importantly — so does quality, story or entertainment value. We have already seen, and will continue to see, the emergence of large digital studios which will enable content creation from A-list type clients. “Winners” in digital distribution channels will begin to emerge, and we will soon see Hollywood 2.0 come to fruition.
Dana Brunetti is a producer who was recently nominated for the Academy Award for “The Social Network.” Dana co-founded Trigger Street Productions with Kevin Spacey, and founded the online filmmaker and writer community TriggerStreet labs.
Sunil Rajaraman is the co-founder and CEO of Scripped.com, a community site for nearly 100,000 screenwriters. Scripped recently launched a subsidiary, Scripted.com, to enable brands to purchase content directly from its writers.