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Summary:

Anyone can make a movie, but not everyone will receive distribution. Advances in technology 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?

Amateur Director

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.

Netflix

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

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

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.

Image courtesy of Flickr user pthread1981.

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  1. There’s an error in the url to triggerstreet. It goes to trigerstreet.com (one G), which is a parked advertising page.

  2. Brandon Freeman Friday, September 23, 2011

    Great insights. My takeaway as a wannabe filmmaker is that I can’t expect these new avenues of distribution to be a genie in a bottle. I’ve still got to work my rear off, get the right people on board, and capture magic through the lens. Some things never change… Hope I can be saying that from the other side of the fence some day!

  3. Having recently been associated with the launch of a new 2.0 distribution company I know first hand it is not for the faint of heart. But as he article’s authors Brunetti and and Rajaraman point out, at the end of the business day it’s all about “quality, story or entertainment value”. Sounds simple enough, right? WRONG. A $100M project that took years to bring to the screen (or you local iPad) can sink in the market place because it should have been released a year before… or maybe even a year later. Yes. Audiences and popular culture move that fast. The trick in 2.0 distribution is like that old saying: don’t bring a knife to a gun fight… unless, of course, it’s a lightsaber.

  4. Jonathan de la Luz Friday, September 23, 2011

    Brunetti and Rajaraman make a great point. At the end of the business day it’s about “…quality, story or entertainment value.” As someone who has recently taken part in the launch of a new 2.0 distribution company I can tell you first hand that it is not for the faint of heart no matter how good the content is. And no matter how good your distribution business plan is also, you can never foresee the “Black Swan-event”. No, not that one, the OTHER one: a totally un-calculated circumstance one one sees coming. The obvious is a meteor the size of Texas is about to the Earth the day your movie comes out in theaters. But on a more subtle level, a movie in which tens of millions of dollars was spent that should have come out a year before… or a year later. Yeah! Audiences and pop culture change that fast. IT’S ALL ABOUT TIMING. The new distribution platforms out there have their work cut out for them – brand names included. To continue the Wild West metaphor, It’s like that saying: don’t bring a knife to a gun fight… unless, of course it’s a lightsaber.

  5. Very little supporting data to back up the authors’ claims. Comes off as those already in the business saying, “We still matter! Yes, we do! You cannot say we don’t!”

    The article completely ignores the biggest player in online video and that’s YouTube. You would be a moron to NOT start your webseries on YouTube because it can give you something that Hulu, Netflix, and FunnyOrDie cannot: reach. Only after you’re an “Internet sensation” on YouTube would it make sense to even consider moving your webseries to another distribution route.

    And YouTube isn’t sitting still. It is already starting to partner up with its best shows and giving them funding. The breakout moment for YouTube will be when Google finally starts advertising YouTube webseries on cable TV and the Great Migration (“cord cutters”) will likely to finally start to happen then.

    It is all about the money. If you can turn a decent profit, you’re good to go. That’s the challenge. If YouTube can start making that happen for the webseries that appears on it, it will be “the” distribution route for online TV. If not and another can, they will be.

  6. Hi guys I wanted to point out that Hulu is doing some other original content (perhaps not exclusive) that would not be considered name brand in your analysis. It’s gotten less press but I think they’re good shows. One is “7 Minutes in Heaven with Mike O’Brien” (http://www.hulu.com/7-minutes-in-heaven-with-mike-obrien) and the other is “Leap Year” (http://www.hulu.com/leap-year).

  7. As this is a conversation that tackles distribution and having a name brand, you may also be interested in reading about independent filmmakers who have been using online tools to reach audiences, build name recognition AND make money on their films. I have co authored a book of case studies called “Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul” which gives facts AND figures for today’s indies including docs, narratives and webseries. This isn’t the typical distribution book, it dispels myths about the current landscape of indie film, tells about real life experience with sales agents, platforms, theatrical releases and the ever hard to pin down VOD release revenue. Until Oct 1, the digital copies are free to download. There is a printed edition as well. And in the spirit of the ideals of the book, it is completely self published and paid for by sponsorship.

    find your copy at http://www.sellingyourfilm.com/store

    1. Way to go, Sheri.

      I think it is only a matter of time before someone comes out with a webseries that focuses on webseries. A sort of “Entertainment Tonight” webseries. A regular weekly show. Then again, if someone knows of that such a creature already exists, do give a link to it.

  8. Thanks for the article, Dana & Sunil. I hope this is the first of several on this topic.

  9. Sunscreen Film Fest Thursday, December 8, 2011

    You can make a movie, but how to get it seen? Not easy, but not impossible. http://t.co/1xewE2y7

  10. RT @sunscreenff: You can make a movie, but how to get it seen? Not easy, but not impossible. http://t.co/DQhh0Elc

  11. Shern Tulsi-Hall Thursday, December 8, 2011

    RT@SunscreenFF Changing trends in content creation:low cost #production does not equal distribution http://t.co/JavyhXsn #film #distribution

  12. Sunscreen Film Fest Friday, December 9, 2011

    You can make a movie, but how to get it seen? Not easy, but not impossible. http://t.co/1xewE2y7

  13. Sunscreen Film Fest Sunday, December 11, 2011

    You can make a movie, but how to get it seen? Not easy, but not impossible. http://t.co/1xewE2y7

  14. Sunscreen Film Fest Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    You can make a movie, but how to get it seen? Not easy, but not impossible. http://t.co/1xewE2y7

  15. RT @SunscreenFF: You can make a movie, but how to get it seen? Not easy, but not impossible. http://t.co/1xewE2y7

  16. Harry Chittenden Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    RT @SunscreenFF: You can make a movie, but how to get it seen? Not easy, but not impossible. http://t.co/1xewE2y7

  17. Sunscreen Film Fest Thursday, December 15, 2011

    You can make a movie, but how to get it seen? Not easy, but not impossible. http://t.co/1xewE2y7

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