VODO Embraces BitTorrent to Distribute Movies, Compensate Filmmakers


vodo_lrgUK-based P2P video platform VODO published its second feature film on dozens of file-sharing sites Thursday, hoping that worldwide exposure will bring in donations, subscriptions and traditional distribution deals. David Miller’s documentary In Guantanamo, which is the result of a press tour of the controversial detention facility, has been downloaded around 15,000 times within the first 24 hours, according toVODO founder Jamie King.

The site’s first feature, Us Now, got downloaded around 250,000 times since its release in mid-October. Part of the volume is due to VODO’s relationships with a number of well-known BitTorrrent sites, with Isohunt and The Pirate Bay currently featuring In Guantanamo on their front pages. VODO hasn’t been quite as successful in making money from these downloads, but King hopes that a combination of one-off donations and a subscription level for documentary geeks and movie buffs will help eventually make the site sustainable and provide an additional revenue stream for filmmakers.

VODO is short for voluntary donations, and King is no newcomer to the idea of giving content away in exchange for contributions from viewers. He is the maker of the pro-piracy documentaries Steal this Film and Steal this Film 2, both of which were released for free online. Viewers donated around $30,000 since the first part of Steal This Film got released three years ago.

The new site’s first documentary Us Now hasn’t been quite as successful yet. The film has brought in less than $1,000 in donations since its release in October, according to King. “If we can get it closer to $5,000 we’ll be doing well,” he told me, adding that he views donations as only one piece of the puzzle for filmmakers. King was able to sell his documentaries to several TV networks around the globe in part because the films were so successful online, and he hopes that others can follow in his footsteps.

VODO passes 100 percent of its donations directly onto filmmakers, but it also asks viewers to become paying members of the site. VODO supporters who pay around $5 a month get access to a pool of movies that are considered for distribution. “We’ve got (around) 15 films we’re considering right now,” explained King. Paying supporters can vote on which of these movies will get picked up for P2P distribution, and VODO also wants to organize online events with the filmmakers for these members. So far, around 50 people have signed up for this online film club. VODO hopes to grow this number to at least 1,500 in the near future.

King and his collaborators have received grants from the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation, the Arts Council England and the Emerald Fund to start VODO , with the total funding being just shy of $250,000. King isn’t sure whether VODO will sign up corporate sponsors in the future. Right now, the funding is enough to keep the site and its development going for a year, and filmmakers seem to be eager to sign up. King told me that he has another dozen movies in the queue, and is talking to a couple dozen more filmmakers who want to get their movies out to P2P sites. “We’re building the new world here,” he said.

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