Indie Film VOD Myths vs. Reality

By Roger Jackson, co-founder of KinoNation, for Truly Free Film

At Kinonation we talk to dozens of filmmakers every week, and often discuss myths about Video-on-Demand. Here's my top ten...

1. Myth: Every VOD outlet will accept my film.

Reality: Most outlets select or decline films at their discretion and rarely give reasons for a "NO" decision. In the USA, only Amazon and Google Play accept all films. (Amazon is limited to Amazon Instant Video. Amazon Prime will typically reject films that contain drug use, sex, nudity, violence, etc.)

2. Myth: Theatrical creative will work for VOD

Reality: Your film will be more successful if you create for VOD from the beginning. A 4-foot high poster that looks fantastic at this size will often NOT work for VOD. We constantly see posters that at VOD thumbnail size have difficult to read titles, and wholly unreadable loglines, press quotes, etc. Not to mention the credits block at the bottom which is entirely a waste of space. With VOD you have perhaps a few seconds to convince the browsing audience to "pick me." That means a highly provocative title, a readable logline that makes it instantly clear what the film is about, and simple but engaging artwork that reinforces title and logline. Important: direct your designer to make it ALL readable at half the size of a pack of smokes!

3. Myth: iTunes is the most important VOD platform

Reality: iTunes is still huge for big studio films, and of course it's a prestigious platform for indies also. But many filmmakers are disappointed by their iTunes numbers, particularly if it's a film that iTunes have accepted, but not promoted or given high-level online real estate.

4. Myth: IMDb isn't important

Reality: The IMDb page for a film will be the first stop on any outlet's Select or Decline decision process. First impressions count for a lot. You absolutely must have an IMDB poster image, and the page needs to be complete, including logline, description, etc. Most important, mobilize your posse of friends, family, cast & crew to write positive reviews. And help them with review ideas – IMDb mandates long-ish reviews (10 lines minimum) which is a fairly high bar. At the very least get them to rate the film highly. It's harder for us to successfully pitch a movie that is rated less than 5/10.

5. Myth: Filmmakers should do their own delivery to Amazon

Reality: You can, but at the risk of sounding self-serving, it's a bad idea. Using an aggregator (Kinonation or whoever) ensures your film is eligible for Amazon's global outlets (UK, Germany, Japan, etc.) It's also much faster — from deliver to live for us with Amazon is 2 weeks or less. Plus, we often deal with films that are already on Amazon via CreateSpace, but are simply not getting any action — often because the filmmaker simply didn't understand the importance of creating custom creative, per #2 above.

6. Myth: VOD "views" equates to how many watched the full film

Reality: Well, not really. The devil is in the details, and here the detail is a statistic called "Average View-Thru." Expressed as a percentage, this shows how far thru the film the audience got on average. ("mean average" that is.) What that means is that some people bail in the first 5 mins – and some watch to the end. We find 45-55% average view-thru is common, but movies with a "grab 'em fast and hold 'em hard" open tend to keep much more of the audience to the end. Take-away is the obvious one: grab your audience fast, with a cold-open and straight into the action.

7. Myth: Once my film is live on a VOD outlet, the audience will find it.

Reality: The film will get a certain amount of "organic" traffic. But for it to make any serious money, someone needs to pour marketing gasoline over it – and then ignite!

8. Myth: Social media is all I need for marketing.

Reality: Social media can be very helpful if you know what you're doing and work very hard at it. But don't expect the "affinity group" for your film to just find you. You must (first) identify them, then (second) find out where they hang out, and (third) find ways to reach them.

9. Myth: Negative reviews & comments are highly damaging.

Reality: You cannot avoid bad reviews, whether it's a theatrical or a VOD release. They are as inevitable as death & taxes. Embrace them, engage with every single person who takes the time to comment, however nasty they seem. Thank them for watching your film, and tell them you hope they'll enjoy your next movie more. You'll be amazed how this takes the sting from their comments, and it creates action around your film (we call it "review velocity") that helps with the outlet algorithms.

10. Myth: If the reviews/comments are really horrible, I can pull my film.

Reality: Sometime, but not always. If you're so offended that you want to pull down your film, talk to your aggregator. But not all outlets will play ball. Amazon, for example, will disable the video but leave the film record live. Then you have the worst of all worlds – negative reviews, and no way for anyone to watch the film and write a good review.

Instead, the solution to negative reviews is to a) develop a thick skin and b) mobilize many more positive comments.

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced warzone documentaries in Darfur, Palestine, Bangladesh and Nepal... plus a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for Fox’s FuelTV. You can reach him at support@kinonation.com


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