Indie Film Distribution & TVOD Windowing

Alan d'Escragnolle
November 30th, 2020 • 4 min read •

TVOD windowing strategy does not work for 95%+ of Independent Films. Yes, I said it.

We’ve worked with thousands of independent films and nearly every single time that a content owner wants to pursue a windowing strategy — they come back to us and ask us to start releasing on AVOD/SVOD sooner than originally planned because not enough revenues are coming in from TVOD.

What is a TVOD Windowing Strategy?

Make a film. Launch it on TVOD (transactional video-on-demand) only platforms to start since they pay higher. TVOD platforms are the ones where consumers have to pay to rent/purchase your film. The logic is that you want people that really want to see your film to pay a higher premium and make you more money per view. Then eventually you open up licensing on SVOD & AVOD (subscription and advertising video-on-demand) services which generally have smaller pay rates. This requires you to have an already large audience of people that know about your film, want to see it, know where to find it for sale, and are willing to pay for it.

Why This Doesn’t Work for 95%+ of Independent Films

Filmmakers continuously relate to the story of titles like Trolls and Mulan which had successful TVOD windowing launches. There are some major differences though between these launches and an independent film launch.

  1. Brand Awareness — Both brands are household names, they already had large audiences that were interested in seeing the film. It’s easier to push someone to buy something when they know the brand and have an idea of what they are going to get. In independent films — many people haven’t heard of the film, the director, the actors, etc. Even if you have semi-known actors, people aren’t generally willing to purchase if they weren’t previously aware of the film. Think about it — If you have an option to pay $2.99 for a film that you haven’t heard of or watch another film for free on a different service, what are you going to do? The barrier needs to be lower for an independent film, especially when customers are primed to get content for “free” as part of an AVOD or SVOD service.
  2. Marketing Budget — Trolls & Mulan had huge marketing budgets (over $100M each) to further perpetuate brand awareness. People saw impressions of ads likely 1–5 times across many mediums (physical and digital). We generally see that independent film releases that perform well reserve at least 20% of the full film’s budget for marketing but understand that’s hard to do sometimes (big studio films typically reserve 50%+ of the budget for marketing). Your independent film needs to spend more money likely on marketing to get someone to convert as a purchaser than Trolls or Mulan did — since you’re starting from a lower brand awareness level. The ROI (return on investment) on the marketing budget is much harder to make work.
  3. Streaming Platform Concentration — Titles with large marketing budgets can afford to only launch on a few TVOD streaming services since they are marketing heavily. With an independent film — you want your title on as many streaming services as possible that have good pay rates as just being on a platform serves as free marketing due to the streaming platforms’ search algorithms. You do need to amplify their algorithms still with marketing to get yourself higher up in the rankings. The more people are watching your film — the more likely you are to appear in “Titles you may like” or “Most popular titles”. Also — consumers typically only use 2–4 streaming services. If they do happen to hear of your film and can’t find it on the service they use, they’re not likely to keep searching for it and you’ve lost your chance of gaining a viewer. Discovery needs to be as easy as possible.

In recap — to have success in independent film VOD distribution strategy:

  1. Get your title on as many platforms as possible that pay well — AVOD, SVOD & TVOD services.
  2. Prime the search algorithms by driving people via paid (Facebook ads, Instagram, etc.) & earned media (press coverage, review sites, Facebook groups, community organizations, etc.)

Interested in getting your title distributed to streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video, IMDb TV, Tubi, and Xumo? Sign up at Filmhub.com and list your title today!

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