Why Indie Filmmakers need a multi-channel distribution strategy

Klaus Badelt
January 30th, 2018 • 4 min read •

When Amazon Video opened their streaming service as Amazon Video Direct to every creator, it seemingly created a sensation in the filmmaker community. All creators could stream their content on Amazon and generate revenues just like the big names? It seemed too good to be true and, sadly, it is now.

Amazon slashes Payouts by 70%

Today, Amazon announced that they are radically slashing their pay rate to creators by up to 70%.

New pay rate tiers incentivize mainstream hits and punish indie and verticals the most. What started out as a seemingly powerful opportunity for film and shows, especially outside the mainstream, is now turned on its head. Awfully familiar from pre-streaming times, only that today — with the unlimited shelf space and near-zero distribution cost of streaming — this seems even more skewed.

But Amazon isn’t the only one turning its back to creators. The new generation of digital-first creators on YouTube found themselves with a similarly catastrophic revenue hit last year. Creators are still hurting months after YouTube’s “adpocalypse” as major brands pulled their ads over extremist content. And YouTube continued with new rules to make it even harder for small creators to make money. If YouTube was ever affordable for some creators, that stopped altogether. Accompanying services like Patreon can help creators to at least make a living. But your content itself is still vastly underpaid.


As a filmmaker or, even more as an indie production or distribution company, you might be tempted to let go of the giants altogether and create your own streaming channel. You don’t need a team of developers. There are many providers readily available, including Vimeo OTT (formerly VHX), dotstudioPRO, Kaltura OTT TV, unreel.me, and even open source solutions like Odd Networks. These provide filmmakers online tools to create your own branded streaming channel and generate subscription, advertisement or transactional (“rental”) revenues. They enable the non-technical content provider to set up a streaming presence on the same devices — TVs, tablets, phones, game consoles, depending on the provider — as the streaming giants.

But it’s hard to get the audience to stop by your shop, get your streaming app downloaded, and get your films streamed. Turns out, you need be where your audience already is. They won’t come to you. While discovery doesn’t really happen on the homepage of Netflix and Co. — coming instead from influencers, social and other online media — streaming traffic doesn’t really happen outside those platforms either. It’s like trying to sell your handbag line without getting it into every big chain and online store. Creating your own outlet can be an attractive potential revenue stream, but should not be your sole distribution strategy.

Going wider with distribution — maybe

The traditional film & TV distribution industry promises “building an international audience”, getting titles into multiple “exhibitors”. But in reality, that’s by far not all titles, and not all exhibitors. Only 5% of all new productions find distribution. You need access to a relationship based business, and you must not mind their complex and often murky practices. As Hartwig Masuch, head of media giant BMG puts it, “everybody wants to be a star, but the system just isn’t available to most.”

Mainstream services like Amazon, YouTube and Netflix have disqualified themselves from being creator friendly. The more they grow, the more they present — individually — a similarly unreliable, hostile platform for filmmakers as the traditional offline distribution industry.

Multi-channel distribution strategy

But the paradigm shift to video streaming presents still presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for filmmakers. Popularity no longer has the monopoly on profitability in a post-broadcast world. Digital production pipelines make studio-like production value more and more affordable. Great content can now be created with simply great ideas and execution. Online discovery levels the playing field in marketing in promotion — budgets alone no longer dictate reach and impact.

But when it comes to distribution, going wide and direct, into as many streaming platforms, territories and languages, is key. Truly independent filmmaking needs a multi-channel streaming strategy.

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