How to self-distribute a short film online

 Online self-distribution puts the power back in the hands of filmmakers. 

Once your short film has completed the festival circuit and secured any sales deals, it is time to roll out your online self-distribution strategy. 

The advantage of online self-distribution is more control over where and how your film is seen, and whether it is behind a pay wall. Online self-distribution is also great for filmmakers that are looking to get their film out into the world, attract attention and build profile for themselves. Getting a lot of viral hits will work to increase your credibility and desirability as a filmmaker for hire. 

Is it worth it? 

The disadvantage to online self-distribution is that it requires careful planning and a lot of work to get your film noticed in a crowded marketplace. If the film doesn’t have a natural built-in audience niche to rely on it is difficult to generate traction. 

If your main concern is making money we suggest you focus on getting a sales agent first. We do hear of success stories where filmmakers are able to make significant money from self-distribution, but this is far from the norm. Most people who achieve a high viewership of their film online are filmmakers with a pre-existing high profile, or the story of the film has a particular niche (e.g. fire fighters or religious groups). 

What are the options for VOD? 

When you’re looking for channels through which to release your film the range of possibilities is vast. The most important thing is to research all of them and decide which channel or channels work best for your film. 

There are three main types of VOD (video on demand) platforms: 

  • TVOD – Transactional: you pay to view (e.g. iTunes)
  • SVOD – Subscription: you subscribe to view (e.g. Netflix)
  • AVOD – Advertising: you watch adverts to view (e.g. YouTube) 

Which option is best for your film? 

This list provides a range of options for different types of distribution strategy. The key to choosing a platform is deciding what is best for your film and your career. Is it more important that you achieve exposure, profit or accessibility for example? 

If you have a no-budget film and your primary goal is exposure, you might be best off going through BitTorrent or Vimeo On Demand where your costs are kept low and you have access to a large audience. Conversely, if your budget is a bit healthier and you can afford to go through an aggregator, iTunes is a standardized platform that has the potential to get your film seen by the masses. Netflix would fall into this category as well. 

Finding favour 

Most of the VOD channels with the widest reach (iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Google Play, Hulu, etc.) do not take submissions from filmmakers directly. They require you to work with an aggregator to access their services. 

Here’s a list of possible aggregators: 

  • Distribber: Owned by GoDigital Inc. Aggregators are On-Demand Platform middlemen who charge fees to access platforms. i.e. $1,560 for iTunes. $1,175 for Amazon. $995 for Hulu. $1,395 for Redbox. $2,250 for Netflix and $7,000 for cable VOD. 
  • Quiver Digital: Upfront fees only $950 per feature and $400 per short. Seed & Spark the crowdfund platform uses Quiver to access Amazon, Dish, Google Play, iN Demand, iTunes, Microsoft, Netflix, Nook, Sony Entertainment. 
  • The Orchard: Owned by Sony Music; started with music On-Demand. It appears to be the New & Hip On-Demand Network for it bought rights to 5 Sundance Films at the 2015 Festival. 
  • FilmBuff: Submit on their website. If they like you they get back to you & get your film access. They work with Amazon Instant, CinemaNow, iTunes, Movies On-Demand, PlayStation Network, Vudu, YouTube, Xbox360 and, if you desire, they will (for a fee) handle marketing, encoding and finances. 

TIP: You will find that a pay-per-download scheme doesn’t usually return a lot of money to the filmmaker, and it’s better to look for an upfront deal with an aggregator/platform.

If you love something set it free 

If you’ve already exhausted your VOD options it’s time to release your film for free. 

Here’s a list of places to release your film into the world: 

  • Vimeo – This is a go-to place for short film makers. Not only do they have a lot of high quality content, they get behind it. If your short film is selected as a ‘Staff Pick,’ they will promote it heavily through their networks. They also have a sub-brand called ‘Short of the Week’ which is hugely popular, but there is a small fee for your short to be considered for this. 
  • YouTube – Free and easy, this is a great option. You can also use the embed code to add the film to your own website or websites for other organisations. If the film does very well, there is the option to monetise via AVOD.
  • Facebook – We recommend uploading the film directly to the Facebook page for the film, rather than just adding a link to view the film on Vimeo or YouTube. The Facebook algorithms are set up to give higher views to content uploaded direct. 

Create an effective promotional campaign 

Once you’ve chosen your channel for releasing your film you need to drive traffic to it. If you’re taken our advice on how to build buzz for your short film, you will already have all the materials to create a promotional campaign to accompany the roll out of your film online. 

All you need to begin a marketing plan is the answers to one key question: Who is your target audience? Figure out the demographics of people who would like your film, where they consume content and what they spend their free time doing. Then spend some time online looking for groups and organisations that fit your target market and create lists with their contact details. 

You should then contact as many websites, blogs, social media pages and media outlets that fit your target market as possible, asking them to add your film to their site. Plan for interviews, advertisements, website posts, shares and tweets – whatever will best serve the goals of your film release and find your target audience (within your budget). We recommend you share the embed code from one of the above channels when you do that, so the counter for number of views through those channels keeps ticking. It will make you look good and help with the algorithms that govern how often your film will appear in searches and recommendation lists. 

TIP: It’s not just your film that needs a strong marketing campaign. Make sure you have a strong online presence personally, with a website, LinkedIn profile, an IMDB page, a Facebook page, etc.