Going It Alone Online: DIY Digital Distribution Platforms

By Harris, Lauren Carroll | Metro Magazine, Autumn 2015 | Go to article overview

Going It Alone Online: DIY Digital Distribution Platforms


Harris, Lauren Carroll, Metro Magazine


In the past year, the Australian VOD market has moved from being radically embryonic to oddly crowded. As the online space has grown and matured, VOD providers Stan, Dendy Direct, Presto, Quickflix and, of course, Netflix have risen up as the new wave of gatekeepers between filmmakers and audiences--all pursuing very similar business models, and all keen to cash in on the 11 per cent leap in online home-entertainment product sales reported by the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association last year. Meanwhile, sellers like iTunes, Google Play and Amazon have become sites of first-run Australia cinema: well-reviewed comedy-crime film The Mule (Tony Mahony & Angus Sampson, 2014), for example, skipped theatres and garnered positive press and fan support to debut on these platforms--a first for a local feature film.

But beyond this first layer of VOD providers, an alternative way to reach audiences online is developing: do-it-yourself (DIY) digital distribution. Without costly gatekeepers, filmmakers can now install a player on their own websites and give viewers convenient access to their new films on various devices. This kind of direct distribution has been something of a dream for enterprising filmmakers hoping to keep costs low, avoid the increasingly impossible theatrical market and break out online on their own terms. So how viable is DIY digital distribution, and where is this market headed?

Kasimir Burgess' slow-burn arthouse drama Fell (2014) was the first in Australia to significantly utilise DIY digital distribution, using its film-festival showings to launch a short online run. Though it was limited by its very short marketing lead time and its incremental, geoblocked release strategy (the film could not debut nationwide due to previous agreements to premiere at festivals), producer John Maynard explains that the experience was an important and useful experiment in how to enter into the online market while maintaining a presence in cinemas. Fell employed the online platform Spondo, which has also been used to screen the Australian films The Jammed (Dee McLachlan, 2007) and 2 Degrees (Jeff Canin et al., 2013) and takes a very reasonable 25 per cent cut from all sales.

Another title that has been of interest to local producers is independent American drama The Ever After (Mark Webber, 2014), featuring Australian actor Teresa Palmer. The film, which debuted online on its own website in February 2015, uses the VHX platform and can be viewed for US$10. That it was available in a high-definition stream as well as a digital rights management-free download is significant, suggesting that DIY digital distribution can allow filmmakers to experiment with business models that enable users to more freely share content in a way not possible on a platform like iTunes. It also offers further revenue and monetisation opportunities, with Alexandra Marvar of VHX telling me that filmmakers who've used the platform have gone on to package the film 'how they want--sell bonus content, bundle with physical goods', and so on. Incidentally, VHX is also American distributor Drafthouse Films' platform of choice for screening the seminal Australian title Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971); however, getting online at the right price is still a largely untapped strategy to bridge the 'access gap' on our shores, with VHX currently barring Australian viewers from availing of its services.

The real missing link, however, is marketing. Marketing was and remains the factor that journalist Chris Anderson neglected to truly consider in his 2006 bestselling techno-booster bible, The Long Tail, which prophesies that 'the future of business is [in] selling less of more', and that the most capable way of delivering niche content to dispersed audiences is online. …

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