If you weren’t following the news today, a pretty important news broke that could change the landscape of indie filmmaking forever. And no, it’s not one of those bold claims that always end up fizzling out in execution. This is the only one I’ve written about, and with good reason. Vimeo, the amazing video service that has charmed creative artists over the years, dropped the bomb at SXSW Festival today by announcing Vimeo On Demand. Let’s read about what that really is and why as an independent filmmaker you should be paying close attention to it.
With the rise of digital filmmaking, there have been a few attempts before to truly provide a function self-distribution video on demand service to indie filmmakers who want to take full control of their work and reach directly to their audience instead of trying to desperately sell their film to studios and TV channels, something that has become increasingly hard in the landscape today and particularly is hard when your film isn’t a very broad mainstream film but is a niche targeted film instead. But none of those attempts have really been a breakout success nor have they been perfect or even very trustworthy from new startups that don’t always stay in the business after the first year or so (Prescreen being an example). But Vimeo is a very trustworthy website that has long been the place to go for watching actually creative short films, animations and projects by up and coming filmmakers. Not to say that Youtube doesn’t have a lot of quality content (it definitely does), but the site’s focus remains on more casual regular content instead of an artistic focus that Vimeo has always had. So what happens when a website like Vimeo opens doors to a platform that allows filmmakers to self distribute their work using their service?
Enter Vimeo On Demand (an admittedly clever title), Vimeo’s answer to filmmakers looking for a functional self-distribution platform. The idea is simple – if you’re a Vimeo PRO user, you can upload your film, a poster and a trailer to create a custom VOD page. You can then set a price for your film to rent and/or purchase, the validity of its rental, the countries that are allowed to view it among other parameters. That’s a lot of flexibility, but nothing that others can’t offer. But here’s the other defining point that I can say for a fact that other self-distribution platforms have failed to offer – a revenue share of 90 percent. You read that right – you keep 90 percent of the revenue made by your film on VOD while Vimeo only keeps 10 percent. Not only is this a very benificial deal for filmmakers financially, it will also end up helping audiences because filmmakers can now charge a lot less for their film hence making said films much more accessible and affordable. And best of all, there are no restrictions on the film you put up for distribution unlike platforms like iTunes which has quite a lot of them. It can be a 10 second movie to a 4 hour documentary to a music video.
This comes as a gamechanger for filmmakers who were always looking at the best option to monetize their film without losing control of it. Now, independent filmmakers with a longer short film on their hands that they think people would pay for can actually self-distribute it for a said amount for audiences to enjoy. Premium episodic content and web series could get a great boon, since those are things that are usually harder to monetize on Youtube considering their costs of production. There’s no denying that the biggest advantage for a platform like this is for feature films and feature documentaries that were produced on small or micro budgets and can now reach out directly to the audience that they were made for. Vimeo even allows you to disable the video on their website and embed the whole thing onto your own custom website, which is another step forward in flexibility. Plus, Vimeo is the center of great artistic content for millions of viewers anyway so instead of having your film on a service which only does self-distribution, it’s easily discoverable on a platform where users go purely to consume beautiful content (although their search functionality could use some tuning).
Can it be improved? Surely. Some might irk at the fact that the service is exclusive to Vimeo PRO users, which costs $199/year to subscribe to. But the service offers you a LOT more than just the option of VOD and is well worth the money if you’re making an income out of your content. Check out their PRO features and you’ll see what I mean. I’m a Plus member of the service for two years now, and this is great incentive for me to upgrade. Also nowadays, a very successful payment strategy is to put up your project and let the viewer decide how much he’d like to pay for it. It gives control to the viewer based on the quality of your film, and I’d really like this feature to be incorporated into the service soon enough (and Vimeo says that it’s something they’re looking at for the future). It’s a brilliant start that is sure to only improve in the coming months as filmmakers begin to embrace it.
Especially to filmmakers out here in the Middle East like me, the amount of options aside from self distribution for your film are severely limited anyway. Your feature film or short film could either linger around festivals for eternity, be lucky enough to be aired on some regional TV channel a few times, or just be released online for free. Without some sort of studio backing you, even a DVD release seems like a pipedream. So self-distribution is kind of a no-brainer for filmmakers in the region and I personally know a lot of promising projects that could greatly benefit from this.
But keep in mind that a wonderful self-distribution system can only take you so far. A lot of the success of your film depends on how you market it to your target audience which you must put a lot of effort into reaching out to and introducing your project to them. But that’s a different post entirely, but without marketing your film will be one of the hundreds on the same platform and will only have you frustrated at the lack of returns. But what Vimeo has done here is incredible and looking at the response online, they can expect a lot of filmmakers coming their way.
Sound off about the platform in the comments below.