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The NYU Cinema Research Institute brings together innovators in film and media finance, production, marketing, and distribution to imagine and realize a new future for artist-entrepreneurs. 

Real Film Data (Part 3: Online)

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Real Film Data (Part 3: Online)

Forest Conner

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 3.44.03 PM

To this point, we’ve looked at why it’s hard to get data about film audiences from both theatrical and VOD companies, be they exhibitors or distributors. The misalignment of incentives is the primary motivator for the lack of collection of and the hesitance to distribute real numbers and reporting.

Fortunately, there is a new form of film distribution that is all about the data. Companies like VHX*, Gumroad, and Vimeo are enabling filmmakers to control the pricing, release strategy, and perhaps most importantly, the data that results from sales. This is a huge change in ethos from the business models we have been talking about

*Disclaimer: I have been working with VHX since the beginning of the year, specifically as a Data Analyst. The screenshots below are from their service largely because of the ease of access, but other services provide the same types of reports. 

What Data Looks Like

The images here are from the view a filmmaker would see in their dashboard. This is the top level report that shows the number of sales per day over the course of a week. It also shows important aggregate data such as “All-Time Revenue” and “Total Sold,” although these number are also things would would get from a distributor who offers your film on a VOD platform.

So what’s the big difference?

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Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 3.44.03 PM

With a traditional distributor, these numbers come in quarterly (if not longer,) by which time it’s too late to make any changes to your marketing, publicity, or release strategy. But with real time data, you can see your sales as they happen, meaning you can take insights away about how effective everything it, and even where advertising is working and where it isn’t.

You may be thinking, “If my film isn’t doing well, what can I really do?” Because of the amount of control you have, there’s actually quite a bit you can do.

What Pricing Looks Like

The first thing is the most obvious, you can lower your price. But rather than just dropping the price for everyone, you can run things like flash sales. By offering a coupon that discounts the price of the content, you incentivize people to buy the film before the price goes back up. It turns out that this is a strong motivator for audiences to purchase.

You can also tie bonus content to the movie and charge a premium price. Some films, such as the documentary Stripped, have massive amounts of additional footage that they add to a more expensive product, allowing super fans to get more content while still allowing everyone else to just see the movie. Other films, such as Camp Takota, leverage services like Shopify to sell merchandise along side digital downloads of the film.

There’s another important question companies like this hope to answer. Once people start buying your film, how do you spread awareness without spending boatloads of cash on marketing?

What Your Audience Looks Like

Once you get your film out there, whether it’s the “free” publicity from a film festival, active social media engagement, or just straightforward advertising, it’s important to know who is coming to your site and who is buying your film.

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Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 3.44.11 PM

The image here shows one way that the VHX platform tracks that, showing the source of traffic to your site, the conversion percentage for each source, and for all countries. This is a great way to get a top level view of where you audience is located, but there’s also a great way to know exactly who your audience is.

When someone buys the film, the filmmaker knows two important things: their location (at least their state/country) and their email address.

This is incredibly powerful for engaging with your viewers when it comes tim to grow your audience. You can send the people who purchased your film a discount code that they can share with friends, thus reaching people who your advertising may never get to. You can also carry this audience over to your next film, so you’re not starting over from square one with each film.

If you want to read more about great community engagement, read the Indie Game: The Movie case study. It might change your life.

What Isn’t There… Yet

I have painted a rosy picture of this world so far, but it is not quite there yet. The industry classifies this type of distribution as Electronic Sell Through (EST,) and it makes up a very small part of the industry’s gross revenue. This is partially because filmmakers and distributors are not looking at this as an important way to sell a film, but also because it is not a way that audiences are used to consuming their content.

It can also be more difficult to drive an audience to a specific film website as opposed to a market place. Think of it as the difference between the person who went to Blockbuster looking for a specific movie as opposed to the person just browsing for something interesting (you may have to be over 29 years old to understand that.)

That said, these problems are not unsolvable, and in fact are well on their way in the right direction. Shortly after championing the new models of distribution in his speech at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Kevin Spacey self financed and self released his documentary Now: In the Wings on a World Stage, while Joss Whedon released his film In Your Eyes on Vimeo On Demand for rental.

As more people within The Business start to understand the benefits of this type of release, I imagine the problems presented above will fade.

Data: An Epilogue

What is next for us. Now that we know the truth about what data is out there, we can begin to explore what we can do with it. The next step for me as part of the CRI program is to start the quest toward defining a way of talking about this data that makes sense to films and filmmakers. The first step toward that will be next week.