How I got my Movie In iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix

So it's been over a year now since I produced a movie called Indifferent Worlds. We had to travel to India to make it. Once it was shot and edited I knew I wanted to have it offered in iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. I began to do the research on how to make this happen. It turns out that your path is all but blocked if you are an indie filmmaker. This makes sense though because, with the advent of DSLRs and affordable video cameras that can mimic a good film look, filmmakers are coming out of the woodwork. No longer is it a game just for tech heads.

With all these indie movies available I knew that getting my movie into these markets would probably be difficult. I had no idea how I was going to do it so I started making calls.

Netflix was the first one I wanted to land in. I couldn't find anything online that was useful, everything was a dead end. I even called the Netflix office and asked around a little. No one was helpful. It was obvious that their acquisitions office was not open to the public. So basically a dead end.

iTunes was next. I did similar research and found very little. Amazon had a thing they call createspace where you can self publish books and sell your own DVDs, but it wasn't the major market that I wanted to land in.

It felt like all the paths were blocked. When iTunes came out with it's ibook publisher system, I took a close look at it because I wanted to understand how to get content into iTunes even if it wasn't a movie. I knew previously that the path for indie movies was blocked but I found the specifics when I was digging around.

This is the big deal with iTunes so mark this down: iTunes only accepts movies in groups. Their documentation said that if you want to submit movies to be accepted into the iTunes library you have to submit them along with other movies. I thought, "no problem, how many." Their criteria is that you have to submit movies in groups of 5. Five movies can be submitted but have to be THEATRICAL RELEASED! HOLY CRAP! So even a small studio that got lucky enough to have 5 titles to submit to iTunes couldn't do it directly unless they played in theaters. So that road was out as well. As I read on I realized that there was an option for non-theatrical released films as well. I breathed a sigh of relief. The criteria to submit non-theatrical released movies was simple enough, you have to submit them in groups of 100. HOLY CRAP! So you'd have to have 100 indie films to even be considered.

Before you go badmouthing iTunes think about their motives here. Obviously what iTunes is doing here is making sure iTunes doesn't turn into youtube, where anyone can post any crap they want anytime. Their idea is good, they have protect their content or people will stop looking at iTunes for movies.

I couldn't find any information like this on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon on demand but I assumed it must be similar. The other thing about iTunes submission process is that it's fairly detailed and somewhat complicated.

At this point you need to know about aggregators. Since these movie distribution companies have such complicated systems and submission processes, it requires a middleman. This is where the aggregators come in. A middle man type company will acquire hundreds of movies, comply with all the submission regulations and submit the film for you along with the host of other films they have acquired. This is how they get past the 100 film rule for iTunes and whatever rules that netflix and the others have.

Indifferent Worlds Trailer


So there are a number of independent distributors out there. The first one I got connected with was called indieflix.com. They are an avenue that some have used to get into iTunes. indieflix is a independent film sales platform. So if you want to sell your movie online, indieflix is a pretty good place to start. They have a good platform that works. The problem though is that not all their content gets into iTunes, intact I don't know anything about using indieflix for iTunes input.

Obviously I needed to find an aggregator or a distributor. I looked around for a while and learned a little bit about how many of them work. What most do, is acquire your film, they promote it, then whatever revenue your film makes they take a large cut of it. This is not a bad model but it kind of bothered me because my film was a documentary and I knew it wasn't going to make a lot of money. Secondly these distributors are looking for films that they can make money on, so they may or may not accept your film.

iTunes gives a 70/30 split meaning the filmmaker gets 70%. Hulu splits the ad revenue 50/50. Amazon does 50/50 without whatever they make. Netflix is a little different. You tend to make less on Netflix if your movie has very little draw. The way Netflix works is to do a 1 or 2 year blanket license. This means they can play it as many times as they want and not have to pay more or less. This is both why they don't have all the latest films, and why they may not want yours. They want to attract the best titles they can for their money.

So if you connect with an aggregator or a distributor, you will be giving up a portion of the money you make to the distributor if you get a traditional aggregator.

So here's what I did. I had used indiegogo.com a few months before to raise some of the funds. I came across a company that had been bought by indiegogo.com and was an aggregator for iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, along with a number of networks for cable and on demand content. It was called distribber, distribber.com

They operate differently than the average distributor. They don't take any of your sales revenue. They will put your film in an aggregation pile up for which ever of their platforms you choose. They will charge you a one time fee to get it into the platform. If the platform doesn't accept your film you get that money back.

So I submitted to them and paid the fee and got excepted to iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon. Netflix did not want the film. They didn't give a reason but I assume it's because it didn't have enough of an audience draw.

The fees were pretty steep. If you're going to do it you need to think through a few things. If you go with a traditional distributor, they generally promote your film because they stand to benefit if it's audience grows. With a company like distribber, they do not do any advertising for you. It's all on your shoulders to get the word out. It's hard to explain how hard this is.

Because I think it's valuable to give the whole picture, I lost money on this documentary. The fees were around $1295 or something like that. I've made $74 on iTunes so far. This is because I'm a crappy crappy promotions person. I suck at promoting a film. In fact I almost refuse to do it. It's mainly because what drives me is making films not trying to sell people on watching them. By the time the film is up and available, I'm off looking for another project to shoot. It's been a fairly bad investment. Secondly, distribber has told me that Hulu and Amazon have accepted the film and they will be available there soon, but as far as I can tell they are still not up.

Over all it was simple and easy. If you  know you will be able to promote, or you have an advertising budget this would be a great investment. you just have to know that you will get that money back. If you're not sure you sell at least 1500 views on iTunes, you should aim at going with a traditional aggregator.

Apparently there is another kid on the block that charges a little less called tune core. I can't say much about them cause I've never used them.

Related Links
My Movie on iTunes
Here is another article on this subject.
Here is distribber.com
Here is tunecore.com


66 comments:

  1. Nice article. I have gone through similar research but I have not made the plunge with the $1300 to submit to Distribber. I've submitted to many traditional distributors and it just not their kind of movie. I have it on Amazon, through CreateSpace (digital download only) and a personal store, and on our own web site for DVD; digital download it coming next. Ebay is one of the other's we'll be doing soon. We also had a review by Dove.org - they did not Dove approve but do have a detailed review of the content which is nice.
    Thanks for taking the time to write your experience for the rest of us.
    Tim
    www.GeraldTheMovie.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very cool. Looks like you've put a lot of work into this. Looking at the images on Amazon it looks like you have Andy Roonie in the film. Is that just a look alike?

      Delete
    2. Would never pay that kind of money to someone who does NOTHING to deserve it. What a ratchet!! It's not like they even provided some type of professional feedback as part of the fee (which would make the fee expensive but a little more understandable).

      Sorry to hear you spent $1300 in order to have a door opened. After that, the powers that be probably decided they were entitled to 50% of your money just because they are "distributors." Right!

      Understand this. Almost everyone out there is trying to screw over independent film makers. First the film makers get screwed over by film festivals, who are mainly there to take submission fees and throw a big party for themselves. After which, desperate film makers start paying fees for some ungodly A&R company to try to find a distributor. If after the film maker pays the company thousands of dollars, they may disappear. BUT, if the film maker lands some type of distributor with this company, they will then get screwed over by the distributor. That doesn't include these online "distributors" which feel they are entitled to 50% of your money because you're stupid. I bet the majors don't pay that percentage.

      This is the truth and if anyone wants to say Sour Grapes, I'll tell you that my film won an award at a large film festival. I've had tons of press on this film and without much paid advertising. I also have been selling this film independently and make around 80% profit off every sale! I'm well past $74 in sales on this doc without paying a dime to an aggregator. I'm not on Amazon as of yet because I'm still trying to figure out how I can use them to sell my film without paying them their ridiculous percentages.

      I've also turned down distributors with poor deals because I'd rather be making all the $$$ myself.

      If you have a decent film (not Santa Claus versus the Zombies) and want to discuss your film distribution plan etc, you can reach me at wnmbulk@insightbb.com. However, I am not going to provide consultation for free, but it certainly would not be the $1300 these thieves want for providing nothing of value.

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  2. great little article; smacks of honesty all round; thank you

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  13. Thank you for your review. I'm surprised how few real testimonials I can find online for distribber. Out of curiousity, was 1295 the full price for itunes, hulu, and amazon combined? How long did it take for you to make your 74 dollars? Have you seen any money come from hulu or amazon at this point?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It's been such a while I don't remember exactly if that was the full price. I want to say they may be going through some administrative changes right now. It's a great company but they had a management changeover in the last year. Currently something seems wrong with the back end on their website because I can't get to my reports. So I really don't know right now if I've made any more money. Really neat business though. What type of film are you looking to release? Vimeo Movies is a pretty cool option. I'm using them currently and there's no middle man, you can set it up exactly how you want.

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  48. The article is great but I don't like all the fake comments. you should delete those and leave only the real ones. I'm going to share this because I had found out a lot of the information myself about create space and a few niche online distributors, and the aggregators. but wasn't sure how to go about it. Thanks.

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  49. Quiver. www.QuiverDigital.com

    Full site coming soon, with helpful information to get your content out there and to make the right choices in doing so.

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  50. Great article. You might want to look at a few blog spam widgets to put into blogspot. They'd help stop all this junk. :)

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  51. Thanks for posting this! Very informative. I've been wondering how this process works and your breakdown and personal experience with it was very helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Thank you so much for posting this - very helpful! God bless you, I hope your film sells!

    ReplyDelete
  53. I used Quiver to arrange for my documentary to find a home on iTunes. Quiver is kind of a sister company to Premiere Digital Services, which does the same thing for the studios. I saw a monthly .pdf statement for about a year on "my share" but have never seen a statement of transactions or total sales. I have received fairly steady bi monthly checks in low amounts - roughly $14 - $98, but recently I was sent a check that did not look like the previous company PDS checks. I was told at one point in time that I would receive a digital view of the account of on-going sales but that never happened. I knew going into it that I would not receive any advertising, just the compare bots that eventually equate a purchase of your film to another film, but I also never had the opportunity to beef up thee design of the page or even pay for advertising. I was kind of stiff handed and treated like bulk. 1 or 100, I guess. the irony, is that we would have paid to do the other aspects we didn't want to pay a distributor who would have charged quadruple the rates.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Quiver and Distribber seem to be the best options for indie filmmakers just trying to get onto the major platforms. But don't expect to get access to anything else. The issue with many smaller distributors is that they create employment bubbles for themselves that hurt the filmmakers chance at ever seeing a profit. I have worked with Producer Reps, Sales Agents and gone the DIY routes and its hard to give up anything to a low end distributor. For one, they aren't really a distributor - they are a sales agent masquerading as a distributor. They will want something like 25-35% of sales of your film + advertising and marketing costs. Here's where the bubble employment comes in. . . If your indie film cost you $300,000. And they get you to agree to a $40,000 ad budget - it sounds great, right? Someone is willing to spend $40k on your film to get it out there, somewhere and its not you doing it. Unfortunately, that $40,000 is not a hard cost. They will charge your film to recut the trailer that you used to entice them. They will charge your film to re-design the poster that interested them in the first place. They will charge you for making dvd copies, web expenses and travel, per diem, food, hotel expenses and booker fees, etc. . . only which some of that is actual hard cost. Then they may get an offers of only $60,000 for your film in all the markets they claim to be able to turn a profit for you. Well, after they expense their $40,000 to your film, there is $20,000 left over to share. They get $5,000 more for a total of $45,000 and you may get a check for $15,000. They made $45,000 on your film and move onto to the other 10 they are also working on simultaneously, while you walk back to your investors holding $15,000 against the $300,000 it took to make the film. Its a tough road. You have to be relentless in interviewing potential distributors and try to find someone who has good referrals and has a transparent reporting. If they really can do something with your film, they'll show you. If you feel like you are just a number to them - you probably are. Don't kid yourself. They will never care about your film as much as you do. DIY is always an option. If you are an indie filmmaker, you have to be part producer/marketer and part creative/director in order to survive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Basically, if you go with a distributor and you've had to push for one (they didn't seek you out) you're half dead in the water already. There is almost no distributor I would trust to handle my film without a substantial upfront payout. All this crap these film makers go through trying to find a distributor is smoke and mirrors. And, when they finally find one, they end up getting screwed. Personally, I'm happy with the DYI approach. Yes, you have to work at it and the money return is going to be slow. But, I'd rather have money coming back in over time than receiving nothing from a CROOK. Indy "distributors" are even worse than independent "film festivals." But they both have something in common, they're booth screwing film makers.

      Delete
  55. sorry for the long winded comment.

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  56. Great read. Thanks for the info. FYI: tunecore no longer does video/movies, it is now only for music.

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  57. Hi Thank you for the article! We sailed the same boat with our movie 'Coin Toss'. We did get our movie on Amazon instant video. it is also on Indiereign.com
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  58. Nice article, except for the misleading title ("How I got my Movie In iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix)

    I wanted info on how to get on Netflix. That's the only info you failed to provide. Sucks to be me (again).

    ReplyDelete
  59. Putting a movie on iTunes is like putting up a web page - nobody knows it's there until you spend money on marketing.

    After doing some advertising on Facebook I have come to the conclusion that indie filmmaking is a very expensive hobby. After 6 months of my movie being on iTunes and Amazon Instant, I've made $90. It cost $750 to get it on iTunes (via Bitmax) and then I had to spend $1,000 more because now iTunes REQUIRES closed captioning.

    I know of an indie movie with Kris Kattan where the budget was $230K. It was on Redbox briefly. They probably received less than $5K from Redbox (they buy DVDs from you).

    Is anyone at all even BREAKING EVEN, today? I know there is the rare Cinderella story coming out of Sundance every now and then (Kat Candler's Hellion being the latest), but it seems like buying a lottery ticket is a better use of my money.

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What was your movie? Tried clicking on your name but your profile's blank. What kind of marketing are you doing?

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