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April 20 at 7:36am

Filmmakers vs. Aggregators: Distribber speaks of Win, Win!

By Ted Hope

Today’s guest post is from Distribber founder Adam Chapnick responding to the question of just what IS Distribber and how can it make the world safer for filmmakers.

Distribber was recently acquired by IndieGoGo, and in the wake of the publicity surrounding the announcement, we received a tremendous outpouring of enthusiasm and interest in Distribber’s service.  As is inevitable, there’s been some confusion around what Distribber does and doesn’t do.  

Distribber was created to help rights holders maximize the payback from their work and investment.

More specifically, Distribber was conceived as a solution to several persistent complaints from filmmakers and other creative rights holders about distributors in general and aggregators in particular.  (“Aggregator” is the term used for a company that acts as a gatekeeper between a rights holder and a retail platform, such as iTunes, Netflix, Hulu or Cable VOD operators like Comcast, Time Warner, etc.)  

The complaints surrounded 3 specific pain points: 

Complaint #1.  Eternal revenue-share for finite service
Aggregators (other than Distribber) work on a revenue-share basis, meaning that they make money by keeping between 15% and 50% of your revenue that they collect from the retail platforms on your behalf.  They take this portion of revenue for the entire term of your deal with them.  The complaint from filmmakers was that while aggregators take this money “forever,” they didn’t seem to be working forever.  To many, it seemed that aggregators placed their film on the platforms and then moved on. 

This situation was even more frustrating for larger rights holders — production companies, sales reps, etc. — who controlled the rights to several (often dozens) of titles, and who engaged in significant marketing and grassroots outreach but lacked access to iTunes, except through revenue share entities.  The shared-revenue structure has continued to frustrate these larger companies as they have been the core demand-drivers.

Now, in defense of aggregators, encoding a film, ushering it through Quality Control “QC” and having the access to place it on iTunes or Netflix or Hulu or Cable VOD or anywhere else is indeed a valuable service — and often a time-consuming one.  

However, it seemed that one could put a fair price on that service that accounted for the work and value of relationships, and offer it to filmmakers cleanly, without the burden of a revenue-share.  This would enable a filmmaker, production company or other rights holder to know their cash outflow in advance, and enjoy 100% of the benefit of their film’s success.  So, Distribber adopted a flat-fee-for-service model.

Complaint #2.  Large deducted expenses, often including fees for marketing services that seemed unhelpful or nonexistent
Filmmakers complained that distributors and aggregators deducted expenses that seemed unreasonable, like $1500 for encoding, or an array of costs for marketing services that the filmmaker wasn’t sure had actually been done.  

Here, the opportunity was again to charge a fair price, once.  So, Distribber adopted a fair price.  The $1295 one-time fee for iTunes placement was less than some rev-share companies charged for the encoding alone, and after only 185 sales at $9.99 on iTunes, rights holders have been entirely in profit.

Without putting too fine a point on it, it bears emphasizing:  after 185 iTunes sales at $9.99, a rights holder is in profit for the rest of the film’s life on iTunes. Going forward, Distribber charges $79 per year for account access, collection and sales stats.  

The best evidence that we were on the right track came when the Age of Stupid production team chose to use Distribber — they have been incredibly successful trailblazers in the hybrid distribution movement, and their endorsement told us that our service is providing its intended benefits for its ideal users.

To compare Distribber’s model with revenue-share models, consider the illustration below.  At 1000 iTunes sales (retail price $9.99), rights holders give up 174% more money under a 15% rev-share than they pay to Distribber ($3,550 compared to $1295).  Under a 25% rev-share, rights holders pay 228% more ($4,250).  At 10,000 sales, Distribber’s one-time fee doesn’t change, but a 15% rev-share deal now costs ten times the Distribber fee ($13,000), while a 25% rev-share deal costs over fifteen times more ($20,000).  Obviously, at 20,000 sales, the disparity only increases.

Looking at revenue, with Distribber’s flat fee, at 1000 iTunes sales, rights holders are paid 65% more than they would be with a 15% rev-share deal ($5,705 vs. $3,450), and they’re paid more than twice what they’d get from a 25% deal ($5,626 vs. $2,750).  At 10,000 sales, Distribber clients keep $11,705 more than they would under a 15% rev-share, and  $18,705 more than they would under a 25% rev-share.  And again, at 20,000 sales, a rights holder does even better.

What A Filmmaker Is Charged, With:                     What A Filmmaker Keeps, With:

Distribber 15% Rev-Share 25% Rev-Share Distribber 15% Rev-Share 25% Rev-Share
At 1000 iTunes sales -$1,295 -$3,550 -$4,250 $5,705 $3,450 $2,750
At 10000 iTunes sales -$1,295 -$13,000 -$20,000 $68,705 $57,000 $50,000
At 20000 iTunes sales -$1,295 -$23,500 -$37,500 $138,705 $116,500 $102,500

(The chart assumes Rev-share companies deduct from filmmaker’s revenue $2500 for encoding and/or marketing.)

And now, with Distribber’s addition of Amazon VOD and Netflix’s streaming service, we decided that as a limited-time promotion, for the same $1295, Distribber clients could have our Amazon and Netflix service for free. This of course only makes the above comparison even more lopsided in Distribber clients’ favor, since it adds revenue without adding any expense.

Complaint #3.  Late payments, and sometimes no payment

Filmmakers complained that even after resigning themselves to a rev-share deal, and agreeing to the small payout left after expenses and revenue share deductions, they had to chase distributors and aggregators for reports and checks, and sometimes with none being sent at all.

So, Distribber has decided to do away with reports and checks, and instead employ a user account system, whereby clients login with a username and password.  Here they gain access to collection stats by platform, and see their collected funds balance.  Clients withdraw their own money on demand, with the click of a button.  Having all sales stats and collection in one account removed a major, time-consuming headache from our clients lives for $79 a year.

Next: More Pain, More Answers

Even a casual follower of the distribution business knows that there are plenty of areas it can be improved, and in plenty of ways.  Distribber is continuing to actively developing new methods and models to serve rights holders across a variety of platforms, from internet to cable to mobile. 

With the proliferation of tools like WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and all the plugins and apps that support those services, it’s more possible than ever for innovative companies, teams — or even individuals — to disrupt old marketing models and connect with audiences.  Filmmaker/marketers like Gary Hustwit, Lance Weiler, Tiffany Shlain and others have shown the way to create demand via their own efforts and investment. Peter Broderick is shepherding rights holders through a hybrid strategy that teaches careful allocation of specific rights to companies that are highly specialized, with the goal of maximizing the revenue a filmmaker keeps.

The key thing to understand about Distribber is that it’s a powerful tool to help enterprising rights holders keep the most of their own money.  The more skilled you are at connecting with audience, the more buzz that you’ve built, the better Distribber’s deal works for you.  

ADAM CHAPNICK is CEO of Distribber.com, an IndieGoGo company that places film and TV content on digital sales platforms such as iTunes, Netflix and Amazon for a flat fee while allowing filmmakers to keep 100% of their revenue.
Adam can be reached at adam@distribber.com .

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leave a comment
  1. Fans Of Film / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    this model seems to have a powerful possibility, and has me thinking how can fansoffilm.com could reform it’s approach as a possible distributor/aggregator to accommodate this service, any idea’s?

  2. Dennis Peters / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Hey Adam, I think Distribber offers a great service to indie filmmakers and the advantages are clear. Now being a part of InideGoGO (congrats) and tying in funding into the mix it could get even more interesting. Looking forward to see what you guys do next.

  3. Reid Gershbein / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Twitter conversation here withe some strong disagreements on the “Win/Win” part of this:


  4. Adam Chapnick / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Dennis: thanks for the good wishes — very excited to be a part of the IndieGoGo team. Looking forward to making it interesting!

    Michael: Not sure you’d need to “reform. ” We’re ready to implement affiliate tracking. Let’s discuss.

    Reid: Thanks for the heads up. Heading there now.

  5. Carson McCullers / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Anyone reading this have real-world experience with Distribber? Anyone have a film on iTunes now and how did you get it there?

    Anyone can go straight to Amazon VOD so this is like saying we’ll give you free salt and pepper if you eat here…

    As far as Netflix, what’s the typical license fee for their Watch Instantly rights? How come there is no deal for Netflix DVD service which most of their subscribers use?

  6. John Paul Rice / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    The transparency of the services and accounting tools offered by Distribber are the key to this being a success. $1295 for iTunes is small potatoes in comparison to giving away ALL rights to a distribution company that offers no MG for a film. Having a film on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon VOD and other digital platforms should not be viewed by the filmmaker as the solution to their ROI. Distribber is enabling a film to create foundation to launch from but it still requires a long-term marketing strategy on behalf of the filmmaker to continually drive traffic to these platforms.

  7. Fans Of Film / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Just asked John Paul from “One Hour Fantasy Girl” if he could comment, “I could be wrong” but John has his films on two of these Amazon and Netflix, maybe he can give some light…

    I think for the entrepreneurial filmmaker having your films on all these platform is the direct approach to reaching more fans, as some fans may prefer to watch films from a platform of their choice…

    Some of you on this thread know that Fans Of Film is a ning community, and the word is ning is no longer free, but we have been paying for premium service for a while, so at this time we see a great value to ning in the 2.0 networking and featuring possibility’s… Ning.com has been featuring us on their home page and bringing steady traffic to FOF of over 300 visit a day (this has not lead to any sales for FOF but the exposure for ongoing feature presentation of “A New Tomorrow” and for other filmmakers on the site makes it worth it to me for the $40 a month I give ning…

    There is no question in my mind that I want to help aggregate the new breed of filmmaker and the multiple platform distribution approach, that Distribber encourages and offers, so I have reformed the film listings on the site to support multiple distributor such as netflix, amazon, apple, youtube, and Fans Of Film for a premium membership of $50 a year (all films subject to a pre approval process), which is a true value for what I believe Fans Of Film offers…

    There has been talk of a site-less web which means people will get most of their content through direct links on social networks from popular profile such as @Hulu @Netflix @Amazon and even @FansOfFilm that has a current following of 10,300 and listed in the top 5 profile of the New Mexico Twitter directory…

    It’s my hope to build a Twitter and FaceBook identity that will allow me to be a truly helpful to the viral marking campaigns of filmmakers and their films as a direct portal to Tweeters and Facebook film fans… (:

  8. Fans Of Film / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    You must have been posting at the same time as me John, funny I had a filling you would say some something like that, I think that’s what drives me every day on Twitter to pass on/aggregate indie filmmakers/producers/labels, knowing how hard you guys are working doing the same…(:

  9. Julia Pontecorvo / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    I’m in the process of developing a webseries and would love to know if serialized content will have a home in the Distribber model, and how that would affect the flat fee and ability to place on iTunes.

  10. Fans Of Film / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Hey Adam

    I was thinking we have a great opportunity to really help filmmakers with an affiliate partnership,
    John pointed out that after a filmmakers has their film in all those places, they still need to market

    what if you offered your filmmakers/clients a free one year premium membership on Fans Of Film giving filmmakers
    a place to list all their distribution platforms on a poplar social distribution network such as FOF and get it tweeted on a poplar twitter profile, maybe this could be a value to you…

    I do plan on coming off ning and creating a very cool site with a new look for filmmakers to profile themselves and their film platforms..

    You can see by the film profiles I’m already aggregating multiple platforms,netflix, amazon, apple, in the film profiles http://fansoffilm.com/page/drama-1

    What do you think?

  11. Adam Chapnick / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    John Paul, you hit it on the head.

    Carson: We offer Amazon free to customers who use Distribber for iTunes because one of the benefits of using our service is to centralize your digital distribution reporting and collection into one view. It’s nice to be able to compare your sales data across all the platforms you’re using (for example to easily track the comparative results of a marketing campaign), and it’s also nice to have all your money accessible in one place. Some Distribber users feel this is as valuable as the rest of the services we provide.

    As for Netflix, for an independent film, depending on what commercial “bragging rights” you’ve got, like stars or major festival buzz, you could see as little as $1500 for a year. With major heat and lots of selling points, as high as twenty times that.

  12. Adam Chapnick / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Julia, I’m actively looking for great solutions to offer producers of serialized web content. Unfortunately, right now, neither of the curated platforms we work with (iTunes and Netflix) are taking web series, unless there’s some extraordinarily compelling reason (from a market perspective).

  13. Zak Forsman / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Can anyone tell me how this short film wound up on Netflix? And with a streaming option?


  14. Mike Nichols / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Hey Adam,

    I am in the process of submitting a film and I’d like to select all three options (itunes, Netflix, Amazon) but I am unsure of how to get verified for Netflix. There seems to be a catch-22 or something I am not missing with the netflix submission in that Distribber states the film needs to be listed on netflix.com to be considered, but netflix says I need a distributor with a netflix account to submit my film for greater chance of success. What are your thoughts on this? Great idea BTW, and I have to say, this sounds like a great method.

  15. Filmmaking Stuff / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Distribber offers a great service for filmmakers who want to get their movies seen and sold through various outlets. I first found out about Distribber when I was looking for a way to get our first feature onto iTunes. Since that time, outlets for digital self distribution have increased, but it seems like Distribber is always working to stay current and provide filmmakers with an easy distribution framework minus the creative accounting prevalent in traditional deals.

  16. Smileydindu / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    What are your thoughts on flicklaunch?

  17. Nick / Apr 20 at 7:36am

    Distribber is exactly what this industry needs. I have 4 features distributed and all are questionable on the returns given, there is no chance to really know what happens behind the curtain. Yet Distribber reveals all and allows for 100% of the profits. So I am pleased to stay I will be using Distribber for my current horror film and am righting a day to day review on my experience with Distribber from submission to payments, so all filmmakers my know my experience and what to look for in theirs. The day to day review is here http://www.filmmakerforum.org/

    Nick Soares

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