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Diary of a Film Startup: Post # 21: Delivery Begins
By Roger Jackson
Previously: Video-on-Demand Sales Tips
Distributing the Betas
We’ve started delivering films to video-on-demand outlets. That may not sound like much — we could have done it 3 months ago by sending them a hard drive. But these are highly complex — and automated — deliveries, with literally hundreds of variables in the transcode presets, the type of poster image, the metadata fields, the trailer, the subtitles or closed captions…an error in any element will get the film rejected by the very rigorous Quality Control (QC) at the outlets. We’re impatient to get the films live so we can share some links with you — but we’re sanguine also. Even after a film gets to Amazon or iTunes or any other outlet it can take up to 90 days to go live — like it or not, that’s the reality we face.
Greek, Spanish & English
We decided to use a foreign film — the stunning Greek drama DOS — as our very first delivery. It looks stunning, every outlet has ordered it, and DOS is a great “use case” since it involves three languages. It’s a Greek film — set in Spain — with English subtitles. Actually there are 3 sets of subtitles in the metadata: English, Spanish and Greek. Some outlets — such as Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime — want the English subtitles burned in. Some outlets — such as Viewster — want the film to be “clean” but with all the subtitles available as metadata. So, for example, DOS can be watched on Viewster in Spain, with just Spanish subtitles when characters are speaking Greek. Or in the USA with English subtitles for both the Spanish and Greek dialog.
We’ve learned that a big challenge in this VoD world is the huge variance in technical specifications among the hundreds of global VoD outlets. And these specs are not, in reality, always entirely rational. It’s a classic problem with a fragmented industry with no standardization. On the other hand, it’s good for KinoNation, since our ability to navigate this byzantine technical ecosystem is a major part of the value-add that we provide. Anyway, we’re working hard to custom-package and deliver movies to our partners at Amazon, Hulu, Viewster, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube Movies, Kinopto, IndieReign. And working hard to get distribution deals with LOVEFiLM in the UK and Germany, Netflix Nordic, Sky Movies, Canal Plus & Freeview in France…and so on. It’s a lot of effort, none of it happens overnight, but we’re making good progress.
For filmmakers, next up in early March is the release of our expanded metadata ingest. Which sounds rather pedestrian, but in fact it’s designed to be a series of fun and engaging web pages to capture the mass of information we need to sell the hell out of your film. “Keywords” for example. Amazon tell us that keywords are the #1 factor in the success — or failure — of a film on their Instant Video and Prime services. This requires serious thought — and work — by content owners. It can be the difference between 10 paid views a month — or a thousand. It is, in reality, at the very heart of presenting & marketing your film for VoD customers. i.e. make it more probable that they’ll find it. Because if they don’t find it, they sure as hell don’t rent it. Amazon allow 10 keywords — but each one can be up to 100 characters. Which means a keyword could be (if you’re lazy) “Kennedy Assassination” or it could be (if you’re imaginative) “President Kennedy JFK shot by seven 7 mafia assassins Lee Harvey Oswald Dealey Plaza Dallas 1963” — that’s not just a single word, that’s 95 characters (inc. spaces) that maximises the chances of finding this hypothetical documentary. It’s worth the extra effort!
Finally, we continue to get fantastic films submitted to our Private Beta. I love documentaries, and so I’m really excited to be involved in the distribution of Stem Cell Revolutions. Also submitted to KinoNation this month is Strange Factories, an ambitious and impressive 132 minute crowd-funded drama-horror, shot in black and white. Every one of these KinoNation beta test films is guaranteed video-on-demand distribution. We’re still accepting submissions…it takes only 2 minutes.
Next Up: Post # 22: Outlet Soup
Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.