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By Hammad Zaidi | June 29, 2010

I was a student at the UCLA Graduate School of Film Producers Program in the spring of 1994, (which was pure heaven and I’d recommend it to everyone) when one of my professors boasted about the seemingly limitless possibilities of an emerging technology called Video-On-Demand (V.O.D.).  Suddenly, millions of consumers would have hundreds of movie and TV choices at their fingertips – literally – through a touch of a button on their TV remote control. “You’ll be able to watch what you want, when you want. The TV Guide will become useless,” I remember my professor saying.

As I was absorbing the future of content delivery, all I could think about was that my dad might never leave his house again. Sixteen years later my dad has become such an, “I’ll watch it on my own TV” homebody, that it’s like pulling teeth to get him to a movie theater. Hell, after seeing his distaste for the new “Karate Kid” I don’t think I’ll get Dad to a movie theater for the rest of this decade. My dad’s seventy-one years young, and outside of the fact that he can’t use a computer (and hence can’t read these articles), he’s embracing how new technologies are changing the way we view filmed content.

My dad serves as a key example of how powerful V.O.D. can be for your film. Because if a seventy-one year old man can do it, imagine how much you can make from the technology-riddled seventeen year olds of the world. As DVDs go the way of the dinosaurs over the next handful of years, it’s good to be prepared to know some V.O.D. insights and strategies.

The “V.O.D. Gates” are Unlocked, But Not Yet Flooded
Like we discussed in last week’s article about DVDs, Video-On-Demand (V.O.D.) is not generating enough income to replace DVDs yet. In fact, I recently read an article where Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, 30 Days) said his latest DVD residual check was for $60,000 while his accompanying V.O.D. check was for $2,500. But, as always, as technology continues to progress, those numbers will flip.

Attention Is More Important Than Access
Just because you can get your film on iTunes, or on a host of non-exclusive V.O.D. platforms, (neither of which is hard) doesn’t mean anyone knows that your film exists. Finding a way to get your film noticed can be as hard, or harder, than finding the money to make your film in the first place. Of course having certain elements like a notable cast and a “bionic” genre (i.e. action, sci-fi and thriller) will certainly help. But, you should have a clear idea about who your audience is and how you can exploit your product to them through the correct V.O.D. platform.

Find The Right V.O.D. Platform For Your Film
V.O.D. isn’t just a new way to get on-demand content through your TV. You can now send your content through computers, smart phones, to hotels, planes, trains and boats. Since there are various ways to sell your film through V.O.D., you should pay close attention to how each platform may benefit you. For example, comedy and action based content usually sell well over cell phone networks. I’ve always thought this was the case for two major reasons: 1) When you’re watching something on a 3” screen, the content must require little thought to enjoy. 2) People under the age of 25 buy most of the content sold to cell phones. Conversely, while family films do very well on cruises, more risqué adult based content thrives at hotels (of course, the strong marriage of adult films doing well at hotels must be from a rash of business travelers who miss their loved ones when they’re away from home….) Thus, understanding which V.O.D. platform to sell your film on will help you immensely toward generating a financial return.

Target Marketing Will Increase Your Sales Immensely
One of the ways to increase the overall health of your V.O.D. experience is to go to a V.O.D. supplier who specializes in your film’s specific genre. Obviously, if they promote other films like yours, their customer base is far more likely to buy your film. This can be a great help to films made in the harder-to-sell genres, because a more targeted marketing approach can do wonders in helping you find an audience for your film.

Don’t Leave Out The Goliath V.O.D. Supplier
Of course, engaging in target marketing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t house your film with a goliath supplier of V.O.D. Since most contracts with V.O.D. suppliers are non-exclusive, your distributor should exploit your film to multiple suppliers. Let me just clarify that point: Your contract with your distributor is always exclusive, but their contract with V.O.D. suppliers is usually non-exclusive. This means you can have your film available to multiple V.O.D. suppliers if it makes sense to do so.

Viral Campaigns Are Crucial To Your V.O.D. Success
Many V.O.D. suppliers also target certain age groups and genders through viral marketing. Thus, having a presence on the net is crucial to your success. I can’t emphasize this point enough. Since a healthy portion of V.O.D. sales are done over the computer, your film’s presence on the net (or lack thereof) is directly tied to your V.O.D. sales (or lack thereof). Make sure your film has a “fan page” on several social networks. Go onto Twitter and “tweet” updates about your film. Surely, nobody may care about your tweets, but it’s not about them caring. It’s about them seeing your film’s title – over and over and over again. It’s kind of like enduring the pain of a local election. Every time there’s a local school board seat or city council chair up for grabs, a sea of signs endorsing the candidates litter the front yards in your neighborhood. There’s always one candidate who has twice as many signs planted about, and that candidate usually wins the election. Not because he or she was better than their opponent, but because they blanketed the voters with their name and a smile – over and over again. Thus, if you can increase the number of people who see or hear about your cinematic masterpiece, the easier it’ll be to sell it to them.

V.O.D. Will Cut Down On Distribution Costs
As soon as V.O.D. replaces DVDs, the overall cost of getting your film out will be less. Your distributor will no longer have to duplicate, replicate and ship your DVDs, and the time of getting your film to market will also sharply decease. Spending less on DVD production and shipping will mean more funds will be allocated to marketing and advertising, which of course is good for your film.

Don’t Cut-Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face
As previously discussed in the Going Bionic article about online distribution, you should be fully aware of the rules and regulations about how selling your film through V.O.D. will effect the other distribution models you have planned. For example, selling your film on V.O.D. before your theatrical release (if you’re lucky enough to get one) will kill it. Furthermore, it will also disqualify you from Academy Award consideration. Going to V.O.D. too early may also disqualify your film from most film festivals and will definitely lessen its value for DVD, TV, and with distributors. So please be careful on how you strategize your film’s release because an ill-timed misstep can trigger an otherwise avoidable tragic situation.

Video-On-Demand is a wonderful tool for filmmakers to utilize on their journey to make their film bionic. But, like all tools in your toolbox, you must know how to use it in order for it to work for you. Use it well and you’ll soon build your dream house. Use it poorly, and you’ll soon be in the doghouse. But, don’t fear, the “hammer” is in your hands. Just get a firm grip on it, take a deep breath and go create a smash on V.O.D.!

Thanks again for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

Read earlier installments of “Going Bionic”

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