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AFM Panel: Tread Carefully With VOD, Indies

12 Nov, 2013 By: Chris Tribbey

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Amy Friedlander Hoffman, founder of consulting firm Priority Digital Media, may have been stating the obvious Nov. 12 when she said “things have changed” when it comes to the availability of content for consumers.

But with one in every four homes having some sort of connected consumer electronics device, the obvious can’t be understated, especially for indie filmmakers looking to make an impact … and a buck.

Speaking during a panel at the annual American Film Market conference, Hoffman moderated a panel that focused on the opportunities and pitfalls for indie filmmakers looking to get their product recognized in an increasingly crowded space.

“One of the things that’s problematic, and there are a host of reasons for this, is a lot of smaller films are struggling to drive transactions, getting lost in these platforms,” said Andy Bohn, co-founder and partner with independent film distribution company The Film Arcade.

More than 100 million American households have instant access to most any content they want, he noted, and that’s a wonderful thing for indie exposure, and a potential nightmare for actually getting a return on investment.

Richard Wellerstein, VP of content acquisition, programming and planning for AT&T, said he’s seen indie films perform on both ends of the scale on the company’s U-verse TV service, “from 77 buys to 77,000.”

It all comes down to how the product is marketed … and whether it’s good, he added.

“VOD has leveled the playing field,” Wellerstein said. “Your film has just as much opportunity as a studio film. The customer can see you film any time they want.”

Kyle Kaczmarek, co-founder of digital content company Kaczmarek Digital Media Group, said the most successful indie films his company has encountered were the ones that engaged consumers across platforms and encouraged word of mouth via interaction. Think giveaways and social media pushes, he said.

“Really connect with your consumer, because they’re the ones who are gonna buy,” Kaczmarek said.

Especially with VOD, consumer usage patterns have changed, according to Lise Romanoff, managing director and CEO of indie distributor Vision Films. Once the realm of thrillers and horror for the 18- to 34-year-old, mostly male set, VOD is “accessible to my grandmother and little kids,” who rent everything from romances to comedies, she said.

But while independent filmmakers don’t have the same windowing concerns major studios deal with, they also don’t have the marketing budgets either.

“You can get it out there,” Romanoff said. “But … the do-it-yourself model [requires] a careful plan” if you want to monetize it, she said.

Film Arcade’s Bohn suggested that indie filmmakers “give [consumers] something for free,” like a 30-second spot everywhere online it can possibly be hosted.

“It does drive anywhere from a 20% to 30% lift in buys,” he said, adding that even then indies needs to keep their expectations in check.

“The majority of these indie films are doing very little money across an aggregate of these platforms,” Bohn said. “You hear about these films doing several million dollars. That’s the exception to the rule.”

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