The Great Amazon Purge has made us all concerned about where to take our content instead. While Amazon hasn’t directly said that they are no longer taking independent films, they have pretty much made that clear as they delete content after content from their platform. So what are our options as independent filmmakers? Well, after some research, here are my top five platforms to consider as alternatives for your distribution needs. Please keep in mind that these platforms don’t guarantee revenue. Regardless of where you end up, you’ll need a solid marketing plan to get any profit out of your films. A platform is only a tool to use to sell your film.
Not a distribution platform per se, but I wanted to start with Film Hub since it is a bit of a gateway to getting on a handful of the following platforms. Film Hub basically does what Distribber “promised” to do, before they went bankrupt for fraud. The biggest difference is that Film Hub doesn’t have upfront charges. It’s also more of an automatic process, so you don’t necessarily choose the platforms you want, Film Hub basically takes all of the details from your film and does the process for you. What you can do though, is select platforms you are already on or have submitted to so that Film Hub doesn’t double up. You share in the profit with Film Hub, but it’s a fantastic one stop shop to get your film distributed. There are other distributors such as Indie Rights that will do the same thing, but they take more of your profit. Now, they have access to bigger platforms, larger marketing reach, and perks such as a paid for E&O insurance, so it is a definite trade off. If you’d prefer to stick with as much ownership as possible though, stick with Film Hub.
Once an alternative to America’s funniest home videos, YouTube has evolved over the years from silly videos, short low production films, video blogs, and how to videos into full news channels, full length funded films, and high production web series. Now with the ability to monetize your content, YouTube is the place to make a lot of money. Based on views, YouTube makes money through ads placed at the beginning and sometimes middle of your content. You then get paid per ad watched once you’ve been accepted into their YouTube “partner” program. Usually what this takes is 1,000 subscribers or 4,000 valid public watch hours. This is no easy feet, so you need to really be on top of your channel and constantly post content. Video blogs about your work are perfectly fine and live streams are even better because it gets people to watch longer videos.
The biggest problem I have with YouTube is it’s limitations to foreign audiences. You can get content seen world wide, but when it comes to monetized content, you’re very limited outside of your own countries. YouTube has given various reasons for this, but in a nutshell, it is because they don’t want to deal with certain international laws and navigate various tax and payment restrictions in certain countries. From the sound of it, this has more to do with Google’s laziness than YouTube, but it’s all the same. This is exactly why I prefer a platform with more gumption like my number one pick on this list below.
IndieFlix is just as it sounds, an independent version of Netflix. It works as a subscription for viewers and they can watch all the content they want. Its server not as powerful as Netflix though, so unless your audience has cable internet, they’re probably not coming to IndieFlix to watch your films. There are a lot of platforms like this so the market is a bit diluted. However, there are some very niche ones like PureFlix for Christian focused content, and Shudder for horror films that can help target your specific audience. While some of these may have one or two “brand name” films, they all suffer from the same problem; They need viewers that are almost exclusively interested in independent content. Your film isn’t going to be mixed in with well known films, so you’re not only marketing your film, but your marketing the platform your on too. I’m sure the platform appreciates it, but it’s a lot more work for you.
I would however like to point out that IndieFlix has a great documentary selection. It may be more difficult to get your audience to use their platform, but your documentaries will be in good company if that’s the kind of content you create.
#3 Google Play
Google Play is a newer distribution path, but it’s becoming competitive to what Amazon Prime use to be for Independent Filmmakers. This is mostly a device use platform though, as they don’t have a go to app yet for streaming on your tv. “Yet” being the key word. You can however chrome cast, but I’ve never been a fan of that. Google Play is similar to iTunes and even Hulu with its vast selection of content. While they are a transactional based platform where you buy one movie or show at a time, they do offer free content. This could result in an opportunity to share some of your older content to get new audiences to want to purchase your new releases because they like your work. The numbers on Google Play are relatively new so I don’t have a lot of info to share as it relates to revenue, but I have heard good things from aggregators.
Tubi, originally known as TubiTV, has taken the market by storm. The most unique thing about Tubi is the fact that their content is free to watch. “Wait, what? How do I make any money?” The simple answer is commercials. Tubi has basically kicked subscriptions and pay per view to the curb by going back to the old model that even predates DVR (digital video recorders). No fast forwarding through these commercials. Instead of paying for content, your cost is your time. Fantastic answer for your fans who could not afford to pay for Amazon Prime or other means of watching your films. There are other platforms similar to Tubi’s model like Plex and Xumo, but they don’t have great viewing numbers and suffer from users who complain of way too many advertisements during the content. One comment complained of an ad cutting off another ad and refusing to go back to the film. That would frustrate anyone. Tubi on the other hand, seems to have their commercial algorithm figured out, so people aren’t as bothered by the ads.
Tubi is arguably competitive with Amazon’s payout numbers, especially when you consider that Amazon was giving out a penny an hour at the end there, but they’re fairly picky and can be hard to get onto their platform. Unless you have a large library of titles, the only way to get on their platform is through a distributor like Film Hub. Even then, they might wait to see what other platforms accept your film. Still their mix of studio and independent content makes their library very similar to Amazon, and so far they seem friendly to independent filmmakers. Hopefully they’re not using us like Amazon did.
#1 Vimeo On Demand
I know what you’re thinking, “Why Vimeo On Demand? Does anyone even use Vimeo to watch full movies?” For the longest time I never took Vimeo too seriously. It never seemed like something that got much traffic and felt as if its only purpose was to showcase works with a higher quality than YouTube. A place to show password protected copies of your films with clients or film festivals. Then I stumbled across the “On Demand” feature. I had seen the option for paid content before on college projects, but I always pushed it to the back of my mind as another one of those cheap options if you couldn’t find “real” distribution. But then the great Amazon Purge came my way and I started to research other options that could be out there. I took a deeper look at Vimeo On Demand and my curiosity was peaked. There were two big features that caused me to fall in love with this platform.
As most of you who have their films up on places like Amazon know, foreign distribution for your film can be a bit of a pain with several hoops to jump through. With Vimeo, you get most of the world with a few exceptions at just one click of a button. Granted they’ll only have your English translation unless you manually add more, but the fact that it’s this easy to make your film available in all English speaking counties and more is just amazing. I don’t know of any other platform that makes this process so simple. I’ve had several people over seas request European or other working links for my films only to have nothing to give them. Now I do and I can expand my audience with ease.
The second, and maybe more important, is the fact that Vimeo provides the ability to have bonus features with the purchase of your film. I’m a huge fan of behind the scenes content and until now, have always been limited to squeezing in any bonus features I might have onto a DVD that is no longer the primary source of consuming content amongst viewers. This feature in Vimeo On Demand was a major game changer for me. Amazon can have their purge. I now have a way to bundle my content the way I’ve always wanted to.
A small third and fourth bonus to this platform that I’d like to throw in is the tremendous amount of freedom for the filmmaker to design and customize a film’s page as well as Vimeo’s fantastic customer service. We all know how difficult it is to communicate with Amazon or how other platforms like iTunes have zero capabilities to communicate with their staff. Vimeo on the other hand does and they respond very quickly and kindly. They’ve been nothing but helpful to me and they are very open to taking suggestions for developing their VOD platform further. If the independent filmmaker community works hard with the Vimeo team, this could very easily end up being the next big thing in distribution. While this is still a young platform for distribution, with enough filmmakers involved in pushing their content on Vimeo On Demand, audiences will end up switching their content viewing to this platform in order to follow the independent films they love. For studio content, they can have Amazon, Netflix, and Disney+. For everything else, there’s Vimeo On Demand. Let’s work together to make this the new go to place.
But don’t discredit Amazon Prime just yet. They are still taking independent content and it is always possible that they will lift the documentary ban once they are satisfied with this purge. Maybe there will be a space for us on IMDB TV. Or maybe that’s just the optimist in me. The good news is that we have options.