Did you know that Amazon has opened up a new distribution path? It’s called Prime Video Direct and, strangely, its existence has been an unintentional secret – even from TVWriter™. Here’s the scoop:
by Noam Kroll
It wasn’t long ago that self-distribution was an extremely difficult avenue to pursue, and was simply a last resort for filmmakers who couldn’t secure traditional distribution… But in the last few years, that’s all changed.
For many filmmakers, self-distribution has not only become a viable option, but the single best option out there. As I outlined in this blog post last year, many traditional distributors simply don’t offer enough value to independent filmmakers, especially those working in the micro-budget realm. So more filmmakers every year are making the choice to self-distribute to retain control over the sales, marketing, and exposure of their work.
For a small fee (or in some cases for nothing at all), you can upload your movie to your choice of TVOD, SVOD, or AVOD platforms and make it immediately available to millions of people. Add to the mix a creative PR campaign and some social media ads, and an ultra-low budget movie can compete with a multi-million dollar blockbuster.
I don’t mean to oversimplify the process – just like the craft of filmmaking itself, distributing and marketing your movie is complex and requires a lot of specialized knowledge. But if you can learn the skills to make a movie, you can learn the skills to market one. You just have to be willing to take that path.
When I decided to self-distribute my feature film Shadows On The Road, I knew there would be a steep learning curve… I had never distributed a movie before, but I was willing to learn and willing to fail, and that mentality gave me the freedom to take some risks.
Throughout the process I worked with two different aggregators, ran multiple paid and organic campaigns, and released the film on half a dozen platforms – my favorite of which has been Amazon (more on that later).
For a bit of context, Shadows On The Road was released exclusively on iTunes upon launch. This was intentional, as I wanted to create an “iTunes window”, where it would not be available on any other platform for at least 2 months. This way, all initial sales would be directed to iTunes, helping the movie climb the charts faster than it would if it were also available on other VOD services.
I promoted the iTunes release through my blog, social media, newsletter and podcast, but didn’t spend any more on paid ads during this time.
This strategy worked fairly well – within 2 days of launching on iTunes we broke way into the top 100 pre-orders for all of iTunes, and stayed there for weeks. To my surprise, we were beating out some major films (at least in terms of pre-orders), and that was pretty exciting.
By the time the film was available to stream, I had already started shooting my next feature (White Crow), so I put my organic marketing efforts on hold. I thought I would sit back and see what happened over the next couple of months, and then re-assess once I was wrapped on production.
As the months passed, sales began to plateau as I was no longer actively promoting the film… So the next logical step was to experiment with paid ads.
I started by running multiple Facebook ad campaigns targeted at several different demographics. Some of these ads were purely text and image based, and other ads used videos, such as our theatrical trailer or this 15 second social media teaser.
Around this same time, I also released the film on Vimeo On Demand so it would be available for international audiences too (currently the feature is only on the US and Canadian iTunes stores).
The ads I ran promoted both the iTunes and Vimeo On Demand links, and were most effective when directing users to this very basic landing page.
As more people bought the movie, I would re-invest that revenue into more advertising on social media. So in a way, the ads were really paying for themselves. I wasn’t making gigantic profits (my margins were pretty slim), but it was working. People who didn’t know me in any way (personally or through my website) were being exposed to the movie and choosing to buy it. That was pretty cool.
Because the film was made for such a low budget, it didn’t take long before I was able to recoup costs. And at that point, my primary goal shifted. It was no longer about profit, but rather exposure.
With that in mind, I decided to release the film on several more platforms.
I had previously used Distribber to release the film on iTunes, but this time around I used FilmHub to release it on several other platforms. FilmHub is interesting in that they don’t charge you anything to distribute your film to any platform, but they take 20% of your profits. In comparison, Distribber (like most aggregators) takes none of your profits, but charges a fee (about $1500) to list your movie.
Filmhub was the natural choice to distribute to platforms where I was unlikely to make a ton of revenue, but could still get some added exposure (like TubiTV, for instance). That said, I specifically requested that they did not provide any services for delivering the film to Amazon.
Amazon is unlike most other VOD platforms in that they allow you to upload your movie directly to Prime without using an aggregator. This is something that is just not possible on iTunes, and for micro-budget filmmakers who are squeezing every last dollar, saving that $1500 is pretty amazing. Anyone can upload their movie through Prime Video Direct. And that’s exactly what I did….