Bob Tinsley: Amazon’s New Indie Film Distribution Platform – “Yay! or Nay!”?

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Yesterday, we ran an article by Noam Kroll about Prime Video Direct, the latest addition to Amazon’s boxfull of marketing madness platforms. Here are frequent TVWriter™ contributor Bob Tinsley’s thoughts on the subject. What are yours?)

by Bob Tinsley

Go with me here: say, “Amazon Studios.” Leaves a sour taste in your mouth, doesn’t it? But maybe, just maybe, Amazon might be about to redeem themselves.

I’m sure you remember the kerfuffle back when Amazon Studios started looking for original content. They, in effect, said, “Come one, come all! Pitch us your original ideas for film and episodic content. We’ll choose the best, handle production and distribution, and we’ll all make scads of money.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t long before they said, in effect, “Oh, by the way, when we said the best, we meant, has a Hollywood Name attached.”

That soured the attitudes toward Amazon of a lot of people in the indie sector. Personally I believe, in hindsight mind you, that the apparent reversal was inevitable. At the time Amazon had no experience in either film production or distribution, but, hey, they were the largest book distributor in the world. What could go wrong, right?

It didn’t take them long to discover that there are a lot of huge up-front costs to film. You’ve got rights acquisition, production (wages for directors, writers, cast members, carpenters, grips, sound techs, plumbers, production designers, set designers, editors, drivers, security personnel, craft services, and probably a lot more that I’m forgetting about or don’t know exist). Then you have the sunk costs (buying or renting a studio, cameras, lights, microphones, dollies, cranes, props, air conditioners, heaters, office furniture, bathrooms, and the myriad other things required by a physical location).

I can imagine the scene in the Amazon boardroom. “Umm, you know, this is an awful lot of money to risk on an unknown property by an untried creator. Maybe we need to rethink this ‘come one, come all’ thing. Ya think?”

By now I hope you’ve read Noam Kroll’s article about his adventures in the world of self-distribution of his indie films. He’s excited about Amazon’s new program, Prime Video Direct. And I think he should be.

What’s the difference between Prime Video Direct (PVD) and Amazon Studios? I’m glad you asked. The huge difference between Amazon Studios and Prime Video Direct is that PVD’s costs are small and fixed as opposed to Amazon Studios’ large and variable costs. Also Amazon Studios was built on the model of, wait for it, Hollywood studios. When you think about it, something built on the model of an existing organization will result in near identical operations and outcomes.

On the other hand, it appears to me that PVD is built on the wildly successful models of Amazon’s Kindle/Audible businesses. I can’t speak to PVD, but I can speak to Kindle and Audible. They are simple, easy to use, and, mostly, hassle and cost free.

The creator uploads his final product (note that phrase, “final product,” e.g., polished film) to PVD which puts it in their “catalog” of similar products. People find it. If they like it, they give PVD (Amazon) money, and PVD then gives the creator his cut.

The creator can choose “to earn royalties based on hours streamed by Prime members, a revenue share for rentals, purchases, monthly channels, or ad impressions–or any combination of those options.”

PVD makes your content available in the US “and other locations” on virtually any device you can think of (including video game consoles) anywhere you can get a wired, cell or wifi signal.

As an account holder you have access to an enormous amount of data telling you how your property is doing and what it’s projected to do. You can customize the data in ways that will have your accountant (you do have one, don’t you), swooning in relief.

Oh, did I forget to mention that all this wonderfullness costs you NOTHING but a little time?

All that being said, you won’t make money unless you promote. You are the only marketing department you have. PVD won’t do it. You have to pay for ads. Occasionally, if you start getting a lot of views the algorithms might promote you to a “viewers who watched X also watched” category.

The part of the Kroll article that most tripped my bullshit meter was the claim that without “promoting it with paid ads” he had “an incredibly high volume of streams” in a very short time.

I don’t know. Maybe he did, but that’s not been my experience. If I want my stuff to get seen I have to buy ads, twist arms, or dissolve into tears amongst a lot of people. Caveat emptor.

I think this certainly is worth looking into. Amazon tripped up once and made a lot of people angry and suspicious.  Maybe this time they got it right?

(ANOTHER NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: The URL where Amazon gets this whole thing going is HERE It’s definitely worth a long look.)


Bob Tinsley is an artist, writer, boataholic and a new pro in the field of Audio Drama. In other words, he’s an expert in finding new marketplaces, as he’s showing us here.

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