Even if you’ve been downloading, streaming and on-demanding videos your whole life, digital distribution is still a relatively new frontier. Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, Google Play and all of the other content services out there really need material to offer their subscribers. However, making individual deals with each content creator would require more time and effort than those companies could afford. Most deals actually go through aggregators – businesses that gather up streaming and downloading rights from media makers and offer them in bulk to various content platforms. With the trend towards “smart” TV’s, most people can now access content services from their television as easily as from a computer.
Nowadays almost every kind of distribution is no longer traditional, meaning it falls into one of these categories. The least innovative version involves selling a project to individual companies for distribution on different formats. At the other extreme are the projects that have found their audiences in outside-the-box ways: free screenings, social network distribution, selling DVD's out of the back of vans, copies gone viral. Yes, non-traditional distribution is a ton of work and much harder to explain to grandma, but it offers much more control and may even result in just as much money once you've cut out all the middle-men.
OTT, VOD, WTF? New Formats and Aggregators
This type of streaming is now considered an “over the top” service because the content bypasses the cable companies – it’s not as cool as it sounds, but it’s still better than watching “Over The Top,” Sylvester Stallone’s arm wrestling family drama.
However, if you sign a deal with a television network to air your project, the contract will be very specific about what you are not allowed to do with those “over the top” services. Predictably, traditional TV networks and cable providers don’t want audiences streaming and downloading content.
Licensing deals with content services like Hulu and Netflix will typically specify turning over the rights over a fixed term (usually for 2-5 years) for your project to be streamed or downloaded, for sale or rent, to a variety of video on demand platforms. Some companies like Netflix simply pay a flat fee for these rights. More frequently these days, companies pay less up front but offer a piece of the profit (or a share of the aggregator’s piece of the profit). The compensation schemes are more or less along the lines of what you’d get from a studio or network, but with a possibly much bigger slice of a smaller – but more diverse – pie.
Self | Hybrid Distribution Tools
With every advance in media technology, someone will be there to make money off of it. For example, those aggregation companies sprang up because digital content providers couldn’t deal with the exponentially larger number of content makers. To that end, the newer trend towards self-distribution has led to the creation of different platforms designed to get your project out there with little interference from The Man. Some of these sites like Vimeo and YouTube are pretty well known (okay, if you haven’t heard of YouTube there is no way you could even be on our website). Others are a little more obscure. Sure, your parents probably are just figuring out that Netflix and Hulu are two different things, so you probably can’t expect them to know that Gathr isn’t just a spelling error or Mobcaster isn’t a new cable channel devoted to mafia-themed entertainment. Though, how cool would it be to go to a channel filled with a bunch of Al Pacino and Robert Deniro movies? Remember, any of these services could catapult to the next tier, especially when your project draws viewers into their orbit.
PBS put together a great chart of those platforms – their focus was documentaries specifically, but their resources apply to many different types of media.