Distribution: Aggregators vs. Distributors
In the wake of the seeming demise of Distribber, which was one of the main ways in which filmmakers could get their work up onto major online platforms, it seems that it is still important to indicate the difference between aggregators and distributors - as well as between the two main types of aggregators: aggregators for hire and aggregators by percentage. Yesterday I was interviewed by Jeffrey Michael Bays and Forris Day for their Get Real: Indie Filmmakers podcast about the Distribber situation and discuss some potential solutions. You can find it here. But first some background that most filmmakers still require:
Distributors are companies that will acquire a film and take control of all the distribution and marketing for that film. The hope/dream from filmmakers is that this distributor will release it in the best possible way to audiences and in doing so achieve that filmmaker’s goals. Most filmmakers are eager to move on to their next project. The aspiration on the part of the filmmaker is that the distributor will understand the film and its audience and give it the release it deserves. Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn’t, often in between.
Distributors will argue that they invest time and money (including hopefully an advance for the film)and in exchange, the they want to take as many rights and territories for as many years as possible. Many distribution offers are are for all-rights in either the US, North America or the world and can run from 15-30 years. You need to have either gotten a nice advance, or have a lot of belief and trust in that distributor to take that plunge.
While there are many very good distributors now, there are many reasons why a filmmaker may not engage with an all-rights distributor. (for future posts)
The alternative to an all-rights distributor is to pursue a split rights or hybrid strategy. This is a vast subject and has taken me a book and much writing since to explain. But for this post we just need to know that an essential component to a hybrid release are the digital rights. Generally these rights are handled by one form of aggregator who just as the name implies aggregates content and then presents it to the major digital platforms: iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc - as well as usually cable VOD outlets.
An aggregator for hire is one that you pay a flat fee and in exchange they will shepard your film through the encoding process on TVOD (transactional VOD) and AVOD (Ad supported VOD now sometimes called ADVOD) as well as sometimes pitch your film to SVOD (subscription VOD). Beyond putting your films on platforms, they don’t promote your film. That is up to you. You keep 100% or nearly 100% of all revenue that the aggregator receives from those platforms from the sale/rental of your film. The filmmaker pays a fee for each platform the aggregator delivers to (and sometimes pitches to). Distribber was one such aggregator. Others are Quiver, Bitmax and The Film Collaborative (who go through Quiver).
An aggregator for percentage will generally (although not always) front the encoding costs (but they generally always take these expenses off the back end). They will promote your film to all the platforms they have relationships with including not only broadband but also cable VOD. However, they also take a percentage of the gross return from those platforms. In general they argue that they will market your films - in many cases this is in the form of what is called merchandising. Merchandising is when the aggregator promotes their films to the various platforms arguing for prominence on that platform. One of the most common of these is the New and Notable section (or even the front page) of iTunes. This placement can help with one of the most common problems in our sea of content - a film being found.
Many of these aggregators for percentage do not consider themselves aggregators. They will pitch your film for broadcast in additon to VOD (they may also handle other rights such as educational, airplane/hotel, etc) and hence actually consider themselves distributors (even though many don’t do theatrical or semi theatrical which used to be a cornerstone of distributon).
Common to all aggregators (and distributors) is that one of their key roles is to collect money and pay it out to the filmmakers (after deduction of hopefully specified expenses). Finding out if your potential distribution partner pays on regularly and on-time is essential. You normally do this by asking other filmmakers who have worked with them. You should always vet any distribution partner by talking to at least two filmmakers who have worked with them recently.
And this was the rub with Distribber. Until recently they were very well regarded and had a reputation of paying their filmmakers. This unfortunately seems to have changed with many filmmakers indicating that not only have they not been paid, but cannot seem to get a response from the company. Check out the podcast indicated above if you are one of these filmmakers who went with Distribber. If you have not - stay tuned for future posts on how to handle your release - digitally and otherwise.