ITVS asked a broad range of independent filmmakers to complete a survey to help us understand their experience in the digital marketplace and inform our work charting the road ahead. Our thanks to the more than 400 producers who took the time to complete the not-so-brief survey, giving voice to a wide variety of experiences, insights and points of view.
The survey helps in our continuing efforts to understand the quickly changing marketplace and to find ways to better serve producers, the public television community and our audiences. To date, these efforts include pilot partnerships with companies and organizations like AOL, Jaman, iThentic and AFI Digital Lab, among others; ongoing work with public television on digital rights issues; landscape mapping with partners such as the Center for Social Media; and new media work through our online shorts festival and Electric Shadows project.
As ITVS works to ensure that producers benefit from new digital opportunities, both economically and in terms of audience and impact, it is important to understand where filmmakers are positioned right now in the multi-platform universe, and what their impressions, goals and concerns are.
We learned a lot from the survey responses—and we hope you too will find the results of interest. Here you will find a narrative summary as well as some highlights from the expanded res ults, for those of you who want to know more.
Summary of Survey Results
The 430 producers who responded were equally split between male and female, with 61 percent between the ages of 34-55. More than half have been independent producers for more than nine years. Most have produced at least one long-form program, and the majority have not received ITVS funding. The results of the survey can be grouped loosely into three categories: 1) the realities of today; 2) expectations about tomorrow; and 3) the needs independent producers identified as most critical to their success in the evolving marketplace.
"I am overwhelmed with all the things I should be doing…the promise of the Internet is still at arms length….I’ll have to stop making films and learn a whole new skill set? Rats."
"Public television and public television partners can be useful in helping advise independent producers on their experience in the field."
1. What producers are doing today
Independent producers are working hard to keep up with new distribution streams, new ways to promote their work and new production technology, but still depend mostly on traditional distribution and promotional partners. Only one in five producers is making money distributing work online; those who do report very modest amounts, in the mid four figures or less, through partnerships with multiple distribution outlets. The rest still hold their digital rights, citing either lack of opportunity or expectations of better terms and options down the road. At the same time, most producers are using the Internet as a promotional venue—particularly through blogs, social networking sites and their own websites—and nearly all recognize its importance in winning audiences.
"We’ve set up an extensive website and put links on all related sites. We’ve optimized this site for search engines, we’ve sent out mass emailings with news about our film. The vast majority of home video purchases for our film (about 85-90%) come through the Internet. That equates to about a thousand DVDs in the past five months since broadcast."
"Created a distribution system using open source software in direct partnership with school districts. We are paid by the schools for the content we deliver online, no middlemen."
Domestic television broadcast is still named by many producers as the most important distribution stream, with DVDs second and educational sales third. Even for those who have profited from online distribution, digital activities are still seen mainly as a way to drive DVD sales. Many mentioned online DVD processing and fulfillment services such as Customflix or Neoflix as a key part of their operations.
"Licensed one of my films to Customflix…most people seem to be watching it through their Unbox (Amazon.com web streaming) service rather than DVD."
"For one film I used Customflix (now CreateSpace) and sold it on Amazon. For my latest film, I used Neoflix. Neoflix uses partners to help you author and replicate your DVDs and you then sell your stock. I would say that I probably sell more from Amazon (but make less) than I do from folks going to my website. But initially, when the film first came out, it was from my website (now it’s five years later so I’m still amazed that the film sells copies). "
On the production side, more than half are now shooting in high definition; a majority of these producers believe HD has increased their costs by 15 to 25 percent, although only a minority see HD as helping their position in terms of television work.