Indie Distribution in a Post-Netflix World

Posted on July 5, 2012

ITVS's Rebecca Huval discusses research, news, and trends that come out of ITVS’s IndiesLab.


Netflix might be a giant in the video universe, but like many behemoths (think: King Kong), it has suffered several existential crises. Is it a DVD delivery service? An online movie streaming service? Both? A movie and TV series producer? Or a meticulously programmed cable channel that could rival the likes of HBO? All of the above have been tested or at least proposed. The company is still recovering from its 2011 flub when it hiked prices and tried to separate its DVD business from online streaming, resulting in a loss of 800,000 subscribers. Still, it rules the premium online streaming market. This winter, fear rippled over competitors when Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings talked with cable executives about the possibility of starting its own on-demand cable channel.

What’s more, Netflix has started producing its own shows. This February, it premiered its Norwegian-American television series Lilyhammer. Then, it picked up the fourth season of Arrested Development and 13 episodes of Orange is the New Black, a new comedy by the creator of Weeds. Netflix isn’t interested in becoming solely a programming service — a company spokesperson told The Huffington Post that programming is “something between a test or an experiment and a full-fledged initiative.” 

But it still spells competition for HBO. How does this affect the little indie producer? As Netflix talks about producing its own shows, it seems the company has become less interested in aggregating content. They once bought less-known titles in orders of 30-60 DVDs, but now go after the movies that sell hundreds, according to IndieWire. "Before, they would buy inventory for rental stock and then reorder if the title gained traction," Facets Multimedia's executive director Milos Stehlik told IndieWire. "Now they skip over many, if not most titles." Filmmakers might have to explore other distribution horizons to get their movies seen by a broad online audience. 

To that end, ITVS has partnered with SnagFilms to create its own channel on the 4-year-old indie platform. We have 16 films and counting. SnagFilms started out with a promising year in 2012 after it secured $7 million in a new round of funding, adding another vote of confidence to the indie-only approach. Newer players include Fandor, the hopeful Netflix of indie films. But here’s another thought: What if, instead of waiting for the perfect indie distribution platform to develop, you made your own? It can be difficult to attract viewers to your own website, but indie filmmakers are continually showing each other how it’s done. With Twitter, Facebook, and a community of producers and avid media consumers, you too can add to the grand experiment of DIY distribution. Each new project adds lessons for other filmmakers to heed. 

What are you waiting for? Dive in.


From our blog

  1. When Your Film Protagonist Finds You

    March 8, 2018

    ITVS-funded filmmaker Erika Cohn to discuss the unexpected joy in meeting Judge Kholoud and the project that became The Judge.

  2. Using Data to Measure Impact

    February 27, 2018

    How do you know if documentary film makes a difference in the world?  If you’re a social scientist, you evaluate it.That’s what the Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program did in one of the most extensive studies ever to look at the impact of documentary film in a global development setting (173 pages with attachments, for those counting).  The recently

  3. Abacus: Small Enough To Jail Nominated for 2018 Academy Award

    January 23, 2018

    For the second consecutive year, an ITVS-funded film will contend for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.