Lessons from the IndiesLab: Digital Survey in Review

Posted on May 27, 2010
This month, IndiesLab is launching a new feature, “Lessons from the Lab,” a regular blog with new marketplace data and observations about what’s working and what’s not in the digital space for indies. This month, we are building on the knowledge gleaned from our 2009 ITVS Digital Survey which polled nearly 1,000 independent filmmakers about their attitudes and strategies towards digital distribution and promotion. 

Here’s what we found: 

Survey Finding: Only one in five respondents generated any revenue from digital distribution, and those who did reported income in the low four figures. 

Lab Report: Although it is true that the revenue we are seeing for the average-performing film is very modest. The overall revenue generated by our library is increasing as a result of careful branding under the newly created “PBS Indies” brand, the addition of high-quality titles, and the growing consumer adoption of devices suited for long-form viewing, like iPads. A few of our films have broken out. These exceptionally good films share another characteristic: filmmakers who thought about digital distribution and promotion from day one. Their production workload included managing a blog, growing a Facebook page, building a Twitter following, and creating digital enhancements as part of production activities. Our survey indicated that nearly 40 percent of producers have a blog, and 35 percent of domestic producers use Twitter, compared to 23 percent of international producers. Lesson: Keep in mind, the people who follow you during production will be the film’s future marketers and market. If you wait until broadcast to think digital, you lose valuable audience-building time.

Survey Finding: Nonexclusive digital rights are essential. More than 93 percent see nonexclusive digital distribution rights as “important” or “very important” to their success. 

Lab Report: We agree. That’s why one of the big changes we made in IndiesLab this year is a more flexible rights scheme. Our PBS Indies strand on iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, etc. is promoted heavily through PBS social media properties. More than 800,000 users get pinged whenever we add new films. At the same time, we understand there are lots of opportunities out there.

Lesson: When developing a digital rights strategy, remember that landing on a coveted platform like iTunes doesn’t help people find your film. Leveraging blogs, newsletters, and social networks will help drive traffic and augment sales. (If international rights to your film are available, please submit your film to alternative platforms and report back to us which platforms are gaining market share in Europe. We’d love to learn more from them.) 

Survey Finding: Eighty-three percent believed that “great online tools that support do-it-yourself strategies” would be “important” or “very important” to their success in the next five years. 

Lab Report: Absolutely. Lots of online tools support do-it-yourself strategies to get started – Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, GFEM. Many of the online platforms are also easier ways for do-it-yourself distributors to gain access. Many startups flame out, of course, and the do-it-yourself tools morph all the time, so filmmakers need to be vigilant in staying up to date. 

Lesson: Even if you go with a top-tier distributor, there will always be a “do-it-yourself” aspect to getting your film out from this point forward. The days of delivering your title to a distributor and waiting for the magic to happen are probably over. You may choose to do everything yourself or land a great distributor and complement their promotional efforts with your own. But considering the plethora of choices out there, those who invest the most human capital online will stand out. Look for more “Lessons from the Lab” coming soon.


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