Death of the DVD Part Two: Filmmakers’ Reflections

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

While DVDs fade in importance and profitability, how do filmmakers manage? Two ITVS directors offered their perspectives: Isaac Solotaroff, director of Wham! Bam! Islam!, and Anne MakepeaceWe Still Live Here – Âs Nutayuneânhave used different coping mechanisms.

Both directors agree that educational DVDs make up a large chunk of their profits. Each educational disc is sold for as much as $500, and libraries will require physical objects for the foreseeable future.

But consumer DVDs? “I’ve absolutely given up on making money selling my project to individuals,” Solotaroff said. “If I make money on the back end, it’s selling to screening and educational institutions.” He half-jokingly added: “When you finish a film, you have DVDs made, and they sit on your shelf, you give them away as a souvenir, and use them for coasters.”

A better option is directing individual viewers to online streams, Solotaroff said. As a self-distributor, it can be prohibitively expensive to mail DVDs. But online streaming to consumers pays a fraction of what DVD or educational sales do. In total, Solotaroff estimates he’s sold 1,000-1,500 online streams and 30 DVDs to educational distributors. Still, the two have earned him about the same revenue.

In contrast, Anne Makepeace said she has sold more DVDs (including educational and consumer) than online streams for Rain in a Dry Land and We Still Live Here. “I haven’t really promoted the digital streams,” Makepeace said. “It’s more in my interest to sell DVDs, frankly, especially until I run out of DVDs of my oldest films.”
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Death of the DVD: Thoughts from New Day Films’ Jeff Tamblyn

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

The verdict is in: Filmmakers can expect to profit from DVD sales for only two more years. At least that’s what Jeff Tamblyn, Director of Digital Delivery at New Day, is wagering.

“We should start a pot at New Day, a betting pool,” Tamblyn joked. “I’d be really surprised if the DVD market was 25 percent of what it is now in two years. I think the shift to streaming is going to be sudden and immediate.”

Statistics are also sounding the death knell: DVD sales plummeted 20 percent in 2011 to $6.8 billion, while digital sales such as streaming rose 50 percent to $3.4 billion, according to USA Today. Blu-ray disc sales rose 19 percent, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the DVD’s slide. In 2012, more movies will be viewed online than in all formats combined, according to The Degree360. Continue reading

Find Your Audience: Building Long-Term Engagement with Passionate Viewers

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

Documentary filmmakers have complex motivations for producing films. Unlike the makers of, say, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, most nonfiction directors want their viewers to do more than simply pay for theatre tickets. They’re after long-term engagement. But how should doc makers find their audience if they aren’t a blockbuster like Waiting for Superman?

It starts with the selection of a subject. From the moment you decide to make a film about a certain topic, you’re also choosing an audience. Over at POV, Edward J. Delaney explained how to find a micro-audience, meaning, the viewers who already have a vested interest in your topic. One telling case is that of the 2007 Cannes award-winning documentary Zoo. Continue reading

Indie Distribution in a Post-Netflix World

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. Continue reading

DIY Distribution

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

If you have yet to reach the halls of filmmaking immortality (i.e., you aren’t a brand like Ken Burns), it might feel impossible to approach Netflix or iTunes on your own. Both companies receive a deluge of distribution requests from indies, and only the rare applicant rises above the masses.

Doug Hawes-Davis, co-founder of High Plains Films and director most recently of Facing the Storm, has made overtures to both platforms to stream his films online. Despite his extensive library of feature-length and short documentaries, Netflix sent an automated rejection letter to his production company. iTunes declines to return calls, even though High Plains Films meets its extensive requirements.

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The ITVS Indies Roundup

A curated list of indie news and recommendations from ITVS’s Rebecca Huval.

Want a work-related excuse to visit the Big Apple? Our friends at POV are hosting a hackathon for storytellers and developers on the weekend of August 11-12 in NYC. The call for participants opened this week, and the deadline is June 29. Thankfully, the filmmaker applications look like a breeze to fill out.

Sometimes, the technology to tell a particular story is just out of reach. The 1938 science short film Color Vision explained how human and other animal eyes see color, more than a decade before color film had been developed.

The filmmaker of Helvetica is back in style. Gary Hustwit was a master at crowdfunding before Kickstarter was even launched, and his latest Olympic Games photo project has raised $12,000 with 28 days to go. Continue reading

The ITVS Indies Roundup

A curated list of indie news and recommendations from ITVS’s Rebecca Huval.

If you want to turn a stale movie launch around, save your documentary for last. Filmmaker Liz Nord explains why she released some of her most precious interviews and multimedia experiences months before her film premiered.

You might know John Baldessari as the world-class artist who puts dots over faces in photos, but he’s so much more. Similarly, you might know Tom Waits as the gravelly singer who inhabits low-life characters, but he’s also a sassy narrator. This playful short documentary shows the lesser-known sides of both men.
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PBS Shines Light on Independents at 2012 Annual Meeting

By Lois Vossen
Senior Series Producer, Independent Lens
 

Lois Vossen, Senior Series Producer of Independent Lens

Each spring, PBS hosts its Annual Meeting, an opportunity for people from across the public television landscape to come together and see what worked the year before and look ahead to what the coming year holds.  The PBS Annual Meeting is attended by public television station staff including general managers, programmers, outreach and publicity staff, along with members of the minority consortia, series producers, presenting organizations, and staff from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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Reaching an Audience on Multiple Screens

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

As you probably know, TV viewership today is vastly different than it was just a few years ago. There’s at least one upside. Now that viewers tend to click on their entertainment, media has become easier to track. Recent Nielsen reports paint a picture of TV homes aglow with multiple screens, and their viewing habits vary across demographics in interesting ways.

Gadget owners juggle between multiple screens. While watching a TV program, they checked email (57 percent), surfed for unrelated info (44 percent), and visited a social networking site (44 percent). In 2011, the number of laptops surpassed desktops in TV homes, making it easier to browse on the couch. The top visited websites were the usual suspects: Facebook, YouTube, Zynga, Google Search, and Yahoo! Mail. Continue reading

ITVS in the News

Coverage of ITVS and Independent Lens from Monday’s edition of The New York Times.

The New York Times: PBS Shifts in Time Slots Hurts Series of Films
The home page of PBS.org in recent days has highlighted a new feature, the PBS Online Film Festival. But the prime-time schedule for PBS this television season has, in the eyes of some, effectively marginalized its two award-winning independent film series: “Independent Lens,” which started its new season last October, and “POV,” which will begin new episodes June 21. Continue Reading >>>