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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Digital Downloads Panel at IFP Filmmaker Conference

This afternoon's panel on Digital Downloads was hugely fun for me to moderate.

Joel Heller of Docs That Inspire recorded the panel, and has posted it here.

Some of my impressions and rough notes:

    - Digital downloading isn't yet a major revenue-generator for indie filmmakers; Hunter Weeks of '10 MPH' said he has sold about 4000 DVDs of the documentary, and about 700 downloads (both on his own site and on Amazon Unbox)

    - Anyone who picks up your movie for distribution in theaters, on home video, or on TV will try to buy the digital rights for it ... even if they don't actually do anything with them; carving out digital rights seems like a good idea

    - We all agreed that iTunes is the "hot shop" where digital movie buying happens, but they're not yet open to indies; Peter Broderick of Paradigm Consulting said that iTunes will start selling indie content (handled by aggregators) really soon, but wouldn't say more

    - Building a database of your fans' names, e-mail addresses, and ZIP codes is really important, as you sell downloads. Many services won't give you that information, to protect their customers' privacy. But Peter said that getting that information could be as valuable as any profit you earn from selling or renting your movie -- since those are fans you can communicate with and market your future films to. Peter has a great term for that group of people: they are a filmmakers "core personal audience." I like that.

    - I predicted, in response to an audience question, that in five years, digital movie consumption will be about equal to consumption on DVD.

    - Jaman said they plan to start integrating advertising in short films soon, and sharing the revenue with creators (right now, Jaman's model is simply to sell or rent full-length movies in digital form)

    - I brought up Jaman's deal structure: they give filmmakers 30 percent of the rental or download revenues, and pocket 70 percent. That compares to selling movies through Amazon's Unbox / CreateSpace, which split revenues down the middle. Kathleen Powell said that Jaman is more of a concentrated community of cinephiles, and that indie features and docs don't get lost. (She also said that "Black" is the site's most popular film.)

    - Then Brian Chris of the 'Four Eyed Monsters' team hammered on Jaman some more, noting that the site requires filmmakers sign a six year non-exclusive agreement ... so if you made another distribution deal, you couldn't remove your movie from Jaman for six years. Kathleen clarified, and said that the length of these deals run anywhere from five to nine years, and said that it's expensive for the site to encode movies (that cost is anywhere from $800 to $2000). So it isn't economical for the site to do that one week, and have a filmmaker pull down the title the next week.

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