An old friend of mine forwarded my last post to a friend of his in distribution. That friend very kindly allowed me to post her thoughts on the dilemmas of distribution and rights, from a documentary/educational perspective:
[T]his whole discussion has been quite an albatross for a long time, mostly because the nature of distribution is constantly changing (I’m familiar with that Peter Broderick article). We are (primarily) an educational distributor and we have a certain niche so therefore we only acquire certain types of films. And each film has different rights associated with it. Some of our films we don’t have home video rights for (and get shit from customers who think we’re trying to “keep valuable info from the public” — I have to respond to those nasty e‑mails quite a bit), some we don’t have digital rights for, many only carry US/Canadian rights, etc. etc., and part of the reason why I’m being laid off soon is because our DVD sales have gone down considerably since 1.) we haven’t really been acquiring any new films of note, and 2.) many of our customers are now moving over to digital/streaming, especially in the college market where more and more students are taking distance/online courses and aren’t physically in a classroom.
This has been a huge discussion among us and all similar indie documentary film distributors. Having all our content online will be a HUGE undertaking and we have to square away the rights to each and every film, and then figure out where and how to host it, etc. etc. We’ve experimented with Netflix (2 of our films are there now — DVD not streaming), Amazon, Fora TV, iTunes (not successful there — HUGE Pain in the ASS), Vudu, IndiePix, and other short lived services that sounded like the next big thing but failed miserably. It’s SO hard to keep up with all the latest technology.…for now I just got my regular ol TV and Satellite Dish and DVR and that suits me just fine. ugh!!!
While these are very distinct problems for extant product, they are also valid points to remember for producers when they are signing away rights for distribution. What rights are you signing over to whom? How long is the term? In the digital age, a week is like an eternity–are you sure you want to let someone else have your content for years?
As more producers elect to promote and distribute their own works, this model is going to keep transitioning–I doubt that what we have even two or three years from now will look a whole lot like the current distribution landscape.
In the next couple of days, I’ll be posting about a completely different model that micro-indies could potentially leverage to great effect…