Build Your Video Business

Direct Distribution is Important for Artists, Audiences, Everyone

by Jamie Wilkinson · January 1, 2016 · Comments

There’s a lot of talk about new ways of watching, streaming, funding, and everything else-ing video.   

Which is why we’re so excited to be VHX right now, working in this intersection of video content and technology. Artists are generating an amazing amount of great content. We are making a platform to get artists’ work seen, loved, and paid for. 

Direct distribution is creators selling directly to their fans. Instead of using other people’s stores and marketplaces, artists can sell from their own websites. This model points to the kind of close relationship between audience and creator that both parties want - axing the middleman idea that has come to define old structures. We are part of a new developing ecosystem of distribution, offering better, more flexible options to help anyone sell their work to the people who want it. 

1. Because, Internet. 

With the perpetual advance of bandwidth and plethora of devices to consume content, it’s just plain easy to watch online. We strongly believe that a digital copy of content can and should be superior to its physical ancestor. You can stuff your “digital DVD” with bonus content, subtitles, bundle with other goodies, or even change or release more content over time, free of old school restrictions like region-blocking. Miami Connection — a film that was barely available on VHS when it was made in 1987 — is now easy to watch anytime with hours of bonus content, anywhere in the world. 

Additionally, the Internet has enabled makers and their audiences to build real relationships, from #TeamCoco to Taylor Swift to Amanda Palmer. The webs of social networks that have developed over the last decade mean that artists are able to communicate en masse, for free, and connect to the fans that are interested in their work. Dave Grohl uses social media platforms as a way to tell fans about his doc, Sound City, connect them to upcoming concerts, and even answer personal questions. Content discovery is powered by people, and artists can have a direct connection to that process. 

2. Direct distribution allows artists less restrictions, more control 

Distributing directly to fans online relieves a lot of restrictions. Content does not need to fit into a specific package, like “feature-length film,” to be something that fans want to buy. House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon explains that content like TV programming must adapt to the desires of a digital audience: “There’s not even a reason to stick the half hour or hour-long models. You can have an episode that’s 20 minutes, an episode that’s 90 minutes.” A flexible platform allows artists to sell freeform content they may not have even considered. 

Direct distribution also allows artists to command long-term control of the work they generate. They can be as creative with how they release content as they are with how they make it. Mike Birbiglia partnered with IFC to sell Sleepwalk With Me in the United States, but kept many of the international rights and sold his movie directly from his own site everywhere else in the world. Keeping that control empowers artists to choose the distribution methods that work best. Technology offers precise information about audiences that you simply can’t get elsewhere. The filmmakers behind Stuck tracked their site referrals and focused their resources on what worked, while Indie Game: The Movie used audience and sales data to experiment with the optimal price point. Selling directly is a viable, accountable complement to everything else in the seller’s arsenal of tools, and what they learn from their web traffic can inform the rest of their distribution strategy. 

3. And it’s better for fans anyway

Artists have the ability to make more money from their work when we connect them directly to fans. Think of it as the technology piece that’s been missing from their distribution toolbelt. 

Every creator that we’ve worked with at VHX is so excited to be able to put their work online in a way that reaches individual fans in a personal way, and in a way that showcases the content:

  • Minecraft: The Story of Mojang includes a bonus mini doc of the making-of their next big game. 
  • The Invisible Made Visible offers an extra Q&A with the man/myth/legend Ira Glass, plus a custom game for fans to play along with OK Go’s music.  
  • Doin’ It In the Park gave Kickstarter backers early access to the movie. 
  • Dave Grohl includes a personal letter of thanks in each purchase email confirmation of Sound City

And those are just a few. The freedom of selling directly empowers artists to be creative with their content and creative with how they show it to the world. 

And that couldn’t be better news for us as fans. The nature and quality of video experiences keep evolving, and artists continue to explore ways for audiences to interact with their work online. As an audience, we get to keep supporting creators as they make things we want to watch - your wallet is a powerful way to vote. We want to make direct distribution easy, so creators can reach fans, audiences can watch great content, and we can all support work we love without wondering where the money is going.