Clearing a path to web giants’ doors

Distribber was designed to ease the notoriously costly and complicated journey to distribution for independent filmmakers.

By Rosie Lavan

Distribber is a digital distribution service set up by Adam Chapnick in 2009 to open the door to major web stores for independent films. Chapnick was aware of some rankles between rights holders – whether filmmakers or production companies – and aggregators, like iTunes and Netflix. Distribber was designed to solve these problems.

Director Franny Armstrong used Distribber when distributing her docudrama The Age of Stupid

First, Chapnick knew rights holders objected to the revenue-share model on which aggregators are based, which entitles them to a percentage of revenue as long as they host a film on their platform. While encoding is an expensive process for aggregators, Chapnick believed you could set a fair, one-off price for the work, so Distribber charges a flat fee-for-service.

He also knew that rights holders were often unhappy about the hefty fees distributors and aggregators charged for services like marketing, which they were not sure were satisfactorily carried out. Again, on Distribber he set fair, one-off fees that help a rights holder to stay in profit for the duration of their film’s life on sites like iTunes. There is an added boost for films registered with the service – Distribber promotes clients’ work through its social media networks and mailing list, and pushes for prominent spots on the iTunes Independent Film and Documentaries pages and tie-ins with other relevant content.

Third, rights holders often complained that aggregators were slow to provide information on how their film was selling, or failed to tell them at all. For its clients Distribber set up user accounts for the flat annual fee of $79, giving rights holders access to statistics on their film’s performance on different platforms and to their collected funds balance, and enabling them to withdraw their own money whenever they choose.

This charging model sets Distribber apart, says Slava Rubin, co-founder of film funding platform IndieGoGo, which acquired Distribber in March 2010. Its competitors are “anybody that’s trying to help navigate the system in terms of getting your work on the digital distribution sites,” but, Rubin adds, “we are unique because we don’t charge any back-end fees – just an upfront set-up fee and a yearly subscription charge.”

Distribber’s aim, then, is to enable rights holders to build a profile for their film on the web giants, like iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand, and ensure they can retain and access 100 per cent of the revenue from their work without getting locked into costly relationships with aggregators. Creators keep 100 per cent of their rights this way, too. It is free to sign up to the service, and there is step-by-step guidance throughout, including at the often difficult encoding and quality control stages.

IndieGoGo’s acquisition of the service created an end-to-end business model for filmmakers, from fundraising to distribution.

According to Rubin, the consolidation underlines the direction that many of the new internet services designed to support creatives are taking. “What you are seeing is more about tools, information and data, services and connection – and more about how to connect those different services together.” Distribber currently offers placement on iTunes, Amazon VOD and Netflix and is in talks with other stores.

Key projects and users

The Age of Stupid (2009) – Franny Armstrong’s searing climate change docudrama

I Want My 3 Minutes Back! (2008) – Documentary directed by Chuck Potter which examines the phenomenon of online video through the lives of three YouTube creators

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One Response to “Clearing a path to web giants’ doors”

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