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How to Stream and Rent Your Films Online

Lights Film School was recently in touch with the founders of filmbinder.com. They offer an interesting service to filmmakers and we’re happy they agreed to an interview with us. The idea started when the co-founder Xavier wanted to rent his own 18 minute short film Vodka & Women online but couldn’t find a desirable solution. As a filmmaker he was frustrated with not being able to easily offer Video on Demand (VOD) options for his 18 minute short film. So what did they do? He teamed up with Nils and they built their own VOD platform so they could rent their short film out to their audience! Now they’re offering the technology to the public.

Video on Demand & Streaming

Video On Demand is something that’s gaining in popularity and has picked up incredible momentum recently. Netflix has over 20 million total subscriber. They’ve also had an astronomical increase in their number of subscribers in 2010. If Netflix was a cable company it would be the second largest, just behind Comcast (it may have actually recently surpassed Comcast in 2011). More and more customers are moving over to the streaming only plans. Customers want to choose what films they want to watch, when they want to watch them and they don’t want to pay much to watch them. They also don’t want to be concerned about late fees or scratched disks. DVD rental retail chains have been dropping out of our neighborhoods like flies. It’s been such a quick and visible transformation.

So the solution seems to be obvious. Filmmakers need to transfer their work over to a VOD model for rental income. In theory this sounds fantastic, but the technical and design platform is far too complex for most filmmakers to get up and running themselves. Similarly, it’s too expensive and time consuming to outsource the technology and design work. So why not just pitch your film to pre-existing platforms such as Netflix or Amazon? Well let us explain.

There are popular platforms that already exist but they are heavily filtered and primarily stock their catalogue from a roster of films that distributors own. It’s too much hassle for them to buy individual films from individual filmmakers. It would be a logistical nightmare. So while it is possible to get your independent film on Netflix, you have a better chance of getting in their catalogue if you already have a distribution deal. So for many independent or student filmmakers this leaves you back at square one: knowing that VOD will help your film reach its audience, but not knowing how to access VOD technology.

VOD technology requires the following:

Customer / sales tracking
Metrics
Geoblocking
Fast streaming capabilities
Hosting & bandwidth
A user friendly front end and backend
A strong marketing layout allowing filmmakers to embed trailers, posters, film festival awards, cast / crew information and so on.

Enter filmbinder! It’s a relatively new service that allows filmmakers to post their short, feature or documentary films online for VOD streaming. The filmmaker plays a small monthly fee ($10 – $14) for the hosting and technology services and in return the filmmakers (you) get to keep 100% of their profits.

The idea started when the founders wanted to rent their own 18 minute short film online but no service offered them what they were looking for. So they built the platform for their film themselves and successfully rented their film 1600 times using their own technology. Next, they decided to offer their service to other filmmakers looking for ways to stream and rent their films online. Now all of the filmmakers on the filmbinder network just pay a small monthly fee to have access to this technology.

Now, it should be stated that filmbinder is not a netflix replacement. By default of having certain filters in place (i.e. working closely with distributors and buyers), Netflix is also a fairly reliable curator for media. There is a certain production standard that audience’s can rely on from them.

However, filmbinder doesn’t have the same curator responsibilities because the point isn’t to have a highly curated catalogue of films. Instead, the point is to give filmmakers access to the technology. It’s then the filmmaker’s responsibility to get traffic to their film’s landing page. I’m sure there is, and will be an increasing amount of traffic spillover from the main site however, I suspect the majority of your VOD rentals will come from your own marketing efforts.

In fact we asked the founders about this and they told us that “On average you get 1 rental out of every 90 visits and $1 for every 37 visits. Not too bad right? But the conversion rate of how many trailers get watched before one film gets rented out, varies from film to film.”

What’s even better is that Filmbinder is entirely customizable. You can host your services on your own website if you like and they are happy to do any customization work for you if you want to experiment with a different template.

Working With Your Existing Distribution Deal: Geoblocking

Even better, is that filmbinder can be used by filmmakers with already existing distribution deals. Their geoblocking feature allows you to exclude territories, so you can honor your current or any future distribution deals. By default, your films will be available in all 240 territories worldwide. If you are constrained by exclusive deals in certain territories, just uncheck them under the FILM tab in your admin panel. So if you have a distribution deal in Canada and the USA you can block those territories from being able to rent your film.

Filmbinder is non-exclusive. You keep all rights to your film. You can use filmbinder to complement your current distribution – and you can look for other distribution in addition to filmbinder.

Although Amazon offers a similar service, they also take roughly 50% of your sales. Filmbinder is great because if you worked it out on a percentage basis their monthly fee only works out to about 1.5 – 2.8% of sales. So their base price is $14 / month. If you sign up for a year it drops to $10 / month. The price includes up to 100 rentals / month as well as the streaming of your trailer. But as the ambitious filmmaker that you are, you probably want to know what happens if you stream more than 100 / month. Well we asked them to give us the numbers for 500 rentals / month and 100o rentals / month. They estimates are below.

How Much Does the Service Cost? **All numbers below are with a yearly subscription plan**.

Rentals / month | Monthly Subscription | Revenue at $5 / rental | Commission Equivalent
100                                      $10                             $500                                            2.00%
500                                      $50                             $2,500                                         2.00%
1000                                    $100                          $5000                                           2.00%

And since we appreciate your commitment to checking out the Lights Film School Blog we asked the guys at filmbinder if they could give our readers a discount. They agreed to give you a 25% discount. Just use the coupon code: LIGHTSFILMSCHOOL. So your numbers look as follows

100                                   $7.50                           $500                                           1.50%
500                                   $37.50                         $2500                                         1.50%
1000                                 $75                              $5000                                         1.50%

Future Plans & Recommendations

We also asked them if there was any chance they would introduce a “buy” model which would allow filmmakers to charge more for the purchase of a digital download, rather than just a rental option. Nil responded by saying ” most filmmakers and viewers prefer to stream films. We had a couple of filmmakers and a couple of viewers asking for a download-to-own option. If there is more demand for it, we can develop such feature. For now we just redirect viewers to the filmmakers, if they ask for a DVD.”

Nils, one of the founders, will be keeping an eye out on the blog so if you have any questions or recommendations about filmbinder.com please feel free to post them below. This is a very interesting business model for us independent filmmakers so it’s worth opening it up for conversation bellow! Looking forward to your ideas and questions!


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4 Responses to How to Stream and Rent Your Films Online

  1. Sarah H. April 27, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    This is really interesting. When an audience watches your film do they need to wait to download it or can they start to watch it right after they pay. Is speed ever a concern (i.e. lag or anything like that)?

  2. Nils April 27, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    The audience can start watching the film right after they pay, meaning they can start watching while the film buffers. They can pay either with their credit card or with their PayPal account. All payments go directly to the filmmaker right after the audience has paid. They can also pay and decide to activate their rental at a later point in time. Once the rental is activated, they can watch the film as many times they want within the rental period, that the filmmaker has specified.

    We focus on quality. When you distribute your film and trailer over the Internet, you need to make sure that they are encoded to the right format. Otherwise people might encounter poor film quality or long buffer periods. The streaming experience depends on the file size of your film, the settings that have been used to encode your film, and on the different browsers, players, and internet connections that people use. The trick is to reduce the file size of your film without loosing too much quality. 

With filmbinder your film will play in all popular browsers, iPhone, iPad, and Google TV. Using our recommended encoding standards you can reduce a film of 3 hours, to a file size of 2 GB, and still stream in DVD quality.

  3. Laura May 13, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    This is very interesting. Something to keep in mind. Thank you for posting.

  4. Steven April 26, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    Thanks for the great information! I think the distribution end of filmmaking is ofter the most misunderstood or at least the most under-understood.

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