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by Bryce J. Renninger
September 18, 2012 3:37 PM
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Internet Veterans Behind VHX Hold the Future of Distribution... If You've Been Developing Your Film's Online Presence

The VHX display for Aziz Ansari's stand-up special. VHX.tv

Jamie Wilkinson started the website Knowyourmeme.com, which encourages people to educate themselves on the viral sensations creeping across the Internet. His frequent collaborator Casey Pugh has developed for Vimeo and boxee. The two have worked together on the fanboy sensation "Star Wars Uncut," which won a Creative Arts Emmy.

For a year now, the two have been hard at work on their new company VHX, which creates a platform for filmmakers to sell their film to stream and/or download through the film's own website.

VHX houses its own design and development team, hosts the video on its servers, and helps develop a strategy to maximize online audiences for films. 

So far, VHX has done the digital release for Aziz Ansari's stand-up special "Dangerously Delicious" and James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot's Sundance award-winner "Indie Game: The Movie."  nlimited streaming and downloads are available on the film's respective websites for $5 and $9.99, respectively. According to Wilkinson, VHX has deals signed with a half dozen projects to release films over the rest of 2012, with more deals in negotiation.

READ MORE: Indiewire Speaks With Indie Game: The Movie Directors

The distribitution model -- selling your film on your own website -- requires healthy traffic to your website or a hearty list of Twitter or Facebook followers that can easily be driven to the website. And so, as Wilkinson tells Indiewire, "It's not for everyone... yet! You'll have a tough time finding a film that's not marketing themselves online these days. And with the work that goes into branding a film and all the energy and money that goes into filmmaking, when you get it to a distributor, you hope that it gets the full attention it deserves. With VHX, you can do it yourselves. Our whole thesis is that cast and crew [if they're working hard to promote the film] can command as many eyeballs as distributors can."

For VHX's first two high-profile releases, having an online following was no problem. Ansari has made waves as a stand-up comedian for the Twitter generation, and he's a star of a popular sitcom, "Parks and Recreation." The "Indie Game: The Movie" filmmakers did a great job of tapping the indie gaming community for their Kickstarter campaign and were blogging updates on the film throughout their production schedule. Those filmmakers were actually introduced to Wilkinson through a common Twitter follower when they were approached with traditional distribution deals at Sundance. "With the deals they were looking at, the film wouldn't be released online for two years," Wilkinson says. "We had a site designed for them in ten days."

READ MORE: Attention Vimeo Filmmakers! Make Money on Your Films Today!

Wilkinson explains that Hollywood is not seeing the Internet as a viable distribution platform. But who needs the old system? "The expectation of the audience is that they find out about a film and they should be able to see it online, globally," he says. "Physical constraints [like DVD regions] no longer apply."

The first experiment in this kind of release with a filmmaker with a deep Internet following occurred with Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," which debuted in three installments on Hulu in 2008. Louis C.K. then made a huge splash last year when his own self-distributed stand-up special grossed him more than $1 million.

Digital storefront for "Indie Game: The Movie"

The deals with Ansari and "Indie Game" were especially attractive because they allowed the producers of both films to make deals on other channels. "Dangerously Delicious" made a broadcast deal with Comedy Central, and the "Indie Game: The Movie" filmmakers managed their own theatrical distribution and distributed online using iTunes and game platform Steam. Wilkinson attributes the success of both to the synergy created by their multi-platform releases.

"We're cognizant of the restrictions in the system [e.g. release windows]," adds Wilkinson. "At the same time, we have a strong preference for the way these things could be done, more direct to consumer."

For now, the VHX team isn't focusing its efforts on a centralized marketplace. Instead, it's working on a network model, where a common VHX login can give the viewer instant access to whatever films he or she is interested in but no one place lists the entire roster.

Go HERE to reach out to VHX.

7 Comments

  • Lee Waterworth | September 19, 2012 8:25 PMReply

    Hi Mike

    I tried to post a comment on your blog, but for some reason the comment didn't show, so wanted to post my comments here in case anyone clicked through. Here they are:

    This is an interesting article Mike. DIY distribution is certainly the method of the future, I agree and I applaud you for finding this solution. I do see a couple of issues with this method of delivery, though which could provide many problems at the same time as not maximizing the opportunity available to rights holders, while adding a lot of extra work and responsibility.

    Here are the issues I see:

    * Highly un-scalable individual hosting account - when Louis CK went on Oprah, his system crashed and thousands of purchase opportunities were lost;
    * This is a download-to-own play only;
    * Content isn't encrypted, or protected with any DRM;
    * There are no individually-coded URLs, so people can just share around the download link and anyone could download the movie;
    * No provision for differing bandwidths – it's one-size fits all;
    * No user management area, where a user can review purchases and user history;
    * No customer support - this becomes quite a task when the number of rentals becomes significant;
    * The player doesn't travel, it's not embeddable on other sites, so people have to know about your content - which is a marketing discussion
    * No auto-resume
    * No digital gifting of any kind
    * No social integration, contributing to SEO value of the film
    * No anti-piracy protection

    That said, this feels a labor intensive solution for someone expecting to sell a limited amount of copies, who doesn't expect people to have a high-quality viewing experience, who doesn't care of the content is rampantly pirated and doesn't need or want any social marketing or promotional tools.

    My question to you then, is why should a filmmaker consider going to all of these extra lengths to provide a sub-par experience when they could just use a service like Yekra.com, receive all of the things listed above, not have to manage it and only have to share 20% or less of each stream? Not to mention having the ability to cross promote with other titles and capitalize on the traffic that every other film generates too?

    I'd be happy to enter into further discussion with you about this and give you a demo of our product offering over here at Yekra if it is of interest to you.

    Best,

    Lee

  • Andrew S | September 18, 2012 10:45 PMReply

    Yekra looks cool but they have a crappy name. I'm giving both of these guys a shot.

  • Lee Waterworth | September 19, 2012 8:24 PM

    Thanks for the feedback, Andrew! We thought it was quite cool, as in Farsi "Yek" means "One" and "Ra" means "path to walk" And we're definitely providing one clear path for people to walk over here...

  • Sahara Grisbald | September 18, 2012 4:39 PMReply

    As a filmmaker I see the value in digital self distribution but VHX does not offer the correct tools I need as a filmmaker. I have done my due diligence with these new platforms popping up here there and everywhere. Distrify, VHX, Craze Digital....But the best one I have found so far is YEKRA. They offer so much more service to a novice distributor. We are filmmakers, and uploading our films onto a platform is pointless. Who will find us?, HOw will we know how to market our film?...What do we do?...Yekra provides all the answers. They are the entire package not just bits and pieces. Take a look for yourself and you will see what I am saying.

  • Hikotimo | September 18, 2012 4:38 PMReply

    I have been reading a lot about VHX recently and am excited by this new space. At the same time, I am perplexed as to why no-one is mentioning a company called YEKRA (www.yekra.com) who have been doing the same thing with much more success! Their first film has been seen by over 7 million viewers now and they have over 50 films live. Only they are working with distributors as well as independent filmmakers. Check em out!

  • Lee Waterworth | September 19, 2012 8:28 PM

    Thanks for your support, Hikotimo. Certainly looks like VHX and Yekra are playing in the same space here - but there's room for everyone!

  • Sahara Grisbald | September 18, 2012 4:41 PM

    I JUST SAID THE SAME THING!! Universe aligning itself much?