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Playing The Title Name Game on VOD: Or Why Your Film Should Start With the Letter 'A'

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire September 26, 2013 at 10:30AM

Why all of the VOD titles that start with numbers or letters early in the alphabet? Because of the alphabetical listings, those films perform better statistically.
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And While We Were Here
And While We Were Here

"Adore," "After Earth," "And While We Were Here," "All is Bright" and "As Cool As I Am" are among the titles available in VOD now. Notice anything they all have in common?

Yes, they all begin with the letter A. And that's no coincidence.

"Everybody is coming up with titles like 'AAA Action Star.' It's like the old days when people would name their company AAA Acme Exterminator so they'd be listed first," said Bob Berney, CEO of Picturehouse.

In fact, some productions are even changing existing titles to benefit from the alphabetical listing interface on most cable networks. Before its VOD release in August, the title of the film "While We Were Here" was changed to "And While We Were Here." By starting with an "A" rather than a "W," the film, directed by Kat Coiro and released by Well Go USA, increased its odds of being a VOD success.

"If you talk to anybody in the business, they'll tell you that having an A or a B or a number in the title will get you 20% more hits," said Chris McGurk, chairman and CEO of Cinedigm. "It's shocking, but if you've got an early letter in the alphabet, it's a huge advantage."

"28 Hotel Rooms"
"28 Hotel Rooms"

Of course, that's not so different than authors who come up with pen names starting with early letters in the alphabet so their titles will show up at the start of the bookshelf.

"The Answer Man," the 2009 film distributed by Magnolia Pictures is another example of a film which presumably changed its title to capitalize on the alphabetical VOD listings. Its original title was "The Dream of the Romans." "5 Star Day," released in 2010, was changed from "Five Star Day," presumably to benefit from the ranking.

McGurk said that the title is even taken into consideration when delivering estimates on a VOD film. "There's a premium if a film starts with an A or a B or a number. Now that most of the VOD menus start out with an alphabetical list of titles, it's just a fact that the ones earlier in the alphabet will get more views."

That explains why you see so many films with titles that are numbers. IFC Midnight's thriller "+1" changed the title from "Plus One" so that it would be listed first when users are browsing titles.

"28 Hotel Rooms" is another example of a film that benefited from its numerical title on cable VOD. "We obviously didn't buy the film because of its title, but it's a great title and that is an advantage in the VOD space," said David Laub, Co-President of Oscilloscope Pictures, the film's distributor, who acknowledged that "everyone is scrambling to change titles to numbers."

That said, obviously, many of the top indie films on VOD -- such as "The Big Wedding" and "Peeples" -- don't start with numbers or letters early in the alphabet. Big stars or high-concept films do well, as do titles that make it clear what the film is about. Look for an upcoming story about what sorts of films tend to do well with day and date releases.

And while the current interface on the majority of cable companies is alphabetical, that, will, no doubt, change in the near future -- and the business of playing the title name game will change too.


This article is related to: VOD, Filmmaker Toolkit: Distribution, And While We Were Here, And While We Were Here, 28 Hotel Rooms, +1 (Plus One)





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