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Inside the Fishbowl: Wisdom on Windowing

January 13, 2015

• Melanie Miller

Preface

It’s 2015 and I have so many New Years resolutions that I plan to keep, one of which is to “pay it forward” and share the knowledge that I have gained over the last 20+ years in the entertainment industry.  I won’t bore you with my credits or the zig-zags that my career has taken to get me to this point - co-founder of Fishbowl Films - but I will tell you that the last 5 years have been my own personal masters program in independent distribution while retaining numerous roles and responsibilities at Gravitas Ventures, the last of which was Vice President of Acquisitions & Marketing. 

With the ability to release a film in theaters, in over 100 million homes in North America and over one billion worldwide on the same day, Gravitas is now one of the leading distributors in the marketplace for indie films.  Under my watch, we sub-licensed over 150 films to Warner Bros. Digital Distribution with 40+ receiving a pre-theatrical or day & date theatrical/VOD release and in 2014 Gravitas began releasing their high profile films directly to the industry.  Last year I oversaw the release & marketing campaigns for over a dozen pre-theatrical or day & date released films including BAD JOHNSON, PING PONG SUMMER, 4 MINUTE MILE, JAMIE MARKS IS DEAD, THE LONGEST WEEK, FELONY and the Austin Film Festival world premiering documentary 21 YEARS: RICHARD LINKLATER, which I also retain a Producer credit.  

I tell you all this not to “toot my own horn” or the horn of Gravitas, but to assure you that I have a solid grasp of the independent distribution space, a space that continues to evolve and we as filmmakers must adapt in order to survive, but more importantly thrive in 2015. 

As I put my experience and knowledge into practice full time as a Producer or PMD (Producer of Marketing & Distribution) I will take you "Inside the Fishbowl" here at Seed&Spark on my thoughts and/or experiences regarding such topics as windowing, piracy, day & date releasing, reverse-engineering, transparency, etc..

So, thank you Emily Best for allowing me to realize a New Year's resolution by asking me (in front of entire audience during a panel discussion at the Austin Film Festival) if I would “share my knowledge” on Seed&Spark.  As I told her and the packed ballroom, “I’m no Matt Weiner, but if there are this many people attending our panel when he’s speaking down the hall, how can I say no?!  Hell, this is a writers conference so I’ll do my best and strive to wax-poetic.”

Melanie D. Miller

@fishbowl_films

 

Windows 101: So when you nod your head in understanding, you actually mean it. 

Has an all-rights offer worth taking eluded you and your film? Have you considered constructing a DIY and/or hybrid distribution strategy for your film? If your answer is yes, then the first thing I would recommend you do is become familiar with release windows, which folks in our business just refer to as "windows."

Windows is a term used to descript periods of time a certain type of media is allowed to screen your film.  Traditionally, a feature film is first released in theatres, then on DVD and pay-per-view/video-on-demand (VOD), and finally on broadcast TV.  As the landscape of traditional distribution changes, so do the windows. If you keep windowing foremost in mind, this will help insure that you monetize your film to the best of your ability.

Following is a basic breakdown of windows, using a pre-theatrical release as an example:

PRE-THEATRICAL WINDOW

Pre-Theatrical is a transactional VOD (TVOD) window.  It allows a user the ability to select and view a film for a rental fee, based on the provider’s price point for a limited period of time.

Transactional VOD (TVOD) encompasses the following:
Cable (e.g. Comcast, Time Warner, Rogers, Cogeco)
Satellite (e.g. DirecTV, Dish Network)
Telco (e.g. AT&T U-Verse, Verizon Fios)
Internet (e.g. Amazon Instant Video, Apple iTunes, Vudu)

Length of window:  approximately 30 days

Average VOD price point:  $9.99 (HD & SD)

Average length of rental period:  48 hours

Note:  A pre-theatrical window is primarily reserved for a cast driven narrative feature.  This window is the ideal time to get your film up with hotels and/or airlines, which again is reserved primarily for cast driven content, this time due to limited space and studio competition.

 

DAY & DATE THEATRICAL/VOD WINDOW

A day & date theatrical/VOD release is when a film is screening in theaters and is also available via a transactional VOD (TVOD) provider at the same time. 

Transactional VOD (TVOD) provider examples are listed above, however the length of the window as well as the price point is different. 

Length of window:  approximately 60 days

Average theatrical price point: $10.90

Average transactional VOD (TVOD) price point:  $6.99 (HD & SD)

Average length of rental period:  24-48 hours

 

STANDARD VOD/DVD WINDOW

It has become industry standard to release a film simultaneously on DVD and within the standard transactional VOD (TVOD) space in order to maximize marketing efforts.  So, if you’re working with two separate companies— one that is handling your VOD rights and another that is releasing your DVD— do your best to coordinate dates. 

Length of standard cable VOD window:  anywhere from 60 days – 1 year

Length of standard transactional internet VOD (IVOD) window:  length of the deal term

Average DVD/Electronic Sell-Thru (EST) price: $12.99 (HD) / $9.99 (SD)

Average standard VOD price point:  $4.99 (HD) / $3.99 (SD)

Average length of rental period:  24-48 hours

Note: Keep in mind that you want to provide the standard transactional VOD (TVOD) providers with at least 60 days before your film becomes available on a Subscription (SVOD) window.  It should also be noted that it is industry standard to release a DVD on a Tuesday.   

 

SUBSCRIPTION VOD/1st PAY TV WINDOW

Subscription VOD (SVOD) is a service that allows its subscribers the opportunity to view what is available within the provider's library.  The subscriber pays a monthly fee for access.   

Subscription VOD (SVOD) providers include: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and a number of others with the most notable addition in 2015 being HBO (FYI, reports state that this will happen in April, I’m guessing just in time for Game of Thrones season 5!)

The Subscription VOD (SVOD) service provider will offer a license fee to the underlying producer and/or licensor of the film, in order to make it available to their subscribers.  This is how the film earns money within the subscription VOD window as there is no transaction to the viewer.

Pay TV channels e.g.: HBO, Showtime, Starz all fall within this window too & like Subscription VOD (SVOD) service providers will offer a license fee to the underlying producer and/or licensor of the film, in order to make it available to their subscribers.

Length of window:  Will vary based on various deal terms

License fee paid:  Will vary based on numerous factors, including exclusivity, cast, length of the deal, etc.

Note:  Keep in mind that exclusivity within this window should equate to more money for the license fee and if the offer requires exclusivity, then be sure you have someone determining if the deal is a good one by comparing to other offers, a combination of non-exclusive deals, etc. 

 

2nd PAY TV WINDOW

A Pay TV channel e.g.: HBO, Showtimes, Starz, etc that did not run the film within the 1st Pay TV window may be interested in licensing the film for the 2nd Pay TV window.  Or, the same channel could be interested in renewing their license, possibly at a lesser license fee, for the 2nd Pay TV window. 

Length of window:  Will vary based on various deal terms

License fee paid:  Will vary based on numerous factors, including exclusivity, cast, length of the deal, etc.

 

AD-SUPPORTED VOD WINDOW

Ad-supported VOD (AVOD) allows the viewer to watch your film at no charge, but ad breaks are interspersed throughout the film.  

Hulu would be the prime example for ad-supported VOD (AVOD).  

Monies made within the ad-supported VOD (AVOD) space are determined by the AVOD service’s ability to sell advertising during a given period of time. For instance, if an AVOD service knows that customer viewership is high over a particular holiday weekend, they will be able to sell advertising space at a premium.  Consequently, filmmakers who take advantage of select AVOD platforms reap a percentage of the advertising revenues, based on the number of views for their particular title and the ability of the AVOD ad sales team to command a high price for the views recorded for that content.  

The model is quickly evolving and advertising dollars are following cord-cutting or cord-shaving customers as they flock to less expensive ways to consume the same content they used to find on cable.  That said, the AVOD model is rapidly becoming a wonderful source of ancillary revenue.  

Length of window: length of the deal term

 

BROADCAST TV WINDOW

Once you’ve navigated all of the above for your film, you will want to continue to pursue additional opportunities for your film within the broadcast TV window.

Like Subscription VOD (SVOD) service providers & Pay TV channels, Broadcast TV channels will offer a license fee to the underlying producer and/or licensor of the film, in order to make the film available.  

Length of window:  Will vary based on various deal terms

License fee paid:  Will vary based on numerous factors, including performance within other windows, audience awareness of the film, cast, length of the deal, etc.

 

DON'T FORGET NON-THEATRICAL & EDUCATIONAL

There is a strong and viable revenue stream within the non-theatrical and educational market place for certain films - don't discount them!

Non-theatrical & educational screenings and/or DVD sales can fall within a variety of the windows above and can not only serve as a revenue stream but also means by which you as well as your film can build a fan base.  I implore you to harness that fan base by collecting email addresses whenever possible so that as the film is released in the various windows above, you not only have a fan base but a social media "army"  to spread the word to their contacts about your film. 

What to do next?  Well that’s a post for another day! 

Read more by

Melanie Miller

As co-founder and producer of Fishbowl Films, Melanie Miller has over two decades of experience in the film industry as an acquisitions & marketing executive, casting associate, festival programmer, music supervisor & producer. She recently l

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