Diary of a Film Startup Part 14: Early Results

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Indie Film Inspiration

Quarter Million Views I thought I’d share some results -- as in numbers -- for a feature that is having a nice run on YouTube Movies. The film is called Time Expired, and won a silver award for Comedy Feature at WorldFest Houston. It was submitted to KinoNation last week. And in fact the master ProRes file (71GB) is currently being uploaded by the filmmakers to our cloud storage servers. What immediately caught my attention is that Time Expired has almost a quarter million views on YouTube Movies since it was placed there by director Nick Lawrence 12 months ago. That’s the full length (93 mins) movie, not the trailer -- an average of 20,000 per month, and accelerating. Nick has kindly agreed to share the extensive stats that YouTube provide. It’s interesting and quite instructive, I think, as YouTube Movies becomes an increasingly significant -- and profitable -- option for indie filmmakers.

Ad-Supported vs. Transactional VoD First a little background. YouTube launched their Movies Channel in the spring of 2011. Films on the channel are either transactional VoD -- that is, consumers rent them for between $2 and $15 - or they are ad-supported (like Time Expired.) The content owner sets the rental price. Ad supported films typically have 4 or 5 ad breaks within the movie, where a 30 second TV spot is shown. They also have pre-roll and post-roll ads. YouTube kicks back 60-70% of revenue to the content owner. Anyone can put their film up as ad-supported. The bar is much higher for rental movies, since they have to be uploaded by a YouTube Rental Partner (such as KinoNation.) It’s easy (and understandable) for filmmakers to shun ad-supported platforms, and think the audience should pay a rental fee for their movie. That’s a mistake, in my opinion. You can make money from both, and Free can drive a large audience.

Cash Incoming Time Expired is generating about three hundred dollars a month (and climbing) from the commercials playing before & within the film. Would Nick and producer Rachel Tucker make more money if Time Expired was, say, a $2 rental on YouTube? Hard to say. Almost impossible to do genuine A/B testing of the two scenarios, but Nick and Rachel are happy with the film’s performance, and understandably reluctant to mess with a winning formula. Remember, even if a viewer only watches the first few minutes of the movie, it still generates ad revenue. And of course on a channel like YouTube there will always be a ton of people who browse free movies by just clicking Play. The psychology of free vs. not free is, obviously, massive. Chris Anderson wrote a book on the subject, called Free. He essentially argues that for long-tail content, there are only two prices: Free...and everything else.

How Many? YouTube Movies does a nice job providing stats. Here are some crucial numbers for Time Expired (they’re a few hours behind so the live player will show a bigger views # by the time you read this. And I’m rounding these #’s to the nearest thousand for readability.) The film has 241,000 “views” which is triggered when the viewer clicks Play. Of those views, 114,000 were “monetizable.” Meaning YouTube inserted ads. The reason is simply that the filmmakers didn’t get “ad-supported” status until June this year. Since then every view generates income. On average in the USA people watched 30% of the film, which falls to 19% globally. That may seem disappointing from a filmmaker’s POV, but remember that’s just an average. Tens of thousands of folk around the world have watched it to the end credits, and of course some have hung around just a few seconds. That’s the reality of free online movies. But tens of thousands of people watching the movie to the end is orders of magnitude bigger than even the best festival run. That’s pretty satisfying, I think, and the cash is a nice bonus. As Nick said to me, “Would be great if everybody watched it to the end, but on the plus side at least we earn advertising revenue even when people are just checking it out.”

Where Are They From and How’d They Find It? The lion’s share of the views are from the USA, followed by UK, Canada, India, Philippines. Makes sense, right? They’re all English speaking. Less obvious, perhaps, is the 11k views from Saudi Arabia. Time Expired has also garnered north of 5k views in each of Germany, France, Australia, UAE and Singapore. Again not surprising that just over half of views come from referrals within YouTube. e.g. someone is watching other content, and they see (and click on) Time Expired in the “Suggested Video” section. The other half? Typically they’re via Google or YouTube searches for “comedy movies” or “2011 movies” or “Hollywood movies” -- even though this is very much an indie from Oklahoma.

What’s Next? Time Expired was submitted last week to the KinoNation private beta. Which means, hopefully, that the cash being generated on YouTube will be multiplied many times as we pitch it to other VoD platforms, both in the US and globally. We hope it’ll be accepted by Hulu, the other ad-supported VoD giant, and subsequently by Vudu and international platforms like Lovefilm and Viewster. That’s the whole point of KinoNation. It’s a one-stop distribution system. Upload once, and get your film pitched to dozens -- ultimately hundreds -- of VoD platforms. So keep submitting features and docs -- there’s money to be made, and people to entertain.

Next Up: Post # 15: Film Marketing Tools

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.