By Rob Millis
As everyone (hopefully) knows at this point, before you can become the next Edward Burns or Louis C.K., you’ve got to invest the time and effort to connect with your fans, reach out to new ones, and build a long term relationship with your audience.
Distributing trailers, short films, outtakes and other videos for free can be a huge help in building a dedicated fan base. For the greatest effect, filmmakers should be sharing samples of their work everywhere they possibly can, and then engaging fans in discussions about those videos, especially on Facebook and Twitter. But in order to get your audience excited about your work, you have to give them the best possible viewing experience, especially when promoting an upcoming film. This means keeping all of your free content free of ads as well.
Because so much of our media consumption is ad-supported, it can be tempting to run ads with almost any video content. Just like the FBI warning at the start of a DVD, viewers will sit through a bit of advertising for a feature film they’re looking forward to, but don’t confuse tolerance with enthusiasm, particularly for short content like trailers. Ads may be a smart consideration for networks like ABC and ESPN, but most filmmakers will only be losing fans and making little or no revenue in the process.
If you are using free video distribution to build an audience, you want them to be as excited and engaged as possible, and you certainly don’t want anyone clicking away. The difference between free and almost-free is huge. 15% of viewers typically click away from a video when an advertisement appears before it [AdAge: http://bit.ly/Y20kui], and you can imagine how many more are simply annoyed. Why sacrifice viewers and fan enthusiasm for such a measly payout?
And those ads aren’t going to give you much benefit anyway. Unless you have a high value deal with a company like AOL or Hulu, you’re not likely to earn much from video advertising. At the very top of the market you might receive 0.5¢ per viewer, and it’s much more likely that you’ll receive something closer to 0.1¢. (I’m not confusing $ and ¢ here — I mean 1/10th of a penny.)
So instead of squeezing fractions of pennies out of every single viewer experience, figure out how to build a far more valuable relationship with the viewer so they keep coming back for more. By giving up a few dollars for every 1,000 views of a trailer or short film, you are making a very small investment to build an enthusiastic audience who will later pay for online rentals and sales at $4.99 or $9.99 each.
Note from Rob: When we first launched the Dynamo Player, we were responding to a sense of helplessness among independent producers, including ourselves. Films and serials either had to be locked in walled gardens with awkward DRM or given away completely free. A lot has changed in the last three years, and we are adapting too.
Next month Dynamo will offer several new services to filmmakers and distributors, including consulting and custom technical development. You’ll even be able to license the Dynamo Player VOD platform for your own brand (without sharing a nickel of the sales with us). Perhaps more importantly, we’ll be able to share expertise beyond Dynamo Player, helping filmmakers distribute to other platforms, engage fans on social networks, build marketing and PR plans, and much more.
With that in mind, I want to share a few key lessons we’ve learned about free distribution of trailers and other content.
Rob Millis is the founder of Dynamo Media and one of the creators behind the Dynamo Player, the first online pay-per-view platform freely available to independent filmmakers. Rob was an early pioneer of online video production and distribution, and has been a founder, investor or advisor with several online media and industrial technology companies. You can find Rob on Twitter at @robmillis or learn more about Dynamo at http://www.DynamoPlayer.com.