If you're an independent filmmaker, one of the biggest problems you face is not knowing what you don't know. Smarthouse Creative hopes to change that with a live, crowdsourced VOD distribution case study. 

We've been given full access to an independently-produced feature-length thriller that is currently available for both rental and sale on iTunes and Vimeo On Demand. We have control over pricing, promotion, and placement, as well as access to the full data set associated with each platform. We'll know how much we spend on digital and social advertising, as well as the ROI for each specific ad buy. And we've got the expertise of the indie film community to help develop a set of best practices for a DIY distribution template, which is the end goal of this endeavor.

We'd like this effort to stand alongside other indie film case studies, such as the excellent documents compiled for INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE and others found in this master list at Ted Hope's Truly Free Film blog.    

Now let's get started...

First off, we're not going to reveal the title of the film (just yet) in order to keep the data as pristine as possible out of the gate. We'd like to maintain some type of firewall between the case study and the film itself until we've turned a few promotional knobs and pulled a few marketing levers in service of seeing what works and what doesn't for the film prior to announcing it to the world and potentially creating an influx of page views, etc., that could throw off our numbers. 

Secondly, we're doing this "live" in an attempt to encourage participation in a lab-like, educational setting as opposed to a "lessons learned" post-portem after the dust has settled. If some of these tactics are bound to fail, that's fine, but we'd like to course correct in real-time and keep the curtains open in hopes of learning even more about why certain tactics work and others don't. It might be a bumpy ride, but that's sort of the point.

Okay, now we can get started. For real.

As of August 21, 2014, INDIE THRILLER has amassed the following numbers on Vimeo On Demand since its platform debut on February 3, 2014 :

"Sales" and "gross revenue" are self-explanatory, whereas "trailer plays" and "On Demand plays" account for the number of time the "Play" button was pressed (though, not necessarily the number of times the content was watched all the way through to the end.

"Sales" and "gross revenue" are self-explanatory, whereas "trailer plays" and "On Demand plays" account for the number of time the "Play" button was pressed (though, not necessarily the number of times the content was watched all the way through to the end.

INDIE THRILLER went live on iTunes on September 21, 2013, where it has tallied the following sales figures to date: 

Total revenue, in USD ($), earned by INDIE THRILLER on iTunes through August 10, 2014 (date of last unit sale).

Total revenue, in USD ($), earned by INDIE THRILLER on iTunes through August 10, 2014 (date of last unit sale).

As far as total revenue is concerned, Vimeo is responsible for $128.82 and iTunes accounts for $353.69, for a grand total of $482.51 over 11 months (to the day). You don't have to be an economist to see that those aren't the kind of numbers that lay the foundation for a sustainable enterprise.

We're going to see if we can change that.

One of the great things about the current DIY distribution landscape is that you have all of the data you could possibly need to make an informed choice about how, when, and where to be selling your content. For instance, here is an intense, data-rich chart from Vimeo that allows you to analyze gross revenue in relation to over 20+ customizable data points (though only six can by displayed on the graph at once).         

Vimeo On Demand's customizable visual display of your film's data.

Vimeo On Demand's customizable visual display of your film's data.

To begin our experiment, we're going to keep it simple and start with a few basic tweaks. First, we're going to reduce the Vimeo On Demand rental price point from $5.99 to $3.99. We're also going to tweak the logline, switch out the key art, and update the tagged keywords so it is easier to find via search. Next Friday, we'll update the stats, take new screenshots, and report back with our findings.

In the meantime, we'd love for you to submit suggestions for how else we might be able to maximize INDIE THRILLER's gross revenue on it's current VOD platforms. As we move forward, we also intend to incorporate additional platforms (VHX, BitTorrent) and other tactics to see just how much control we have over our film's destiny in the marketplace. We'll also be implementing a basic publicity strategy and an influencer campaign (around the time we announce the film's actual title). 

You can post your suggestions as comments to this post, tweet them to us @teamsmarthouse, or send them via email to heyyouguys [at] smarthousecreative [dot] com. All of us here at Smarthouse HQ are looking forward to working with you on this and sharing the data and outcomes in the hope of making this process more transparent for indie filmmakers everywhere. 

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