2 Stream or not 2 stream

In a recent discussion list for COLLIB-L, the College Library Section of the American Library Association, a university librarian was fretting about whether or not to retire the VHS machines and videos at her university and asked if others were considering the same. Most librarians responded “Yes”, a few “No”. The videos were still good, they argued, and in addition difficult to duplicate on DVD without the permission of a filmmaker no one could find.   “Why get rid of something that works?”  While filmmakers tend to think the newest technology is required for sales, this is usually not the case in academic distribution.  In addition, many librarians remain concerned, and a bit confused, about the reliability of public performance licenses on streamed media.   A later discussion prompted scores of posts about whether streams such as Netflix could be trusted for public performance licenses.  That question alone seemed enough to kill a sale.

While many filmmakers want to offer streams, they need to think first about the revenue they may be losing in selling $1.99 streams to universities, as well as how to secure a public performance license in the sale.  Here’s a formula I came up with: given that a DVD at a university library will normally last about 3 years, divide your public performance price by 3 ($300/3 =$100) and call that the price of your license.  Payment of that can also provide a code to permit the stream.   To account for the fact that some universities might stream your film hundreds of times in a year, however, while others may only stream it a few times, each individual stream should cost an additional amount, say $0.99.  Your service will set this up with a “gate”charge.  If you’re not sure which service to use, email me for ideas.  I’m also interested in hearing from you.  Post on the comment section of this blog with suggestions.

The upside to streaming is that you stand to make some real money. If several classes use it, and several professors require it as homework, you’re going to do well. The downside is that universities will get actual counts of the number of times your film is used in a year and if the numbers aren’t good, they’re not going to renew. Is this a bandwagon you need to jump on right away? Probably not, at least not for  academic distribution.   Also, because you’re an independent distributor, it’s probably wise to wait and see how the technology develops. Remember, what will make your film saleable to colleges is content—that’s the bottom line—whether it’s in a stream, on a DVD, or some new-fangled device we haven’t even heard of yet.  If it teaches something no other film teaches, and your website shows this, people will buy it.  You are going to make the sale.

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