Maxifying Distrify – the PMD's Top Ten Tips

Ben Kempas, SDI's Producer of Marketing and Distribution (PMD), shares his Top Ten Tips on how to get the most out of Distrify, a key tool for "selling movies socially" across the web. 

At the Scottish Documentary Institute, we've been using Distrify for over a year now as part of our Virtuous Circle initiative, testing it thoroughly and creating innovative connections with other tools.

First and foremost, it's important to understand that Distrify are not here to go out and sell your film for you. That's still your job. They're just providing you with one of the best tools to do so. Distrify is used by self-distributors and distributors alike, and its effectiveness is determined by the overall effort you're putting into a campaign around your film. 

1. It's about engagement, not just sales

Start using Distrify for initial audience engagement while you have nothing to sell yet, as it will allow people to sign up for your email updates. 

Make sure all your allies and outreach contacts will embed the Distrify player rather than a YouTube trailer. I find it debatable whether you really need a trailer on YouTube or Vimeo to begin with. These may reach more people – but they only allow for simple likes or comments. You won't ever be able to contact those people directly later on.

Launching Future My Love at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, we were pushing hard for everybody to embed our Distrify player, and it ended up being the most-watched of all EIFF trailers hosted by Distrify. Between the programme launch and the end of the festival, our player counted six times as many previews as the next best trailer. 

2. Use the player to announce screenings

List your upcoming festival, cinema, or community screenings in the player. Not only will it draw attention to those events, more importantly, it will make potential audience members elsewhere want to know when they can see it where they are. The "I want to see this!" button is invaluable for gathering email signups.

3. Connect it to your database of followers

We tend to get more signups through a film's Distrify player embedded in various places than through a form on the respective website for that film. Make sure to export lists of your Distrify followers and import them into the general database you're using to reach out to your audience. It's absolutely crucial to have such a central place, as you can't rely on social media alone to gather your followers (remember how restricted and expensive it has become to actually reach all your Facebook fans).

In our case, the central platform is a NationBuilder community organising system. Upon import, we automatically tag people with the film they signed up for and any products they accessed. The file from Distrify will tell you who agreed to receiving email blasts and who didn't. It is paramount to respect these choices.

But don't just think about mass blasts. The more individual your emails are the better. For example, you could contact people just after they've seen your film on Distrify and ask them for their thoughts, and maybe to share their feedback on your website?

4. Connect it to automated DVD fulfilment

Distrify does not only sell streaming rentals (TVOD) or downloads-to-own (DTO). You can offer any product through their store, be it a DVD or merchandise such as posters or T-shirts. Up to now, this meant the order was processed by Distrify but it was up to you to fulfil it and send out that DVD in reasonable time.

We're proud to be the first in the world to connect Distrify to Kunaki, which essentially is a fully automated fulfilment machine, making your DVDs on demand and sending them from Nevada to some 30 countries around the world. Any of the DVD products you can see in the Stem Cell Revolutions player below will be automatically shipped by Kunaki, without needing our attention. (Oh, and you won't see all of them in the player, as we're only showing the products relevant to your country.)

Distrify's Peter Gerard has been incredibly supportive in making this happen. We did a lot of testing together, even figuring out how to translate Romaji characters to Kanji so the postal service would be able to ship to Japan... And the best news is that this Kunaki connection will soon be available to everybody selling their films on Distrify!

5. Consider sales for educational use

The educational market generally offers lower volume but far higher margins. If your documentary is suitable for this, you should also offer your educational products on Distrify, such as a higher-priced download or a DVD. As far as we know, we were the first ones to do this, distributing the award-winning science documentary Stem Cell Revolutions, and we can confirm these products do get picked up very well. One of our safety nets is that the cheaper version for personal use is offered as streaming video only, whereas you'll need to go for the educational version if you want a download to keep for unlimited use.

We've split the film into five thematic chapters, both on the DVD and as separate video files in the download package. This makes use in a classroom much easier. Distrify's ability to create packages of various products is really useful here, as it allows us to include a Teacher Pack as downloadable document in every purchase. We've also produced leaflets explaining how the five chapters can integrate with the curriculum and sent these to every secondary school in Scotland. 

6. Set up multiple players for the same project

For the chapters I just mentioned, we set up different Distrify players, each showing a specific preview trailer for that chapter but all linking to the same products. You can see this at work on dedicated landing pages for the five chapters here.

When it was announced that two of the scientists in the film would receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine this year, we quickly chose a clip from the film showing the two laureates together, and set up a separate player with this preview clip which also got embedded on partner sites. Needless to say, the film got a lot of attention this way, but it was crucial to make things happen as the news broke.

7. Get a better share for higher-priced items

This may be particularly important for educational products: Distrify is flexible about their pricing when it comes to merchandise and more expensive products. So just talk to them if that's what you want to sell, and see if they can make you an offer that's viable for both sides.

8. Use vouchers for incentives and freebies

We have been testing the use of vouchers on Distrify. They let us do promotions for a limited time ("get 50 percent off to celebrate the Nobel Prize"). To date, 183 people have "liked" that announcement, a record for a simple signup page...

You will soon be able to generate voucher codes which either work multiple times so you can announce them publicly, or for single use by authorised individuals. 

9. Issue digital screeners for industry purposes

A great use case for these vouchers is to issue one-off vouchers (set up as "100% off") in order to let reviewers watch free screeners of the film. You'll still need to pay Distrify for the share they would have usually received, but it's a safe and efficient way to handle digital previews.

For these purposes, many of us upload their full film to Vimeo and protect it with a password, but this will be the same password for everyone, and your film could hence be shared with anyone. With Distrify, you authorise people individually, and you can track if they have really "accessed the product", i.e. watched the film or not – and follow up accordingly. How wonderful (or frustrating) could that be?

If you don't offer any products through your player yet, it'll still be possible to issue freebie previews of the full film manually, but this procedure is a bit more complicated. Talk to the guys at Distrify if interested.

10. Consider your back catalogue

Now that you've done everything to get the most out of Distrify for your current projects, how about tackling that back catalogue of older productions? It might be worth going through them, assessing what rights have remained with you, and putting the films on Distrify.  If certain territories are still handled by others, just geo-block those. It doesn't take long.

For example, say you made a film about the Scottish independence movement in the 1999 elections. All of a sudden, the matter becomes very topical. What do you do? You quickly put To Be a Nation Again on Distrify. And my old film about protests against Trident nuclear weapons will be next... 

Income from those old films certainly won't be high – but hopefully high enough to pay for a really nice dinner one day...

Any questions or comments? Please post them here and I'll do my best to answer them.