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"Reach out to independent producers—those whose programs may or may not currently be on their network—as a means of continuing to show leadership and drive audiences to the Internet for programming." —Survey respondent

Summary of Survey Results (cont.)

2. What producers see in the future

Despite lots of uncertainty in today’s marketplace, in general producers are optimistic about the new media future. Most believe that new modes of production and distribution will promote independent, cutting edge and culturally diverse media over the next five years. Almost all see the Internet as essential to the future of promotion and distribution; specifically, they see having multiple partnerships and multiple platforms as increasingly important, as well as producing multiple versions of their work for different venues and audiences. Far fewer are concerned about safeguards against digital piracy; a minority see "day and date" release as continuing to be very important. Even with the evolution of digital venues, producers continue to point to television broadcast slots as one of the most important distribution factors to their success over the next five years.

"Embrace non-exclusive—it is the future!"

"Educate producers on how to integrate efforts at producing long form media with producing shorter pieces for alternative media distribution."

3. What producers want

Apart from more funding opportunities, the most common area highlighted was the development of targeted and niche online promotional support and strategies. Almost all producers believe that they need multiple distribution partners to succeed online. More than 90 percent see a strong independent brand as key to their online success over the next five years, and 76 percent think a high-profile indie portal is important or very important. Three-quarters also believe that independent content needs public television leadership to succeed.

"Make sure there is an open conversation going on between the needs of PBS for new media rights and the needs of theatrical and DVD distributors. The independent producer needs an advocate that can help mediate these sometimes dissonant needs."

Many producers are looking for more training to create, promote and distribute new media. More help and guidance in online distribution was a common request. Noted barriers to the new media market included lack of technical know-how about formatting, encoding, content versions, subtitles and tagging. Most of all, producers are seeking ideas, partners and assistance to help them break through the online media glut and navigate the uncertain terrain of unfamiliar business models and distribution schemes.

"Create a digital network with stations nationwide to create a strong independent distribution market."

Conclusion

In short, the survey shows that few producers are profiting from digital distribution today. Most, however, are optimistic about the future impact of technology, although concerns linger about how indies will use brand, niche marketing and flexible partnerships to succeed in the digital age. These trends are in line with the marketplace, where only three to four percent of film revenue is currently generated via online distribution, mostly by commercial blockbusters and viral hits.

"Realize that more and more people, and especially young people, will have nothing to do with non-interactive, non-participatory content."

Producers’ perceptions of the future may reflect the experience of the music industry—to which many referred in their comments—where digital sales rose from almost nothing in 2003 to 15 percent of industry revenues in 2008, with some independent labels reporting up to 40 percent of their revenue flowing via digital distribution. For the independent film producer, however, few clear choices for online distribution have presented themselves to date, and many producers continue to move cautiously as they search and wait for better options.

"Encourage more adventurous short form media, more interactive media, and help facilitate and promote the audience’s adjustment to and acceptance of viewing longer form content on the web and other new media platforms. Then advise filmmakers how best to approach and package media for these platforms."

In all, the breadth and depth of survey responses was impressive, ranging from meditations on the democratic possibilities of new technology, to the fears of niche ghettos and fragmentation, to the importance of net neutrality and an incredible range of rights and technical issues. We hope you will consider this report part of a continuing conversation about the role of independent producers in the digital age.

Highlights

Survey Respondent Profile

  • Gender: 50% men; 50% women
  • Age: 61% 35-54 years old; 19% younger; 21% older
  • Race/Ethnicity: 61% Euro-American;10% African American; 8% Asian American; 7% Latino; 2% Native American; 2% Pacific Islander; 11% other
  • Experience level: 85% have more than five years of experience in film; 51% have produced three or more long-form projects
  • Purpose/Motivation: 60% are highly motivated by a love of storytelling; 52% as artists; 51% by commitment to social change; 19% as journalists; 16% as representing their community

Current Activities—General

  • 81% own their own digital rights; 19% have sold or licensed them
  • 76% have used the Internet to reach audiences for recent projects
  • 70% say the Internet is "very important" for marketing now
  • 45% say the Internet is "very important" for distributing now
  • 32% say the Internet is "very important" for fundraising now
  • Some say they have generated digital revenue in mid four figures
  • Others point to high online DVD sales, but not downloads

"Our broadcast distributor has some of these rights. We also retain certain rights and granted some to our educational distributor."

"We hold some of these rights and we've licensed some to PBS."

"I [hold digital rights] but [my agent/distributor] is breathing down my neck to sign with them."

"Have had offers and are holding out because we believe there are better business models coming soon."