Increasing Netflix dollars
As I've outlined in a previous post ("Gaming Netflix: how to get Netflix to buy more DVDs..."), the key to increasing Netflix purchases of DVDs (as well as Watch Now licensing fees) is increasing the number of people who have your film in their Netflix queue. This was another thing I heard at the Distribution Panel hosted by the NY Film Office at Sundance this year.
Be sure everyone you know keeps your film listed their Netflix queue and gives you a great rating. Additionally, it makes a difference to have great IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores -- and to be engaged with a large audience of fans.
How Netflix Watch Now revenue works
I asked the New York panel about the revenue model for the hugely popular Netflix Watch Now on-demand service. It turns out that Netflix buys films for Watch Now similar to the way that TV networks do: Netflix pays a license fee to show the film to an unlimited audience during a given period.
How many DVDs of your film will Netflix buy?
Netflix largely bases its purchases on the number people who have the film in their queue. At the NY panel, they said it's about 1/3 to 1/2 that number, but I'm skeptical, since that means they're basing it on pre-orders before the film is available.
Regardless, a common order for a small film seems to be about 1000 DVD units. Don't count on it, but it gives you a ballpark.
Given the death of other DVD sales channels (and other rental outlets), this Netflix order may constitute nearly the entirety of your large-order DVD sales.
That's why the indie film industry is in free-fall right now: our main cash cow (DVD) has dried up. And it's why you probably won't find a distributor to buy your movie: they can't make their money back so they're not buying films.
IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores are vital
It sometimes bears to state the obvious: people pay attention to your scores on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. According to the NY panelists, these scores even play a role in how Netflix determines their DVD purchasing and licensing deals for your film.
Of course, the best way to ensure high scores are to make a great film -- but there's not exactly a clear formula for that (or Hollywood would have bottled it and sold it by the gallon years ago). Another way to look at is this: pump up the ratings however you can (friendly ratings on IMDB can't hurt) and if the scores are low, don't bank on big Netflix orders.
Note: make sure your reviews belong to your film. We had a bad review for a different film (similar title) dragging down our Top Critics score for Quality of Life and had to request it be removed. Watch out for that and go here to contact Rotten Tomatoes if you have the same problem. Watch out for those weeds in your tomato garden.
Caveat emptor, bitches
All of this Netflix purchasing information from the panel should be considered hearsay and is not supported by documentation (and Netflix certainly isn't talking), but with so little public information available on Netflix purchasing and licensing, it does paint a consistent and rational picture:
- The more people that have you in their queue, the more DVDs Netflix will buy and the more they will pay for Watch Now licensing.
- It's standard procedure in the industry to use IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores as cheat sheets to know the quality of a film. The scores may even impact Netflix buying decisions and order sizes.
- Audience engagement makes a huge difference in direct ways (more people will want to watch the film) and indirect ways (the film looks more attractive to Netflix, distributors, exhibitors, potential partners, etc.).
A solid distribution and outreach plan should focus your marketing (and creative) energy in these three areas. Then execute, execute, execute.
And then Netflix will welcome your film with red carpet and rose petals. Maybe.
Share with us what you've heard about Netflix purchasing and licensing policies in the comments. If your films are Netflix, please tell us how many DVDs they bought and how much they paid to license the film for Watch Now streaming. Let's figure this one out together.
This is part of a special report series from DIY Filmmaking Sucks: DIY Secrets of Sundance. The series covers lessons learned at this year's Sundance Film Festival from an assortment of indie distribution and funding panels, in addition to conversations with filmmakers.
Next Monday -- Week 3: Secrets of Facebook and audience engagement