VODO founder and CEO Jamie King speaks to ORGZine about the company's operations as a distributor of films under the "Freemium" model.
According to its website, VODO "helps to promote and distribute new creative works all over the world" as a free-to-share distributor of video. It also enables creators looking for effective ways to distribute their work with file-sharing sites willing to help promote it and consumers willing to fund them. We called up VODO boss Jamie King to ask how VODO came about, how the company's Freemium model is faring in the film industry and what plans VODO has for the future.
Interviewer: So, if you could tell us a little bit about how VODO came into being?
Jamie King [JK]: I was part of a group of people who in 2006 made a film called Steal This Film, that was concerned with intellectual property and how regimes in intellectual property were changing in the context of the digital environment, so how did it affect creators and how did peer-to-peer distribution affect people's ability to exert property rights over their work, so it was a question of saying in this new environment, what is the appropriate way of understanding how we should remunerate creators… what are the advantages of being able to distribute using peer-to-peer for ordinary creators? And the cool thing about Steal This Film was it was downloaded loads of times; we distributed it using peer-to-peer, so it was available to anybody to download free, share with their friends, and so on. And we solicited donations from people and we received quite a lot of pounds, dollars and support from audiences worldwide… so we started to iterate versions of VODO and gradually refined it as a system which both helps filmmakers distribute their work online in a free-to-share format and then helps them engage online audiences to receive some financial support and get those audiences helping them to redistribute their work to any other potential audience members.
Interviewer: So, as VODO faciltates the distribution of filmmakers' content webwide, the purveyors of the traditional model of distribution might be forgiven for asking how you can make any money from this venture?
JK: You probably noticed that there are some quite strong earnings figures against various work from VODO. The way that we do it is that essentially the idea is to engage a very large audience through free-to-share distribution, so we'll often reach audiences of millions using our various distribution partnerships and then once we've got that audience, create really nice incentives for them to support the filmmaker if they want to, or support the content creator if they want to. For example, limited edition products associated with the film or with the work, or credits in the next episode. These kinds of incentives then give people a reason to support the work, to throw down some money and that's how we create the revenue.
Interviewer: So how strong would you say these incentives are in helping to promote and advertise the films?
JK: Well, the incentives are not there really as a form of marketing. The marketing, in essence in this model, is a freemium model in which the free-to-share distribution of the films itself, is the marketing, so the fact that the film is available freely and the fact that people can share that as they like, whether they've paid or not, whether they supported the filmmaker or not, allows us to bring in all sorts of partners associated with the free sharing of the work - p-2-p partners and so on - and those create a very large audience organically, becauase there are millions of people out there who are hungry for new stuff to watch and who are quite willing and keen to engage with free-to-share content from content creators. So that's how we handle marketing; what we do is we offer them free-to-share content from filmmakers who want to share and that takes care of the marketing part. And then after that what we do is try to engage the audience in supporting the filmmaker monetarily.
Interviewer: And VODO's continuing growth may attract attention from other distributors... so do you fear a takeover approach?
JK: Obviously the advantage of what we're doing is enacting the possibilities that are latent within the the technology as it exists, in the sense that anybody is able to distribute a film massively in a free-to-share fashion, utilising open source Bittorrent protocol. Anybody is able to then offer donation incentives or support incentives to their audience. That's all we're doing. There's no magic in it, although of course a lot of expertise resides in the software we're developing. So, in one sense, I hope we're developing a model that can be utilised by other people and that may include larger distributors, larger studios, but it should also include smaller creators, people with less advantages and options available to them in terms of distribution, so whatever happens to VODO - and there are certainly no plans to sell out to anybody now - the possibilities that it enacts and points out will continue to be available to anybody.
The second part of the answer to that is that what I see happening is that there are more and more small-medium creators, creating works which traditionally would have been undistributed anonymous smaller works that can't or couldn't be distributed within the mainstream distribution systems... in terms of the larger studios, what I see happening is that by and large, people are more and more interested in the large budget films with very large marketing budgets - the Avatars, the Spidermans, the Dark Knights - that are going to make a significant amount of revenue. The middle ground, as it were, is losing out because it's very difficult to make any money with the traditional distribution system on a budget of less than $8 million, and what that means is that there may be some gravitation towards a service like ours once we're making hundreds of thousands of dollars for a film. I don't see any problem with that. If small indies want to use VODO, in the end they'll be engaging a model which is much truer to the architecture of the internet and the way distribution of information works today and it's important that we update our attitudes to fit this new environment. If larger studios want to do that, there should be no issue; it certainly doesn't prevent smaller creators using the system as well.
Interviewer: Is there any stuff you reject from filmmakers?
JK: What we're doing is developing a three-tier approach to how we deal with submissions. At the top level, is what we call 'Releases', films that we've worked with the creator to release as part of our distribution system via partners... those are the ones you see featured on the site once or twice a month. And then there's a layer that will exist below that and that's called 'Spotlight' and spotlight content is content that has been uploaded to the site and that we've picked out as being noteworthy, at least in our opinion. And then what we'll have is an open list system where more or less anyone who has a film above a certain length can use our distribtuion system as a free tool. So those three layers more or less deal with pretty much all the content we've received.
Interviewer: Tell me a bit about your most successful film?
JK: I think to date the most successful film we've done really has been Pioneer One, which is a science fiction show we developed... we signed on to distribute it before it had been created, so it was a kind of made-for-VODO show... and I think to date that's raised $100,000 in revenue and been downloaded over 2,500,000 times. They're just about to distribute their sixth and final episode of the season through us and that's been funded entirely from user donations raised by VODO. They won the  New York TV Festival Best [Drama] Pilot for their first episode and it really went on to have a very strong audience; they really liked it and have helped it to become the success it is now.
Interviewer: And what are VODO's plans for the future?
JK: We're working on an entirely new update of VODO which will be available some time in the next four to five months... we're going to be doing a VODO player which can enable many people to play VODO content from installable software on their machine which will update them about new content available and make it an easier experience for people to use peer-to-peer distribution who are not into using BIttorrent. We're going to spend some time developing our distribtuion system through widgets, so basically audience members will be able to download or install widgets to their own website blogs and so on, which will let them distribute VODO content right from their own site. So with a site like yours, for example, you can pick four or five films you're interested in on VODO, you can advertise them to your audience and display them in an easy to download way so one can get them right from your page and you earn dough every time someone downloads a film via you, because in the end you've added value to that filmmaker; you've helped distribute their film and the idea is that you'll be able to use the dough that you've earned to play premium content [and] get discounts against incentives you might want to engage with and so on... so the idea is to create a large network of audience distributors... we're collapsing the distinction between being an audience member, being a consumer, being a distributor and being a content creator.
Interviewer: Jamie King from VODO, thank you for speaking to ORGZine.
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