And here’s why …
Last month, while Joss Whedon was on set filming The Avengers, his film In Your Eyes debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival where he then announced that the film would be available to rent immediately via the film’s site, powered by Vimeo, for only $5. Not only is that a fabulous digital distribution plan with direct monetization, but what happens next makes this film strategy ground breaking.
Basically, he had an audience strategy!
Once audiences started renting the movie, Joss and team started sending out thank you gifts! Yes, they sent gifts thanking their audience for watching. And they were not small gifts, they sent Apple TVs, Xbox Ones, Weber grills and cacti! And they sent them to audiences around the world in Germany, Australia and the UK!
This distribution model and reverse crowdsourcing is brilliant, on so many levels! Here’s a few …
1) AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT First and foremost, this strategy is great for audience building! By sending their audience gifts, Joss shows he values his audience’s role in the storytelling process (the receiver!). Nurturing his relationship with the audience is key to new entertainment strategies that bring the audience and storyteller closer together, as it’s meant to be.
2) MONETIZATION & BRAND PARTNERSHIP Not only does Joss’ model give filmmakers a means to make money directly without a distributor taking a percentage or influencing story, but it also opens up opportunities for mutually beneficial brand sponsorships, such as with Apple, Xbox, Roku or Weber.
3) PUBLICITY & BUZZ The gift giving not only serves audience building, but also becomes added buzz in social media and the news, thus expanding the audience beyond the Joss fandom.
4) CREATIVE FREEDOM By cutting out the need for studio distribution, Joss and team were able to tell their story without the influence of suits giving story notes that serve the larger studio’s business goals. Creativity and the audience came first!
It’s worth noting that this strategy works for Joss Whedon because he already has a reputation for good storytelling and an existing audience base. For those Hollywood producers and talents scratching their heads on how to monetize in the digital age, you do not need a studio to distribute your passion projects. If you have an existing fandom, build audience strategies that include nurturing your relationship with them and thus their loyalty. Then freely create your passion projects and distribute directly to them. Joss did, so can you. But if building a relationship with your audience isn’t what you signed up for when you started your career, hire people who can help you create audience strategies because this is only the beginning of audiences playing a stronger role in the storytelling process, so start building those relationships and capitalizing on it now.
Once again, Joss leads the way in reinventing storytelling (see Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog). He and his team have shown they are willing to take risks, push the limits and discover new ways to tell stories in a digital age. Yup, he’s one classy story entrepreneur. I lift my glass to you Joss, cheers!
Watch In Your Eyes trailer or rent the movie here.