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Releasing a film in theatres, followed by the DVD, then pay TV and finally free to air TV is the rule of thumb to maximise revenue – or was. This is no longer the unbreakable rule (especially for indies) and there’s even talk of simultaneous releases across several platforms. And it’s not just talk; it’s already happening, here in Australia, reports Andrew L. Urban. ‘When and where do you want to see my film’ should be the new rule of thumb.

The six week run of Submariners on SBS TV ended this week (January 25, 2006). The Australian doco series was also released on DVD at the end of 2005 to coincide with its free to air, prime time season. (Wednesdays at 7.30pm.) Submariners is a fly-on-the-wall doco series about life on board the HMAS Rankin, one of Australia's Collins Class submarines. It’s the first time such access has been granted for filming.

The DVD of Submariners carries and promotes the SBS logo while in turn SBS supports the DVD release through promo spots and securing a favorable buy-in from its associated retailers including Dymocks and ABC stores. The series rated well (always within the top 20 on SBS) – and the DVD has sold well, both gaining from the cross-promotional exposure.

“I think the primary goal of a filmmaker is to find an audience for their stories,” says Dennis Stojanovski, head of Marketing for DV1, which releases the DVD. “With DVD and free to air television saturated with product at the moment, combining both mediums into a single release strategy effectively markets a film or TV series and creates a strong word of mouth which can only be beneficial in getting local product to the consumer.”

It’s a simple win/win scenario. “To date this arrangement has worked successfully for both parties,” says Stojanovski, “ensuring strong ratings for the program and sales for the DVD (rrp $24.95) as well as rentals. When placed against the immense marketing budgets of the major DVD distributors and the commercial networks, relationship building amongst independent organisations is proving a powerful tool, especially in supporting local quality product such as Submariners.”

"you can have your DVD cake and eat the TV sale as well"

“Granted,” says Stojanovski, “TV series and film are very different and as such, while simultaneous release can be beneficial, each requires its own strategy. Someone who misses the third or fourth episode in a series is more likely to buy or rent the DVD to catch up, while releasing a film into the market before its television screening will only result in decreased ratings for the station, and it’s that screening which will build recognition for the title on DVD. This is where creating an effective relationship amongst independents organizations, a relationship that often could only be establish in the independent market, works for all three parties, the filmmakers, DVD distributor and the broadcaster.”

Play your cards right, in other words, and you can have your DVD cake and eat the TV sale as well. How this strategy might work for indie films is especially relevant in an era when the consumer is less inclined to be a slave to TV programming and schedules. On-demand access to entertainment is driving commerce in the digital world, and Australian low budget filmmakers could be among the first to pioneer multi platform releases, given the need for access to audiences being greater than any perceived commercial downside.

The impact of joint marketing alone raises profile, while greater access enlarges audience size. The Submariners example is notable, not the least because it is launched into the Christmas holiday season, which is on the one hand highly competitive for screen product, on the other cross-competitive with other options for consumer spending.

Published January 26, 2006

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