The distribution of feature-length films is one of the last holdovers of the pre-Internet era of content yet to be disrupted by technology. Tens of thousands of films are submitted each year to global film festivals, and less than five percent walk away with distribution deals. Even those are given no guarantee of success or riches. With the increasing quality and popularity of independent films, the model is clearly broken.
Yekra is an entirely new digital content distribution platform, launching into invite-only beta this week, that looks to solve this problem. The keys to the service are that content creators retain all ownership rights and get to set pricing and distribution terms.
“Yekra has been designed with flexibility in mind as we are entering an era of test and learn,” says Yekra co-founder and President Lee Waterworth. “Our platform provides the tools required to execute a global day-and-date release to hundreds of millions of screens.”
Unlike the majority of existing solutions, Yekra is not ad-supported, but instead allows content creators to offer film rentals at the price of their choosing. The cloud-based platform handles video streaming, commerce, and also offers a variety of marketing tools in what it calls the “Backlot.” The standard rental lasts 72 hours and can be watched as many times as the renter chooses during that period.
The Yekra platform was first tested on the documentary film “THRIVE: What On Earth Will It Take?” which has seen more than 7 million views at $5 each, since its launch on 11/11/11. The film was produced by the Gambles from the consumer goods company Proctor and Gamble at a cost of more than $7 million. But when it came time to find distribution, all the available options were unappealing. Yekra was the choose-your-own-destiny solution the producers were looking for.
Additional films slated to enter the private beta include Oliver Stone’s “Looking For Fidel” and Rachid Bouchareb’s “London River”. In the future, Yekra plans to support shorter form and episodic content, in addition to the feature-films which it was initially built for. Eventually, the platform will be open to all forms of video content, barring typical restrictions on pornography and other offensive content.
Yekra offers four pricing tiers, Basic, Indie, Indie Plus, and Pro, which offer varying levels of features. Within its “Backlot,” Yekra offers varying features across each of its premium plans, including custom branded Yekra websites, social marketing tools, what the company calls “SocialSeed Webinar passes,” and anti-piracy tools, among others.
Detailed plan pricing will be announced with the public launch in early 2013, but the company did disclose that it charges a transaction fee on each rental that slide from $0.50 at the Basic level down to $0.25 for Pro.
On the social side, Yekra integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Rotten Tomatoes, and Flickr, not to mention supports comments and talkbacks. The platform also offers a social and commerce-enabled traveling player that can be embedded on any website.
The Los Angeles-based startup plans to roll out what it’s calling a “Top Secret Proliferation Engine” in the next few weeks. The tool will be based around a study of the online conversation surrounding content, identifying target markets and influential blogs for each film, as well as considering the social influence of a film’s cast and crew to maximize distribution efficacy.
Yekra’s founders know a thing or two about film distribution and technology. Waterworth was personally responsible for “buying and distributing” such films as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “3:10 to Yuma”. This experience, and the relationships that come with it, make Yekra less of a pie-in-the-sky idea and more of an insider’s solution to a problem they know well.
The idea of digitally self-distributing video content is a relatively new one, although one not without precedent. Comedians Louis CK and Aziz Ansari very publicly – and very successfully – released their latest content DRM free for download on their own websites. Yekra is positioned to make this type of distribution available to the masses, even those without million-person social media followings.
It’s not far-fetched to imagine that, in the near future, Yekra and tools like it could essentially eliminate the need for a theatrical release or high-budget distribution deals. With large HD screens in every household and increasingly speedy broadband connections, the fact that the refrigerator is just a few steps away is one of many benefits to watching the latest release at home, rather than in the theater.
As Yekra’s slogan says, “We’ll bring the (red) carpet.”