Who needs iTunes? The rise of the 'indie friendly' video download store

Who needs iTunes? The rise of the 'indie friendly' video download store

Summary: Adams Media Research predicts that by 2011, the online video market will be worth $5.8 billion, and bucking today's trend, the majority of that revenue will be generated through selling downloads not ad-supported content. It's perhaps no surprise then, to see a number of paid-for download services pop up over the last 18 months...

TOPICS: Amazon

There's no doubt that the online video revolution is giving independent video producers unparalleled opportunities to reach an audience, together with zero-cost tools needed to publish and share their work online. However, the number one destination, YouTube -- whilst serving as a great promotional platform -- doesn't currently offer a way for independent artists to directly monetize their work (although CEO Chat Hurley has said that this is forthcoming). Luckily, others such as Revver and Metacafe have long stepped in to fill the void, by sharing ad-revenue with producers.

There is of course, a third option: offering paid-for video downloads. Adams Media Research predicts that by 2011, the online video market will be worth $5.8 billion, and bucking today's trend, the majority of that revenue will be generated through selling downloads not ad-supported content.

AMR's analysis points to a period of experimentation 2007-2009, during which the ad-supported model will predominate. But as significant numbers of homes connect their TVs to the Internet, consumer spending on downloaded movies and TV shows should expand rapidly and exceed ad spending substantially by 2011.

It's perhaps no surprise then, that we've seen a number of paid-for download services pop up over the last 18 months -- with Apple's iTunes being the market leader. However, in the eyes of many of these stores, not all producers are created equal. For example, if you're an independent and you want to get your work into iTunes, you're out of luck. The same goes for Google Video's paid-for download option.

The good news is that a number of paid-for download services have launched, who are embracing 'long tail' producers.


Disclaimer: I'm currently using Streamburst (one of the services mentioned below) to distribute my own film, In Search of the Valley 

Amazon Unbox

Amazon UnboxAmazon Unbox launched in September of last year, to offer paid-for downloads and rentals of popular television shows and movies. A few months after its launch, Amazon-owned Customflix announced that its on-demand DVD distribution service (which helps independent producers sell DVDs online) would now accept submissions to Unbox, opening up Amazon's online video store to anybody that meets its content guidelines. Download-to-own videos must be at minimum 20 minutes long; rental videos 70 plus minutes.

There are two obvious downsides to the service. Independent producers can suggest a price, but Amazon has the final say. Also Unbox uses a form of Windows Media DRM, restricting which devices the download will playback on, so that for example, Macs and iPods are incompatible. Additionally, independent submissions will have to sit alongside Hollywood and major television studio productions -- which could be a good or bad thing, depending on the benefit of Amazon's famous recommendation engine.

Revenue: shared 50/50


Brightcove studioBrightcove takes a slightly different approach to Unbox, in that video producers get to create their own channel/store -- which can be branded accordingly. Also unlike Amazon's offering, producers have control over pricing (for both rentals and to-own downloads). The downside is that Brightcove also employ Windows-based DRM.

Brightcove also recently announced a partnership with AOL, so that Brightcove videos can (optionally) appear on AOL's video site, helping producers reach a wider audience than they might through their own store alone. 

Because Brightcove's heritage is in offering a white label online video service, they also have one of best media upload and management tools.

Revenue: shared 70/30 in favor of the producer.


HungryFlixHungryFlix is a radically different paid-for download offering compared with Unbox and Brightcove. All files are non-DRM'd MPEG4, so as to be compatible with both Mac and PC, and the service specifically targets portable media players such as Apple's iPod or Sony's PSP.

Whether or not producers are ready to abandon all forms of copy protection, remains to be seen; it's clear that the way HungryFlix aims to compete with piracy is through convenience and price. Short Films cost between $0.99-$1.99, and features/documentaries are priced $0.99-$4.99.

Revenue: 60/40 (after PayPal fees) in favor of the producer.


StreamburstStreamburst (a new UK startup) offers a different twist on the issue of DRM. Like with HungryFlix, the downloads are DRM-free MPEG4. However, each video file has the credit card holder's name printed into it, along with a unique watermark, in the hope that this will discourage piracy. As with Brightcove, each producer gets their own store. 

Revenue: approx 65/35 in favor of the producer.

To be continued...

I'm sure I've only just scratched the surface (this is nowhere near a complete list -- add any others in the comments section), and I'm sure many new paid-for download services will come to market over the next twelve months. And who knows, maybe iTunes will eventually open itself up to independent producers? 

Topic: Amazon

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  • I don't

    I find it cheaper to just buy the content on CD or DVD. Sure it might look cheaper online but it's not. With all the licensing restriction you get the product is not worth as much so you end up over paying big time for most online content you purchase. Decreased quality plus massive restriction and the price is almost the same the CD or DVD, you might save a buck purchasing it online. Then if you want to burn a movie to DVD you need the equipment and media that comes at cost and even then you might not be allowed to do that. Same with music too but at least most people have CD burners already.

    Nope I don't need I-Tunes. Come talk to me when you offer a quality product with out additional restriction beyond what copyright law imposes.
    • No-DRM

      Two of the services I mention employ no DRM, so you can play the video on lots of
      devices and move it around etc. The downloads are far cheaper than DVD too.
      Steve O'Hear
      • That 2 out 3

        All that remains is Quality. How does the download song sound on a high end system that will highlight flaws. If so maybe I'll have to try a download or two.
    • Buying content on CD or DVD...

      The reason I still do this has to do purely with media quality. I'll take a DVD and rip it onto my computer in H.264 format, so there's zero loss from the DVD and an overall smaller file size. Then, the beauty part is I can load it on my iPod, my friend's Zune, and other H.264 capable devices. Plus I'm waiting for my AppleTV...no more hooking the iPod up to the TV set anymore!

      So who's still using DRM? That's right, the sheep that think it's better to buy online and get stuck.
  • Not me

    [i]Who needs iTunes?[/i]

    Not me, [b]ESPECIALLY[/b] not after the fiasco that is QuickTime. Yeah, I [b]REALLY[/b] want something with 8 remotely exploitable critical vulnerabilities running on my computer!
    • iTunes has not had any major

      security issues with AFAIK. And your constant ranting against anything from Apple is getting rather long in the tooth. With iPod sales and iTune subscriptions beating all others soundly, they are most assuredly doing something right. ]:)
      Linux User 147560
    • Hmmm...so you don't use Windows?

      That has a heck of alot more remotely exploitable holes.

  • Avoid Unbox at all costs

    Have you seen their terms of service? Do you really want to buy a movie you can't take with you when you move?

    tic swayback
    • EVIL

      That has got to be the most despicable and evil TOS ever seen. But I don't think it's going to have much effect, most people click the "I Agree" button without ever reading the TOS.
  • Good article. iTunes will set the pace, however

    Great article as I never thought about getting DRM free video content from these other places mentioned. Either way, iTunes is one great service, UI and of course feeds the best players (iPOD).

    It is just a matter of time, IMHO, that S Jobs will unlock iTunes from DRM. He made it very clear that DRM is imposed not by Apple, but by hollywood. Eventually, DRM will go away and more video producers (especially shorts) will publish on iTunes and stoke the whole video download category. With the emergence of UMPC's and related large portable screen devices, the video download revolution will happen soon.
    • Let Disney make the first move

      [i]He made it very clear that DRM is imposed not by Apple, but by hollywood.[/i]

      Why does he take his orders from Hollywood? He owns Disney, how about he sells all Disney movies without any DRM? When that happens, I'll believe his words. Until then, I'm smarter to ignore his words and focus on his actions: he makes the only OS that requires an active TPM DRM chip to be installed in the computer.
  • It's not a matter of "need" for in truth much of what

    I have and use I don't need....it's more a matter ofwant and I want iTunes.

    Pagan jim
  • MoboVivo has indie downloads for computers and iPods

    Add MoboVivo to the list of iTunes alternatives. The content is pretty strong lots
    going on with them - very indie friendly. http://www.mobovivo.com