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Distribution Terminology Guide

By Corinne Gaston

The distribution landscape is constantly evolving. We already gave you 10 Keys to Successful Theatrical Distribution for Your Doc and the most important 5 Digital Distribution Tips for Filmmakers. Now, here are some of the most oft-used terms and their definitions to help you figure out how best to get your doc out into the world.

Theatrical Releases:

Wide release: a film is shown nationwide simultaneously in hundreds of theaters.

Limited release: a film is released in a select several theaters across the country. This release style is frequently used for documentaries, art films, and independent films.

Platform release: a strategy included under the umbrella of the limited release that utilizes word of mouth to gain momentum. Usually shown in very few select theaters in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

Semi-Theatrical Release: A one-time special event screening that can take place in a movie theater, museum, college campus, art center, etc.

DIY Release: Filmmakers make deals with individual theaters to screen their films. Filmmakers usually either pay the theater a fixed sum upfront and take on the risk and potential profits, or, if the theater believes the film will be successful, share both the risk and profits with the theater. Includes online platforms like Tugg and Gathr to crowdsource theatrical screenings.

Video on Demand

Video-on-Demand (VOD) is an interactive system that allows users to select and watch video content in real time or download content whenever they choose in lieu of watching at specific broadcast times. Users can stream and/or download video content. For streaming, the content plays as it downloads; for downloaded content, the file must be completely downloaded before it will play.

Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) allows users unlimited access to a bundled set of content for a fixed fee during a specific time period (typically one month). SVOD providers include Netflix and Hulu Plus.

Advertising-supported Video on Demand (AVOD) offers access to video and audio content with ads to users, often for free, since the platforms rely on selling ads to generate revenue. One AVOD provider is Hulu.

Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD) allows customers to pay a single price for individual VOD content or set of viewed programs. TVOD includes download-to-buy options like iTunes and Amazon as well as Internet VOD (IVOD) like Vudu rentals.

Free Video on Demand (FVOD) is demand programming that is available as part of a basic content package, to which subscribers can have unlimited access for a specific time period.

Direct and Retail

Direct sales
The purchasing of goods from manufacturers or distributors in person. An example of this is the purchasing of a DVD at a film screening.

When consumers go directly to a retail outlet or store with multiple products on display in order to make a purchase. Direct selling can also counts as retail.

Digital Distribution
A distribution method in which media content, such as video, is delivered without the use of physical media, typically by downloading from the internet straight to a consumer's home. Examples include: filmmakers’ own websites, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes.

Educational Distribution
The selling of DVDs to high schools, universities, colleges, research institutes, non-profit organizations, libraries and other institutions that use film for educational purposes like research and as teaching tools.