The Role of Timing in the Distribution Pipeline

There was once a time when the only strategizing required was when a title would move from theaters to VHS tape or later, DVD. The current landscape is much more complex. A big title today may start in cinemas before moving to exclusive streaming deals, maybe even premium, and eventually into the realm of nonexclusive deals, perhaps SVOD or AVOD.

In an ideal world, you want to optimize the amount of time your title spends in the most profitable tier of your pipeline. Historically that would have been cinemas, but today the answer isn’t always clear. Take, for example, Universal’s distribution to Peacock this year. Both owned by parent company Comcast, Peacock has exclusive access to Universal content, which has allowed Universal to play around with their exclusivity timing.

Universal’s Marry Me and Firestarter were both available to stream on the same day they begin playing in theaters, while The Northman hit theaters after 42 days in cinemas. Currently, Jurassic World Dominion has been in theaters for over 50 days and Minions: The Rise of Gru for over 30, and neither have a set streaming date yet, suggesting that Universal is looking to leverage a much longer window of exclusivity in cinemas for their latest releases.

Most distributors understand that there is both an art and a science to maximizing a title’s revenue. In a recent discussion around content strategy, MOLTEN user shared with us how important it is for him to analyze risk around which deals he’s willing to make for different titles. Going into deals, he will take a look at his distribution events to get a better understanding for how much demand there is for a specific title. If no one has shown a willingness to pay an upfront fee for a specific title, then it may not be worth the risk of handing out non-exclusive agreements. On the other hand, a title that they’ve had success distributing may have enough demand to sell non-exclusively.

Like in any kind of sales, your ability to understand demand is crucial. If you’re someone like Universal, who has exclusive dealings with Peacock, then the key is understanding where your viewers are willing to spend their money. Will they schlep to the theaters to catch a film on the big screen? Or will they pay a premium to watch it from the comfort of their home, as we saw with the eruption of premium VOD during the pandemic. If you’re a platform-agnostic distributor, then the key is understanding what kind of deals your streaming platforms are willing to take for which content. It’s a constant game of trial and error, and the only way to get any leverage over the process is through data and analytical insight.

Universal can probably afford an entire team of dedicated professionals to strategize their GTM content strategy, but if you’re anyone else, getting this kind of insight into your library might feel like a pipe dream.

Our advice: find a way to keep track of your distribution events. How many times has a title been pitched? When? To whom? How many deals has this title been a part of? What were platforms willing to pay for it? Was it sold exclusively? If you can manage to easily track and search your library on distribution criteria, you can begin to paint a picture of your content’s market value over time.

If you’re interested in seeing how MOLTEN filters avails on complex criteria like distribution events, click here for a platform introduction.