If you’re self-distributing your indie film and trying to get on major VOD platforms—and in front of mass market audiences—an aggregator is essential.
In a nutshell, an aggregator acts as a middle man between your films and third party VOD services like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and more.
They handle encoding and delivery, and when your film generates revenue, they report and send it back your way. That’s the idea, anyway.
In 2019, the aggregator market faced a major shakeup with the demise of Distribber. It was a messy, scandalous, and heartbreaking affair—with hundreds, maybe thousands, of indie filmmakers losing money.
But now that the dust has settled, let’s look at the remaining aggregation options on the market.
We’ll talk about the pros and cons of each, and help you do your due diligence so that you don’t end up screwed by another Distribber situation.
In addition to all of that, we’re gonna dig into the underlying question that brought you here… how the hell do you generate consistent revenue from your indie films?
Sound good? Let’s go.
The best aggregators as of April 2020
Now that Distribber is officially dead, what are the most trustworthy alternatives?
For starters, if your primary goal is to get on Amazon, you may not even need an aggregator.
Through Prime Video Direct, you can upload your film directly to Amazon’s SVOD and TVOD services. So consider that before paying an aggregator to submit on your behalf.
However, it’s worth noting that Amazon’s had two nasty habits over the last year.
They’ve relentlessly slashed royalty rates on Prime streaming (it’s now a penny per hour!), and they’ve pulled thousands of films from the platform without warning, and with no way to get them back on.
Point is, when you’re dealing with and relying on Amazon, you’re dancing with the beast, and have very little control.
For the other major TVOD platforms out there—chiefly iTunes, or AppleTV, or whatever the hell it’s called now—and newer AVOD platforms like Tubi, you’ll need to work through an aggregator.
Before we get to the options, though, there are several different flavors of aggregator business models you should know about.
Some aggregators are entirely one-time services, where you pay up front, then receive 100% of revenue from your film. (This is what Distribber did, but they also snuck various fees into the backend of their service.)
Then there are services that don’t have an upfront fee, but take a cut on the backend.
And finally, there are services that blend those two models, where they charge up front and take a cut.
Which of these you choose is going to depend on your financial situation and your specific goals.
With all of that said, let’s get into the list of aggregators.
Right now, BitMax is my number one recommendation for traditional film aggregation.
Their model is of the first variety, where you pay up front, and keep everything on the backend.
BitMax’s pricing isn’t publicly available like its competitors, but their basic service starts at $600 for a feature. After that, you have to contact them for a custom quote. So the final price will likely be higher, depending on what platforms/territories you want.
As of April 2020, BitMax is the only aggregator about which I’ve never heard a single complaint. Not one.
Seriously, the moment I initially published this article in 2019, my inbox was flooded with people sharing bad experiences with their aggregators. Some of those companies are still on this list, and some aren’t.
But throughout that deluge of emails, nary a peep about BitMax. And when folks have asked about them in this generally-feisty distribution FB group, only good things were said. Kinda shocking, if you ask me.
The other thing I appreciate about them is that film aggregation is only one small piece of a much larger business model. They’re a full-service post house, they license their content management software, and provide a range of media/distribution services.
Point is, BitMax isn’t likely to sink, nor nickel and dime indie filmmakers like Distribber did.
Quiver’s another traditional aggregator worth considering. It was the preferred aggregator for Sundance’s Creative Distribution Initiative, and Jim Cummings recommends it in his kickass “Short to Feature Lab Curriculum” article.
In terms of pricing, Quiver also in the first camp, where they charge up front. For feature films, it’s $950 for the first platform, and $175 for each platform beyond that. For shorts, it drops to $400 for the first platform, and $100 for each subsequent one.
And Quiver does not take a percentage on the backend. So you pay once for delivery, then keep 100% of your revenue.
Sidenote: From September 2019 onward, I’ve talked to quite a few filmmakers who’ve been frustrated with Quiver’s customer service, and who’ve been experiencing long wait times (sometimes months) to get their films on platforms. My guess is Quiver got absolutely slammed after Distribber collapsed, and they weren’t able to keep up with the surge in new submissions. Hopefully that surge has subsided, but it’s still worth being cautious. Do your due diligence.
FilmHub is a bit different from the others on this list, as they’re seemingly a cross between an aggregator, distributor, a tech platform, and a marketplace where VOD platforms shop for content.
Regardless of what you call FilmHub, the main draw is that submitting your film doesn’t require any cash upfront, and you can reach a substantial number of niche VOD platforms in all sorts of global territories. So it’s not limited to a handful of “majors” like iTunes, Amazon, etc, and only in the US, UK markets.
Just know that, outside of Amazon, you’re not guaranteed access to any of these platforms because FilmHub operates a bit like a marketplace. Your film is available to VOD sites who might be interested in licensing, but it’s not clear what FilmHub does to promote these titles, or what you can do yourself.
Also, like many distributors, FilmHub takes 20% on the backend in perpetuity. For a lot of people, especially those who can’t (or don’t want to) pay those upfront fees, that’s a great deal. But unlike a distributor, you’re in full control of your film’s rights at all times.
Just know that if your film does well in the coming years, you may end up paying FilmHub dramatically more on the backend than you would have with another service that charged up front. That’s always the risk you take with these things.
Sidenote 1: Just like with Quiver, I’ve talked to quite a few filmmakers who’ve been frustrated with FilmHub since Distribber collapsed. It’s the same complaints—slow/no customer service, and longer-than-advertised wait times for getting on platforms. Hopefully this is just temporary fallout from Distribber and is starting to subside. But like before, always do your due diligence.
Sidenote 2: Also, I received a note from a reader that because FilmHub isn’t an official aggregator, they may end up having fees on the backend, as they still have to pay to reach certain platforms. I can’t confirm this, but it’s something to look out for if you choose to distribute through them.
Indie Rights is not an aggregator, but instead a digital distributor. As such, it’s not an open platform that everyone can submit and be accepted to.
To work with Indie Rights, you need to submit your film for consideration. And if you’re a good fit, you need to sign over the rights to your film. (Don’t worry, you can read their contract here, and it’s not predatory or shady in the slightest.)
Unlike high-end indie distributors who are hyper selective in their acquisitions (A24, Neon, etc), Indie Rights’ business model is all about acquiring more films, and having a large, diversified library. So don’t hold off on submitting because you’re unsure of whether your film is good enough. It probably is.
In some ways, Indie Rights is most similar to FilmHub, in that it’s an 80/20 split in your favor, and they reach far more platforms and global territories than your average aggregator.
As for why you’d choose Indie Rights over the other options on this list, the best answer I can give is that they’re proactively looking for new ways to make their filmmakers money.
Unlike most aggregators—who simply provide a service, then call it good—Indie Rights is incentivized to constantly adapt to industry trends, and utilize their relationships to get you access to new platforms and opportunities. After all, they don’t make money unless their filmmakers do, so the incentives are properly aligned.
Another thing to note here. Many distributors promise to market and promote your film (though they rarely do anymore). Indie Rights makes no such promise, and instead provides their filmmakers a thorough marketing manual.
Just like all the other options on this list, you’ll be doing your own marketing if you’re working with Indie Rights, but you’ll have quite a bit more guidance on how to do it effectively.
Before signing up, ALWAYS do your homework
For years, indie filmmakers have known they need to do their due diligence before signing with a distributor. After all, there are all sorts of crafty ways that distributors screw filmmakers—fees, expenses, lengthy terms, etc.
However, if the Distribber debacle taught us anything, it’s that we need to be just as wary when signing up with seemingly harmless service providers—especially the ones who handle our revenue in perpetuity.
So, here are some steps you can take to ensure that your film (and future revenue) are in safe hands.
Talk to the reps at these companies, and ask specifically about…
How do they handle client royalties/revenue? Is it kept in a separate account, or mixed in with the company’s other money (which is a huge red flag, and part of what screwed Distribber).
What other sources of revenue does the company have besides aggregation? This is another aspect of why Distribber failed, so look for aggregators that also offer post production services (like BitMax), or have other streams of revenue.
Track down filmmakers who’ve worked with them before, and ask for honest opinions. There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest is…
Join the “Protect Yourself from Predatory Aggregators/Distributors” FB group, and use the search tool for any companies you’re interested in. Chances are, they’ve been discussed before. If not, make a new post and ask about people’s experience with them.
Seriously, don’t skimp on this part of the process.
If things go south with the aggregator you choose, getting your film back (removed from all the platforms it’s on), and then re-submitted is going to be a MAJOR pain in the ass. It’s likely to take weeks or months of your time.
Better to spend a few extra days doing research up front than rush and be burned later.
Driving revenue once your film hits platforms
Over the last few years, I’ve known a number of indie filmmakers who’ve used aggregators to reach major platforms.
They gladly pay those upfront fees because of the high hopes of revenue they’d see later.
A few have made decent money, but the majority haven’t seen much action on the backend.
The reason for this is simple.
Just getting your film on streaming platforms isn’t enough.
As indie filmmakers, this can be tough to hear, because we want platform delivery to be the end of the story.
Very often, we’re burned out from making our film and schlepping it around to festivals. By the time it reaches platforms, most of us are ready to move on to the next project, or take a much needed vacation.
At the same time, most of us want to see sustainable revenue from our film. And if that’s the goal, just dumping it onto a bunch of streaming platforms won’t get the job done.
You can’t count on Amazon and iTunes to magically drive attention and revenue your way.
Your film is but a drop of water in their vast oceans of online content. And much of the organic attention on those platforms trends towards big budget stuff right out of the gate.
So unless you take control and drive attention to your film yourself (or hire someone to do it), very little revenue, if any, will find its way back to you.
Hell, you might not break even on what you spent for aggregation, let alone your film’s budget.
This is a big part of the reason that working with a traditional distributor is so appealing.
Not only can you get some money upfront, but they handle the aggregation piece, along with branding, marketing, theatrical, and more.
A good distributor takes those time and resource intensive tasks off your plate, so you can focus on the next project.
That’s the idea, anyway.
Truth is, many distributors don’t do a whole lot to promote their micro-budget acquisitions. And even when they do, very little money finds its way back to the filmmakers. But that’s a rant for another article.
Point is, if we want to earn real money through self-distribution, we have to champion our film in the marketplace and drive people to it.
We have to get our hands dirty, learn about marketing, and make sure our target audience knows about our film and where to find it.
That’s how you make real, sustainable money from this. By taking matters into your own hands.
So please keep all of this in mind when choosing a distribution model for your films.
If you’re not willing to do that marketing legwork for months and years after your film is completed, going with a traditional distributor makes more sense.
Just make sure you do your due diligence, because again, many lower end distributors are shady as hell.
However, if you’re willing to put on your marketing hat and do that work consistently, there’s one other option to consider.
Skip the aggregator, build your audience, and sell directly to your fans
Here’s an interesting question for you to consider.
If you’re doing the work to engage people online, and driving them to watch your film, why would you choose Amazon or iTunes as your primary platform in the first place?
Think about it. The reason many of us want to be on these big platforms is the perception that audiences are already there.
That’s why we gladly put up with iTunes taking 30-40% of our revenue, or Amazon paying 1 cent for every hour streamed, or 40-50% of transactional revenue.
And that’s why we put up with these platforms not sharing any customer information with us.
Because we’re operating on the flawed assumption that, just by being there, way more people will see our films, and we’ll make more money.
As we’ve already talked about, that’s almost never the case. There are obviously a ton of people on those platforms, but they won’t magically come to us. We have to be proactive about getting our film in front of the right people.
So again, if we’re doing the work to generate audience attention, why would we choose these platforms?
Why wouldn’t we save money on aggregation fees, sell from our own website, keep 90-95% of the revenue, and build up our customer database so that we can sell to these fans again?
I don’t know about you, but this seems like a no-brainer decision in favor of the DIY route.
You’re going to be hustling to market your film anyway, so you might as well do everything you can to maximize both short and long term revenue.
So here’s what I’d posit to you.
If you’re already doing the work to market your film, consider skipping this aggregator/platform model altogether, and sell directly to your fans.
All of the technology to do this is accessible and affordable. ( Right now, I recommend Gumroad most highly, but Vimeo On Demand is another option.)
And when you take this path, the energy you pour into marketing will have a much higher ROI.
Not only that, but you’ll build a targeted email list of people who love your work.
This list is gold, as you can use it to sell past or future films, affiliate offers, or drive people to a Patreon. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can do to monetize an engaged email list.
Granted, you may eventually want to take your film to major streaming platforms to widen your reach. But to my mind, that’s something that comes well after you’ve tapped out the audience you can reach yourself.
Again, I don’t know about you, but as someone who cares about maximizing revenue from what I make, I’ll take the DIY option any day of the week.
One final thought about sustainability and risk
Before we wrap this up, there’s one last thought I want to leave you with.
Any time you put additional people, companies, or platforms between you and your film’s revenue, you’re taking on risk.
As we saw with the Distribber situation, if one of those intermediaries goes out of business—or decides to pull some shady crap—you’re out of luck.
Granted, Distribber appears to have been horribly mismanaged. So it’s not like any aggregator or distributor you work with will inevitably die.
But still, that risk is always there.
And for those of us trying to build a sustainable, long-term business around our films, that’s a risk we need to weigh carefully.
This is another reason I’m such a fan of building audiences and selling directly to your fans.
When you take the DIY approach, it’s certainly more work. No doubt.
But at the same time, it’s safer and more sustainable over the long run, not to mention more profitable.
And for me, I’ll gladly go the additional mile for that kind security.