Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Future of Film Distribution

The unique documentary film LEADING TO WAR is redefining conventional film distribution. Praised by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as a "staggering film," the 72-minute documentary, constructed from selected news footage, powerfully chronicles the Bush administration's rush path to war in Iraq.

The release of LEADING TO WAR pushes the boundaries of film distribution beyond the new media strategies of even the most forward-thinking Hollywood studios. Taking a page from the Web 2.0 playbook, the producers of LEADING TO WAR are offering the complete film online for free via progressive streaming or download at

This is a far more powerful distribution system than is possible in theaters, as this release is available on demand, around the world. To support this international push, the film is subtitled in an unprecedented 19 languages.

The model is similar to that of a classic tiered Web 2.0 service like the photo sharing site The product is provided for free, attracting a large number of users. An enhanced product is then offered to customers seeking a premium experience. For Flickr, it's more storage for photos, with fewer restrictions. For LEADING TO WAR, the premium experience is watching the film on DVD, which is available for purchase on the website via

This new business model is what noted venture capitalist and blogger Fred Wilson named "The Freemium Business Model," which has been widely cited in leading business publications and blogs:

"Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but
maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through
word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing,
etc, then offer premium priced value added services or an
enhanced version of your service to your customer base."

For LEADING TO WAR, the DVD -- the premium product -- provides the highest quality viewing experience. The expectation is that DVD sales will be significantly increased by the higher viewership and awareness which only the free availability can attract.

This "Freemium" strategy is working. Notable comments online include:

"This is an amazing film. Let's buy DVDs to support these guys," "I'm buying the DVD for my parents," and "I will show this DVD to as many people as I can, and I will save it for my 3 year old son for his future watching."

In conjunction with the film, a companion website,, examines the strategies and rhetorical techniques used by Bush officials. The film and website create the most comprehensive online resource about the build-up to the Iraq War.

To enhance the availability of LEADING TO WAR around the world, the film utilizes the Akamai Content Delivery Network, with 20,000 "edge servers" worldwide. This improves the quality of the streaming as well as the speed of download in virtually every country.

"We are amazed at the initial results," said producer Lewis Wheeler. "Within days of going live, the film was viewed in each of the 19 subtitled languages, and within 2 weeks the site was visited from 142 different countries."

LEADING TO WAR was directed by Barry Hershey (whose first feature film, "The Empty Mirror," premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival) and was edited by two-time Emmy Award winner Marc Grossman.

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