Digital Rights MediaThere are more and more sites now selling or providing digital content. New ones launch each day.

Typically, these sites are categorized by the manner in which the content is delivered to prospective users: either by streaming or in the form of a download. As there are so many, I will keep my discussion limited to a number of more established companies.


Streaming content, although extremely challenging to monetize, has become the most popular way for the consumers to view video content online.


YouTube is by far the most popular site for streaming online videos.  It is available nearly anywhere in the world.  In 2006, it was purchased by Google. In terms of viewership volume and diversity of content, YouTube is the market leader in streaming content.

YouTube accounts for:

  • 31.3% of all online video content viewed as of 2009.
  •  73% of the visits to online video sites in the U.S. (Hitwise, April 2008)
  • 1 million unique downloads and over 150,000 video uploads per day (YouTube).

YouTube has also created an online “Screening Room” that serves to spotlight the work of independent filmmakers who produce shorts as well as feature films.   Its monetization strategy consists of three parts:

  • Ad revenue, which varies depending on the popularity of any given page.
  • Click to buy (DVD’s or merchandise)
  • Charging a per visit price for traffic driven to other sites.

Amateur videos and short content pieces are not the only types of video that have benefited from the proliferation of YouTube. Feature films have also thrived using YouTube to deliver their content. Hunter Weeks achieved success with 10 MPH, as did Arin Crumley with Four Eyed Monsters. YouTube also claims to have reinvigorated the famous Monty Python series for a younger generation. By making clips from the show more accessible, tens of thousands click-to-buy purchases have been booked for the show.

YouTube’s Screening Room has provided an online venue to highlight selected films on a separate section of the site.

YouTube is essentially uncensored. There are very few restrictions on who can post videos and where. The guiding rule is that all video must be original to the person posting it. This has made the site a take off point for many viral videos. The site tracks Page hits.  An aggregator or distributor, or your market position within YouTube can negotiate a share of the ad revenue for each poster.

Pollack’s tips for how to best utilize such a powerful site:

  • Post your content in the appropriate section.  For example post your film in the movie section. If the video becomes a hit, you will automatically be positioned on the homepage or favorites page.
  • Push your content. YouTube allows you to share your finished product with the whole world, but its up to you to market it.

i. Use social networking. When posting content make sure to share it on sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Get your friends to share it with their friends!

ii. Take advantage of the “embed” feature to post the video in as many places as possible: email, related sites, etc.

iii. Create a dialogue on the content you post by replying to the comments you receive. Create an email list or online community for these commenters.

iv. Reach out to bloggers and ask them to link to your content.

v. Personalize your homepage.

vi. Learn how successful users promote their content on YouTube.

vii. Link to your own video in the comment sections of other videos, especially popular ones, or those related to your content.

viii. Tag your clips. The more metadata you have, the better. Review metadata on popular videos. Evaluate how they do it and how it relates to your own content.

  •  Concentrate on content best suited for online viewing.  Keep in mind that this is a fluid concept, what is in vogue one day may not be as popular a few weeks or months down the road. Thirty-second spots have been a mainstay on YouTube.  Despite their limited length, they can tell a story too. Succeeding in this could potentially be parlayed into a career directing television commercials.
  • Create content in popular online genres. Certain content is better for the online medium by nature.
  • Tap into online fan culture.  Somewhat related to the above, but even more of a niche specific venture. Spinoff series’ for popular characters from blockbuster movies or video games are given a home with this new venue available on the Internet. These sub-genres are able to tap into the popularity of larger phenomenon around them.
  • Post frequently.  Simply post early and post often!


Created in 2007 as a joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp, as a response to YouTube’s massive popularity, Hulu is an online video service that offers hit TV shows, movies, and other clips for free in the United States. It monetizes on its traffic volume by charging to advertise on the site.

AOL, Comcast, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo! can also play Hulu videos. The Hulu video player can also be embedded onto personal blogs and websites. Second to iTunes, Hulu is regarded as the highest revenue generator in the digital distribution business.


Rather than focus on the masses, Babelgum focuses on curating content for specific audiences. This is most likely the future of online content, creation of a new sub-industry much like cable channels.  By supplying content to specific markets, they market themselves to specific audiences.

Laurence Billiet, who runs the Metropolis channel on Babelgum, is especially excited that online video content can be viewed by anyone with an Internet connection. As the medium matures, people will expect an improvement in the quality of what is accessible to them. Babelgum expects to have a defined curatorial role in choosing great content for its site.

Anyone can submit content to Babelgum; however, they are looking for professional quality content. Not every submission makes it onto the site unless it fits in their culture, one of high quality originality with an edgy feel. Once your submission is accepted, you become “published” and are a part of their platform. In order for your content to be viewable by the public it must also be programmed. Babelgum admits to preferring the content they are looking to curate.

There are five different channels under the Babelgum main page: Film, Music, Comedy, Our Earth, and Metropolis. Other than Metropolis each channel is self-explanatory. Metropolis has an urban feel.  It is the home of the Bomb It channel and the “super landing page”. Within each channel there are even more specific branded channels like Funny or Die in the comedy section as well as IndieFlix and FilmBuff in the Film section. There are also exclusive series on the site, such as Radar by the Workbook Project.

Depending on what you watch on the site, you will receive suggested content to view based on your interests.

Babelgum creators market their site by running ads on Google and Facebook. They also arrange for interviews with the artists and directors of the films they post. For the series Bomb It, they even flew a contest winner to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to take advantage of a live event to promote their online content.

Babelgum has also entered the smart phone and tablet app markets. Two million users have downloaded its iPhone app. The company reports that more people watch their channels on their iPhone than on the web!

They partner with experimental filmmakers. For End of the Line, a documentary about declining global fish resources, they did a day and date promotion as well as a theatrical release.


SnagFilms specializes in documentaries. A user can go to the site and watch full-length documentaries for free (with interstitial advertising). What makes this site unique is a widget that allows the users to “snag” a film and put it anywhere else on the web. A customer can set up a theater on his own website exclusively from films found on SnagFilms. According to the company, their widget has been embedded a billion times on 25,000 websites. Widgets can also be posted to Facebook profiles.

Snag offers users two ways to capitalize on the films they post to the site:

  • Ad revenue is shared on a 50/50 basis.
  • Click to Buy Now sales. Snag takes 8.5% of each sale as an affiliate fee.

Snag works with film festivals and other curators to feature channels like National Geographic, PBS, CRM, E1, ITVS, and the Sundance Channel on its site.

Download to Own and Download to Rent Companies


iTunes is the largest revenue earner in digital music, movies, and television. All are available by download from the site or through an app. Movies are also available for rent.  Users can post comments, view trailers, and rate downloads on the sites.

iTunes is notorious for strict compression guidelines. Users have to submit their content through an aggregator and can view the content on a number of Apple’s products including Apple TV.

Amazon Video on Demand

Amazon operates in a similar manner to iTunes, except its movies are only playable on the Amazon viewer or a compatible platform and not transferrable to an iPod or to DVD. Filmmakers earn 50% of the revenue for electronic sell-through and DTO (download to own).

Customer can either watch the content they have purchased on their computer or on some tested device that runs a version of the Unbox Video Player or the TiVo DVR. Content can also be streamed to the television via a Roku box or a number of other devices (including computers).

Subscription Streaming

This may indeed be the way of the future. Rather than buy one piece of content for a set price, like on iTunes, users subscribe to a company or channel and watch as much of their catalogue whenever they choose. Inevitably, this will lead to a mad scramble for control over content. Subscription revenue may one day allow for companies to pay advances to their preferred content providers, just as cable companies do now and how independent films were once financed.

Netflix Watch Now

If you are a member of Netflix, you can watch their catalogue either online or on your TV. Depending on the popularity of your film, Netflix will pay you a flat fee.

Other Companies


This site is a joint venture between the founder of Celluloid Dreams and The Criterion Collection. Their intent is to become a “website with a uniquely curated library of films delivered through high definition streaming and download on demand” They “wish to be an online cinematheque where film lovers around the world come together to watch, discuss, and read about the best of cinema. Focusing on editorial coverage of international cinema and a highly interactive, community based design, it is our intention to create a global community of the most interested and interesting film fans in the world.”

Film Annex

Film Annex’s mission is to help promote and distribute new filmmakers and their films. They have an expansive network of Web TV channels of various themes.

Filmmakers can post their films for free and earn ad revenue based on their films’ popularity. They can also sell their films for a preset price.


Guba is similar to YouTube. Users can upload their content to the site for free with very little restrictions.


Jaman is an online on-demand movie service. Users create an account and download movies for a small fee. The site will also suggest titles to its users based on user ratings and your most frequented genres.


This site allows users to download or rent films using an on-demand service. TV shows and music downloads are also available through CinemaNow.


An online platform for renting, sharing and watching films, it specializes in independent films.


A video platform with a commercial focus, Brightcove specializes in distributing videos for businesses and organizations.  It provides a unique place in cyberspace with contents ranging from news programs to movie trailers.