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A Warning About Film Aggregators & the Future

A Warning About Film Aggregators & the Future

Joe Dain from Terror Films reached out to me to share his warning about film aggregators and what the downfall of Distribber means to the indie film community in the future. Please read below.


Before you read listen to Joe Dain discuss his concerns of Film Aggregators as well as the Downfall of Distribber. 


Dear Aggregators & Fellow Distributors,

As many of you have likely already heard, Go Digital/Distribber, from what anyone can tell as of now, is on its way out. The story first broke via Indie Film Hustle on September 12, 2019, and they are talking about it incessantly (as they should be) to the tens of thousands of indie filmmakers that follow them. There is even an official Facebook page titled, “Protect Yourself from Distribber”. And now Variety ran with the story on 10/1. As this appears to be the first time in which an “approved aggregator” has faced going under and, possibly, bringing the films and their royalties down with it, we find ourselves in uncharted waters. But’s let be clear, this is affecting everyone – not just indie filmmakers.

The reason I’ve drafted this letter is in hopes of it reaching as many of you as possible because, as an indie distributor, it’s time to address the real issue that no one seems to be talking about. As you’re already aware, the platforms assign “approved aggregators” to not only act as a content delivery services but to also act as third-party royalty collection accounts. What many in the industry outside of aggregators and distributors may not know is that this collection account mandate, if you will, comes down from the platforms without any type of financial assurances and or requirements of their “approved aggregation” partners (i.e.: client trust/escrow accounts; yearly audits; financial bonds/insurance policies similar to the FDIC, etc.).

Due to this lack of financial regulation, the platforms, at the very least are being absurdly reckless with our royalties and, at worst, are creating a situation where they themselves could potentially become liable when an “approved aggregator” meets its demise. Liable or not, it is painfully clear that the platforms never considered what the fallout would be when one of their “approved aggregators” crashed and burned, as we are now seeing with the Go Digital/Distribber debacle.

We were first introduced to Go Digital/Distribber by Netflix back in 2015 when we did a licensing deal on one of our films. As part of the terms of the agreement, it was mandated we use Go Digital to not only deliver our film to Netflix but that Go Digital would also, in turn, collect and disperse our royalties to us. We thought nothing of this. Who would when Netflix is doing the recommending? How many distributors would have questioned this? We certainly didn’t. When a major platform refers to an aggregator as approved, there is no reason to doubt that they have been vetted. We also knew we needed an aggregator so what better one to use than the one suggested by a major platform like Netflix. Yes, you heard that correctly. Aggregation services are NOT limited to indie filmmakers. That’s a myth. I’ve even heard sales reps try to explain away the difference between an aggregator and a distributor. The truth is even distributors, at all levels, are required to use these services in many cases.

And now, here we are with this “approved aggregator” potentially going under without a single financial assurance in place by the very platforms that deemed them approved. And to be clear, Go Digital / Distribber is (or was) an “approved aggregator” for many major platforms including iTunes, Vudu, Tubi TV, Amazon and many more, we just happened to be introduced to them by Netflix. And if these major platforms deemed an aggregator “approved” wouldn’t that suggest it would include some financial assurance requirements as well? Guess what – it doesn’t.

Why do I bring all of this up and continue to place the term “approved aggregator” in quotations? Simple – companies are mismanaged and close their doors all the time in every industry for various reasons. That doesn’t mean they were bad companies or had ill intentions. However, the fact that some aggregators are handling hundreds of thousands of dollars (and much more) of quarterly revenue – all flowing through their banks accounts as nothing more than a go-between in which not a single platform requires an upfront or yearly financial audit or assurance of any kind is a scary proposition for everyone – major studios, mid-level distributors and filmmakers alike.

We need, at the very least, to hold the major platforms’ feet to the fire and push them to handle their lack of financial requirements differently. Regardless of whether or not any “approved aggregator” self regulates themselves by establishing client trust accounts and so on is beside the point. These mandates need to come directly from the platforms and we’re hoping to have as many of you as possible help us in bringing this to their attention. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.

Whether any of the major platforms will care to make a change in the financial requirements of their “approved aggregators” remains to be seen, however, even if we were able to get them to make a change on their backend internal metadata would be a huge step in the right direction. To clarify, the platforms only recognize their “approved aggregator” as the account and ultimately, the rights holder of note. The content holder/owner of note should be listed as the actual copyright holder and or their assigned licensee (in the case of a distributor) on the platforms internal system – NOT THE AGGREGATOR!

This minor change could, at the very least, give content holders the ability to reach out to the platforms directly and request removal of the content or a switch of aggregators in a scenario like we are now faced with. FYI, this comes from our firsthand experience at attempting this with the platforms only to be met with either complete silence or in most cases, denial of our request due to not being recognized as the legal content holder. The only major platform that has “set the bar” in my opinion and handled this correctly is Amazon Prime.

The ability to establish your own account and deliver your content and truly collect all of your revenue directly, to me, should be what every major platform is offering. And for the record, my issue is not with the idea of being required to use a delivery service. For distributors delivering content on a regular basis via a delivery service is necessary as it removes a certain level of burden for the distributor. However, these services are much like a lab. So, the question remains – why would a platform decide to send our royalties, in essence, to a lab who is not only ill-prepared to deal with the accounting nor required to meet any financial assurances?

We have been paying attention to the online chatter among filmmakers who are desperately trying to address two basic needs: a) get their content taken down by Go Digital/Distribber and b) place their film in the hands of a new aggregator. Although we understand why everyone is upset with the current situation at Go Digital/Distribber, and rightfully so, we are here to make it clear that they are merely a symptom – not the cause. We are not looking to disrupt anyone’s business nor place specific blame on anyone company but we are certainly looking to protect indie filmmakers and fellow distributors from the next aggregator financial disaster. Because it will happen again.

We need this to change because as the model currently stands, it’s broken.

Sincerely,

Joe Dain
President of Worldwide Distribution
Terror Films LLC & Global Digital Releasing LLC


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