Digital filmmaking tools have made unscripted film and television content easier to produce and more financially appealing than many of their fictional counterparts. However, the proliferation of unscripted content has also saturated theatrical and broadcast markets.
Even if it’s easier than ever to make unscripted content, figuring out how to distribute it is still a serious challenge.
That’s why this post explores new solutions to a classic filmmaking problem. Below, we’ll dig deep into emerging and nontraditional outlets for your non-fiction films and series. Read along as we break down ten of the best markets for unscripted material that you may not have heard about.
The following markets appear in no particular order.
When it comes to unscripted content, Netflix’s catalog is an endless buffet. Competition shows (Next in Fashion) sit next to true crime docuseries (Making a Murderer), high-profile feature documentaries (13th), and even reality dating series (Love is Blind). It’s the perfect platform for delivering virtually any type of unscripted programming to an always hungry audience.
Of course, making a deal with Netflix is easier said than done for most independent filmmakers. To give your project a fighting chance, be sure to check out our in-depth breakdown of how to get a movie on Netflix.
Amazon Prime Video Direct offers access to a major platform with minimal interference. It’s a portal through which filmmakers can directly upload content to Prime Video for purchase, rental, or as free content (that still earns you royalties) for Prime subscribers.
Amazon Prime Video Direct is the only major streaming platform to currently accept unsolicited materials. Submissions must pass a series of manual and automated reviews before acceptance. If a submission is accepted, it will usually go live on Prime within four business days.
Amazon Prime Video Direct is free to use and comes with plenty of tools to manage your content over time. Prime Video Direct offers performance metrics, revenue projections, promotional tools, and other optimization features.
YouTube is perhaps the most well-known video platform in internet history, yet is often overlooked as an exhibition market for professional filmmakers. You might visit YouTube to learn how to make a documentary, but chances are you haven’t considered it as a distribution outlet.
The YouTube ecosystem has come a long way from its humble 2005 origins, expanding to accommodate an incredible diversity of video content and services. Today, the platform boasts several potential markets for unscripted programming.
First, there’s YouTube Movies & TV, an online market for content purchases and rentals. YouTube Movies & TV is a classic video-on-demand system that’s boosted via direct integration with the wider YouTube platform.
If you’re able to land your content within YouTube Movies & TV, users will be able to buy or rent it alongside other titles like Hell’s Kitchen, Storm Chasers, Three Identical Strangers, and Koyaanisqatsi.
Next, your content may be eligible for distribution through a third-party YouTube channel. Some channels license content that they actively distribute to their subscribers. DW Documentary, for example, delivers fresh documentaries from around the globe to a subscriber-base of nearly 5 million people several times per week.
Third-party YouTube channels are ideal for short and medium-length projects that might find distribution difficult elsewhere. It creates a healthy symbiotic relationship in the marketplace. You supply the channel with high-quality content; the channel supplies you with compensation and a built-in audience.
Of course, filmmakers also have the option of creating their own YouTube Channel. While this may not be appealing for the distribution of a feature documentary, it could be a viable option for a long-term docuseries. Channels like Soft White Underbelly and Defunctland supply unscripted and documentary content to millions of dedicated subscribers.
Nebula is a subscription video platform built as a YouTube alternative. The platform distinguishes itself from its mainstream competitor by partnering directly with its roster of creators. These creators enjoy a 50/50 split of subscription profits with Nebula’s parent company based on view time.
Nebula features content from creators like Kat Blaque, Lindsay Ellis, Wendover Productions, and Tom Scott. Through these channels and many more, Nebula offers a range of unscripted material that rivals anything available on YouTube.
Unlike YouTube, however, Nebula is not an open platform. Nebula invites creators onto its roster by way of recommendation and invitation, resulting in an exclusive team of artists. If you do not already have a connection to Nebula, you’ll need to build a reputation and viewer-base via some other platform before you’re likely to receive an invite of your own.
Google Play is a digital distribution service that brings a wide variety of media under a single umbrella. Google Play hosts movies, television shows, video games, ebooks, and more. For filmmakers, it’s a solid market for distributing unscripted video content to audiences viewing across multiple devices.
Google Play focuses on delivering high-quality content produced at a professional level. Users can purchase seasons of shows like The Amazing Race as well as feature documentaries like Amy or Free Solo.
To make your content available through Google Play, simply submit a pre-qualification form to get the process started. Note, however, that there are no guarantees your content will be hosted if your submission is unsolicited. Instead, the fastest and most secure path to getting your content online is working through one of Google Play’s preferred content aggregators.
Hulu is a top-tier subscription streaming service based in the U.S. Owned by The Walt Disney Company and NBCUniversal, Hulu has close ties with the traditional broadcast ecosystem. They stream content from a throng of outside networks and media providers.
As a result, Hulu boasts a wide-ranging library of unscripted content headlined by high-profile titles. Shows like Survivor, Love Island, and The Masked Singer all find a streaming home on Hulu, as do feature docs like Summer of Soul, Too Funny to Fail, and Minding the Gap.
Be warned, Hulu can be a tough nut to crack for independent producers. Instead of approaching the company directly, you’ll likely need to work with a sales agent, distributor, or content aggregator.
Film aggregators are third-party services that can help get your documentary film, docuseries, or reality TV show distributed on major digital platforms. They provide a pipeline that connects your content to platforms that are difficult to approach on your own.
Aggregators differ from film distributors in that they do not put your movie or TV show directly in front of an audience. Instead, they act as middlemen in that process, working to host your content on each distribution platform.
Film and TV aggregators are often the most direct way for independent filmmakers to approach the big players in video distribution. Services like Google Play, iTunes, and even Netflix place a degree of trust in their preferred aggregators that they simply do not afford to individual filmmakers.
Here’s a quick list of some of the most well-known aggregators for the U.S. distribution territory:
Aggregators are not a one-size fits all solution for unscripted content distribution. However, they do provide a relatively simplified path to market access under many circumstances. Carefully consider the pros and cons of a film aggregator before entering any kind of deal.
Vimeo On Demand is a self-distribution service provided by Vimeo. Vimeo has long championed its community of independent video creators. Vimeo On Demand represents its most recent innovation for helping those creators get paid for their content.
Unlike other distribution platforms, Vimeo On Demand is completely DIY. You upload content yourself. You choose whether it’s available for rental, purchase, or subscription. You set your own prices. Best of all, as your project sells, you take home 90% of revenue after transaction costs.
This unprecedented level of control draws well-established and less-established filmmakers alike. Artists like Yorgos Lanthimos, Ai Weiwei, and Don Hertzfeldt have all chosen to host projects on Vimeo On Demand.
Vimeo On Demand is perfect for independent creators and organizations who have built a dedicated fan base. It gives filmmakers direct access to their audience with far fewer financial and logistic middlemen compared to more mainstream services.
However, the control afforded by Vimeo On Demand does come with potential trade-offs. For instance, creators on the platform bear more responsibility for non-creative tasks, like marketing or sales accounting.
Thanks to streaming technology, there are more viable distribution outlets for unscripted content than ever before. Producers can build a distribution strategy that’s better tailored to the unique strengths of each project. They can more easily mix digital market alternatives with independent film distributors and the results of a traditional film festival strategy.
Because there are so many distribution options, producers must work to remain flexible when considering their content. With an open mind, you might discover unexpected paths to fresh opportunities, like turning your documentary into a docuseries.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.