It is impossible to separate the issues of digital distribution from marketing; the two have a symbiotic relationship. In fact there is a strong argument that marketing will pave the way for distribution rather than the other way around as one might imagine.

That is largely because marketing is the one area where there are unequivocal gains to be made in the short term.

Online traders, viral ad campaigns and social networking are rapidly becoming essential tools in the movie armoury.

The key to marketing any product is to know how a customer thinks and where he or she congregates.


Increasingly the online community is setting up camp on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo.

These sites not only interactively build fan enthusiasm pre-release and spread rapid word-of-mouth post-release, they have begun to assume TV's role as the experience audiences share with their friends.

This is a new area of business growth. Only in 2007 did MySpace and Facebook make a concerted effort to convince studios and independent production companies to tap into their vast user networks under an organised system.

Within 24 hours of Facebook announcing its new advertising initiative, nearly 100,000 brands had created their own pages.

However, research suggests people who use social networking sites do not want in-your-face advertising. They want a film brand to provide them with something that is going to make their lives better or give them an extra piece of content.

Successful campaigns engage what are know as alpha fans', according to Amy Powell, Paramount's senior vice-president of interactive marketing, brands them).

But marketing campaigns not only have to cultivate communities in several languages; the sites themselves are built on different technologies, which mean daunting technical challenges.

The knee-jerk reaction is to target the youth market. But with many industry people saying they now check their Facebook profile before their personal e-mails, the reach is spreading.

Older-skewing titles can also benefit from a community strategyand that is something exciting interest for European film. There are now strong case studies to consider: Click here for more

Whereas in the past, value was judged by how many members became 'friends' with your movie's profile, the goal is now about encouraging


The scale and marketing spend determines what the networking sites can do for a film on their platform, so it is no surprise the deeper-pocketed studios have so far proved better at exploiting the relationship.

Warner Bros' 300, for example, had a sponsored technology launch - allowing users to increase their photo upload facility threefold to 300 photos by becoming friends with the page. Click here for more.

Such increased functionality is successful because users receive something for free. But while studios have come up with compelling strategies, independents have arguably been less successful at capitalising on networking sites, ironic when The Blair Witch Project was the original internet marketing phenomenon.

And internet campaigns have not always delivered when it comes to audiences versus internet hype, as Snakes On A Plane's box-office flop proved.

One executive reveals it costs $500,000-$1m per day to do a sponsored take-over of the MySpace homepage. But while it may be expensive, MySpace views itself as a partner in the studios' success, and insists it is working to help studios engage their users in a dialogue.

In turn, studios understand that offering exclusive assets for a film puts them in a stronger bargaining position, with most studios setting up annual deals with the major networking sites, as well as portals such as Yahoo.


Independent film may not have the benefits of economies of scale enjoyed by the studios, but they have at least as much to gain.

The dominance of the theatrical-led model has put an emphasis on the opening weekend that generally works against independent film.

With older audiences, word of mouth plays a critical role and that doesn't happen in a smash-and-grab raid on the first weekend box office.

Most European and arthouse releases take time to mature and, for cinema release, that's time they are not normally going to get in a crowded marketplace.

There has, however, been a growing understanding of the need for new release patterns in the US, where companies such as Emerging Pictures have been experimenting with the flexibility that digital cinema offers to maximise the potential of specialist film.

The approach becomes particularly attractive when harnessed with the power of social networking tools that allow intelligent interaction and debate with audiences, promoting a sense of ownership and encouraging word of mouth.

Releasing films in theatres, having already created a buzz online turns the thinking that theatre is the primary marketing mechanism on its head.

If exhibitors can draw on film-makers and film that have already established themselves as a brand online, then screen time in cinemas is a less risky proposition.


Directors, including David Cronenberg, Steven Soderbergh and John Sayles have been experimenting with these approaches; the more established D-cinema infrastucture has put the US ahead of the Europeans in this respect.


Sayles, for example, self-financed his last film, Honeydripper (pictured)and self-distributed it with his partner Maggie Renzi under their production label, Anarchists' COnvention.

'You've noticed that in the last five years, independent movies live or die in the first weekend and they can't survive that way,' says Sayles, whose immediately previous two films, Silver City (2004) and Casa De Los Babys (2003) were among his poorest box-office performers.

'Most of our films took three or four weeks before people started to talk about them,' he says. 'Our films play to people over 30 and those people don't go to the first weekend. It was clear that some new way of getting there movies had to come around.'

Renzi likens the distribution of Honeydripper to a grassroots political campaign. Building word of mouth now looks like an essential part of the armoury of an arthouse film.

Online marketing was perhaps the missing link.


Web marketing is now part of virtually every film strategy.

It is hard to imagine anyone considering marketing a film without at least the basic online trailer.

But that is essentially old-fashioned 'push' marketing. The 'pull' approach that means engaging audiences through social networking remains rare in Europe.