Scott Kirsner has an article and followup on the current state of independent film distribution through online venues -- and actually provides some hard numbers to consider.
One of the most popular documentaries on iTunes brought in over $100,000 from downloads; Apple gives a 70/30 revenue split. Typical results are more like $1,000 per title over a year, however.
Netflix pays a flat annual fee; one source claims the one-year rate ranges from $1,000 to $10,000 for the "Watch Instantly" streaming service.
Hulu is bringing in 6 million unique visitors each month, but mostly for the mainstream material, not the indy material.
SnagFilms appears small next to Hulu, but its distribution model (you "snag" the film and put it on your own site) means it's probably larger than initial reports; it also feeds some documentaries to Hulu.
The most significant point, I think, is just hinted at in the article: indie films, especially documentaries, now need a smartly timed release cycle. Get the film into festivals, get the media talking about it, then find a way to sell viewings in a cycled release: maybe $9.99 early, then at lower rates as the cycle cools. Maybe the long tail is DVD sales, maybe it's pennies per click via advertisements inserted into "free" viewings. Theatrical release or a cable purchase can happen in the middle, but this hasn't been a great year for that, really.
Indies still looking for Internet equation
'One thing the Internet has clearly changed, observes distribution consultant Adam Chapnick, is access to an audience. "But having easy access to the global audience doesn't get anyone to see your movie," he says. A solid marketing strategy, whether traditional or digital, is still essential.'An Update on the State of Indie Film Online
'Rick Allen, CEO of doc-streaming network Snagfilms, takes issue with the traffic figures I cited in the story, supplied by Compete.com. Compete says the Snagfilms site gets about 100,000 unique visitors a month, compared to about six million for Hulu. Allen accurately points out that some of Hulu's most popular full-length films actually come from Snag (like 'The Future of Food' and 'Super-Size Me.') And he argues that a lot of Snagfilms content is viewed on other sites, describing Snag as "a massively sub-distributed network."'By the way, did I mention you can see Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing on SnagFilms? For "free" -- so watch it over and over.