Video Publishing Made Easy
Posted Aug 11, 2003

On-demand publishing has emerged in recent years as a viable alternative for writers to get their novels and nonfiction books into print. Now, CustomFlix is extending this same sort of paradigm to the publishing of video content on DVD discs and videotape.

"Many smaller video producers are hit with an inescapable dilemma," says CustomFlix vice president of marketing John Geyer. "You've finished the project and have the final DVD or tape. Now, what do you do with it? And more importantly, how do you make money from it?"

Until now, self-publishing a video-based title has been difficult due to high set-up fees, plus the need to correctly assess consumer demand and invest significant time and effort in the process. CustomFlix Labs, Inc. (Los Gatos, CA) promises to remove these barriers by offering an integrated "content-to-cash" service that enables producers to easily publish their titles.

"The digital revolution has made it easier than ever for producers to create compelling content, but there simply hasn't been a good way for them to publish and profit from their work," says CustomFlix President & CEO Dana LoPiccolo-Giles. "CustomFlix now bridges the gap between creating and selling content."

CustomFlix's ideal customer is someone who is aiming to sell between a few and a few thousand copies of an entertainment, training, educational, documentary, sports, broadcast, or corporate video program. By hiring CustomFlix, content owners can convert to revenue the existing content languishing on shelves, as well as new material. Producers simply send in the program they wish to sell (either as a video tape or DVD master), pay a low set-up fee, and CustomFlix handles the rest, including on-demand DVD and VHS duplication, transaction processing, packaging, and fulfillment. CustomFlix also creates a personalized e-store that promotes the product through descriptive text, graphics, and a 60-second streaming trailer.

"An ever-increasing number of our DVD production customers are looking for an efficient and cost-effective solution for bringing their DVD titles to market," says Rolf Hartley, general manager, professional products group at Sonic Solutions. "By eliminating the barriers that often hinder video producers from bringing their titles to market, CustomFlix provides a major new resource for the thousands of event videographers, independent producers and other video professionals who create DVD content."

Big-League Service, Little-League Prices

CustomFlix's upfront set-up fee is just $49.95, with a $9.95 (plus 5%) fee per unit sold. Producers may submit their own DVDs, or—for an additional fee starting at $249—CustomFlix will convert videotape content into a DVD with custom menus and up to 18 user-defined chapters at specified time codes. CustomFlix says it uses "high-end professional systems" to encode variable bitrate MPEG-2 and Dolby Digital audio to deliver up to three hours of video per disc. The final producer-customized packaging includes full-color disc art and Mitsui Gold DVD-R media.

Geyer says CustomFlix pricing is about as low as anyone can go, noting that "just the cost of the media [a DVD-R disc] alone is $4 or $5."

A recent startup, CustomFlix was founded by the same Terran Interactive, Inc. team that initially developed Media Cleaner Pro, the industry-standard application for encoding video. Among those Terran veterans are Geyer and LoPiccolo-Giles.

"Just as Media Cleaner Pro helped video producers deliver content over the Web, so too does CustomFlix help them monetize and deliver content via physical media," says LoPiccolo-Giles.

Geyers sees his experience at Terran as setting the stage for his work at CustomFlix. "At Terran, we were trying to streamline the video production workflow; we were giving the video guys what they needed because we were in their shoes. We were producing video too and knew their problems. Cleaner brought everything together for the video people, and like Cleaner, CustomFlix aims to do the backend glue, to handle the backend problems for the video content creator."

In addition to minimizing the risk associated with publishing a title, CustomFlix's complete solution eliminates the hassles and frictional costs normally associated with traditional self-publishing methods, says Geyer. This enables producers to focus on creating and publishing more titles, instead of wasting their time managing multiple vendors. "You can spend a week just shopping around, running around trying to manage the process," says Geyer. "We handle everything. All you have to do is wait for your check." He says the CustomFlix service makes "shoot and scoot" a reality.

Geyer believes his on-demand service will make video publishing so painless that it will even have filter-down appeal to video enthusiasts and hobbyists. Geyer says that even his insurance agent is interested in using the CustomFlix service. "He wants to distribute video of his kids' Little League games to the other parents. He doesn't expect to make money on the deal. He just wants to cover his costs and eliminate the hassles of getting the videotapes out to his small audience. And with our low-cost entry point and pay-as-you-go fee structure, he can do that."

A Break from Streaming

Geyer also says that CustomFlix will make it possible for producers to publish titles for which traditional methods were prohibitive. For example, one satisfied CustomFlix customer is noted digital video expert and author Ben Waggoner. "CustomFlix revolutionizes the market for sales of short-run video," says Waggoner. "It isn't just a question of cheaper and better, but of being possible at all. My book (Compression for Great Digital Video from CMP books) simply wouldn't have had a DVD companion if it weren't for CustomFlix."

For Geyer and his associates, CustomFlix is a return to the former days when they were just starting out at Terran, working primarily as a video production house and service bureau, before the Media Cleaner's success turned them into software vendors. It is also, in some ways, a return to video distribution methods of the past—a return from online streaming to self-contained media such as videotape, CD-ROM, and DVD. It is a break from the Internet craze (though not a complete one, because online sales is a big part of the business).

"Streaming hasn't panned out (as a distribution media)," says Geyer. Sure, people may access a free preview clip, but they are not shelling out money for lengthy streams, he adds. "Streaming is appropriate for short form but not long form."

Geyer predicts that, for a while at least, videotape will be the media of choice for CustomFlix customers, and CustomFlix may even use CD-ROM if there's demand for it, but DVD will quickly become the distribution standard. "People are wanting to make that switch [from videotape to DVD) right now. DVD's time has come. There will be a legacy of videotape for a while, but eventually, DVD will wipe videotape out."