Helpful Hints: Offering your DVD content as video-on-demand

More than a couple DVD creators & distributors that we’ve started working with in 2010 dvd-firegot a wakeup call from Smart Company’s article on 10 Things Not to Buy in 201o.  DVDs topped the list.  Lists like this come out all of the time that foretell of the bottom falling out of one industry or another, and lots of them are, in hindsight, completely wrong.  That said, there’s no denying that video is moving online and consumers are increasingly demanding it to be available on-demand.  The days of buying a DVD and waiting for it to come in the mail so you can watch it are definitely drawing to an end.  That said, these days are drawing to a close at the same time as the demand for access to video online is exploding.  In November 2008, it is estimated that the average viewer of video content online spent 4.6 hours watching video online during the month.  In November 2009, this number has skyrocketed up to 12.2 hours per month.  Plus, even more people were watching video online - in November 2008, 77% of US internet users (~146MM Americans) were spending time watching online video - now 85% (170+MM Americans) of them are doing so.  (Special thanks to Comscore for their sweet stats).

After working with all kinds of  DVD creators & distributors interested in designing and implementing video-on-demand strategies online, we’ve managed to collect an assortment of learnings and best practices, some of which may surprise you.  Thus, without further delay, here are some helpful hints and things to think about if you’re considering making your DVDs available to users online and on-demand.

1. Consider breaking your full-length content into chapters. Short-form content is tremendously appealing to consumers.  You don’t have to dice it into 1 minute segments, but give some serious thought to breaking it into 8-15minute segments.  This does a few things for you:

- First, it more closely aligns your content duration with consumer attention spans, which are frighteningly short.

- Second, it gives you more products to offer.

- Third, there’s a market segment out there that may know part of what you’re teaching but not all of it.  People have a bizarre reluctance to pay for something they already know or have, even if it comes with something else that they’re looking for.  Hence, you’re opening up additional revenue streams by enabling people to buy a la carte… And, just because things are available a la carte, don’t think we expect you to charge a pro-rated portion for the individual pieces.  No way! Say you break your 30 minute DVD into three parts.  If you charge $20 for the full DVD, it’s not unreasonable to charge $10 or $12 for each of the three pieces a la carte (while offering a deal on the bundle of all three for $20).

- Last, it helps from a search standpoint.  When you break your baby sign language DVD into 6 parts (maybe one on teaching your baby sign language, one on food signs, one on animal signs, one on family signs, etc), you end up with 6 products that pull in their own niche, keyword-targeted search traffic.  The thing about these more niche keywords is that people are searching for them in droves but they’re slightly less competitive.  For instance, if I search for ‘Baby Sign Language’ in google, there are ~43 million results.  If I search for ‘Baby Sign Language Food Signs,’ there are ~500 thousand results.  It’s still a large number, but you can see how it’s going to be easier to compete.  Plus, when I’m searching for how to do a specific sign to teach my infant, I search for that specific word.  Hence, I may search for ‘Baby Sign Language, asparagus’, which will yield me ~35 thousand results.

2. Price it competitively

You obviously don’t want to cannibalize your DVD sales by offering a really large discount to customers opting for a video-on-demand option in lieu of a physical DVD that has to be burned and mailed, but you also need to consider that people do tend to expect something of a discount considering you won’t have to pay for the physical DVD, the burning or the shipping and handling.  Worst case, you can offer the two options for the same price, and you’ll likely end up making more money off of video-on-demand sales (and doing much less work).

3. How to think about DRM

We don’t like it, and you won’t like it, but digital piracy is unfortunately a fact of life.  The bad news is there is no 100% reliable way around piracy.  The good news is that most people aren’t thieves.  If you give them a way to pay you, most will.  Plus, it’s honestly no harder for someone to rip your content from a video-on-demand/streaming service than it is to rip it off of a DVD that they buy from you.  If you’re not as concerned about piracy [most content creators are rightfully more worried about obscurity than piracy] or have content that would be much more valuable to users offline or on a ipod, then I’m a huge proponent of giving people the option to download the video once they’ve purchased access.

4. Keywords, keywords, keywords… and good descriptions & titles

The internet is a frighteningly large place.  If it exists, chances are you can find it on the internet.  That means a few things.  First, if you want customers to know your product exists, it needs to be on the internet.  Second, virtually every competing product will be out there, too.  While all of the trappings of traditional business and competition that marketers use to position and differentiate their products are present on the internet (pricing, marketing, branding, promotions, recommendations, etc), one of the biggest keys to success there is a wholly internet-specific one: search engine optimization (SEO).  Basically, SEO is a fancy way of saying, are you making your page and product easily findable by customers searching on google (or bing or any other search engine).  These search engines have an algorithm that they use that determines the order in which the display search results.  What it comes down to are a couple main things, though:

- First and foremost, what does the text on your page say (google’s crawlers can’t watch your video and know what it’s about, so all it has to go on to know whether to return a link to your page is the text included there.  This means that your page titles and headers and your text-based descriptions are absolutely critical.  If you don’t mention that your video teaches parents the sign for asparagus, your page won’t show up in search results for ‘baby sign language asparagus’

- what pages are linking to your page (this is an indicator of credibility - if a bunch of people link to your webpage, then google assumes that you have some valuable content there, especially if the people linking to you have a lot of people linking to them, indicating that people respect their opinions/value their content…)

5. Promotion

The web is a fantastic place to sell Video on Demand because it basically removes all kinds of pesky purchase barriers - you can sell to virtually anyone at any time.  They don’t need to visit a store that carries your DVD, you don’t need to rely on that store to put it on the shelf, you don’t have to worry about stockouts, and consumers don’t have to worry about store hours.  These are all great things, but the web does come with its challenges.  These barriers are removed for everyone online.  Hence, competition can be even tougher and promotion becomes even more important.  We’ve talked about keywords and SEO, which are the best places to start.  However, there are tons of other things you should consider in promoting your content.

The good news is that you’re still pretty early to this game.  The vast majority of DVD content out there is not yet available online in an on-demand format.  More and more is available every passing day, but we’re still in the early days of conversion from a DVD-based world to an online and on-demand world.  One interesting aspect of search engines is that they give you some extra bonus points for being early to the game - the age of a URL does matter when Google is trying to determine search result rankings.  (Interestingly, you likely also get extra bonus points for having video on that page).  Thus, the time is now to make the move, but making your videos available online and on-demand is only the first step.  After that, you’ll still need to do some work to get them the attention they deserve (from consumers, bloggers, social media outlets, etc).  Don’t worry, we’ve written all kinds of blogs on doing just this - start with this one: Marketing Your Videos (in the MindBites marketplace).

6. Integration into your existing site

So you already have a website?  Good news - we can very easily enhance your existing site by simply adding a bolt-on Video on Demand store that we’ll create to visibly match and integrate into your own site.  You’ll control the design, logos, colors, layout, navigation bar, links, content, etc.  We’ll just power the back-end infrastructure that will enable users to preview content, buy content, watch lessons online or download them, rate & review what they’ve purchased, leave comments, etc.

There are countless different approaches that our authors have taken to integrating their video-on-demand stores.  We’ll talk you through these and figure out what makes the most sense for your business (with ample consideration given to the current layout and design of your website).  Some of our authors simply add a Video Store tab to their main site navigation and some actually integrate the Video-on-Demand option into their own checkout process or through promotional graphics added to their site.

7. Help with ripping & content prep

The first thing you’re going to need to get your DVD content ready to be sold online is a web-friendly version of that content.  Thus, you’re going to have convert your DVD content to any one of a number of different web-friendly formats.  MindBites, in particular, accepts files that are formatted as MP4, AVI, M4V, MOV, WMV, FLV, or a few other more obscure file formats.  My suggestion on this would be to use MP4.  You’ll also likely need to give some thought to compressing the videos you rip from your DVDs (or convert from your master files).  My suggestion is usually to think about using a 1500 kbps standard to ensure that your file has pretty good quality but doesn’t end up too massive.  While massive files can mean really good resolution, they’re much more likely to mean disenchanted users as bandwidth is just not infinite for the users that’ll be trying to stream your videos online.  Need more help with ripping - check out our DVD ripping post here: Guide to DVD Ripping Software.  Or, leave me a message in the comments and I’d be happy to help you out.

Have more than just a handful of DVDs and are a little overwhelmed by the idea of ripping all of them?  Let us know.  We do have in-house capability to rip DVDs at a pretty low cost to you.  Alternatively, you may want to consider reaching out to a local production house - this isn’t their core business, but they’ll be more than happy to help you convert your DVDs into web-ready files.  Make sure you have a good plan going into this, though.  You’ll need to give them very clear direction on things like file format, container format, target file sizes or bit rates, etc.  You’ll also want to give some thought to how you’ll get the final files from them and whether any of the DVDs need to be ripped to multiple files (or ripped to a single output file and broken up after the fact, in which case you’ll likely want to rip to a quicktime-friendly format like MP4).

Have other questions/challenges you’re running into or noodling over?  Ask us in the  comments!  Having trouble envisioning what a custom video-on-demand store would look like for your site - hit the contact us link at the bottom of our video-on demand platform levels information page.  Looking for some more details on what MindBites does - get some answers on how we can help you sell videos here.

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