If You Build It, Will They Pay? Our Thoughts on Chill Direct
Today, Chill.com announced a new product called Chill Direct. This tool allows video creators to monetize their videos through direct payments from viewers. Chill handles the digital delivery of the content (streaming or download), hosting, payments, etc. in exchange for a 30% take. It's also non-exclusive - and it appears that Chill may also help the content reach other distribution platforms like Hulu and Netflix (it's unclear to me on how that will work for everyday content creator). All-in-all, it's great to see that there is a turnkey solution for this type of direct-to-consumer model. Unfortunately, what Chill doesn't provide are the people to actually pay for the show. Or really much in the way of a strategy for reaching those people. Everyone has been citing the Louis CK direct-to-consumer success when talking about this new Chill Direct initiative. And for content creators with a large digital following this new monetize tool might make a lot of sense (although, if you're Louis CK big, or even half that big, you could probably get this all done as effectively without giving up 30%). However, most content creators won't have videos that John Q. Public wants to buy. At least not yet. Consumers won't pay for content unless they know it's 1) premium, 2) it's not available for free and easy elsewhere and 3) they have expectation of quality. Louis CK was able to provide all of that incentive. Most other content creators won't.
Of course, there are other issues as well for the non-Louis CK creator. What happens if you used Chill Direct, but it doesn't get your the traction, views, or revenue you need/wanted? Do you release the episodes for free on YouTube or another ad monetized platform in a second window? That may work, but will your fans that paid for the show in the first window feel swindled? Just because this type of windowing works in the film business, doesn't mean it would work in digital (I'm interested to see either way).
Additionally, Chill's service isn't offering you a customized distribution and marketing strategy (the key to success with any digital project). Louis CK, again, had an ability to create noise and drive people to his stand-up special in a way that most content creators can't match. Chill.com alone won't be able to champion your series. It will be up to you to drive your fans and (hopefully) new fans to your content. Do you or your project have a massive loyal following already? If not, you probably want strategic promotional help from a partner site, content distributor or aggregator who is reaching your audience (and who won't be benefiting financially from Chill Direct - like they would be in an ad-based rev share relationship - and therefore won't have incentive to support your project).
Of course, the goal for most professional content creators is to get paid for making, well, content (and to have people watch it, of course). I think it's great that Chill Direct is an available option to do that. I suspect that many people will find it useful and profitable. Combine it with other revenue options like Kickstarter, Vimeo's new direct-to-consumer model, traditional ad rev share from YouTube's partners project or Blip.TV, plain old-fashioned brand integration, and the ever-elusive license deal, it's clear that there are now many, many ways to make money from content. No one model is the 'right model,' and I think we are going to live in a fragmented monetization world for a few more years at least. Just like with distribution, take some time to think about which monetization model is right for your show. Choice, in the end, is a very good thing.