Amazon was one of the big movers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, along with Netflix, buying a number of the movies debuting there. Almost all of these were bought either for themselves or in conjunction with a traditional distributor, with whom it partners on a theatrical release in addition to putting the movie on Amazon Prime streaming for subscribers to access.


Josh Dickey at Mashable has a story that, in an effort to not honk off the theater chains, Amazon is looking to play nice and give them, for the most part, a 90 day window between that theatrical release and the addition of the movie to Amazon Prime.

Moving past the points about distribution and how this is either A) cheating because that makes Amazon a traditional distributor with a home video department or B) a “boiling the frog slowly” scenario where theaters are acclimated to a new reality gradually and over time, there are some points to make here about how marketing needs to change in this new reality.

I believe releases like this need two distinct marketing campaigns, one for theatrical and one for streaming.

Now yes, I know that all movies get two release windows, one for theatrical and one for home video. But the situation here is different in that streaming here is largely the point, opening up the movie to a whole new segment of the audience. More strongly, in order to prove the value of this two-pronged distribution approach more effort needs to be put into raising awareness in the audience that it’s available on the streaming platform.

This actually is supported by one of the points from this story about why movie marketing budgets continue to spiral out of control, which is that studios have been slow to adopt the kind of consumer tracking that has allowed for more granular audience targeting in other industries. Where the A Campaign – the one that supports theatrical – can be broadly targeted and pushed to the markets the movie is playing in the B Campaign – the one that is in advance of the streaming release – can really drill down into audience behavior to find the people most likely to watch and enjoy it, though that can also be coupled with some broad advertising.

Basically what I’m saying here is that the streaming release shouldn’t be supported solely by a few Tweets/Facebook posts along with a couple of press stories about how it’s going to be available on whatever service on X date. Instead there should be a full-throated push that includes not just an awareness component but also a clear call-to-action that directs people to where they can watch the movie, sign up for the appropriate subscription and so on. This is incredibly important and shouldn’t be overlooked, though to date it is.

If we’re really going to move to a new distribution reality the marketing will need to be adjusted to support it. Otherwise the odds are good – or at least higher than they need to be – that this new model will struggle, which doesn’t help the next entity trying to innovate on this.