This is a comprehensive guide to video subscription services for content creators, filmmakers, studios, and media businesses. We start by defining the foundations of the world subscription video on demand (SVOD) and OTT, then cover the forms of streaming content available along with the top streaming subscription platforms, and end with tangible steps and best practices in creating your own SVOD service for independent creators, distributors, and filmmakers. The world of SVOD and OTT is complex; this guide simplifies and streamlines it to help you find the right streaming service to host your content, establish and/or grow an audience, and achieve your creative vision and business goals.
What is OTT?
OTT stands for “Over-the-Top” streaming, a common term for “cord-cutting” video subscription services streamed “over-the-top” of cable network providers. In the US alone, nearly 80 % of households subscribe to at least two OTT providers. Most people will recognize the largest OTT companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, but there exists a rich market for niche services like Shudder and Mubi.
OTT has allowed for the rise of smaller platforms and homes for creators looking to share their content with a growing audience. But up-front development fees needed to build a platform are costly and have been historically reserved for Hollywood and start-ups with deep pockets. Some creators, studios, and distributors instead opt for a cheaper, whitelabled OTT option (meaning the subscription is produced by a company but rebranded for each individual creator) for some platform customization without the high cost of custom software development. Yet this approach still costs money: startup fees, monthly charges, discouraging subscriber fees, and pay-to-play fees are often added to each app when distributed across multiple streaming devices like Apple, Android, Firestick, and Roku.
OTT marketing costs also merit vital consideration. Big name OTT players invest billions in marketing costs. In 2020 alone, Netflix dropped $2.23 billion on worldwide marketing, and OTT platforms like Peacock or Paramount+ both dedicated upwards of $1.5 million to marketing on their launch days alone!
Top OTT Services
Let's say you’re a creator looking for sustainable options to house your film(s) or series and reach a subscriber community. Or maybe you’re a distributor or studio cultivating a library of premium content. Navigating all the OTT options out there can be daunting. While the freedom of going with a white-labeled OTT app sounds appealing, you’re still left with the tasks of designing and maintaining an optimized UX that steals time and resources you’d rather point to making more content that draws in further subscribers.
Alternatively, you’ve probably thought about using a platform to manage some of these end-to-end design elements for you, but it’s a challenge to decide where to invest not only your money, but also where to house your art.
That’s why we narrowed a list down the costs and benefits for the top 7 OTT services to make your decision easier (yes, we love you too):
A cheap Starter Plan at $1 per subscriber per month comes with upload and transaction fees. Their next option, a Growth Plan, starts at $500 per month per app (with a $99 per hour storage fee).
UScreen offers a Basic Plan for $49 per month including some built-in marketing tools to help with channel growth, but you only get 7,500 minutes of storage, and extras cost $399 per month -- layered over a $0.50 charge per subscriber, per month.
Odeum charges monthly per subscriber on top of their 10% revenue share and transaction fees. Your first 100 subscribers will cost you $250 per month from launch date.
This system requires some manual app development before you launch; it’s a great option for businesses with internal tech teams. You need to build custom integrations with Maz to successfully launch, run, and troubleshoot a streaming service.
A China-based CDN (content distribution network) and one of the more affordable out there with plans ranging from a Starter of $39 per month, a one-time or occasional Event Plan at $63 per month, a $188 per month Scale Plan, and of course, a Custom Plan.
Muvi offers 24/7 tech support and a multifaceted platform to streamline the software development labor needed to play nice across devices. The lowest rate is $399 per month with a Standard Plan. From there, the price jump between plans averages $2800.
While there are many competitive options singing their benefits from the mountain top, we made the first summit by offering a silver-labeled experience for your streaming needs with no barriers to entry. Zero. Zip. Nada.
What is SVOD?
Video on Demand (VOD) is a rich landscape of opportunities for independent creators, filmmakers, studios, and distributors to share work and gain subscribers. Over-the-top video service (OTT) and VOD -- both equate to premium video delivered via the internet and distributed across devices -- continue to define media of this era.
With VOD revenues predicted to hit $100 billion per year by 2025, the myriad forms of OTT exist in three core platforms and business models:
- Advertising on Demand (AVOD) like YouTube
- Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD) like renting a film on iTunes
- Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD)
What is Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD)?
SVOD services are streaming services for which consumers pay a regular subscription fee for access. The liberating principle of SVOD here also applies to niche, independent services: subscribers pay only for their desired content, and platforms like AppleTV, Android, and Roku host numerous SVOD services, big and small.
SVOD is the fastest growing of all VOD platforms -- with nearly 1 billion viewers, owning 80% of VOD revenues, and set to exceed 60$ billion this year alone. Yet how do independent creators, studios, and distributors enter the streaming market to compete with giants without a Netflix production or technology budget?
In the vast terrain of SVOD, you have one side standing on the strength of high-quality produced by big brands, and on the other languishes a lot of low quality disposable stuff. In between is a middle ground of high-quality content needing a home, deserving a cinematic experience, and whose audience wants both, and that’s the opportunity we speak to here.
Believing in Your Audience: How SVOD Indie Content Thrives
SVOD benefits content consumers as well as creators, and finding an audience through SVOD has never been easier. Success in the same market as the big enterprise services comes by not worrying about those corporate brands, but by creating continued quality for a passionate audience. The best services are those providing evergreen content without sacrificing the characteristics subscribers paid for in the first place: characteristics of content made specifically for them.
Then, a virtuous cycle begins: audience dollars go directly to the production of further content that audiencies love almost as much as they love creators trusting them.
Problems With Major SVOD Platforms
Even if you’re lucky enough to land content on a big SVOD platform like Netflix, creators still have to manage marketing. That means that you have to create a social and digital campaign. The contracts are based on production budget, not viewership. Creating a popular film in this model doesn’t guarantee enough revenue to finance the next one. You also get very little data on viewership or analytics to even learn if your work found an audience. Dogpiling onto this sad list, you also might have to give up ownership to your content for several years.
So we picked the best qualities to look for in a SVOD service that can benefit creators, distributors, and studios first.
What to Look for in SVOD Services:
- Monetization of your content that’s gated for all but paying subscribers
- A long-term revenue stream
- A committed and dedicated customer base with creator control
- Potential for up-selling and cross-selling
Successful SVOD Models:
- Automate operations (easy logistics, billing, revenue management)
- Allow access to analytics to monitor content performance
- Offer terrific customer service and tech support
- Eliminate backend legalese in contracts that deny creators full-ownership.
- Facilitate global distribution (enable global currency exchange at a price you set)
- Set up efficient payment options through recurring payments
- Give creators control over branding and navigability
- Deliver a cinematic experience
The most value is and always will be found in a passionate audience because these fans make up real communities.
Top SVOD Services
Here’s a common story.
After finishing the long production and post-production process, you end up with the final cut of a film or series. But distribution remains in question. Even finding a distributor presents challenges that then invite questions about ownership and revenue share.
What about distributing the work yourself?
Fantastic news: many viable options for self-distribution are available.
Better news: we curated the following list of the best SVOD and VOD options out there:
We give creators a platform optimized for viewers and converting prospective subscribers through a cinematic experience, suite of tools that handle account maintenance, and continued white glove treatment.
A fantastic option for cinephiles, and MUBI allows submissions. The revenue split and their ownership agreements are generally based on watch time.
With a goal of supporting social impact films to create positive change in the world,” IndieFlix takes submissions of all genres and is non-exclusive. Their Revenue Per Minute pricing model is a bit complex to figure out: 50% of net subscription revenue is divided “by the total number of minutes watched across all IndieFlix Streaming apps” to get to a per-minute revenue number.
This arthouse service solicits work and accepts submissions via electronic screener. The way to get more information on this process, a distribution model, and the revenue share is to email them… and wait.
A focus on amplifying diverse voices of African descent powers KweliTV’s catalogue. Their submission requirement -- so high in volume that the company can’t always respond -- is projects including “a lead character of African descent.”
VOD Aggregator Options
If you want to self-distribute through more mainstream streaming SVOD services, the path lies through an aggregator. These are primarily for distributors building up a catalogue of content to submit to the big aggregator players:
- Google Play
How About Alternative Streaming Services?
If you’re a creator looking to give your content its rightful home while finding a larger audience, these alternative streaming services might just do the trick. This is a high-level list and further details can be seen here. Each varies in terms of filmmaker and creator offerings so dig deeper to learn about the always critical aspects of global distribution, content monetization, revenue splits, and ownership. But, before that, read on.
Indie Streaming Services
Offers an IFC Films Unlimited subscription access to titles from IFC Films, IFC Midnight, and Sundance Selects (subscribe through Amazon Prime for $12.99/month). Submissions come from agencies with case-by-case individual filmmaker and producer submissions.
Available on Roku, Apple TV, or Firestick for film rentals and purchases only. Creators land work on KinoNow’s parent company Kino Lorber by way of aggregators.
Allows audiences to curate a personal steaming library by subscribing creators a la carte at prices set by the latter. Contact Special.tv directly for submission details.
A film acquisition and distribution company with platforms on iOS + Android, Fire TV, Roku, Xbox, Facebook Watch and YouTube. FilmRise takes blind submissions on a contact page.
Subscribers get new content, including Sundance films, weekly and the option of a $59.99 annual or $6.99 monthly membership. Sundance Now harvests from film festival circuits through aggregators.
Educational and cinephile content available across multiple devices -- in what many consider the best library of its kind -- with subscriptions of $10.99/ month or $99.99/year. For submission queries, creators directly contact Criterion.
IndieFlix offers independent and critical darling films on a free first 7 days, then $4.99/month or $49.99/year. They encourage direct submissions from creators via a submission page.
MUBI curates arthouse films on a daily basis to eliminate choice fatigue. Their platform allows for submissions via a Contributor Hub (although their curators specifically look to film festivals for new acquisitions).
Angophiles rejoice with this British TV streaming service. They give a free 7-day trial, and cost $6.99/month or $69.99/year after. BritBox recently grew its streaming catalogue beyond BBC and ITV through a deal with All3media International.
International content only available in the US and Canada that’s hard to find elsewhere with $7.99/ month or $89.99/year subscriber options. MHz acquires content via partnership deals.
For curated queer content (curated from Outfest: Los Angeles LGBTQ Film festival). Subscribers get $59.99/year or $5.99/month options.
Streams horror/thriller genre films for $4.75 a month and curates a fantastic selection from indie contemporary horror to hard-to-find films. One unique feature for those who enjoy films and discuss them is “Beyond Fandom” where subscribers engage with films and series in a critical dialogue.
We know that there are a lot of streaming services out there in this increasingly digital world with various options to consider whether you’re a creator ready to distribute your content or an eager consumer ready to view the best indie filmmakers and creators have to offer. And while all of the options we’ve laid out here for you have much to offer, we’re admittedly a bit biased. But hey, with Special.tv’s fixed 10% revenue fee and white glove client support for creators, and the opportunity for consumers to know their dollar is going directly back to the creators they love, can you really blame us?
Free/Easy Ways To Make A Subscription Service
It’s good to be a creator or a distributor with films, series, or other content ready to share with the world, be that through a major SVOD player or an alternative SVOD service. It’s even better to already have an audience and want to grow that audience.
But beware of anything that looks too good to be true because you get what you pay for… in life and SVOD. “Free” can be a misleading word.
Now that we’re off the soapbox, here are several free or easy-to-leverage services to consider:
An industry leader and great way for independent artists to control their work and bill patrons (audience members) on a monthly or per-creation basis. But the issue with a revenue structure built on donations is that it can be seen as cheapening and unreliable.
Letx independent creators craft a subscription model. The video player doesn’t offer a cinematic experience and work is released in a linear feed that limits discoverability.
Much more like Instagram and not a video platform. Creators only get paid for photos, and filmmakers and storytellers operating in long-form are out of luck here. (There’s also the whole pornography app thing.)
Our process and creator experience is built as an enterprise platform but with more open access optimized for subscriber engagement, conversion, and retention. We built our platform with the cinematic video creator in mind.
How To Create an SVOD/OTT Service
If you’ve explored the many current SVOD/OTT platforms but haven’t found one that fits your work as a creator, then you’ve likely considered building your own SVOD platform.
This desire to build an SVOD/OTT platform is understandable if you’re a film distributor or media company sitting on valuable content and wanting, understandably, to maximize subscriptions.
With a sea of options to navigate, we decided to streamline the technical process of building a channel in the steps below.
Step One: Establish a Brand & Manage First Impressions
On an SVOD platform, first impressions affect a user’s experience, establish audience responses, and drive conversion rates. So take initiative in your audience’s experience with navigating to your content.
Thoughtful channel branding is defined by:
Step Two: Introduce Yourself & Create a Pitch for Your Channel
The introductory video is an audience member's first look at who you are and what your channel represents. It’s also a pitch for your entire content offering on Special.tv. So save long form videos, free content, or series for other areas of the channel
Set expectations for the what, why, when, and most important, where of your channel. Future-proof it by indicating future value.
lntro video guiding questions:
- Who are you, what do you make, and why do you make it?
- What is your channel’s main focus?
- What can audience members expect from their subscription? And do they get exclusive content?
- What is the value of subscribing to your channel?
- What helps you to make more content?
Step Three: Choose a Channel Structure & Dress It Up with Imagery
On Special.tv, “properties” are how you structure your content. The property you select then determines how content displays on your channel, how it is viewed, and what content is shown as “up next.”
Special.tv offers three types of properties:
High-quality images matter but make sure they add to each video as ways to engage users and help them navigate. And be sure to spend time on a thumbnail strategy if you have a series.
Step Four: Market & Promote the Work
Marketing is difficult. That’s why Special.tv does 98% of the heavy lifting. Add in your thoughtful, consistent strategy to elevate branding because you know the most about your content.
Steps to marketing and promotions:
- Package work on your channel, structure it, and define your brand first.
- Cut a trailer, or two, and advertise online.
- Design a poster complimented by images.
- Then, finally, focus on marketing.
Your Next Step
While reading this page is a journey, albeit a worthwhile one, your journey into SVOD and OTT has just begun.
The next path you take, now equipped with a better understanding of OTT and SVOD services, will be finding a home best fit for your content, your creative vision, and your audience. Maybe you’ll go with a free/easy option or shoot for a route to an alternative streaming platform. Or perhaps you’re inspired to create our own SVOD streaming service and now have the playbook to start. While Special.tv is a great fit in all of these ways and more, what we want for you as a creator, is to find a happy home for your content and ever-expanding audience where you are in control, inspired, and empowered to do what you love: create meaningful stories and content.
While we hope you choose Special.tv as that home and are confident in the way we empower creators and uplift their audiences, either way, we’ll be your cheerleader. We’re happy to share and will continue to educate both creators and consumers, because our passions run similar to yours--it's our mission to empower the creation and exchange of meaningful content.
Keep those cameras rolling!