Distribution strategies such as “wide releases”, plattforming, the wide multiple, limited release, market by market release, art house release, non-theatrical release and four-walling has all been developed over time – and regardless if you use a distributor and sales agent to reach your audience, or you handle distribution and sales yourself – you will need to know what they are. What kind of distribution plan and release strategy that are being implemented, since this effects your business plan.



Wide release or saturation release is a distribution strategy where the distributor tries to open on as many screens as possible, usually around 1500-3000 – so that the movie at least will be available in one out of two theatres in all major areas. This strategy is based on the fact that the distributor can build up a strong enough audience demand for the movie – so that most people would like to go see it as soon as it opens. This is almost always done by a major marketing campaign which might cost the distributor anything from $20 million and up – so this strategy is usually reserved for the studios and usually never applied to movies that are estimated to gross less than a $100 million. When the movie opens the large number of screens usually stays for about six weeks, and then starts to decline (unless the movie is a smash hit, like the Titanic). The “wide releases” usually opens on Fridays or Wednesdays – to ensure a good opening weekend (which ticket wise is the most important weekend) – and for most movies accounts for about 80% of the revenues, for the entire week. Before Facebook and other social media networks came into play, this strategy was safer then it is now, since the movie used to be able to gross a vast amount of money before the word-of-mouth had reached out to the larger audience. This is due to the fact the most people didn’t talk about the Weekends movie experience until Monday morning when they went to work or school. Today, however, most people post their impressions of the movies online right after the movie has ended – so there is a much more rapid word-of-mouth that also reaches more people.



“Plattforming” is a distribution strategy which is based on a release in 2-3 stages, where you start of small in about 10-50 screens, then in the next step increases the number of copies somewhat, and finally  move over to the last step and open wide at 500+ screens. The strategy can also be applied in just two steps, where you move directly from small to wide – or start of on 50+ screens. This was the case with spy thriller Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, which opened at 57 screens to then, after week six, open wide at 806 screens. This distribution strategy has been around for a long time and was used for such classic movies as Deer Hunter. The pre requisite for this strategy is that the movie is of very good quality and that those who initially go to see it, really, really recommend it to others. This distribution strategy is then of course often used with movies that are expected to do well with the critiques. The strategy can also be combined with a market-by-market release (see below) – to e.g. build an audience and word-of-mouth in smaller cities, before moving over to major areas.



The ”wide-multiple” is a hybrid between a wide release and plattforming – most suitiable for movies that can be easily marketed, but lacks quality (e.g. good trailer elements, but no story). The distributor then tries to have as many people as possible see the movie before the word-of-mouth reaches a broader audience. This is also a strategy that is much harder now, when the audience has access to social media networks.



A limited release is done by screening the film in a few selected theaters in the major cities, and then – if all goes well – move forward with plattforming. This strategy is usually used for movies that the distributor thinks might benefit from some word-of-mouth – or for movies that the distributor first, when they are completed, realizes is not as good as they hoped for, but where the distributor still have contractual obligations to screen the movie in the major cities (to secure media exposure and revenues from ancillary markets)



”Market by market” release is usually done with about 20-40 copies on movies where the producer and distributor don’t have the money for a “wide release” (which is true for most indies). The movie is then screened in one area after another (e. g. city by city) – for a longer period of time. Since the digitalization of theaters started and the time between distribution-windows now many times are shorter, the conditions for this kind of distribution are tough. The online piracy is also a big threat to this distribution model, since the movie in most areas will be available pirated online, before it’s screened legally.



Art house releases often is done by screening the film outside the multiplexes, in smaller – many times older – art house cinemas. For this kind of release you might just need about 10 prints to get good exposure in the art house theaters. Depending on what kind of audience reaction, the distributor then might order more prints and do a “market by market” run (so called “road show”). Art house releases are many times preceded by a run on the festival (“the festival route”) – where the producer and distributor tries to maximize the exposure of the movie, for the critiques and hopefully gaining some goodwill by gathering awards and nominations, which can be used in the marketing.



Not all pictures have a theatrical release, but some of course go straight to video/DVD/VOD and to foreign TV-markets etcetera. However, it’s important to prepare such a release in about the same way as if the movie had a theatrical release – within the technical end economic restraint that comes with a non theatrical release.



When a producer acts as a distributor, by renting the four walls in a theater and handle everything from ticket sales to advertising, it’s called four walling. For walling takes the skills of a real entrepreneur and not just a movie maker, but for many niche pictures, such as skiing- and surf movies, it can be beneficial.



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