Docs docs for sale via e-commerce

While the `killer application' - downloadable programming from the Internet to a writable DVD player at home - is about 5-10 years away, net-entrepreneurs and e-commerce retailers are scrambling to gain a foothold in the on-line video and DVD distribution market...
May 1, 1999

While the `killer application’ – downloadable programming from the Internet to a writable DVD player at home – is about 5-10 years away, net-entrepreneurs and e-commerce retailers are scrambling to gain a foothold in the on-line video and DVD distribution market before cyberspace really explodes, demolishing brick and mortar methods of distribution, and challenging conventional broadcast transmissions.

GIST Communications Inc., a 3-year-old new media company based in New York’s Silicon Alley, is the newest player to jump aboard the on-line video shuttle, with the recent launch of the only documentary-exclusive video sales and review site on the Internet:, The Documentary Superstore.

GIST, the Internet’s largest provider of interactive TV listings (on their own site, as well as supplying content for Yahoo!, America On-line, NBC Interactive, CNN Interactive and USA Today), is hoping that hard core doc fans and those searching for gift ideas will find Documall an easy and innovative way to learn about and buy documentaries.

Aside from on-line video sales, Documall features in-depth reviews, as well as a customized schedule of documentaries airing daily in each user’s programming area. Titles are searchable by six categories: Nature, Biography, History, Places, Beliefs and Issues, as well as a `Best Bets’ list composed of one top choice from each group. GIST plans to have 600 titles available by this summer and thousands more by the end of the year.

Prices for Documall videos average between US$14.95 and $19.95 and up to $59.95 for box sets, which include margins for Documall as the retailer and promoter, as well as a payment to the distributor or producer, and to fulfillment and wholesale sectors.

Video purchases are made with secure credit card transactions, in which information is encrypted and then decoded when the order is processed. Documall is currently leasing a commerce engine, but plans to create its own to keep up with greater volume and the demand for faster transactions in the future.

On-line video sales is already somewhat of a crowded market, but Jonathan Greenberg, CEO and editor of GIST Communications, says Documall will stand out because it targets a strong niche and does not deal with many genres at once. ‘We can commit to being a central area for documentary enthusiasts, both on an editorial basis and a usability basis, better than our competitors would,’ says Greenberg.

The idea for Documall developed from a popular area on the gist tv listing site called DocuNews, where reviews on docs being broadcast on television are posted and archived. Greenberg got together with the editor of that section, Margaret Loke, a seasoned journalist and previous editor at the New York Times, to address the numerous requests they received for additional information about the docs reviewed on the site.

‘We began to find that it was a natural market. People wanted to see certain documentaries again, or they might have missed them when they were originally broadcast. We knew that many of the titles were available on video, but people don’t generally know how to find them,’ says Greenberg.

Within the next few months, Documall will be aggressively marketed through GIST’s network of sites. With partners like AOL and CNN, the GIST network garners close to 20 million page views per month, on which there are numerous advertising banners available for promotion.

Documall is being launched with titles from U.S. networks such as A&E and The History Channel. Greenberg says that they are currently moving ahead on distribution deals with PBS, Discovery and The Learning Channel as well.

International growth is also on the agenda for both Documall and the GIST TV brand. GIST plans to partner with media companies around the world to provide them with the publishing tools needed to offer Internet fare tailored to their own interests and needs. Greenberg mentions that they are presently working with an organization in France to distribute co-branded content and publishing in Europe.

Besides allowing a means for distribs to further exploit the video/DVD sell-through markets, Greenberg plans for Documall to be a way for independent producers to sell their work directly to the mass marketplace. ‘I think there is a natural fit between what we are trying to do and the world of independent documentary filmmakers. We are, in a sense, the independent alternative to the traditional media conglomerates who basically control almost every avenue of the distribution and broadcast of programming,’ says Greenberg.

To service indie producers who may not have a distributor, Greenberg explains that they could create a fulfillment area where producers would provide them with masters, which would then be duplicated and packaged for sale on the site. Producers would be paid as units were sold.

Greenberg points out that Documall could also greatly benefit small distributors and producers by offering inexpensive targeted advertising to promote their particular video. ‘For a few hundred dollars, you would be able to buy the advertising eyeballs of people who are interested in your specific type of documentary and steer them to your title,’ says Greenberg.

Greenberg stresses that, with the advent of electronic program distribution, it will be increasingly important for independent producers to retain the right to economic value when their videos are sold electronically. He feels it will be essential for independents to create deals that allow for an open distribution channel.

‘If a distributor says `nobody can buy it except on my website’, then they would eliminate tremendous potential for sales of that program,’ says Greenberg.

GIST also plans to work with broadcasting and new media industries in the future to allow people to program their own Internet-based tv channels. ‘When people are capable of accessing that type of information, and we hope they will be, it potentially empowers independent producers because their work can be seen by a much larger audience, which they can directly profit from,’ says Greenberg.

About The Author