Publishing videos online is a great way to make content available to a wide audience. But sometimes you can’t rely on internet access: poor connectivity, lack of access and censored network connections are common obstacles. Additionally, key audiences you want to reach might not even be online. When that is the case, there are some alternatives.

Distributing videos is not only about using the internet. Tools such as CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, memory cards and mobile phones allow content to be saved and circulated physically from person to person. Public screenings, film festivals and TV are other options.

If some of your audience access video on the internet, and some of your audience use other methods, you should know how to distribute your work both online and offline.

This guide explains the basics of how to do both, and what to think about when combining the two, using Free Open Source Software (FOSS) where possible.

Learning from commercial distribution

In the commercial film and TV industry, film producers and distributors are primarily concerned with how to exploit their copyright in films they make, for profit. Nearly every film or TV program these days will have a hybrid distribution strategy, which we can learn from as video activists, though we may place action around issues as a higher priority.

Generally the pathway for commercial films is to release in each of these areas step by step, over a period of a few years: film festivals > theatrical cinema release > DVD sales and rental > TV broadcast > internet streaming and download. The reason for this is that film festivals want films to premiere at their festival before screening anywhere else.

Cinemas don’t want to show films that are already available on DVD, as they think audiences have seen it already and won’t buy a ticket. TV broadcasters think that if people can download a video on the internet, they won’t watch it on television.

More recently though, producers of commercial films have been experimenting with releasing via all distribution channels at once. However if you plan to incorporate any of these avenues into your distribution strategy, you should consider whether or not you are closing off any avenue by releasing your film in the “wrong order”.

Campaign and activist films have their own distribution needs, usually specifically determined by the context of each film. If the issue is not urgent, you may wish to distribute via environmental, social justice, human rights or documentary film festivals before putting your film online. Or you may, as an example, decide that to garner the biggest audience or influence around your work you will hold off on releasing it on the internet until it has played on television in a certain area, which may have an impact on decision makers or social movements around a timely issue.

However generally speaking, you are better off trying to gather as much attention for your film at once, and reaching every audience by every means of distribution simultaneously. Releasing on the internet means you can make the most of more democratic tools for sharing your film and creating a conversation around it. It’s hard to get attention for your work in the mass of content available out there, so try to make as much noise as you can, all at once. Build some momentum around your film, and capitalise on how relevant it is in terms of recent events. So unless you realistically think a major festival or TV network will play your film, you need to get it online as soon as you can.