Since the birth of the moving picture, film has played an important role in the way people experience culture worldwide. This is apparent at the 400 film festivals which take place around the globe each year. These events give talented artists a venue to promote their work in front of a qualified, interested audience.Like any dynamic art form, film is forever changing. New digital media have placed unknown independent artists on the same playing field as their more established, commercially-backed counterparts. Moreover, as access to cyberspace has become more universal, reaching the right audience has never been so easy.Why is this? Because of “The Long Tail.” Originally an abstract concept introduced in a WIRED Magazine article from 2006, The Long Tail is now a mantra of digital marketing. Applied to marketing in film, the pre-Long Tail mentality was to conceptualize an artistic work with a specific target in mind, and then develop it to invite as big an audience as possible. Marketers would then direct their resources toward the audience within distribution range.The goal was to make the next big summer blockbuster. But according to Chris Anderson, the author of the article, “hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody.” In other words, a new day has come.In a post-Long Tail awakened world, we’ve found that most people’s taste in film goes beyond just mainstream appeal. With the recent onset of a limitless distribution range, the audience dynamic is changing. An American producer whose film deals with even the most esoteric subject matter now has its niche audience at arm’s length. Using the right digital marketing tactics, the filmmaker can draw those people in without burning through resources they way they might have during the pre-Long Tail era.Filmmakers, now freed from the shackles of heavy distribution burdens, can finally create that masterpiece that was once deemed implausible. And with a continued stream of artists looking for exposure, the film festival industry now has the scale to reach far and wide…and find willing consumers around every corner. This is why, according to Anderson, the “cultural benefit of all of this is much more diversity, reversing the blanding effects of a century of distribution scarcity and ending the tyranny of the hit.”Step-by-step: How to market a film festival to a Long Tail audience.1) Create a home for your festival on the net. Give your contestants a platform on which they can share a trailer of the film they plan to promote at your festival. Allow visitors to vote on the trailers, with a thumbs-up/thumbs-down or one-to-five-stars approach. This allows the best ones to rise to the top, creating a channel of the highest quality content, which can be used to draw in a large audience. This widens the timeline for audience engagement, and gives you a vehicle to convey supporting messages related to the festival itself.You want a website where entrants can upload a trailer with minimal technical know-how. The easiest way to do this is to use YouTube as the host. Users worldwide simply create their own profile and/or channel on YouTube, submit their content, and then provide your site with a URL or embed code to the video. Each trailer then has its own landing page on your festival’s site, and should be accompanied by “Send To A Friend” and “Download To Your iPod” links, along with submission links for social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us.(Note – It is important to limit the length of the trailer (two minutes would be a good round number), and make sure that the actual length of the YouTube video is clearly visible on your site. If a video requires a time commitment, a lot of people will click away without even looking.)Make sure your site is scalable, in the event that you receive ten times the traffic you expected. Even if you are focused on quality content, be prepared for massive quantity as well. Your web developer needs to make you very confident that your site won’t buckle under pressure.You’ll also want to add search capability (this is easy with Google Custom Search) do some user testing, or consult a usability expert on making your festival’s website as navigable as possible. Invest in good analytics software to follow trends in visits,
Ongoing global link sharing campaign with partners of various categories
Blog coverage of other major film festivals
In-depth profiles of festival award-winners
Discovery of worthy short films not originally submitted to the festival site
Film industry interviews (available as podcasts)
ConclusionOnce all these elements of your digital marketing campaign are off the ground, the last thing to do is convey your scope to your artists. You’re in the festival business, which in 2008 means you’re hardly concerned with the manufacturing and distribution concerns of the filmmakers. But this talented constituency is still waking up to the opportunities of the Long Tail economy.If you have the numbers, give your artists a pat on the back by showing them the geographic reach of your festival. Repackage the most compelling feedback on submitted videos into a rotating “ticker” in the banner of your website. Do whatever you can to give these filmmakers–the authors of content without which you’d be in business–an extra incentive to keep going.In a world in which, as Anderson says, “popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability,” we’ll all be better off because of it.