I've had my eye on New York startup VHX ("sell video directly to your audience") for a while now, and so have such internet-savvy people as Aziz Ansari, Kevin Spacey and Alamo Drafthouse. Founded in 2010 by early Boxee and Vimeo engineer Casey Pugh and developer Jamie Wilkinson, who worked together on "Star Wars Uncut," a fan-sourced shot-for-shot remake of "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," VHX placed on Indiewire's first Influencers list.
When they won an Emmy, Pugh and Wilkinson launched VHX, without knowing exactly what it would be. They self-funded at first (investors came later), tinkering with aggregating shared video and creating the "Know Your Meme" encyclopedia. They eventually figured out that Louis CK and Joss Whedon were onto new models for direct-to-fan distribution, and when Ansari turned to them for help, they realized that they had built the technology for an online distribution platform.
Pugh and Wilkinson figured out that they could take their video tech skills and apply them to people's brands and close the gap that exists between hierarchical Silicon Valley and the worlds of TV and Hollywood. "We are technology people," admits Wilkinson, who is a fan of cable's "quite accurate" series "Silicon Valley."
Eight months ago Wilkinson moved from San Francisco to join Pugh and the product team in New York, where they're making VHX sharper and better all the time, as exploding demand in the last six months has expanded their staff from six to twenty.
And they're going transparent, too. In response to constant questions about their numbers, they're making VHX STATS public here. It updates daily with numbers of titles for sale (over 1000), total transactions, customers who’ve bought more than one title from VHX, sales by geographic region and VHX total gross revenue: north of $3 million. "We're trying to show off that this is a healthy growing part of the market," says Pugh. "We're going to make a page where all our platform wide metrics rate all on one place."
Wilkinson only wishes they "could show individual sales stats." Later.
VHX belongs to New York's smaller tech startup scene, where the companies talk to each other, back-channeling information on what's going on. Pugh and Wilkinson are close to people at Tumblr and Blip TV, for example. "The New York philosophy is more constrained and business-driven," says Wilkinson. "We're in it. But we want to be ahead of the curve, not too far ahead."
He and Pugh believe that every movie and tv show and creative person on the internet can and should have a website. Until now most websites were used as marketing destinations driving people to click into black boxes like iTunes --where you have to wait a month to get your sales results. "What gets me excited in the morning," says Wilkinson, "is helping out people who couldn't fit into those formats. It's not just indie film and TV, it's also weird YouTube series and martial arts instructors who still sell DVDs today, when no digital service provides them with a way to sell a digital copy."
Among the major movie studios, only Warner Instant sells their film archives direct to consumers. VHX is enjoying treating enlightened indie companies like Tim League's Alamo Drafthouse as both brand and destination, building individual websites for each of the 15 films they distribute, such as Oscar-nominated documentary "Act of Killing," but also creating a small boutique store. "They know what they're doing," says Wilkinson. "We have built an open web platform that allows anyone to turn a website into an online store for film and tv and videos. You can set up any number of websites, turning a website into a storefront, with everything interlinked in back."
Spacey self-distributed "Now: Behind the Scenes on the World Stage" via VHX, theatrical distributor Abramorama, and marketer Marc Schiller's Bond Strategy and Influence. "That is the power of self-distribution," says Wilkinson. "You can do what you want. Spacey is a total believer. He likes doing what he wants in the format he wants. We're just a technology platform, we provide a service and consultation."