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Choppertown: A Model Facebook Network with 2.0 Million Friends. (Part 1 of 3)

2016 August 23
by Peter Hamilton

The message of Choppertown is that documentaries can make money from Facebook.

It is the story about how a deficit-funded, observational documentary evolved into a ground-breaking Facebook “channel.”

Thanks to Zack Coffman for sharing the ups, downs, and ups again of the Facebook marketing engine Choppertown.

  • Here is Part 1 of my Case Study on documentary strategies for social media.
  • Next post: More on how Facebook Video became a game-changer that drives a cascade of revenue streams for Choppertown; plus my short podcast conversation with Zack Coffman. (Part 2)
  • Read my Takeaways in Part 3.

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1. Choppertown: The Sinners (2005)

Concept

  • The Director / Producers Zack Coffman and Scott Di Lalla had been college buddies.
  • They wanted to become star filmmakers and formed One World Studios in 2001.
  • Their 1st project was Choppertown: The Sinners.
  • It is an observational doc based on 3+ months’ access to a biker tribe.

“Custom chopper builder and punk rocker Kutty Noteboom builds his working man’s chopper from the ground up with the help of good friend Rico and the rest of his biker brothers in this intimate award-winning documentary about renowned hot rod and motorcycle club the Sinners.” IMDb

Sizzle

Production

  • Budget: $100K+/-
  • Funding: “Mainly debt: We got drunk and put all our credit cards on the table.”
  • IMDb: Choppertown: The Sinners

Exhibition

  • “We won several awards and received strong audience feedback at several festivals, including a grand prize at Temecula Valley.”
  • But distributors weren’t interested.
  • “And we were stuck with the debt!”

ChoppertownBanner

2.DVD / Internet Marketing Campaign (2005-2006)

In desperation, the producers launched Choppertown.com:

  • The goal was to pay off their debt by selling DVD’s of the film.
  • The site was a single web page, comprised of:
    • Logo
    • Message: Buy our movie here!
    • The trailer
    • DVD Price: $30
    • Link to Checkout via PayPal
  • DVD orders were shipped straight from their apartment in West LA.
  • Audience was aggregated via social media (MySpace)
  • Sales surprise: 20,000 units over two years!

3.Doubling Down on the Chopper / Hot Rod Niche (2005-2009)

Build Catalog

  • “We decided to expand our product pipeline” (now over 100 SKU’s)
  • Funding from DVD sales
  • The aim was to mix:
    • Owned productions: 1 film / year
    • Acquisitions from producers who are chopper enthusiasts : several / year
  • Acquisitions deals were revshares. There were no minimum guarantees.

Attract Sponsors

  • Choppertown began to attract the attention of potential sponsors in the niche.
  • The first one was Dickies, the #1 U.S. workwear and apparel merchant.
  • The sponsorship deal included cash and a 17-city European screening tour (2008).

DVD Sales

  • The DVD sales operation continued to thrive.
  • Net sales peaked at around $200,000 / year.

4.Hand to Mouth (2009-2012)

  • “The Global Financial Crisis decimated the market for emerging small businesses like ours.”
  • “The bottom fell out of the DVD market when buyers lost discretionary income.”
  • Banks cancelled Choppertown’s revolving credit lines.
  • Coffman and Di Lalla made a “questionable” decision to produce a horror film: “We broke even, but took a while.”
  • They let their DVD business languish: “My only regret was becoming too focused on the new film and allowing the Choppertown brand to slowly slip away.”
  • “The brand nearly disappeared.”

fbvideo chopper

5.Facebook Discovered (2013)

Friends With Benefits

  • “We had set up a passive FB page, Facebook.com/Choppertown but had neglected to pay it any attention.”
  • “In 2013, I was amazed to find that we had 25,000 Friends just sitting there.”
  • “I thought that this was promising, and decided to systematically explore FB’s potential.”
  • “We started posting on FB each day: it was usually a still from our marketing library.”
  • Choppertown’s FB Friends took off.

FB Video Explosion

  • “One day I noticed a FB Video Upload button.”
  • “The message I was hearing from FB was “We want video!”
  • “We made 100+/- clips from our archive. They ranged from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.”
  • Video upload frequency: One new clip each day
  • Test & Roll Out: “I carefully tracked the engagement levels achieved by each piece of content, and invested more effort and resources when we showed good results.”

——————————-

SVOD EXPLAINED
Original Analysis for Documentary Producers & Executives
PLUS TAKEAWAYS

Opportunities, Success Factors & Deal Terms
for Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Vimeo and other OTT/VOD Platforms
From DocumentaryTelevision.com with
contributions from distributor Kinonation’s Roger Jackson
Read More Here.
Download Now: $39.95

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6.Download-to-Own (DTO) (2014-16)

Strategy

  • Objective: Use FB video posts and other FB content to drive traffic from FB to Choppertown.com.
  • Financial Goal: Sell Download-to-Own videos.
  • Platform: BigCommerce shopping cart integrated with VHX, which later merged with Vimeo.
  • Catalog: 60 digital products
  • Around 20% owned, 80% acquired
  • Price: $9.99
  • Transaction and hosting costs: around 12% / sale.
  • Revenue sharing model for acquisitions.
  • Choppertown’s owned productions “are still among the top-sellers.”

Sales Rocket!

  • Total sales increased 10X in 2014
  • And doubled again in 2015
  • Nearly all came from the Facebook video strategy backed by digitization of our catalog.

Surprise: DTO Peaks

  • Download To Own sales growth leveled out in 2016.
  • Possible reasons:
    • DTO eclipsed by SVOD: Customers may have become acclimatized to the Netflix / Amazon Prime “All You Can Eat” model and may be resisting paying a la carte for video content
    • Dearth of new chopper product: Due to the compact nature of the niche, high-quality product is hard to come by (just a few new titles produced in the space yearly)
    • “While 50% of revenue is from returing customers, there may not be enough good product to provide to keep them buying.”

FB Traffic Continues to Escalate

  • FB Friends (August 2016: 2.o Million)
  • Organic Growth: 20,000+ / week
  • FB Reach: 9 Million weekly
  • Weekly FB Engagement: 1 Million+ (“That’s higher than Vice and Nike.”)

CT Live

NEXT POST:

  • Choppertown becomes a documentary-based Facebook Channel
  • Plus: my first Podcast: An audio interview with Zack that focuses on his transformative experience with Facebook.
  • And my Choppertown / Facebook Video Takeaways in Post #3 of 3.

Reading: Two Unique Case Studies

Note:

  • Many thanks to our friends at WESTDOC 2014, where I first met Zack.
  • You can’t beat conferences and markets for networking opportunities.

——————————-

SVOD EXPLAINED
Original Analysis for Documentary Producers & Executives
PLUS TAKEAWAYS

VodChart0603

Opportunities, Success Factors & Deal Terms
for Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Vimeo and other OTT/VOD Platforms
From DocumentaryTelevision.com with
contributions from distributor Kinonation’s Roger Jackson
Read More Here.
Download Now: $39.95

———————————-

Speaking Engagements
  • SMASH, Science Media Summit, Boston, September 20-26: Big, Big Trends
  • Wildscreen, Bristol UK, October 10-14: WildLIVE!
  • WIVF’s ScriptDC, Washington DC, November 5: Distribution Landscape
  • Realscreen Summit Master Class, Washington DC: Production Budgeting (details soon)

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