The digital realm has fundamentally changed the way media – music, film, television, video games, and more – are distributed. But what is digital distribution? We’re going to break down digital distribution by looking at how various industries bring their content to the masses. By the end, you’ll know what digital distribution is, and where to look for additional information.

Internet Distribution Explained

Background on digital distribution

Digital distribution encompasses a wide variety of industries, but is perhaps most widely-used in the music industry to describe the intermediary between the artist and the Digital Services Provider (DSP).

So, what is digital distribution? Let’s answer that question formally with a digital distribution definition. 


What is digital distribution? 

Digital distribution is the channel through which media is shared via the internet. Digital distribution channels typically work from creator to retailer to end user. Some distributors cut out the retailer and connect directly with the end-user.

Who Uses Digital Distribution?

  • Creator: Musician, Filmmaker, Game Developer, etc.
  • Retailer: Spotify, Amazon Video, Steam, etc.
  • End User: The Consumer of the Media

In the music industry, artists typically cannot get their work on the biggest DSPs — aka Spotify, Apple Music, etc. — without a digital distributor.

This next video explains music digital distribution in further detail.

What is Digital Distribution?  •  Best Digital Distributor for Music by Ari’s Take

Digital distribution is very important to the music industry; however, the term itself, “digital distribution,” addresses a technology that is much wider in scope than just music. 


Short film distribution platforms

The internet has given filmmakers and audiences new ways to connect with one another – but what are the best film distribution platforms? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. The top dogs are definitely the big streamers, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, etc.

These streamers have relationships with agents and producers, so your best bet is to work up through them to get a meeting with an executive. 

However, there are a lot of great short film distribution platforms!

What is Digital Distribution Digital Film Distribution Examples StudioBinder

What is Digital Distribution?  •  Digital Film Distribution Examples

YouTube is certainly the most popular, although you have to be careful with content and music. For more details, check out our article on how to make a YouTube video.

Vimeo is another great option; burgeoning filmmakers/video essayists have been using the platform for years to get by YouTube’s stringent copyright ID system.

Short of the Week is a respected distribution platform among filmmakers. Each week, a short film is chosen as “short of the week” and featured on the front page, just as the name implies.

Best Film Distribution Companies & More

The argument against digital distribution

Digital distribution offers plenty of benefits for the end-user, particularly in regards to ease of access. However, many skeptics fear that digital distribution will ultimately take away ownership for the end-user.

For example: many streaming platforms, such as Netflix and HBO, require subscriptions to access the media. Therefore, the end-user does not actually own the media that is distributed to them. Other streaming platforms, such as Apple TV, allow users to purchase digital licenses for some media; however, those licenses often do not guarantee lifetime ownership.

What is Digital Distribution Digital Distribution Examples Apple TV App StudioBinder

What is Digital Distribution?  •  Digital Distribution Examples: Apple TV App

In the world of videogames, Digital Rights Management (DRM) enforces the fact that you are not “buying” the game, but rather “buying” a license for a game to be played on a specific retailer, such as Steam.

If the game is removed from the retailer, then the end-user will lose access to the game. Furthermore, Always-Online DRM licenses require end-users to be connected to the internet to access their games, even when the game itself does not utilize the internet.

This method of digital distribution gatekeeping is regarded as deeply problematic in the world of decentralized technology advocates.

Some large game publishers, such as CD Projekt Red and Rockstar Games, offer their own retail launchers, which allow end-users to buy digital copies of the game directly without having to go through a third-party.

Up Next

Social Media & Digital Comm. Guide

There’s no doubt about it: social media and digital communications play a huge role in the success of digital distribution. Want to learn more about how to leverage social media and digital communications? Check out our next article where we break down tips and tricks for how to share your media effectively, both with colleagues and audiences. By the end, you’ll know how to make the most of digital technology in pursuit of selling your next project.

Up Next: Guide to Social Media →
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  • Chris Heckmann is a Professor of Media & Communication at Roger Williams University and graduate of UCLA’s Cinema & Media Studies Master of Arts program. When he’s not writing or teaching, he’s probably playing video games (or thinking about the next great Boston sports trade).

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