Offline distribution

Television, DVDs, VCDs, screenings and passing files face-to-face are all important distribution mechanisms you may consider. While there might be a lot of hype these days around online video distribution, offline methods remain extremely effective and should not be underestimated. The vast majority of the world's population doesn't have internet access, and only a small minority have access to the broadband connections required for publishing and receiving video online.

This section will take you briefly through creating DVDs and VCDs, putting on community screenings and ways in which you can combine online and offline distribution to reach the right audience. 

DVD & VCD Distribution

DVD stands for Digital Versatile Disc. DVDs can be burned in many different formats and used to store any kind of data. They can have a single layer of information burned on one side of the disc (single-layer), two layers of information on one side (dual-layer) or have information on both sides (double-sided). Each layer or side can contain up to 4.7 Gigabytes of video or other data. DVD-Video discs contain video encoded in the MPEG2 format.

DVD-Video discs are designed to play back in hardware DVD players or using DVD playback software on computers with DVD drives installed. The video is compiled along with graphics and sound for interactive menus into the DVD-Video format during the DVD authoring process.

VCD stands for Video Compact Disc and is basically a CD containing up to 74 minutes of video, in a format both hardware VCD players and most DVD players can play back. The video on a VCD is encoded as a standardised form of MPEG1, an older video compression format that requires less computing power to play back than many of the newer and more sophisticated codecs that are available. In terms of image quality, MPEG1-VCD is comparable to viewing a VHS video tape.

DVD & VCD - Advantages & Disadvantages

The advantages of distributing your video on DVD over VCD are:

  • Quality – DVD uses a more sophisticated and better compression standard and can also hold a lot more data than VCD.
  • Interactivity – the ability to create complex menus, subtitles and simultaneous video streams for additional camera-angles etc.
  • Familiarity – audiences in some parts of the world are much more at ease with DVD technology.

The advantages of distributing your video on VCD over DVD are:

  • Cost – blank CDs are less expensive than blank DVDs.
  • Distribution – as CDs are an older technology, many more people have CD players installed in their computers than have DVD players.
  • Ease of copying – many more people have access to a CD burner than a DVD burner and can therefore copy your movie for others themselves.
  • DVD player compatibility – the majority of hardware DVD players will play back VCDs and in many areas of the world VCD players and the VCD format in general are so popular that they are more widely available than DVDs.

There are various options for distributing your video on DVD or VCD:

  • Submit your video to existing compilations. The producers of the compilation will look after distribution for you, though you can arrange to be responsible for distributing copies in your own area.
  • For small numbers of copies you can duplicate DVDs or VCDs yourself, if you have a DVD or CD burner in your computer
  • If you anticipate distributing a larger number of discs, you can make a single master disc and have it professionally duplicated. Prices are continually dropping for duplication.
  • You can then choose to either set up an ordering system yourself (online or through the post), or pass the discs on to a mail-order company that may have their own online credit-card ordering facility to take the trouble of filling orders and delivering them off your hands.

Making a DVD

  • Decide what content you wish to include on the DVD; video segments may include the programme itself and additional video such as a trailer or extra footage, while in the menus you can also include texts about the video and the issues concerned, links to further information, production stills, logos and some audio loops for background music.
  • One of the advantages of the DVD format is that you can include sub-titles for different languages, or original-language subtitles can be activated for the hearing-impaired; prepare translations if you have the time and resources.
  • Work with a graphic designer to create images for menu backgrounds and buttons, or create them yourself.
  • Import your video into your DVD authoring application. Some applications will let you import the DV file you have exported from an editing program as it will be transcoded within the application itself, while others will expect you to have encoded the video as MPEG2 that conforms to DVD specifications.
  • Arrange your content within intuitively designed menus that will be easy for users to navigate.
  • Create the DVD master using your authoring application and test it on a DVD player to make sure it works correctly, including all the menu buttons.
  • Make sure you author your DVD as region-free (known as Region 0), enabling the disc to be played on DVD players sold in different regions of the world. You will still have to choose to author the DVD as either PAL or NTSC depending on where in the world you are going to distribute the discs.
  • Copy this master using a DVD burner and a DVD burning application, or take it along with graphics for the disc and jacket to a professional duplication company for bulk copies to be made.

Making a VCD

  • Export your video segments as MPEG1 using the MPEG1 VCD settings for either PAL or NTSC, depending on which territories you will be distributing the disc in.
  • Import your MPEG1 video files (in the .mpg format) to your VCD authoring or CD burning application. Many CD burning applications will allow you to author a VCD as one of their options.
  • Choose to burn your CD in the VCD 2.0 format. Each video file you import will create a separate chapter on the disc that can be skipped forward or backward to using the DVD player remote control or media player software on computer.
  • Burn your VCD and test on software media players and on your hardware DVD player.


There are some tools in the realm of Free and Open Source software for creating DVDs and VCDs. These are adequate but not brilliant. If you want to make a professional quality DVD with advanced menus and graphics we suggest you look at proprietary software such as:

If you can't get these tools, or have more modest requirements, you might find these useful:


Screenings can be a great campaigning tool. Because they bring people together they can be used to get people to take action. You can also use screenings to raise money for your cause and to sell copies of your video.

Advance planning

  • Deciding on your aims and objectives first will help with planning the rest of the event. Do you want to increase public awareness? To raise funds for your organisation? To mobilise old and new supporters?
  • Decide on a good name for the event and write a one-paragraph description, including information about the film, and what else (if anything) will be happening on the night.
  • Consider who your audience will be: the general public or a specific community?
  • Decide what kinds of videos and issues you will be presenting besides your own, and whether there will be other entertainment (music, poetry, dance, etc.), or speakers.
  • Establish a contact person and phone number for each group involved in the show.
  • Decide who will get any money that is raised through ticket sales or donations. Is this a 'benefit' for a particular group? Many venues will take a proportion of the ticket receipts. Tell people what you plan to do with any money you raise.
  • Line up your participants, groups and videos and establish a minimum of commitment from everyone involved.
  • Choose a Host/ess or Master/Mistress of Ceremonies (MC) to introduce the film (and any other parts of the show). You want someone confident, informed and outgoing, who can make a real impression on the audience.
  • What can s/he ask people to support or do after they leave your show? Are there other relevant events to announce at this show? Get flyers and fact sheets for coming events and related issues to hand out to people as they come in, to pass around during the MC's intros, or to have available at a literature and merchandise table, where you can also sell or give away copies of the film(s) you are screening.

Venues & schedules

Check what is available at potential venues in terms of:

  • Video and audio technology – what is already there, what do you need to bring?
  • Technical assistance, in case things go wrong on the night
  • Seating for the audience, visibility of the screen and stage
  • Provision of refreshments – does the venue do this?
  • Times of opening and closing, what time the screening should take place
  • Any charges for use of the venue or resources
  • Whether the location is easily accessible for your desired audience

Other considerations

It may take months to get a slot and to be included on the venue's calendar, advertising, website and other outreach. If that's not so important to you (although good advertising greatly improves attendance), maybe you can negotiate to put a show on sooner, on an off-night when a cinema, community centre or club has nothing else scheduled.

Find out the deadline by which the venue will need the final description of the show for use in their calendar, publicity etc. Include at least one compelling graphic (often a still image from the video).

Consider serving refreshments if none are going to be available at the venue. Make contact with a local and supportive caterer: this can be another way to raise money, if you charge for drinks or snacks. Discuss how any arrangement will work, financially and logistically.

Publicising the Screening

Design a flyer, using a description and graphic as a minimum (Read more).

Write a Press Release explaining the 'who, what, where, when and why' of the show, and suggesting how your screening is connected with political actions or events, thus helping the media to find an 'angle' for coverage. Send the press release plus flyer to your local media.

  • Some other tips for publicising your screening:
  • Circulate internet and e-mail postings.
  • Borrow and build an e-mail list of interested people and organisations. You can surf the internet for local organisations to send information to.
  • Postal mailings may be more expensive than they are worth unless you have some cash, or there is no alternative.
  • Make invitations to allied groups who might want to share their publications at the event. Find out if they need a table or space made available for them, after making sure that this is feasible in this venue.
  • Post flyers at local media and arts centres and also with local organisations and NGOs that would support the event.

Planning your screening

  • Watch all videos and plan the order you'll show them in.
  • Check for any audio or video problems, make sure you will have the right technology to play all the media you will bring.
  • Write notes for the host, including a list of speakers, who produced the videos, action points, other events to flag, and anything else that might help capture the audience's imagination or support.
  • Decide on final timings, allowing for a short break between the parts of the show for people to relax.
  • Make a Sign-Up Sheet so your audience can get information in the future. Be sure to ask for Name, Phone Number and Email or postal address.
  • Confirm times and responsibilities with all the people involved in the screening. Who runs the projector? Who collects any money? Give them the basic schedule of the night and ask them to turn up at least 2 hours before the show to help set up (depending on how much they are involved).
  • Determine who will stay after the show to help clean up and gather your materials.
  • Call/text your friends, activists, everyone you know to remind them about the show. This works.
  • Make a follow-up call to your local media contact.
  • Set up at least two hours before the show: check that all video and audio equipment is set up and working, cue any tapes/DVDs/Files.
  • You are responsible for the show. That means you need to stick around to help clean up cups and papers and other trash left on the floor, that you make sure you get the money from whoever was taking it at the door, and that any chairs and tables are left in order.
  • Have fun, that's half the reason to do another one!