Peter B. Kaufman and Jen Mohan at Intelligent Television put together this report for the Tribeca Institute and there's a lot to be learned, though mostly it's anecdotal evidence of the wildly varying attitudes held by different distributors and other industry types.
Some interesting tidbits:
One distributor told us that in his experience with public media’s P.O.V. and ITVS and cable stations Sundance and IFC there has been “remarkably little connection” between a film’s broadcast premiere and sales in other markets. . . . There may also be an aversion to buying a documentary to see it again—as opposed to a more heart- warming feature film.
I've definitely experienced that last part -- a documentary that was spellbinding, but that I never wanted to see again. There's something to be said for word of mouth in that case, but when making a film like that you have to keep your eye on the fact that your sales market may be outreach and support groups, not individual consumers.
In fact, the nature of film as a communal (and one-time) experience may be one of the great handicaps of the indie film business, since there is no "per-user" model to reinforce compensation as a reflection of actual demand.
“We have some DVDs that have been seen by 10,000 students at a university,” [one] distributor said, and as a consequence there is “great inequity in not having a user-based model” and a close “correlation between price and use.”
Most interesting, however, is the conclusion -- or lack thereof:
The advent of digital technologies and the skyrocketing demand for online video are going to change the nature of independent film and video production, distribution, and funding forever. . . .
That said, the game is still in its early innings yet, and even the most experienced stakeholders are ill-prepared to predict how the future will unfold.
In other words: "No one really knows anything yet."
Read the full report (it's available from Tribca Film Institute as a PDF).