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Now Playing: IFC on VOD

1/11/2009 7:00 PM Eastern

IFC hopes to raise the curtain on its fledgling IFC In Theaters pay-per-view video-on-demand service with the debut later this month of the critically-acclaimed, Steven Soderbergh-produced independent film Che two weeks after its theatrical debut.

The VOD debut of the controversial Benicio del Toro-starrer about the 1950s rise of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the right-hand man of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, is one of several high-profile, IFC-owned movies the three-year-old VOD service will offer in 2009 either day-and-date with its theatrical release or shortly thereafter.

Given the struggling economy, IFC Films executive vice president Lisa Schwartz said that IFC In Theaters — and its sister service, IFC Festival Direct, launched last year — is quickly becoming a more viable outlet for independent filmmakers looking to gain exposure and additional revenue for their product.

“It's more difficult financially to do just the single [theatrical] revenue stream for independent and art films,” Schwartz said. “The thing that has become exciting for us is that the level and quality of film we're able to distribute continues to grow.”

Case in point: Schwartz said the service will debut the two-part, Spanish-language film Che, on IFC In Theatres Jan. 21 — less than a week after its theatrical release. While both parts of the movie — which will retail on VOD around $5.99 each — have had a limited-engagement run last month, Schwartz said the buzz for the film should boost PPV buys for the service.

“What we've seen is that the movie has drawn a mainstream crowd because of the subject matter,” she said. “More importantly for us, it's an endorsement for the platform that someone like Steven Soderbergh believes the best way to distribute the movies is to release it theatrically as well as to give it a wide audience.”

To further push awareness for Che, the network is running cross-promotional spots featuring del Toroin Spanish and English to draw viewers to the service.

In addition to Che, IFC will also exhibit 2009 Golden Globe-nominated foreign films Gomorra and Everlasting Moments. Overall, the IFC In Theatres will distribute 26 movies on VOD on or near day-and-date with its theatrical release.

Schwartz said the increased interest among mainstream audiences in the independent film category and the ability to offer high-profile films such as Che has helped IFC In Theatres triple overall PPV purchases since its launch in 2006, although she would not reveal specific figures.

As for its nearly year-old IFC Festival Direct, Schwartz said IFC would double its monthly output of IFC Festival Direct VOD films to 12, according to Schwartz. The service exhibits films from various film festivals such as Cannes, Toronto and Tribeca. Approximately 72 movies will appear on the network simultaneously with their theatrical release.

“These films have played the circuit and have generated critical acclaim, but did not necessarily warrant a commercial theatrical release but have a great following,” she said. “They've never been seen outside of a festival circuit, so when they go to IFC Direct, it's their first window of exploitation outside of a festival.”

In addition, Schwartz said IFC will look to work with operators to promote regional movie festivals in their respective markets.

“Our goal for Festival Direct over time will be to highlight larger festivals going on around the country at the same time those films are on Festival Direct,” she said.

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