When the Independent Film Channel launched the IFC Center in lower Manhattan at the site of the old Waverly Theater a few weeks ago, it made quite a hoopla over its three theaters, digital editing suites, large café and meeting area that will host premiere events for the independent film community.
But one aspect of the IFC Center's plan won't manifest itself until later this year: the release of some independent movies at the IFC Center and other theaters at the same time they are released on video on demand, according to Gregg Hill, president of Rainbow Network Sales.
That would be a first for the U.S. film community. Hill said IFC's distribution unit is in negotiations with several independent filmmakers about releasing movies on VOD the same day they are released in independent film houses across the country. “We're marrying our VOD business not to just IFC, but to the entertainment business,” Hill said. “This is about how we can bring value to cable operators.”
The day-and-date discussions grew out of the success IFC has had with day-and-date releases with home video. “Every title this year is day and date,” Hill said, and the tactic has helped grow overall revenue.
Independent films usually don't bring in the volume of revenue that major studio films produce, so protecting the home-video revenue stream is less of a concern. The same is true with day-and-date theatrical releases.
There are plenty of towns and cities where an independent film may not play at all, so offering the movie on VOD is a way to broaden the film's exposure and revenue, Hill said.
“We don't have to make a killing on titles to make it meaningful to film producers,” he said. “We have to make titles meaningful to the cable operator.”
Hill believes operators will be interested in widening the number of VOD movies they carry to remain competitive with Netflix, CinemaNow and other distribution outlets with hundreds of titles. “Cable operators really have to look at the breadth of their offerings. That's who they will be competing with in the future.”
“You're just making the pie bigger,” he said. “We're changing the distribution paradigm. Now everybody, whether they are in Odessa [Texas] or Des Moines [Iowa], will be able to see these films.”
Some major studios have also discussed shortening the window between home video and theatrical, but as a means to cut down on piracy. “The piracy issue is something we're extremely concerned with,” Hill said, although the stakes aren't as high for a pirated independent film as it is for Batman Begins.
Hill said IFC has started discussions with theater owners about day and date, emphasizing that greater marketing dollars will flow into cities where a film is also being carried on VOD. But conversations are delicate, he said. “It's a nuanced discussion.”
IFC On Demand is carried by all the major MSOs, Hill said. “It's a lot more value for the cable operator. We're saying with the IFC Center that can we do day and date with theatrical, and we want to be first company to really lead the way.”