IFC Has Big, Fat VOD Plans

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After tests this year, the Independent Film Channel in early 2003 will stage a nationwide launch of a video-on-demand service that features titles from its movie library, including Y Tu Mama Tambien, network officials said.

In January, the programmer will unveil IFC On Demand, offering cable operators a dozen theatricals produced by IFC Entertainment, the programmer's film-production company. Later this year, IFC also plans to offer one of its films — a new documentary, A Decade Under the Influence, co-directed by Ted Demme —

as part of the new VOD service, and to create broadband content for that film.

IFC will step up its efforts on a variety of fronts, now that parent Cablevision Systems Corp. has closed the sale of its sister service, Bravo, to NBC for $1.25 billion. Former Bravo general manager Ed Carroll has moved over to run IFC on a day-to-day basis, as executive vice president and general manager.

"We now have the same management team that built Bravo, and we have set our eyes on creating another several-billion-dollar asset with IFC," said Kathy Dore, former president of Bravo Networks and now president of IFC Cos. "We're really poised to do that on a number of different platforms."

IFC Center cinema

As part of this transformation, this week IFC will unveil its plans to turn the Clearview Waverly Theater in New York's Greenwich Village into the IFC Center.

The theater will be renovated and made into an exhibition space and resource center for New York independent filmmakers, according to Dore. One screening room in the center will be named "The Waverly," to reflect the theater's history.

Creating the film center is part of IFC's strategy of building itself into a leading brand — an end-to-end company for independent films — by funding, producing and distributing them on a variety of platforms, as well as creating original programming about them.

"IFC the network has all the attributes of a premium service, but is priced to the cable operator like a basic service, because we are able to control its content," Dore said.

IFC is building a film library with titles from its production arm, according to Dore.

"The fact that we're not only a network, but a movie studio, makes us unique among, certainly, digital-basic channels," Carroll said.

Though IFC can choose the window in which it wants to release its films, Carroll said: "The model we set about is that we would take the first post-pay window. So it [a movie] would generally come to IFC 18 months after its pay exhibition.

"And there are some films we might want to take the world premiere on IFC. We have the ability to do it. But we have to negotiate and pay market value."

On the TV side, IFC is working on a variety of platforms — VOD and broadband — in addition to traditional linear programming. This year, the channel has tested IFC On Demand in beta trials with parent Cablevision, both VOD and subscription VOD, paving the way for a commercial rollout to the entire cable industry.

IFC On Demand also will be launched on Cablevision systems as new digital set-tops are deployed.

IFC will offer its IFC Entertainment film titles for VOD to operators on a split basis, according to Gregg Hill, Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.'s executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing for IFC and MagRack.

So many movies

In addition to Y Tu Mama Tambien, IFC On Demand will offer the theatricals Happy Accidents, Business of Strangers, Spring Forward, Big Bad Love, Go Tigers!, Gangster No. 1, Keep the River on Your Right, The King Is Alive, Thomas in Love
and Our Song.

IFC distributed the surprise independent hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding
for a flat fee, with kickers that gave it a tiny piece of the box office.

While IFC doesn't have any window on Wedding,
Dore feels said company has benefited from the fact that the movie carries the "IFC Films" brand.

IFC's documentary A Decade Under the Influence —
one of three network productions headed to the Sundance Film Festival next year — will also be offered on IFC On Demand. The documentary began as a three-part series for the IFC network, Carroll said. But the production, about film auteurs in the 1970s, was also re-edited into a 90-minute version for theatrical release.

The film version will be released to theaters this spring, while the three-part TV series will air on IFC on Wednesdays, in August.

IFC will offer A Decade Under the Influence
on VOD after its TV premiere, and will create special broadband content to coincide with its small-screen debut.

When the new season of the original series Dinner for Five
debuts in January, according to Hill, IFC will create broadband content for the show, in part incorporating footage that was shot for but not aired.

IFC is also exploring creating an SVOD package that's different from its VOD offering, said Hill.

"We really want to be in that business," Hill said. "We want to offer some sort of SVOD package to operators at some point in '03."

One possibility is for IFC to offer titles on a "day-and-date" basis, or to debut the film on VOD at the same time as it hits home-video outlets, according to Dore.

"We're likely to be the first to experiment with day-and-date on VOD," she said.

But Dore said there's an obvious risk with day-and-date VOD offerings.

"What you're forgoing there is the potential revenue on the home-video side for the potential revenue on the VOD side," she said.

IFC is now in just over 25 million homes, carried on basic by EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network and DirecTV Inc. on direct-broadcast satellite, and by cable operators on digital-basic or movie tiers.

IFC also plans to increase its amount of original programming. It'll start by finding a companion show for Dinner for Five
toward the end of the year, Carroll said.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, IFC will have three or four original series on the air, in addition to live events, he added.