Sundance Channel will take its style of independent film showcase directly to theaters in two weeks, giving some key cable affiliates and major advertisers roles in the show.
What the service will show, starting Aug. 29, is a set of four films getting a guaranteed two-week premiere flight in 10 cities around the country.
Sundance Film Series will launch in 140 Loew's Cineplex Entertainment locations in Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Local cable operators — Adelphia in Los Angeles, Time Warner Cable in New York and Comcast everywhere else — will co-sponsor the presentation and be part of several of its elements, including in-theater demonstrations of digital cable and high-speed Web access services.
Sundance bills the project as its largest undertaking ever, with a promotional value of at least $15 million, including what its participating affiliates are paying to be part of it. The value also includes multi-million dollar Film Series sponsorships and sweepstakes prizes from Coca-Cola Co., Volkswagen, Kenneth Cole shoes, Entertainment Weekly
magazine and Loew's Cineplex.
The four movies — kickoff attraction The Other Side of the Bed, In This World,
Die Mommie Die
will not appear on the network until late 2004 at the earliest, following theatrical and home video/DVD release (on Sundance Channel's label). The attention they'll get from such a unique presentation could increase their ability to draw well on the network.
"For us, this expands the distribution platform for independent film," explained Kirk Iwanowski, the channel's senior marketing vice president. "When you increase activity in the marketplace, and the awareness of Sundance in general, it will have a positive impact on the public's awareness of our channel, and that leads to more tune-in."
Some entrepreneurs have tried film series or subscription ventures with first-run features in theaters before, one notable effort being The American Film Theater in the early 1970s.
By having cable affiliates and sponsors participate together, this effort can work economically where other projects didn't. "It takes a lot of financial and promotional resources to do something like this," Iwanowski said. "Our model permits affiliates to have some sense of ownership in each market, and gives the films a chance to find their audience in markets beyond New York and Los Angeles art houses."
Prior to the venture's premiere, Loew's theaters in the 10 cities are running trailers with an operator-participation tag at the end. Separately, each cable system distributed billstuffers encouraging subscribers to buy a "four-pack" ticket for the series, at 30% off the box-office price.
Adelphia, Comcast and Time Warner Cable will get lobby space inside each theater to demo digital or high-speed services. A pre-show trailer collection, arranged and produced by Sundance, will include a trailer from the participating operator; spots from Coke, Volkswagen and other sponsors, and personal introductions from each film's director.
Print and radio stations will promote Sundance's series and participating affiliates in various ways. One is "Winning Ticket," a national sweepstakes that customers can sign up for at the theater or online through the network's Web site. Prizes include a six-person trip to next year's Sundance Film Festival and use of a Volkswagen Touareg SUV for two years.
"It's the indie film answer to winning a Willy Wonka ticket," Iwanowski joked.