IFC Makes Headway in VOD Universe

Nov 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

By Jonathan Sehring’s estimate, a successful independent film plays on about 225 screens and grosses $1 million to $3 million. Most major movie theater chains won’t touch that type of film.
That’s why IFC Entertainment launched IFC in Theaters more than a year ago.
The day-and-date release program finances and distributes films in independent theaters and on video-on-demand services via most major cable operators, releasing them simultaneously on the big and small screens.
Now, IFC in Theaters is fully penetrated in the VOD universe, reaching 25 million VOD homes as well as pay-per-view customers on DirecTV. That’s up from 10 million to 12 million at launch.
Under the program, IFC releases two movies each month. “We developed this model because there were so many good movies going without theatrical distribution,” said Mr. Sehring, president of IFC Entertainment. “Most of the producers are aware of how difficult it is in this day and age to get a movie acquired and released by a Hollywood studio.”
Most cable operators charge a premium for the films because of the unique nature of their early availability on TV. Generally, the movies cost $6 rather than the usual $4, and IFC receives a cut of that.
The IFC model has been attractive to filmmakers because it allows for two revenue streams—theatrical and VOD—rather than just the one they have been used to, Mr. Sehring said. “We are real film lovers here, and the state of the distribution business for independent cinema has become disastrous for small, independent distributors,” he said.
That’s because movies today that are pitched as indie films, such as “Babel” or “A Mighty Heart,” actually have budgets of $15 million to $20 million and marketing budgets at least that high. “Those movies are now occupying a lot of the screens that IFC thought of as independent or foreign films,” Mr. Sehring said.
“We have always defined an independent film as a movie made outside of the studio system,” he added. “But now studios have gotten involved and created their own independent divisions, so it’s very hard for a lot of independent filmmakers to make it to the screens in this country.”
That’s where IFC in Theaters comes in, offering the movies “screen” time they otherwise would not get.
It doesn’t hurt that IFC is owned by Cablevision, which has a vested interest in promoting the usage of VOD. Greater usage of VOD can engender consumer loyalty and keep viewers from straying to satellite providers.
“We see where technology is going and the convenience of not going out to a video store, and you can release a high-quality film not just in theaters but also to fans around the country at the same time who may not have the opportunity to see the film. That is the future for independent film,” Mr. Sehring said.
The films generally remain on IFC in Theaters for their theatrical life, about eight to 12 weeks.
IFC in Theaters is a separate initiative from IFC Films, which distributes larger, more commercial films theatrically.
The program has helped drive usage of VOD on cable. To date, IFC in Theaters has logged more than 1 million purchases of its movies on VOD.
Movies have dominated viewer interest in VOD content for the past four years, said Paul Rule, president of VOD research firm Marquest Research. However, mainstream films are still the most desirable programming genre, while independent films slipped in interest from third in the 2006 study to seventh in the 2007 study. “This may have been because the indie industry did not seem to have a big crossover hit this past year,” he said.
However, IFC’s day-and-date release likely has helped to boost VOD usage, Mr. Rule said. “Small indie films like the ones with which IFC has been experimenting seldom make it to cinemas outside of the largest markets and some college towns. Day-and-date VOD has the potential to greatly broaden the early audience reach for these movies in medium to small markets that now typically must wait for DVD as their first chance to see them,” he said.
But don’t expect mainstream studios to adopt the tactic, he said.
Films from IFC in Theaters have included “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” “I Am a Sex Addict” and “This Is England.”


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