Festivals Getting into Distribution
Don’t worry folks, I have not forgotten the 3rd and final part of the blog series “IF I WERE A FILMMAKER GOING TO SUNDANCE”… it’s posting this week. But in the meantime, this just in, well actually not, it’s been brewing for a while…
Festivals getting involved in distribution is all the rage. For festivals with very strong brand recognition, it makes sense to move into this arena. We’ve been recommending it to fests for years (since 2005) and we are happy to see some, such as Sundance, are getting into the fray. It makes sense for the biggest brand festivals to be using their name recognition to bring attention to the films they screen. We at TFC have a Foreign Language Oscar Initiative with Palm Springs International, a festival known for its curation of world cinema. It makes sense that together we will bring the recognition of PSIFF chosen films to a wider audience.
The Sundance brand, being strongly recognized with consumers even outside of the independent film industry, is ideal for filmmakers to use to their distribution advantage as close to the festival as possible. With the festival getting involved in distribution, the time between festival premiere and release will only help. For festivals that do not yet have a very strong consumer brand or niche it may make less sense.
An article today in the New York Times talks about some of the fests’ distribution plans.
We’ll be drilling more into this in the coming months. For now, we wanted to address TriBeCa Films distribution.
TriBeCa Films is a for-profit company and in that way they are acting like a traditional distribution company taking rights, offering Minimum Guarantees (MGs) but charging interest, all the usual stuff. That’s the difference between TriBeCa and what Sundance has indicated its distribution will look like. The difference between it and let’s say a digital aggregator such as IndieFlix is that it has strong direct Cable VOD relationships (e.g. Comcast) and TriBeCa has a strong marketing partnership in AMEX (as noted in the article) which brings significant financial sponsorship support to marketing and we expect other partnerships are in the works. It’s been said that overages from TriBeCa Films have been quite healthy and that the Cable VOD distribution paid off.
They started with 11 films last year and they plan to increase to 26 this year. They partner with New Video for their DVD and for access on other digital platforms (iTunes, Amazon etc), an excellent partner but yet another middle man. The theatrical aspect of their distribution seems modest at this moment but that is no different than many other distributors and it may change in time.
Sundance is just starting to formulate its plans, but it is a non-profit and is not seeking to behave like a traditional distributor. Rather, their initiative will facilitate certain components of distribution access to key platforms under the strength of its brand and that would be a key difference.
The NYT piece cites Janet Pierson’s unwillingness for SXSW to join in the digital distribution business. As she rightly surmised, distribution is complicated, it is not always revenue generating, it can be cost-intensive, it can invite great scrutiny from filmmakers and industry and certainly does complicate a film festival’s activities and politics. So maybe for SXSW, it is enough to be at the top of the technology front and be a successful event for the convergence of art, technology and media happenings and leave well enough alone.
These are changing times indeed, with no shortage of options on accessing platforms where audiences could find your work. Branding and marketing are crucially important, and so on that note, until the next blog post.
Orly Ravid February 28th, 2011