Independent Movies Embrace On-Demand Platforms

The stigma of a film going "straight to video" is beginning to fade. Movie studios are increasingly experimenting with showing their films on iTunes, Amazon.com, cable and satellite TV. Some movies are being released digitally the same day or even before they're shown on the big screen.

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Used to be if a movie went straight to video that was not a good sign - things are changing though. Movie studios are increasingly experimenting with showing their films on iTunes, Amazon.com, cable and satellite TV, the same day or even before they're shown on the big screen.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: If you want to see the new holiday movie "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas," you could go to theater on December 7th - or two weeks earlier, you could watch it at home through video on-demand.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE FITZGERALD FAMILY CHRISTMAS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's Christmas Eve and we've got this thing going on with my father and my whole family that is going to need to be addressed tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah. So you're going to need a drink.

BARCO: Independent filmmaker and actor Ed Burns says he's not bothered that audiences will first get to see his movie on the small screen.

ED BURNS: You know, I think you'd have to be a realist in the way that, you know, no musician wants anyone to listen to their music on an MP3 file going through a small set of tinny headphones. They'd much prefer that we all listen to it on a big sound system on an LP. But, you know, that's over. And I think a similar thing has happened with the movie business.

BARCO: Burns says digital platforms have created new audiences and new revenue streams for movies.

BURNS: My lawyer gave me a great argument, because I was even resistant to it. He goes, if we go theatrical on this film, you're going to open up in New York and L.A. Think about what happens if we go out on VOD and iTunes. You're going to be in over 50 million living rooms. And the minute I heard that, I knew, OK, this needs to be embraced.

ARIANA BOCCO: The beauty is that on on-demand platforms, films can live for a very long time. They're not in theater for one week and then gone. They're available for three months.

BARCO: Ariana Bocco is senior vice president of acquisitions for IFC films and Sundance Select. She says independents are especially gung-ho about the strategy of releasing films simultaneously in theaters and on VOD. And she says they are making nice profits. She cites the British comedy "In the Loop," which was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar. Bocco says she's expects the same financial success with "Sleepwalk with Me."

The strategy has also proven successful for bigger movie studios.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ARBITRAGE")

RICHARD GERE: (As Robert Miller) World events all revolve around five things: M-O-N-E-Y.

BRIT MARLING: ( As Brooke Miller) Why sell our company? We make a great return.

SUSAN SARANDON: (As Ellen Miller) How much money do we need? Do you want to be the richest guy in the cemetery?

BARCO: The Richard Gere film "Arbitrage" reportedly set a new record for combined sales in theaters and VOD in September. Lionsgate reports the movie made $11 million in profits through the Internet, cable and satellite TV, in addition to $7 million in theaters.

PATRICK CORCORAN: It runs the risk of cannibalizing the theatrical audience and moving them into the less valuable home market.

BARCO: Patrick Corcoran heads the National Association of Theater Owners. He says they protested and threatened to pull films from their screens last year, when some major studios began to release their films to homes early with premium VOD.

CORCORAN: In the home market, not every individual is paying. You're paying for the household. You can have as many people as you want. I mean we think that it gives away a lot of money that otherwise could be going to the distributors and theater owners.

BARCO: Audiences may still love going to the movies, but expect to see more films available at the same time, or first, on the smaller screens.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News

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