Digital premieres of films like "Bachelorette" go viral before ever hitting theaters.
I love going to movie theaters. The crunch of the popcorn, the anticipation of the crowd and the sheer thrill of being overwhelmed by images on such a larger–than–life scale is a huge part of what makes film great. It’s an event.
It might seem odd, then, that I am such a proponent of VOD, the video–on–demand paradigm that is becoming an increasingly legitimate release platform for independent films. These films will often be premiered on VOD either before their theatrical debuts (called an “ultra” release), or simultaneously with a theatrical release (called “day–and–date”). Last month, the film “Bachelorette” became one of the most successful VOD releases yet as the first film to reach number one on iTunes without ever receiving a wide release in theatres.
“Bachelorette” is only the most recent and highest–profile film to find success on VOD. Many others have found digital homes outside of theaters, like 2011’s “Margin Call” and 2010’s “All Good Things.” These films were released using a multitude of on–demand outlets, from cable and satellite providers like DirecTV and Comcast, to web–based companies like iTunes and YouTube. “Bachelorette” was distributed by RADiUS, The Weinstein Company’s new label specializing in alternative distribution, which has recently inked a deal with Netflix to stream its titles.
VOD demonstrates the changing ways in which people are receiving visual content. Despite my love of cinemas, even I have found that it is very difficult to reserve two–hour chunks of time for a trip to the theatre, regardless of how well–reviewed the film is. And yet, no matter how busy I get, I am still likely to end my evening with a quick perusal of the new Netflix Instant releases or iTunes rentals as I curl up in bed with my laptop.
VOD service is also a great option for heartland audiences who have traditionally been overlooked by independent releases. Nearly all movies open in New York and Los Angeles, but now people between the coasts don’t have to wait to see the same buzzy festival flicks.
Distributors believe VOD to be a great marketing tool for films, building strong word–of–mouth momentum before they ever hit theaters — without an expensive marketing campaign, and generating revenue all the while. Yet the theatrical release is still an essential part of the rollout plan. Viewers want to be assured of quality, so films need the mainstream publicity only a movie in theaters will garner; audiences might be deterred from watching a movie that was made specifically for a smaller screen, which implies a lack of legitimacy.
It may seem counterintuitive, but distributors like RADiUS insist that VOD and theatrical releases fuel each other, creating a mutually beneficial feedback loop. If you have a good film, the logic goes, it can’t hurt to show it to as many people as possible, regardless of the format.
This philosophy on movie distribution will only make smaller films more accessible to a broader audience. Indie films can get buried at the box office, especially when they are only released in a few cities, in a few theatres. But this new, easy, and relatively cheap multi–platform marketing and release system ensures that good films find their audiences, instead of audiences having to hunt them down at the multiplex.