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Friday, March 31, 2006

Netflix's growing role as indie movie distributor

Who knows more about the movies you watch and enjoy than your pals at Netflix? They're starting to become a powerful player when it comes to marketing movies - and they're only going to get more powerful. When a new movie comes out on DVD - even if it hasn't ever had a theatrical release - they can call your attention to it if it fits your preferences.


Netflix has been dabbling a bit with buying rights to movies that don't get distribution, but might appeal to a subset of the Netflix audience. They've always played this down, saying, we don't want to be in the distribution business in a major way.


But this Anne Thompson column in The Hollywood Reporter says that Netflix exec Ted Sarandos has so far acquired rights to 175 features and documentaries. That's a surprisingly big number to me.


Sarandos emphasizes the company's main advantage as a distributor: streamlined marketing. "There's no inefficiency in marketing, no billboard spending," he says. "We're working on creating the economies of a sequel, without making it first. Every movie has an audience. It's reaching them that's the science."


Thompson writes:

    More distribution experiments are in the offing. Sarandos plans to buy about 100 movies a year, including some for theatrical release. With "Cowboy del Amor," the company successfully booked the docu into several cities, grabbing newspaper reviews -- which direct-to-DVD movies can't get. With its first foray into production financing, Netflix fully financed the docu "The Comedians of Comedy," licensed it to Showtime and released it to retail DVD stores.


    Most recently, Netflix is partnering 50-50 with Roadside Attractions to acquire and release "Puffy Chair," a low-concept Sundance romance with marketing challenges that is expected to earn positive reviews when it opens on five digital screens June 2. "We can reach people through targeted e-mails who are otherwise not reading traditional media," Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen says. "It's one of the best uses of the Internet: utilizing individual, direct, quick feedback. They collect information on a large number of people, process it and act on it."


Here's a 2003 article from MovieMaker that talks about Sarandos' strategy back then. (At the time, they'd picked up rights to six documentaries.) Here's Sarandos' bio from the Netflix site.

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