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Saturday, October 03, 2009

An Update on the State of Indie Film Online

I worked on a piece for Variety this week that intended to examine why no online destination has emerged specifically to serve up independent films.

From the piece:

    A decade after the dot-com boom, when the Web promised to make any piece of content globally accessible to any interested viewer, a dominant online destination for indie film has failed to emerge -- though many have tried.

    Earlier this year, San Francisco-based Caachi quietly shut down, and world cinema purveyor Jaman let go most of its staff. Two of the first sites to try to connect cinephiles with streaming and downloadable indie films, GreenCine and Intertainer, have since exited that business.

As usual, there was a lot of material that didn't fit into the piece... and Snagfilms CEO Rick Allen e-mailed to take issue with some of the data I presented.

- Gary Hustwit told me his last doc, 'Helvetica,' has already broken into six-figures of iTunes earnings. He says his new film, 'Objectified,' is now available for pre-order on iTunes, and it's already in the iTunes top ten list for documentaries. Hustwit is also selling a USB drive containing the movie (pictured above). They're $75 each, and they've been produced in a limited edition of 500. Hustwit says they're selling briskly.

- Cory McAbee told me that a deluxe package of 'Stingray Sam' goodies is selling well through his site: for $49, you get a DVD, t-shirt, photobook, soundtrack CD, and two digital downloads (HD and standard definition).

- Rick Allen, CEO of doc-streaming network Snagfilms, takes issue with the traffic figures I cited in the story, supplied by Compete says the Snagfilms site gets about 100,000 unique visitors a month, compared to about six million for Hulu. Allen accurately points out that some of Hulu's most popular full-length films actually come from Snag (like 'The Future of Food' and 'Super-Size Me.') And he argues that a lot of Snagfilms content is viewed on other site, describing Snag as "a massively sub-distributed network." Unfortunately, Snag doesn't share any data of its own about how often films are viewed on its site or others, so reporters like me have no choice but to cite statistics from independent third parties like Compete or Quantcast.

- An interesting quote from Eric Lemasters, who handles digital distribution for E1 Entertainment: "iTunes and Netflix are probably leading the pack, but there’s a huge middle of the pack. Hulu is doing well, as is EZTakes. There's Amazon, Blockbuster [Movielink], CinemaNow. They all seem to be holding their own. EZTakes has done the best in that world. Snag and Jaman aren’t moving the needle much." Lemasters says 'Welcome to Macintosh' and 'The Bridge,' both docs, have been doing especially well on iTunes.

- Steve Harnsberger of Jaman says that site has no plans to shut down, but they're focusing more on providing "white label" video delivery services for other customers, like content owners, electronics manufacturers, and potentially telcos. "The Jaman site is definitely here to stay," he says. "It's a demonstration site for our technology."

- Distribution consultant Adam Chapnick of Distribber: "You have to be reminded that people like studio movies more. The reason that 90 percent of revenues online goes to studios is because most people don’t like indie movies." One reason that indie-only Web sites haven't succeeded, he believes, is that "most people don’t say, 'I’m in the mood for an independent film tonight.' They want a destination where all film can be aggregated."

- Some data points from Chapnick: "I know of one film property that's been making $50k/ month on iTunes, but it's not a feature, it's a stand-up comedy offering. I'm told by Netflix that they pay up to 30k for their [streaming] rights; of course that means they probably pay at least twice that to a really worthy title.

"But my bet is that 90 percent of indie films sell under 1000 units on iTunes, and 90 percent of indie films on Netflix are paid under $2500 for a year of [streaming] rights..."

- Some data from an anonymous source about indie content on Netflix and iTunes:

    Per-title agreement [for two years] with Netflix can go up to 5k-20k, especially if we give them a 60 day pre-dvd release window, and we have.

    Standard on one-year day-and-date ranges from .8-2k and catalog renewal can go as low as .25-.5k per if the titles is 5 years old or more...

    Per-title revenue on iTunes for one year has proven to range greatly, from $ 50 to about $ 2000 with the average well below $1k thus far, but they have only been offering indies for just over a year so let's allow them to continue to build steam.

Your comments welcome...

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  • Great information!
    I would add as a great destination site for indie films.
    Branded channels like Cinetic FilmBuff, Renderyard, Encounters 2009 and films from Content Republic are part of the great films you can watch on Babelgum for free.


    By Blogger Lyly, at 8:35 PM  

  • This is fantastic the hell out of all those "Indie Crisis" articles. Hard numbers!!

    The data on Netflix streaming is interesting but did you get any info as far as straight Netflix DVD rentals? How do they pay and how much are filmmakers making from them?

    By Blogger Unknown, at 11:19 PM  

  • Sorry, Madison - I was just digging for digital numbers, not DVD, this time around.

    By Blogger Scott Kirsner, at 7:38 PM  

  • Cinetic Rights Management actually put FUTURE OF FOOD on Hulu, for whatever that's worth...

    By Blogger Dentler, at 11:58 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger DawkAngel, at 2:40 PM  

  • The hard numbers provide an interesting perspective on the state of online distribution. It seems that one of the more important aspects of consideration should be film budget. Film with budgets in the high six-figures have less of a chance getting back the dollars. But a well-made indie flick (perhaps of the mumblecore variety) made for low five-figures might fair well.

    By Blogger DawkAngel, at 2:42 PM  

  • I think there's a lot to be said about the demographics and online behavior of people who prefer indie movies. Perhaps it's anecdotal, but I get the feeling that indie film fans would rather see these films in a renovated old theater, ala Coolidge Corner, surrounded by friends and like-minded people, rather than Hulu style. While I don't think it's nearly a dead issue, it's an interesting topic that needs more examination and discussion. Thanks!

    By Blogger Kevin, at 7:22 AM  

  • Standard on one-year day-and-date ranges from .8-2k and catalog renewal can go as low as .25-.5k per if the titles is 5 years old or more...

    holy shit - $250 for a title? that's ridiculous. i was offered more than that for non-exclusive rights to my short film.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 7:36 PM  

  • It would also be helpful to know if Netflix deals with filmmakers directly, whether for Watch Instantly or DVD, or alternatively if one has to go via a distributor or rep. And if the former, can one get the same types of deals alone as with a distributor or film rep?

    By Blogger Unknown, at 6:31 PM  

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