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The Distribution Beat

Mar 23, 2010 12:00 PM, By Eric Melin

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The seemingly bleak future of independent film distribution was on a lot of filmmakers' minds last week at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

On a panel pessimistically titled "Nobody Wants to Watch Your Film: Realities of Online Film Distribution," Peter Becker, president of the Criterion Collection disagreed right away with the prevailing sentiment when he said: "There are tons of people who want to watch your movie online."

It may be easy take for granted that information about movies is now so readily available online. Besides having a deep database of details about thousands of films, IMDB has a list of plot keywords for each movie about a mile long. If you want a movie that features an inappropriate teacher/student relationship and a theme of police corruption that's based on a novel, you can find it.

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One genre of film has benefitted greatly from specific subject searches, according to Becker. "Documentaries have been incredibly successful in developing an audience online, due in part to the searchability of the Web and the film's topic areas of interest," he says.

Still, finding reliable revenue streams in the digital space is the real challenge. One possibility that all the panelists seemed to agree on was a sort of EZ Pass, where users that have paid a subscription fee would be recognized across multiple websites and content providers without having to provide login information and payment every time they want to watch something.

It seems that this is where Internet behavior is headed, since phone applications and social networks are becoming more and more integrated into our online experience. As users continue to adopt new online platforms every day, it's all about ease-of-use—the fewer road blocks to content, the better.

During the panel, Sara Pollack from YouTube agreed that the EZ Pass model is starting to gain some traction within the industry, even as she explained the site's newest rental project, the YouTube screening room, which aims to break down the barrier between filmmaker and fan, giving the artist direct revenue. She compared it to what bands without a record label are doing in the music industry right now.

"Anybody can be a partner in YouTube rentals. Unlike the Hulu model, this is about opening access," she says. "The filmmaker sets the price—how much, and for how long. You control all of your rights; you don't give YouTube control."

In other integration news, digital distribution service Distribber had two big announcements to share at SXSW. The company finalized new distribution partnerships with Netflix and Amazon to go along with its iTunes delivery. It was also announced that IndieGoGo—which became the largest online film funding platform in 2009—has acquired Distribber to offer clients a full range of tools from funding to distribution.

"Now our creative clients will have an opportunity to distribute their completed works," says Slava Rubin, chief of strategy and marketing at IndieGoGo. "By adding distribution to the suite of tools that IndieGoGo offers, clients can stay with one company and receive consistency in execution and service."

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