the grass is greener on the internet

Time for a new film distribution model
July 6, 2009, 9:26 pm
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The South Australian Film Corporation wants to revolutionise film.

The Australian film industry, unlike the American and Indian behemoths, does not churn out mega-productions. [‘Australia’ doesn’t count.]

What Australian film offers is a completely different product; arthouse dramas, gritty portrayals of suburban life and a voice for Indigenous stories. So why are we using the same distribution models?

I went to a presentation by the CEO of the SAFC a few weeks ago. They’re trying to encourage more low to mid level budget film-makers to come to South Australia. For emerging artists it’s a cheaper location with no sacrifice on scenery.

But there’s no point having great films being produced if they’re consistently battling the norms of distribution and performing under budget.

The current model is one you’d be familiar with. Films make most of their revenues in the first week of showings, and a failure to make it big or receive good reviews within that time mean that it’s doomed. This means key factors of success are; the budget for pre-release promotion, the reputations of the actors/director and most of all the distribution. They need to be reaching as many theatres as possible at convenient times.

Indie films rarely have any of the three.

They rely on word of mouth, reviews and awards to build their reputation. They suffer from not having the budget to be shown at regular times in larger cinemas, which means that they do not register in the mass consciousness unless they win awards. Even if they do manage a win at Cannes, the inconvenience is enough to put off all but the most enthusiastic.

I’d love to be able to watch more indie movies…but they are never available when I want to see them. Trying to find a time to see ‘Samson and Delilah’ was difficult, and it’s been deemed a moderate success.

So please, it is time for a new film distribution model. With Bigpond movies starting to introduce home movie viewing and broadband access picking up over the next few years, they need to ‘capture the long tail’ and look beyond the norm that movies need to be seen in a theatre. Release indie films online, gain audiences and save money.

It’s a big step. But surely the example of Youtube shows it can work.


10 Comments so far
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Thanks for that article Simon – didn’t realise they were doing it in the US! Hoping they will integrate themselves into larger services like Bigpond though 🙂

Love your Applebox concept too, after seeing DVD vending machines in Europe and a mailing service in Singapore it’s about time we started catching up!

Comment by katherineliew

BigPond Movies has a DVD distribution system! I’m a member!)

Comment by Christopher

I completely agree with you. The problem is that the online distribution models will never be profitable without the Hollywood juggernaut. Small indie productions simply won’t provide the revenue required to make it back on the massive infrastructure investment that downloads require. However, Hollywood isn’t playing ball. The standard business agreement is: DVDs (and DVD rentals) are made available on average 180 days from the cinema release. Downloads are then made available three months after that. However, the download sites only have the films for three months before it’s yanked off again for ‘Video on Demand’ (pay TV) services. A year and a half after the cinema release, the movie comes back to downloads as a ‘library title!’ This model creates nothing but confusion for the user, and is designed to disadvantage download businesses. Until Hollywood changes their business model to allow for all distribution channels to be made available at the same time (reducing the downloads disadvantage) and they relax their obscene DRM requirements, digital distribution will never become the norm – and your utopian future of a new model for indie films will be dead! Boo.

Comment by Christopher

Thanks for the inside input! Do you think if the move towards online distribution started from indie films (supported by funding from bodies like SAFC) and the model was successful on smaller sites there could be enough pressure for Hollywood to change its mind? Or are they going to be too centred on VoD profits?

I’m curious…did BigPond consider streaming?

Comment by katherineliew

Thanks for your blog. At Quickflix we not only see the long tail at work but also the power of online communities for generating buzz and awareness of critically acclaimed independent titles alongside the mega blockbuster. Over 85% of Quickflix’s 36,000 titles are requested to our members’ Queues (their individual playlists) every month. Demand for the top 100 titles (mostly being the big blockbusters) represents less than 20% of total demand. Demand for critically acclaimed Australian independent titles such as The Black Balloon is very strong through Quickflix and is still strong some years after their release date. Quickflix now has over 200,000 Australian movie fans who subscribe to our movie news, reviews and ratings. As a sign of how things are changing in the film distribution industry we’re about to engage with our community in a collaboration in the production of an Australian movie from the very early stages from script development, casting and even recruitment of extras. The internet is bringing about some exciting changes in the film industry and its an overwhelming positive for independent film makers.

Comment by Stephen Langsford

You’ve got a great service and it’s awesome that it’s working for indie DVDs. Would you ever consider online content delivery so that members can get access instantly (and films that don’t make it to a DVD run can be shown)?

Comment by katherineliew

Hi, absolutely because Quickflix ultimately is about the universe of quality, feature length content and your choice in the way you enjoy watching it– DVD, Blu-ray, download and streaming. Stay tuned for news on download and streaming- there are some barriers to overcome before it really takes off in Australia– namely broadband and the investment in homes to IP connect the TV but there are alot of exciting developments going on in the industry.

Comment by Stephen Langsford

Group collab for a local film event .. sounds like a great idea Stephen! Will be keen to see how it pans out. I think there is great opportunity to more closely connect DVD groups to the local film industry. We have a symbiotic relationship .. film production and DVD release, but we sit and the end of the cycle and don’t connect to the beginning. I think it’s time to change that and it’s great to hear you’re already heading down that path.

And thanks Katherine for checking out APPLEBOX! We’re still very small but are working on getting bigger 🙂

Comment by Simon Gilligan

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