IFC pix play Comcast

NEW YORK — The trend toward making movies available on the same day in theaters, video-on-demand and pay-per-view took a big leap forward Monday with the news that 9 million Comcast digital subscribers will soon have access to two independent pics per month distributed by Chuck Dolan’s IFC Entertainment.

First batch of movies, coming in March, includes the mockumentary “CSA: The Confederate States of America,” exec produced by Spike Lee; “American Gun,” with Donald Sutherland, Forest Whitaker and Marcia Gay Harden; “Russian Dolls,” with Audrey Tautou; and “Sorry, Haters,” starring Robin Wright Penn.

Comcast subscribers will pay $5.99 every time they call up an IFC movie on demand. IFC and Comcast will split the fee roughly 50/50.

“This agreement creates a national arthouse for independent film lovers across the country,” said Jonathan Sehring, prexy of IFC Entertainment.

Josh Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Media, said one of his goals is “to drive the video-on-demand technology,” which, he added, could become a solid revenue generator for independent movies.

To keep the focus on VOD, Sapan said IFC would not move up the window of the DVD release of these movies the way Mark Cuban has done with last month’s simultaneous release of Steven Soderbergh’s low-budget “Bubble” in Cuban’s Landmark theaters, on the subscription channel HD Net and in DVD stores.

IFC in Theaters is the umbrella concept for the day/date release, and Rainbow parent company Cablevision has also signed up for the movies, making them available to about 2 million customers in the New York City area in March.

Matt Bond, head of programming for Comcast, said the beauty of the IFC deal is that “we get these movies to our subscribers at very low cost. All we’re doing is loading a digital file on our servers.”

By contrast, it would cost IFC millions of dollars to distribute the movies to theaters throughout the U.S.

Sapan said he’s negotiating with all the other major cable operators to take IFC in Theaters. If the movies become widely available, he said, it will help to ease the frustration of people in Middle America who read rave reviews of indie films that end up playing theatrically only in New York, Los Angeles and a few other big cities.

Theatrical exhibitors are unlikely to rise up in anger over the day/date release of the IFC movies in VOD because most theaters chains would probably not play them anyway.

Major studios are unlikely to emulate the IFC in Theaters concept because the marketing of a pic in theatrical distribution injects that film into the cultural bloodstream, setting the model for future release on DVD, PPV, pay TV, cable TV and all of the other domestic ancillary markets.

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