Store opens doors to low-profile videos

ITunes has cracked open to independent video producers for the first time.

Apple’s digital content store on Tuesday started selling “That,” a snowboarding action pic made for DVD by Forum Snowboards. Move reps the first time iTunes has sold video content that didn’t come from an established network, studio or distributor.

Though the Mac maker wouldn’t comment on future plans, the deal with Forum indicates iTunes will selectively sell video outside of its high-profile deals with companies like Disney, NBC and Lionsgate. (Anyone can distribute video podcasts for free on iTunes.)

Given iTunes’ dominance in the nascent digital download market, that’s sure to generate hordes of interest among independent film producers in all genres who don’t have a distributor.

Deal comes as Apple on Tuesday also started selling content from Wasserman Media Group’s Studio411, a financier and distributor of skateboarding, motocross, ski and snowboard vids. Action sports studio is the first to get onto iTunes.

But in a sign that Apple isn’t quite sure what to do with pics outside its strict categories, “That” and Studio411′s content are being sold in iTunes TV section at $1.99, instead of in the feature film section, where most pics are $9.99.

“That,” which runs about 30 minutes, was released on DVD in September and sold in specialty sports shops for $29.99.

Forum first asked its DVD distrib to gets “That” onto iTunes. When it didn’t succeed, the company started talking to Apple directly.

Though iTunes does sell some short films in its movies section for $1.99, they all come from established names such as Shorts Intl. and Sundance. Apple apparently wasn’t ready to put direct-to-DVD action sports pics among the small number of shorts and Hollywood features in its movies section.

After nearly 10 months of negotiations to get onto the service, however, Forum was willing to try the lower price point in order to get on iTunes. With the exception of some miniseries and telepics, all the content in iTunes’ TV section costs $1.99.

“People are not buying DVDs the way they used to, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to get (illegal) versions of our content online, so we’re thrilled to be able to pioneer an agreement like this with iTunes,” said Mike Nusenow, general manager of the Program, Forum’s parent company.

Forum’s snowboarding DVDs typically sell around 150,000 units, but that figure has declined substantially in the past two years as the DVD market has flattened. Given its almost exclusively young male aud, the company has been directly impacted by the shift to online distribution and has seen its content heavily pirated.

Forum and Studio411 should both benefit from the much broader audience on iTunes vs. the relatively small number of people who frequent action sports shops.

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