Distribution arm brings pics to cable near you

Back in olden times — like last year — to experience the Tribeca Film Festival, you’d have to be in New York, manage to get tickets to the movies, then wait in line to get in. Not anymore. These days the festival is coming to you.

That’s because the fest is launching Tribeca Film, which will present a dozen movies on demand — seven day-and-date with their festival screening — in up to 40 million homes in deals with operators including Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision and Verizon FiOS.

The initiative will then acquire and release other movies year-round, not only on demand but in hotels, on airplanes, in subscription and ad-supported digital platforms as well as old-school limited theatrical and DVD releases. (Tribeca Film Festival Virtual launches this spring, bringing eight films online day-and-date to people paying a $45 premium.)

“We’ve decided our brand was ready for this,” says festival chief operating officer Jon Patricof, adding that the mix of new and traditional platforms is crucial to making this work. “We’re trying to be as comprehensive as possible so viewers have multiple touch points to access these films.”

The festival brand and American cinephiles aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits — the primary goal is helping filmmakers.

“Film festivals don’t function the way they used to, creating buzz and getting movies sold into the marketplace,” says Tribeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoff Gilmore. “We have to go back to the beginning and (ask), ‘How does an independent film find an audience?’ This will amplify visibility for films that don’t otherwise have hooks.”

While the festival felt it was ready to undertake this project, Gilmore says having longtime fest backer American Express step up as sponsor for the new initiative “was a game-changer,” not just because of the marketing push but because it might actually allow filmmakers to reap more money for their work.

For Jessica Igoe, American Express director of mobile sponsorship marketing, it was a natural step — the company has been involved since the festival was launched after 9/11 to help rebuild Lower Manhattan. “Now there’s a void in opportunities for indie films, and we need a new business model,” she says. “This could be a business solution for their creative ideas.”

Having built the festival on a “partnership model” with AmEx and others served them well, Patricof says, in navigating the complex deals required to bring these movies to so many different platforms.

The timing is right on many levels — the Tribeca brand is approaching the kind of awareness levels that could place it alongside Sundance and IFC in the indie movie on-demand menu. But more importantly, on-demand itself is coming of age. “This is a very exciting time for on-demand,” says Bob Nocera, director of marketing for new video services at Cox Communications, which was looking to expand its movie offerings when Tribeca approached. “We’re seeing growth in the numbers of users and in buys.”

The multisystem cable operators recently teamed up for a national campaign for movies-on-demand in general, Nocera says, and marketing this event on the barker channel, in email blasts and direct mail — aided by the media buzz surrounding the festival — will aid and feed off that effort.

Everyone involved emphasizes that this first year is an experiment. “We’re not saying we’ve solved all the problems,” Gilmore says. “This is only a start.”

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