After establishing itself as a lucrative platform for independent filmmakers, Apple’s iTunes is starting to get more access to their movies. The company started offering IFC Films’ “The Trip to Italy” earlier this week exclusively for two weeks before the Steve Coogan comedy is released on other digital platforms.
Should the film sell well, iTunes is likely to start getting even more exclusives from other independent distributors — which should prove especially beneficial to Apple as it faces increased competition from Amazon, Netflix, Walmart’s Vudu and VOD platforms run by cable and satellite operators. All are looking to tout exclusive titles to their customers as a way to attract more consumers and boost revenue.
“IFC Films very much appreciates and values our continued working relationship with iTunes,” said IFC’s executive VP of business development, Lisa Schwartz. “‘The Trip to Italy’ was a successful theatrical release for IFC Films, and partnering with iTunes on an early digital release is a great way to extend the film’s reach in light of the success we saw with our 2010 release of ‘The Trip.'”
Apple also has previously offered “L.A. Plays Itself,” “The Act of Killing” and “Palo Alto” as notable iTunes exclusives.
This year, “Dallas Buyers Club” was the most purchased indie title on iTunes, according to Apple.
While the company doesn’t disclose specific numbers, the Matthew McConaughey vehicle topped “12 Years a Slave,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Snowpiercer,” “Chef,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Her,” “Enough Said,” “August: Osage County” and “Bad Words,” which rounded out the top 10.
Overall, “Snowpiercer” generated more than $8 million in sales from digital and VOD platforms, according to the Weinstein Co.’s Radius. Radius declined to break out just how much came from iTunes. Theatrically, it earned $4.5 million in the U.S.
The sci-fier, which stars Chris Evans, debuted on iTunes two weeks after the film was being released in theaters this summer. So far, its gross on iTunes is neck-and-neck with that of the comedy “Bachelorette,” Radius’ highest-grossing film on digital platforms, it said. “Bachelorette” was priced higher than “Snowpiercer,” meaning that the Evans vehicle generated more overall buys.
Radius-TWC co-president Tom Quinn praised iTunes’ marketing and programming teams for being film fans. “They have a great handle on where these kinds of films will fit in on the platform and in the marketplace,” he told Variety. “They’re there at the premieres to understand what the films are. We’re all speaking the same language. The consumers are an extension of that.”
“ITunes has been supportive of independent and specialty films for a long time now,” added Jason Janego, co-president at Radius-TWC. “They’re people who put a lot of thought into what films will perform and they believe in and will get some kind of spotlight that might not otherwise. That’s important for people like us who make money in this kind of pool.”
Apple has especially promoted its ability to put a spotlight on indie titles and extending the life of the films on home entertainment platforms as Sundance and other film festivals are starting to ramp up, beginning next month.
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Sepideh” launched on iTunes, marking the first time a film was released on the platform and Sundance at the same time.
In March, iTunes launched a Kickstarter page to back indie film productions.
“Beneath the Harvest Sky,” “Bright Days Ahead” and “The Bachelor Weekend” were also released on iTunes simultaneously with their debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival, while “Palo Alto” was available as a pre-order.
The release of “The Trip to Italy” on iTunes will also include the kinds of extra features that come with traditional DVD and Blu-ray releases. Apple already had been offering such extras for more high-profile Hollywood fare, but it’s also seen as another way to boost sales for indie titles.
Apple has positioned iTunes Extras to filmmakers as a way to add and update content at any time, which it touts as an advantage to raise the profile of titles.
“As soon as you watch (the film), there’s additional bonus content you can dive into,” Quinn said. “That’s not possible on every platform. It was a big part of our overall promotional launch.”
iTunes is available in 119 countries, and claims to have over half a billion users.
To date, Apple says it has sold over 800 million devices — iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches — that come installed with iTunes.
The iTunes Store generated all time record billings of $5.4 billion in the September quarter, up 22% year over last year, Apple said. The store sells films, TV shows, books and music.