The indie movie market needed a kick in the pants this summer.
Other than “Chef” and the still-expanding “Boyhood,” arthouse films have struggled in theaters. But amid the doldrums, the Weinstein Co. has taken some radical steps, playing around with platforms even more than usual.
The studio’s Radius-TWC label unveiled “Snowpiercer” on-demand, with Bong Joon-ho’s film still in theaters. The picture has racked up an impressive $3.8 million over its first two weeks on VOD, while pulling in a respectable $3.9 million over five weeks of in theaters. It’s expected to become the company’s highest-grossing VOD release.
And while there are questions as to whether it could have minted more coin with a bigger theatrical play, the quirky sci-fi pic might have been tough to market to a mass audience.
“Some people used to view VOD and multiplatform releasing as a dumping ground for movies a studio doesn’t believe in theatrically,” said Tom Quinn, Radius-TWC co-president. “We believe in these movies as theatrical propositions, but the reality is, people can’t always get a baby-sitter, or they’re too busy to leave their homes.”
Last week, the company went a step further, announcing it would premiere British comedy “One Chance” on Yahoo for free, 10 days prior to theatrical release. The unprecedented step would have been taken only for a film judged to have minor theatrical potential, but it’s a significant experiment.
Exhibitors, however, were not amused. “A strong window serves both ends of the market,” National Assn. of Theatre Owners spokesman Patrick Corcoran told Variety. “If a movie performs well theatrically, it will perform well on homevideo.”
A VOD success such as “Snowpiercer” may make Hollywood more comfortable with shaking up the way a film is rolled out for audiences. But other recent developments could have a significant effect on the home-viewing scene, too. Comcast recently introduced an app that unlocks additional content for the electronic sell-through versions of “Divergent,” while Apple unveiled iTunes Extras — special editions of movies that offer bonus features, just like the DVDs of yore.
For now, “It’s really just the indies that are doing it,” said Tom Adams, founder of the home entertainment research firm, Tom Adams Research. “The majors have to live with the fact that they need exhibitors to cooperate on their bigger titles and to put them on 3,500 screens.”
Quinn argues that Radius films are in the black, thanks to VOD.
“Because of VOD first-window exploitation, more times than not our films have entered into profitability,” he said. “They’ve gone on to success in additional windows.”
Nolan Gallagher, founder of VOD distributor Gravitas Ventures, says that the on-demand business is evolving. “That’s a good thing for the industry,” he notes. “It will hopefully raise revenues across the home entertainment pie.”
Though multiplatform breakouts such as “Arbitrage” ($14 million on VOD) and “Margin Call” ($8 million) have made waves, sales figures are mostly still unavailable. Quinn hopes Radius-TWC can inspire more openness.
“Things change, but they change very slowly,” analyst Tom Adams said. “Somebody had to start reporting box office. It wasn’t always the case that studios released box office data.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that “Snowpiercer” had made $3.8 million after three weeks. It has been on VOD for two weeks.