Duo conceive ‘Babys’ plan

IFC's Sehring: Strategy vital to indie pix, VOD future

HOLLYWOOD — MGM and niche cabler IFC are using the simultaneous video-on-demand and DVD release of John Sayles’ “Casa de los Babys” to solidify their VOD ties.

Pic grossed less than $500,000 during a theatrical release last fall. The DVD release was pushed back from today to April 20, the same day IFC on Demand makes it available to all cable, satellite and Internet VOD services.

It’s a strategy IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring believes is vital to the future of both indie films and VOD.

While cable operators and video-on-demand service providers complain about timely access to new theatrical releases, the two companies are strengthening their union.

“It’s a tough business,” Sehring said, noting in particular the difficulty of finding available theaters for indie films as more major releases gobble up an increasing number of screens on opening weekend. When they do get distribution, small films are now competing with bigger budget movies even in smaller venues.”

No big uptick yet

Although there hasn’t been a measurable increase in VOD or DVD revenue on any of the movies since the strategy began with the introduction of IFC on Demand and the day-and-date DVD/VOD release of “The Business of Strangers” in August 2002, Sehring says it’s critical to the success of indie films and VOD to capitalize on the national marketing of DVD.

Homevideo revenue on “Strangers” was more than double the $1 million theatrical gross, he said, and the simultaneous VOD has not cannibalized any DVD revenue.

Promoting VOD will benefit both consumers and indie filmmakers in the long term, IFC believes, especially as digital cable and broadband reach critical mass over the next three to five years.

“The success starts with the programmer’s responsibility to deliver fresh, timely and desirable content to cable operators and their subscribers,” said Gregg Hill, IFC exec veep of affiliate sales and marketing.

According to Sehring, the traditional platform release strategy from market to market that hinges on critical praise and word of mouth no longer works in most cases.

“Fewer and fewer movies work on a platform basis. We can take advantage of a lot of synergies available in the press on a national basis. In order to make budgets go further and take advantage of press, we need to make (smaller films) available to consumers on a day-and-date basis.

“It doesn’t make sense for a distributor to keep spending money that he will never get back, but maybe there’s an audience even if it didn’t get the reviews it needed or the distribution.”

Simultaneous release

Sehring even suggests that some films would be best served with a simultaneous release in theaters, on DVD and via VOD.

And that’s exactly what Sehring plans to do on a selected and limited-run basis once IFC reopens the renovated Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village this fall as part of the new IFC Center. Cablevision, owner of IFC parent Rainbow Media Holdings, bought the historic arthouse, which Sehring said will serve as IFC’s new headquarters and feature a venue with digital projection.

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