Film glut makes screen grabs a tall order

Australia

SYDNEY — Whether via theatrical release, ancillary or newer media, going to market with an indie film is no day at the beach in Oz.

The proliferation of niche product makes competition for screens tough. “It is consistently hard to get the screens and long runs that some films need as word of mouth kicks in,” says Rialto Distribution boss Kelly Rogers.

Smaller indie films will struggle in a market where some so-called arthouses play fast and loose with their programming, accepting prints of major fare such as “Casino Royale” because it’s based on a book.

But the good news for the indies is that the still-out-of-reach world of digital downloads may come into play soon as a distribution option. It’s an election year in Oz, and for the first time in a decade, the opposition Labor Party is getting traction with a range of issues — including bandwidth.

Australian broadband capacity lags so far behind the rest of the developed world that only the most determined individual downloads films or TV programs; the mainstream waits impatiently for the situation to improve.

“In Australia, kids still go to the videostore,” observes Hopscotch distribution co-topper Troy Lum.

While that means the DVD era will last longer Down Under and rentals remain particularly strong, distribs report limited activity from telco Telstra, which launched direct-download Web site Bigpond Movies more than a year ago.

On the TV front, feevee Foxtel’s movies-on-demand service, Foxtel Box Office, reported sales of 20 million in its first three years of operation, but terrestrial television sales remain flat, and feevee sales have plateaued.

“Now it’s about finding new media,” Lum says.

One new revenue channel for distribs of niche product is airlines. The explosion of personal video players in coach class has given them a toehold in a realm previously dominated by the majors.

BOX OFFICE OVERVIEW

Top Film 2006:
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”: $28 million
Total B.O.: $650 million
Total number of releases: 337

Recent Pickups
“Amazing Grace” (Rialto)
“Evening” (Hopscotch)
“Deliver Us From Evil” (Roadshow)
“La Vie en rose” (Icon)
“Asterix and the Vikings” (Madman)

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