IFC, B-Side pact to cull ignored pics

Hunt is on for festival gems

With roughly 15,000 films screening at some 2,000 fests each year, few pics ever emerge from the clutter, let alone find theatrical distribution.

But IFC and tech firm B-Side are looking to maximize the value in more of those lesser-known festival pics, using B-Side’s proprietary software.

B-Side gathers and analyzes feedback on films from a pre-screened sample of festgoers. The two companies will collectively monitor the films posting strong audience ratings, and the most promising ones that don’t land traditional distribution deals will be aired on IFC and exploited online and in homevid.

First title brought in under the pact is “Before the Music Dies,” a doc narrated by Forest Whitaker about the state of the pop music biz, featuring interviews and perfs by Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, ?uestlove and others. It will be broadcast on IFC in early 2008.

Grassroots support for “Music” from its 300 screenings in more than 220 North American markets was captured and analyzed by B-Side’s Web applications, which provide scheduling and online forums for some 85 fests outside of Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and Sundance.

“It is an open-source acquisitions and development program that will show that the opinions of people matter,” said IFC general manager Evan Shapiro, “not just the opinions of a few old white guys in Hollywood.”

The two companies believe there are millions of dollars in revenue that could be realized across their assets, mainly IFC’s TV channel and homevid deals and B-Side’s Web download service.

In the fest environment, said B-Side chief exec Chris Hyams, “There’s a perversity in the traditional upfront payment model. As an acquirer, you’re either overpaying or underpaying. This partnership is a revenue share across all the channels.”

While it involves films, the initiative emanated from the TV side of IFC, not the Jonathan Sehring-led film unit. Selections brought in with B-Side would therefore not be automatically considered for theatrical slots; video-on-demand is a more likely scenario.

While many of the deals likely will augment IFC only incrementally, the potential is growing for hits to emerge from such new avenues, given changes in technology and audience habits. Shapiro pointed to the Web-driven “Trapped in the Closet,” which has done huge numbers for IFC.

Online user ratings of the R. Kelly soap segs point to high ratings on the channel, he said. The same dynamic is in place with B-Side, which polls a carefully selected sample to determine people’s likes and dislikes before, during and after a festival.

In all, B-Side says it reaches 2 million festgoers, with about 40% overlap in terms of the titles that play.

“You have the ability to track a festival buzz hit and match that up with metadata that they provide,” Shapiro said. “It’s like the world’s largest focus group.”

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