IFC fuels day-and-date debate

First Take offers PPV for arthouse films

A first year’s take of $3.6 million sounds like chump change in the lucrative world of cable programming, but for Josh Sapan, prexy of IFC parent company Rainbow Media, it’s something to crow about.

The figure reps more than 1 million digital cable subscribers throughout the country plunking down $5.95 to call up pay-per-view showings of relatively obscure movies such as “Black Sheep,” a horror satire from New Zealand, “The Boss of It All,” from Lars Von Trier, and the Alain Resnais-directed French romantic drama “Private Fears in Public Places” while they’re in limited release theatrically.

The service is called IFC First Take, and since it pockets 60% of every PPV dollar, Sapan says it has inched its way into profitability faster than IFC’s business plan had forecast.

Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Entertainment, says First Take, which launched in March 2006 and schedules two fresh day/date movies a month, now reaches about 40 million homes through various cable operators and DirecTV.

Three titles that have done particularly well, Sehring says, are the thriller “Unknown,” with Jim Caviezel and Greg Kinnear; “Alone With Her,” a suspenser with Colin Hanks; and the Frencherotic drama “Exterminating Angels,” which Sehring says tallied 60,000 buys.

Sehring makes it clear that First Take is an outlet only for movies that figure to have a hard time drawing people into the theaters. For example, “You Kill Me,” the IFC-distributed movie starring Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni and Luke Wilson, which opened in theaters last month, will not go to First Take because it’s projected to pull seven figures at the multiplexes. (The movie has grossed $829,000 so far in limited release.)

But the National Assn. of Theater Owners opposes First Take because, says spokesman Patrick Corcoran, it diminishes the aura of movie theaters. Theatergoers may say to themselves: If this movie is any good, why is it also on TV?

Sehring answers by saying that First Take allows people around the country to see movies that will never get to theaters in their cities.

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