Eschewing a conventional theatrical release, Magnolia Pictures tallied more than 160,000 online views for Wayne Wang’s “Princess Nebraska” over the weekend.
Pic, which marks the first YouTube Screening Room feature film, had its world premiere at midnight Friday. It’ll be streamed for six weeks.
Roughly translated, the 160,000 views would have landed the pic around the 15th spot on the box office charts had it debuted theatrically instead.
The tally is “significant,” said YouTube Screening Room manager Sara Pollack, given that the film is geo-blocked in every region outside the U.S. and more than half of YouTube’s traffic is international.
Free-streaming a new feature film from a name filmmaker is a first. Michael Moore streamed his doc “Slacker Uprising” for free on various approved sites that were also selling the DVD, and many young filmmakers share their wares online on sites like Jaman and Hulu, but movies such as Richard Linklater’s “Slackers,” which free-streamed on Hulu, are classic titles already available on DVD.
Cinetic already supplies YouTube with content in return for a share of ad revenues based on traffic. (Revenues on “Princess Nebraska” will be shared with Magnolia.) Cinetic Rights Management exec Matt Dentler said the company plans additional pay-per-download and free-streaming deals going forward, including bigger scaled releases.
Viral marketing aided awareness of “Princess Nebraska,” which explores a young Asian woman’s experience in America. Weeks before the movie debuted, eight YouTube webisodes shot by flipcam and cell phone by the pic’s star generated traffic.
Pollack said while YouTube heavily promoted the film by strategically placing the trailer and webisodes on various parts of the site, “Nebraska’s” content and relatable style meant more to the film’s success online than the presence of a name filmmaker like Wang.
“It has to do with whether users connect with the content,” she said. “It’s a real-time story of a young woman faced with challenges shot in a manner frequent YouTube viewers are familiar with.”
“Princess Nebraska” also broke through another roadblock for streaming video: The New York Times reviewed the film both in print and online; A.O. Scott praised the full-screen high-def streaming available on the site.