This fall the world’s oldest film festival, Venice, takes a pioneering step into cyber-space, one of several sprocket operas to move toward creating a mirror image of itself in the virtual universe. For the first time, Venice will be putting part of its official selection online. Fifteen features in its Horizons section will be streamed for the public day-and-date.

Venice will also allow films from its competition section to be viewed online by buyers via a deal with Cinando, a B2B online database and screening platform backed by the Cannes Market. Cinando has similar deals with many other fests, while Festival Scope, which is facilitating the Horizon streamings, offers a similar B2B service.

Such services allows sales companies to show pics to fest programmers and buyers in an easy and efficient way, although Cannes Market executive director Jerome Paillard is confident buyers will want to preserve the special nature of market and festival premieres. “Sales companies really want to push the buyers to see the film in a theater. You need to create an event, and the event is much more significant when people go to the screenings,” he says.

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Two years ago, Rotterdam set up a YouTube channel so the public could watch some of the films backed by the fest’s Hubert Bals Fund, such as Aneta Lesnikovska’s “Does It Hurt?,” which has attracted more than 9 million views. Rotterdam’s artistic director Rutger Wolfson says the festival is “helping the films we love find an audience.”

Tribeca began streaming fest films in 2010, and last year it launched the Tribeca Online Film Festival, which added live streaming of select events, as well as videos online from other events, such as panel discussions, which are posted day by day.

“Audiences from wherever they are in the United States can be a part of the Tribeca Film Festival, both interacting with it by seeing films, but also looking at everything from red carpets to seminars,” says Geoff Gilmore, chief creative officer at Tribeca Enterprises.

This year the Hamptons festival launches its social-media initiative, which will see a team of social-media reporters provide real-time coverage of the fest. “It is the place of the festival to keep it live in a different way,” says Hamptons’ director of programming David Nugent, who sees a symbiotic relationship between online and offline activity. “We hope the one drives the other.”

Festivals are also helping filmmakers harness the power of the Internet. Rotterdam’s Cinema Reloaded program, for example, is an experiment in crowd-funding online, which mirrors indie filmmakers’ growing interest in alternative financing models. Fests also help filmmakers build awareness online for their films, and to develop a fan-base.

“We are all just trying to find a way for some of these smaller films to be able to stay in the dialogue,” says Nugent.

Use of online tools go hand-in-hand with the desire of festivals to become year-round film hubs by creating a community of film lovers. “What it’s done, in addition to generating buzz and excitement around the festival, it has really allowed us to sustain excitement about our offerings year round,” says Jennifer Bell, Toronto’s VP communications.

Toronto is launching its own smart-phone app this year and the fest launched a YouTube channel a year ago that houses its own content as well as third-party videos.

“We know that the audiences are online 24/7, 365; they aren’t just tuning into Tribeca for those 12 days in April (during the festival), and we know we have to foster and build that community,” says Matt Spangler, exec VP marketing and content at Tribeca Enterprises. “And we are then responsible as curators to help the filmmakers that are within that community to promote projects.”

“More and more, these festivals are becoming trademarks, beacons signalling the good films — the authored films that are rare commodities in the movie landscape,” says Michel Reilhac, exec director of Arte France Cinema and director of film acquisitions for Arte France.

“Festivals shouldn’t just think of the Web as a way to exist virtually for people who can’t attend the event, but should also use it to boost attendance and diversify ways of participating in the festival,” Reilhac adds.

“One of the things that this new world does is it really talks about participatory culture in a different way,” says Gilmore. “We are not simply talking about consumption. We are talking about people participating both in the evolution of that film and its consumption, and the way it finds audiences.

“It’s not to say that festivals then become dinosaurs, but they do become different kinds of events, that are multi-tiered, multifaceted and even evolve in terms of the type of content that they are presenting.”