Tribeca Films goes after digital distribution

Tribeca Film Festival 2012

Tribeca Films, the fledgling distribution arm of Tribeca Enterprises, hasn’t had any runaway hits at the box office just yet. But that’s not really its primary focus.

Taking the long view of the 21st century film biz, Tribeca is setting its sights on digital distribution. And with a string of cable VOD successes — led by horror title “Grave Encounters,” Ed Burns’ “Newlyweds” and the Keira Knightley romantic drama “Last Night” — the 2-year-old division’s brass claims they’ve had a strong start.

“We’ve ramped up very quickly,” says Todd Green, VP and general manager of Tribeca Films, who notes the company reaches 40 million cable homes as well as key online players such as iTunes and Vudu. The only major MSO that doesn’t include Tribeca pics, according to Green, is AT&T-Uverse.

Per Green, the company has a “huge competitive advantage” in the crowded VOD space because of Tribeca’s brand-name recognition, which cable operators are employing to push films to consumers not only during Tribeca’s film festival, but year-round. And bucking initial concerns, the brand has traveled well beyond Gotham, says Green. “Our percentage of usage is over 50% outside of the Northeast.”

As Tribeca enters its second full year, it’s already set to launch four titles out of April’s fest. Taken together, the quartet — a comedy “The Giant Mechanical Man,” indie drama “Death of a Superhero,” French thriller “Sleepless Night” and the doc “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story” — embodies the company’s strategy of recreating the fest experience on VOD. Tribeca Film estimates it will release 25 titles this year, four more than in 2011.

However, Tribeca Enterprises’ Nancy Schafer says theatrical is still a necessary evil — calling it “the price of doing business” in order to generate reviews and awareness. The company’s most recent release “Detachment,” for example, will travel to at least 12 theatrical markets.

Sophie Hyde, a producer on the doc “Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure,” says Tribeca’s release of her film last year “worked in a way that suited the film, with VOD release and lots of digital word-spreading, plus a select theatrical around the country.” The film expanded to more than 20 cities, she says.

But given the financial smokescreen that still surrounds VOD, it’s hard to tell how well that film, or any of Tribeca’s titles for that matter, have performed. As Hyde notes, “Was it successful financially? We don’t know yet.”

Still, Tribeca seems committed to indie distribution, no matter the challenges of the ever-evolving niche biz.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” adds Schafer. “But we’re trying to be smart about how we go about it.”

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