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Distribs focus on niche opportunities

Focus World, Radius-TWC among companies jumping into early VOD releases

When Fox Searchlight acquired “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” earlier this month, it had no intention of releasing the Duplass brothers’ film in theaters. It’s leaving that to new indie distrib Red Flag.

With that tack, Searchlight reflects the growing trend of larger indies and speciality divisions seeking creative ways to monetize films that would normally have had only a very limited release — or no release at all.

The Weinstein Co. and Focus Features, for example, have already established multiplatform distribution arms.

Last year, Focus launched Focus World, a division that digitally releases titles the larger company does not unspool theatrically. The unit focuses on VOD and includes Internet platforms and DVD, a strategy that allows Focus World to concentrate on building its digital business instead of changing Focus Features’ windowing approach, said Avy Eschenasy, Focus exec VP of strategic planning, business affairs and acquisitions.

“It’s not taking a conventional movie distribution strategy and seeing how you can enhance the value of the overall pot by trying to move up the VOD date,” Eschenasy told Variety. “It’s more about trying to develop VOD as its own platform.”

Out of Focus World’s dozen or so titles, including James Franco’s “The Broken Tower” and Liza Johnson’s Cannes 2011 Directors Fortnight entry “Return,” fewer than half will hit theaters. Filmmakers behind Focus World movies are free to partner with theatrical distribs, as the “Return” team did with Dada Films.

That presents an opportunity for attention-worthy fest pics. And if more companies look to mine digital coin from limited-release films, competition among buyers is likely to increase.

Focus World targets titles with good digital potential but whose projected B.O. grosses may not justify the required P&A spend of a large theatrical release.

Instead, the label has come up with creative ways for high-profile Focus titles to benefit Focus World pics, all within the low-cost digital space. That helps solve the promotional challenges associated with digital releases that can’t benefit from the word of mouth and marketing of a major theatrical campaign.

Focus helps draw home viewers’ attention by grouping its titles together on the on-demand menus of many cable providers. For its “New Beginners” series, for example, Focus grouped pics including Alma Har’el’s “Bombay Beach” and “Beginners,” the latter of which earned a supporting actor Oscar for Christopher Plummer. Focus then cut a VOD promo for the package, strategizing that “Bombay’s” association with “Beginners” could help bring more eyeballs to the lesser-known docu.

That’s a different approach than the one taken at Radius-TWC, the Weinstein Co.’s multiplatform-release label headed by former Magnolia execs Tom Quinn and Jason Janego.

TWC started the arm last year for its own theatrically released films, many of which Radius-TWC will unspool day and date with theatrical release. Quinn said at the time that he saw Radius pursuing pics with a theatrical rollout of 500 or fewer prints.

“It allows for opportunity for pictures to get out to the marketplace in a way that many different audience members can see it,” TWC chief operating officer David Glasser told Variety. “It gives the picture that’s in that ‘small release’ category a real shot.”

Exec said the company plans to go after a broad range of films, including pics with name cast and pics that might be awards contenders.

“We’re going to be what I want to call the ‘highbrow day-and-date and multiplatform release company,’?” Glasser said.

Since its launch, Radius-TWC has taken on about half-a-dozen titles, including Sundance comedy “Bachelorette” and a pair of Nicolas Winding Refn-helmed titles: “Pusher” and “Only God Forgives.”

While the types of films it acquires may vary, release strategy won’t. Glasser says Radius will pick films that will target a core audience that helps build awareness for a premium-priced release in advance of theatrical or day-and-date with theatrical release.

That means that TWC will market its Radius titles through traditional means but also promote pics through exclusive VOD campaigns. Those campaigns could include a VOD promo spot, for example, or asking talent to promote a film on a cable operator’s channel.

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