The Sundance Film Festival is devoted to discovering and developing independent artists and audiences–so it’s time to embrace digital markets. As box office revenues stay low, the best bet for buoying independent films & filmmakers is to get them online.
In a New York Times piece published last week, Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply noted that the Sundance Film Festival has steadily lost box office steam since its 2006 heyday, and that we can expect this year’s films to take in about a third less at the box office than 2006′s films did. Barnes and Cieply note that digital-leaning distributors like Magnolia, IFC and Radius-TWC have become the most active buyers and that it’s likely this year’s films will get more digital distribution than theatrical distribution.
Though founder Robert Redford notes that the festival is designed as a platform for a diverse set of storytellers, and should not be judged solely on commercial successes, independent filmmakers are spending about $3 billion to make the more than 4,000 films submitted, and, with current distribution methods, about 2% of that total expenditure will be earned back.
The answer to Sundance filmmakers’ financial woes could be digital distribution that is more sensitive to audience interests and artist needs. At this year’s festival, Vimeo announced a new support system for independent filmmakers finding their way online. Vimeo is giving distribution-ready films from Indiegogo, Kickstarter and Seed&Spark free Vimeo PRO accounts and access to a $500,000 audience development fund that can be used for anything from website creation to targeted online campaigns and social media marketing. In exchange, filmmakers agree to an exclusive digital premier on Vimeo On Demand, an online self-distribution platform that has grown to house over 5,000 films since its launch in March of 2013.
While Sundance’s digital distribution fact sheet warns filmmakers to be aware of the rights they might be unwittingly signing away in digital distribution deals, Vimeo On Demand gives the filmmaker 90% of sales revenue and offers direct access to purchasing audiences. CEO Kerry Trainor explained, “Using Vimeo on Demand, creators are able to choose their price, viewing format (stream or download), and geographical availability while retaining full ownership of their work. Earlier this month Vimeo added in-player transaction support, allowing creators to sell their work on their own sites or embedded across the web.”
The trend towards digital distribution will become even more important as more consumers expect entertainment on mobile devices and game consoles. Vimeo On Demand is also set to grow with digital viewing trends as they expand across more devices and become more mobile. Vimeo On Demand is supported across desktops, phones, tablets, connected TVs and game consoles, giving viewers more occasions to purchase original content.
Vimeo On Demand has already seen some impressive early pick-up. The service has an audience of 149 million monthly unique viewers across a wide range of connected devices and filmmakers from other festivals have readily signed onto direct digital distribution. Trainor notes, “Across the global festival ecosystem, it feels like digital has become a primary part of films’ distribution strategies rather than a fallback. For instance, Vimeo recently announced our Vimeo on Demand service will carry the exclusive digital premiere for nearly 10% of the world premiere films from the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, showing just how quickly the direct distribution movement is gaining momentum worldwide.”
Follow @KATontap on Twitter