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Is Netflix Killing Off Micro-Indie Film?

by Anthony Kaufman
September 27, 2011 4:08 AM
4 Comments
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Is Netflix cutting off its "long tail"?

Founded on the principle that a vast compendium of films—even the most obscure indie titles—would eventually find their niche audience and thrive, Netflix became a poster child for the new economy where "the future of business is selling less of more"--to borrow the subtitle of WIRED editor Chris Anderson's influential book.

But some indie industry insiders are concerned that recent changes at the company suggest they're now more about the big middle, with the phasing out of ultra-indie titles as they aim to be a major streaming player. In an exclusive story in indieWIRE today, I report on a number of small films (such as "You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk," pictured) that were once on the service, but have since "faded away" as Netflix continues to grow.

Micro-indie companies all reported a significant shift in emphasis at Netflix, so much so that one such entity, Carnivalesque Films, is closing up shop next month. In an email, Carnivalesque's Ashley Sabin (co-director with David Redmon of "Mardi Gras: Made in China" and "Girl Model") told me that the company has been lucky with its titles, writing checks for most of their films. "But alas with the marketplace changing to digital and also the release of our documentary 'Girl Model' we just don't have the time required to make Carnivalesque transition to digital as well," she said. The article also details changes that Netflix made in their "buying metric" that kept Carnivalesque's titles off its service.

Art-house distributors such as Kino Lorber and Music Box Films, along with big indie aggregators like New Video, were quite supportive of the company, however. But what's clear, nonetheless, is that smaller players are being pushed aside.

Carnivalesque's Redmon seemed to sum up the sentiment among many indie filmmakers about Netflix’s long tail strategy going forward. “Suddenly, I guess that tail was cut off,” he says, “because we were at the end of it.”

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4 Comments

  • Rich B. | October 6, 2011 1:59 AMReply

    This past year I promoted an Indie film called Radio Free Albemuth, by linking to its movie trailer and to its NetFlix page. This promotion occurred in my YahooGroups network (219,000 subscribers) and on Twitter/Facebook (115,000 followers/friends). The film hasn't been released to DVD yet, so anyone who added it to their queue was doing so in anticipation of the release. If NetFlix subscribers' DVD queues do no transfer to the new Qwikster service, then many who added Radio Free Albemuth to their NetFlix queue will likely lose track of the film. That is just wrong. Hopefully NetFlix will make the effort to migrate all NetFlix DVD data to Qwikster. As a former Financial-Systems Analyst for one of the largest prescription-benefit-plan managers, I know how doable it is to accomplish this.

    Those who think the future for Indies is YouTube (or one of the smaller video-distribution websites), and that there is an optimistic future for Indie films, could not be more wrong. It was not accidental that the Harry Potter series generates $10 billion in revenue, and that the Avatar series to come will generate even more than Harry Potter has. Over the past 3 to 5 years there has been a dramatic shift towards more centralized corporatization of the entertainment-distribution industry (undoing any splintering which took place the previous 5 to 10 years), with a small number of massive corporations moving to dominate the entertainment industry via the Internet. Don't expect the future leaders of Apple to be the nice guys that Steve Jobs was; expect ruthless types who will let James Cameron types squash the "little guys" — with a centralized iTunes paradigm, this will be easily done. The world is already beginning to look like Blade Runner and 1984, with ever-larger corporations (and the state) using advanced technology to exercise increased control over people's lives and minds.

  • Sarah Mason | September 28, 2011 8:26 AMReply

    For documentary film makers there is a much better and solid platform for distribution with Culture Unplugged studios. They have the vast library, reach and audience to promote one's film. I think digital is the future, and organizations such as cultureunplugged dot come will out perform traditional houses.

  • mike vogel | September 28, 2011 4:52 AMReply

    Netflix is killing micro-indie films off of Netflix, but fortunately there are many other places to go. I've tried a few of the alternatives (IndieFlix, DynamoPlayer) but I think YouTube will ultimately win because their platform is more advanced. I uploaded my first feature The Waiting List to YouTube and added a director's commentary using their text annotations. It can be played on mobile devices. It's even eligible for revenue sharing (although with 1,500 views, that isn't much). If YouTube opened up rentals to micro-indies, they could attract filmmakers and their small but loyal audiences.

  • dan aronson | September 27, 2011 6:17 AMReply

    I think that we are moving towards an ala carte world where people are going to pick and choose the channels that they want. It seems that the netflix move supports that, with a streaming channel and also a supplemental service for DVD's. Service like Fandor (full disclosure, I'm CEO) are working towards fufilling this specific need, an indie and international curated streaming subscription service. We, are focused on discovery and sharing which are important differences that are needed to help promote films that do not have big marketing budgets behind them. We are working with a lot of smaller players and open to others.

    --dan

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