The Secret World of Video on Demand Sales; Conspiracy or Just Corporate Practice?

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by Anthony Kaufman
April 4, 2012 1:38 PM
3 Comments
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If Video on Demand is saving the world of independent film, how come no one knows anything about it? I've been covering the VoD business for the last six years, ever since HDNet's release of Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble" and IFC launched its day-and-date program. And every time I set out to try to learn how many people are watching movies on demand, I often get a friendly response from distributors and yet no specifics. So rather than try to get VOD numbers, why not discover why VOD numbers are so hard to get? For Indiewire, you can read about "6 Reasons Why You Don't Know More About VOD Numbers," my latest survey of the industry. But there's a couple of points I wanted to highlight here.

Does anyone really know how much money "Margin Call" made on VOD?

One funny thing I was told while researching the story is that even the sales on success stories like "Margin Call" and "Black Death" might not be totally accurate. Distributors all seem to be happy about the extra money VOD is bringing in, but they're also reticent to disclose solid information. Maybe because they don't really know either.

But for me, the key takeaway from the piece is a tension between the need for transparency (which helps filmmakers) and the drive for data-fueled Darwinianism (which helps no one.)

On one hand, you have the argument that as the VoD Market matures, people need better data to make better decisions. As Dylan Marchetti, notes. "If filmmakers can say, 'This is exactly what I made,’ this will be able to help other filmmakers plan better, market better and cash-project better" and the more theater owners know, the more they might feel less threatened about theatrical and VOD day-and-date releases.

On the other hand, as Eamonn Bowles at Magnolia Pictures, told me, simple number-crunching isn’t good for the business.

"It's such a simplistic abstraction," says Bowles. "It doesn't account for money spent and all the other parts of the equation. It doesn't reflect economies of scale. If we go down that reductive road, it doesn't help us. There's no context for those numbers.

"We’re not about bragging," he continues. "That's the problem with the industry, all the dick-wagging that goes on. When you start going to the lowest common denominator, it makes it harder, not easier."

Bowles also notes that the indie films’ numbers aren’t terribly attractive compared to their studio counterparts. "You don't want to be lumped in with the 'Twilights,'" he said.

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3 Comments

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  • Dylan M. | April 7, 2012 12:51 PMReply

    Eamonn is right- the one thing I'd prefer not to see, even if perhaps it's unavoidable, are VOD numbers turned in to the same Sunday morning/Monday morning circus that box office reporting has become. Nobody really benefits from VOD sales becoming another cutesy little pie chart in the bottom corner of the USA Today you read when you go visit your grandparents.

    However, my bottom line is filmmakers need the data. Nobody on this planet is going to compare my Elite Squad numbers with Twilight's numbers, because nobody on this planet has probably ever mentioned the two films in the same sentence. This isn't something for the public, it's something for filmmakers, which is why I'm really fine with filmmakers sending their numbers in to someone like Film Collaborative or a small webpage or something along those lines, rather than someone sending an email with numbers out to 45 press people every Monday morning.

  • brian newman | April 4, 2012 3:57 PMReply

    Anthony - great set of articles. I agree broadly with Eammon, but come on - we are smart enough to know these same things impact box office. The press might not report differences in marketing spend, etc but producers and others can make good educated guesses. We need the data.

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