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

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik April 4, 2012 at 1:38PM

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.
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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.

Margin Call
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.