IFC Films has quite the presence on cable video-on-demand channels nationwide. The company now has three labels: IFC Films, IFC Midnight (for genre titles), and Sundance Selects (for documentaries and American indies). Within each label, titles either premiere on VOD at the same time as is theatrical release (currently the case with The Other Woman and Cold Weather) or the films appear only on VOD with virtually no theatrical release (currently the case with
Septien and Tetsuo: the Bullet Man Mad Bastards and These Amazing Shadows). Magnolia Pictures, on the other hand, makes a habit of releasing films on cable VOD several weeks prior to their theatrical release. Often called “Ultra VOD,” Magnolia has been the only company that has offered films a month ahead of their traditional opening weekend. Recent examples include documentaries such as Client 9, genre films such as Vanishing on 7th Street, and traditional arthouse films such as All Good Things. In addition to early placement on cable video-on-demand systems, the Magnolia films are released concurrently on broadband VOD platforms such as iTunes, Playstation, Amazon VOD, and Xbox.
Available at a higher price point ($9.99) in this pre-theatrical window, Magnolia has done good business with the model. It even inspired a New York Times article about the growing phenomenon. From that article: “A few years ago, when IFC, part of Rainbow Media, worked with Comcast to offer movies on V.O.D. on the same day they were released in theaters, IFC got severe pushback from exhibitors. “When we first started, only four or five theaters were on board — the others were just too scared about what V.O.D. might do to their ticket sales,” said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC. Now, IFC is experimenting even further, and has released its first full-fledged “Ultra VOD” film. It comes in the shape of Barry Blaustein’s ensemble comedy, Peep World, which IFC acquired at the Toronto Film Festival. The film is now available on cable VOD and iTunes (no sign of it on Amazon VOD, Xbox, etc.), priced at a $9.99 rental, ahead of its March 25 theatrical release.
Presumably, this will be the first of many IFC Films releases to take advantage of the pre-theatrical window and its added promotional/pricing weight. Magnolia has ramped this up, sometimes offering two new “Ultra VOD” films per month. Typically, once the films open in theaters, their rental price is dropped to $6.99 (the industry standard for day-and-date with theatrical). The real question will be if consumers are willing to pay the premium VOD price again and again, especially for specialty titles that don’t have eight-figure marketing budgets. On the studio side in Hollywood, major players like Disney will likely experiment with a premium VOD model, with rumored price points at around $25. The next step will be exploring whether or not the “premium VOD” release will work as well without a theatrical window.