The Unstoppable Video Steamroller Called Popcornflix
The real fun of getting a chance to write about online video is that it’s a still a business of dreamers and schemers and people with a passion for figuring out that perfect place for their business to fit within the triangle of money, content and distribution. Some ideas are better than others, but the fact is, who knows what’s going to hit?
So I like talking to true believers like Gary Delfiner, president of Screen Media Digital, a division of Screen Media Ventures LLC, which is the parent company of Popcornflix-- which you have probably never heard of. Unless you have met Gary Delfiner, who is an ardent promoter for his online digital movie platform that has a library of a couple thousand films you can see for free, if you can stand a few commercials.
Pre-roll, mid-roll. Roll all the way through. Commercials, not quite with the frequency of how you'd see them on TV, but something along those lines. That's the price you pay.
“You know what, free is a good price,” Delfiner says and says often as I found out when I checked the clips online. But he’s got a point. You can pay for Netflix, or see a movie for free on Popcornflix off of your Roku OTT box or Apple’s iOS mobile operating system (or PC, for that matter).
Delfiner says on the Roku system, Popcornflix is the often the fifth or sixth most popular app and says of his little movie business, “I will tell you last week, we downloaded our one millionth app. That is stunning. We are actually at any given moment number five or six in the queue of movies, one being Netflix, then Hulu, Hulu Plus, Amazon, Crackle and then it’s usually us or HBO Go.”
Here’s some big news: Coming soon, within days or weeks, the Popcornflix apps will be available on Android mobile units, too, adding several hundred million potential new users in the U.S and the dozen or so other countries where it’s available—600 million users, Delfiner says .
“Android is going to be stunning,” Delfiner predicts. Also, as of now, Popcornflix, is announcing consumers can use Sony’s Intenet-connected Bravia TVs, Blue-ray Disc Players and Home Theater devices to get the movie service too.
When he started Popcornflix a couple years ago, he figured, hey the parent company is in already in the business, owner of a large library of feature films. So he concluded, “We control a lot of assets. I said, ‘I don’t really have to go anywhere to get the movies.’”
But his movie service doesn’t have the big titles like the better known video services. Delfiner doesn’t think that’s a problem. “I don’t see any of these other sites as my competitors,” he says. “People watch where they feel comfortable. Nobody has the time to look at all the channels every day. You like Netflix, you pick that. You like Popcornflix you pick that. It’s about the quality. It’s about the access. Hulu is a TV platform with movies. Crackle is a Web-series-with-Seinfeld platform, and movies. Popcornflix is all movies.”
In that way, it’s like the less sexy premium cable movie channels—Cinemax for example-- as they were originally, showing movies a little later in the cycle, for a lot cheaper. And in a lot of ways, the service is like an old job Defliner had as an executive for the video store chain West Coast Video, which once had 850 stores. The old joke in video stores was that you walked in for one, well-known movie and walked out with two other movies instead because the big, highly-promoted title was quickly sold out. (Delfiner would tell you that was the strategy all along; they made more on the less glamorous titles.)
I tell Delfiner I don’t think a lot of his movies are well-known. He shoots back, “I’m not suggesting they are. But look, what do people do on Netflix? After awhile, they look for movies they haven’t heard of, too. A lot of our movies aren’t instantly recognizable. I think that’s actually an upside for us. By the way, I wouldn’t call our movies B titles. I would call them less known. These are hardly B movies.” (And to be fair, it’s true. A lot of Popcornflix movies are good; some were nominated or won awards. But they’re usually not big box office hits.)
Delfiner is so excitable about the business, it’s fun to just noodle around with him. He loved Netflix’s “House of Cards” because for once, he could watch an entire year of a newly released series in one sitting. He watched it over three days. He loved “Downton Abbey” for the same reason. PBS offered Season Three on DVD before it aired on the network. “Game changers! Game changers!” he exclaims. “And why are those shows game changers? Because if you can do that with ‘Downton Abbey,’ why can’t you do that with ‘Homeland?’ It’s kind of like the emperor’s new clothes! Do people really need to pay $15 to buy ‘Downtown Abbey’ in advance? No, but they will.” (He did.)
He wants to be a game changer too, and thinks he is on his way with Popcornflix, and its offshoot apps, like Frightpix. His small, free, commercial-subsidized movie service is making a mark in a challenging market. And it’s the movie business, not just video. “ ‘Angry Birds is ‘Angry Birds’ anywhere,” he says. “But if you go to an iOS system and look for movies, we’re in the top five [apps]. And on Android, I think we’ll be near the top in the next few months.” Popcornflix also optimized its service for the top handful of Android devices, starting with Samsung. .
Delfiner tells me that, pauses a second and says, almost like he's just landed a 747 for the first time, “This is no small feat for us. This is not for the weak of heart.” You know how much fun it is to talk to people like that?