IFC: Now Showing In A Theater Near You, And On VOD

In a move that will place cable MSOs in more direct competition with movie theaters, IFC Entertainment will release a group of films simultaneously on video-on-demand and at the multiplex.

IFC will make at least 24 films available this year to cable companies for VOD distribution at the same time the films are playing on the silver screen. The MSOs will determine how much to charge for the films. In a market like Manhattan, where movies can cost $10.50, a cost half as much--or less--could take business from theater operators.

MSOs could charge less and make up the revenue by selling advertising on the VOD service. IFC had no comment on advertising opportunities, although it could leave it up to MSOs to determine their own strategy. IFC also had no comment on which MSOs, reaching how many people, will carry the service.

IFC--which will launch the VOD-theater operation in March and offer two indie films per month--is the latest film distributor to nudge the industry toward a multi-platform-same-time distribution plan. This Friday, a Steven Soderbergh film will be available in both Landmark Theaters and on the HDNet high-definition channel (the DVD comes only four days later). And new Disney chief Bob Iger has suggested that Disney would pursue a simultaneous theater and DVD release plan, although it has not acted on it.



Theater owners have railed against the practice. Both IFC and Landmark are in the theater business, although both have corporate siblings with greater growth potential. Landmark, partly owned by Mark Cuban, has the HDNet and HDMovies networks, while IFC is part of Cablevision, which will no doubt eagerly make the new VOD service available on its systems (IFC operates a new art-house theater in Manhattan, while Cablevision owns the Clearview Cinema chain). IFC and Landmark's parent also produces films and stands to benefit if more easier-to-use outlets such as VOD become commonplace for film releases.

For MSOs, the new service, to be called IFC's First Take, could be a boon. It could help put to rest notions that VOD programming is second-rate, while spurring a new stream of people to sample VOD and perhaps become repeat customers.

Among the films selected for the VOD-theater plan include Spike Lee's "CSA: The Confederate States of America"--and "American Gun," about the U.S. gun culture starring Donald Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, and Marcia Gay Harden.

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