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A Rush to the Graveyard: VOD

Streaming is the future of digital delivery, not video-on-demand

As the Cannes Film Festival approaches once again, this AP story about the looming collapse of cable TV reminded me of a panel I was on last year at Cannes sponsored by the American Pavilion.

I was representing Gigantic Releasing, a new distribution company I’d launched on behalf of my friends Brian and Brooke Devine.

I’d just unveiled an innovative digital delivery platform called Gigantic Digital with “Must Read After My Death,” an amazing documentary from first-time director Morgan Dews.

I’d developed Gigantic Digital as a way to dramatically extend the release of Gigantic’s films in their first-run theatrical window. In fact, my goal was to try to redefine the first-run theatrical window by inserting a powerful streaming layer that would add value not only to traditional bricks-and-mortar theatrical, but to each subsequent layer of distribution, from DVD to VOD to iTunes to Netflix to Amazon to cruise ships.

Part of my pitch then, as it is today, was that the future is online and the future is now. Then as now, however, the industry cannot or will not see past the day after tomorrow.

The AP article is validation (I never felt I needed any in this case, but it’s always nice) of a point I made on the Cannes panel, which almost resulted in John Sloss and me coming to blows.

I’ve known John since before he graduated law school and I love and respect him — and I think he likes me — but when I made a pronouncement that VOD was the past and streaming was the future, he took offense.

I’d said that every day, thousands of people — primarily from the demographic most cherished by the dependent and co-dependent world — were canceling their cable subscriptions in droves or not taking them in the first place while the internet was continuing to experience virtually unlimited growth.

John was about to launch his VOD platform, FilmBuff, so he wasn’t in a mood to debate that platform’s decline and inevitable demise.

John is a brilliant businessman and salesman and I wasn’t saying that launching a VOD platform was a bad business decision – at least for the short term. My complaint was that it was being hailed as a savior for dependent/co-dependent film with absolutely no mention of the streaming elephant in the room.

No one but me was attempting to move the streaming ball down the field, even though it was only inches away from the goal line. (I know, I hate sports metaphors too, but I can’t help it.) There was plenty of streaming going on, of course, but no one was thinking about it as a first-run proposition, which for me was and remains the clearest path to huge growth and renewed popularity for all off-Hollywood content.

Unfortunately, Gigantic didn’t have the resources in this economy to actively sustain the Gigantic Digital adventure. Perhaps they’ll come back to it and I hope they do.

In the meantime, there are still a handful of films, including "Must Read After My Death," available for viewing.

Here we are now, a full year later, and almost nothing has changed. As AP reported, cable subscriptions continue their rapid decline, the major theater circuits still have draconian policies in place that prevent their buyers from booking any film that has played online in any form, Mark Cuban continues to bully filmmakers by threatening that if they stream their films on Gigantic Digital, Landmark will not book them, regardless of the fact that Gigantic Digital not only never competes with Landmark but would actually drive traffic to its cinemas. And now Tribeca Enterprises, with every reason and resource to pick up where Gigantic Digital left off, instead launches its own VOD platform and barely gives streaming the time of day. WTF?

Obviously, somebody’s going to take up the streaming mantle and deliver on the promise. I’d still like that person to be me and I’m hoping to connect with Gigantic this week to see if we can’t shake things up with a revised strategy.

Sooner or later, though, it’s going to happen — and when it does, all else is going to pale in comparison and independent film will leap out of its crypt and take its rightful place once again on the global scene.

Let’s light that fire.

Mark Lipsky's Insight Cinema offers domestic and international distributors, producers and filmmakers advice on digital strategies and audience development among other issues. He blogs at InciteCinema, a plug-and-play solution for American independents and filmmakers around the globe who wish to either bypass or enhance traditional bricks-and-mortar release strategies.