Curation to Distribution: Attention on the Unlimited Shelf

The Sundance Institute have announced a new initiative to enable producers to get their own films to audiences via New Video, Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, SundanceNow and Youtube – marketing tools by Topspin. This digital distribution network adds to a linked funding initiative with Kickstarter earlier in the year.

Essentially the non-profit institute is starting to build a collaborative framework which attempts to address some important stumbling blocks in the path to digital distribution and greater rights exploitation by the producer.

The unlimited shelf space of the long tail world, combined with global direct distribution via the internet have not yet been exploited in a manner which suggests a wholesale change from the traditional Film Value Chain. One reason for such is the remaining need to garner audience attention in a highly competitive entertainment environment. Curation brands such as Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca have cache and a perceived quality that lends films a foothold in the market. Yet the name plus access via VOD have not yet been enough to sustain a new model. Providing broad non-exclusive windowing, plus marketing tools, as well as the festival name following a successful festival screening may make steps towards a new model.

The initiative is stressed as being complementary not a competitor to traditional distribution. A collegial approach echoed in the Sundance blog post which talks about interdependents not independents.

The problem in saying that this model does not encroach on the traditional distribution is that audiences and the industry immediately categorise the films taking an alternative path as – not good enough to go the “proper” route. A high profile, definite choice to take a new route and a success then validates this type of model, which is why details of Kevin Smith’s Red State are interesting and to a lesser extent – Life in a Day by Kevin Macdonald (it would be more impactful in terms of validating alternative methods if the film itself was not an outlier).

An interesting issue to think about is what the potential is in the UK for a collaborative network of companies – EIFF or LFF + indiegogo, dogwoof, thinkjam, lime promotions, & lovefilm perhaps?

Sundance comes to the UK in April 2012 – initially for a festival with possibility for theatrical releases of selected films? A global brand already, could the US name steal a march and roll out a service here before any UK festivals or collaborative network of companies provide an incumbent?

Michael Franklin
Research Associate, Creative Scotland

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