M&E Daily

Will Skipped Theatrical Window be the New Norm for Indie Filmmakers?

By Jim Riley, Chief Revenue Officer, Bitmax

The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns are changing the world before our eyes. This is apparent in so many facets of our lives, including the movie distribution world.

The Oscars recently announced that films that debuted on a streaming service without a theatrical run would be eligible for consideration for next year’s Academy Awards (at least for 2020), and this change illustrates a shift taking place across the industry as consumers stay at home and access premium content from their living room.

Universal’s “Trolls World Tour” success via premium video on demand (PVOD) underscores that PVOD can be a viable alternative to producers who determine it is best to skip the theatrical window completely and take advantage of the ever-expanding OTT offerings for consumers. Universal made more profit in three weeks (more than $100 million) with the “Trolls” sequel than the original film made in five months in theaters.

Typically, many independent producers debut their work at film festivals around the world, but with the cancellation of SXSW and other major film festivals, they are having to look elsewhere to get the attention of critics and audiences.

YouTube announced last week “We Are One: A Global Film Festival,” a free virtual film festival with 20 partners including Cannes, Tribeca, and Sundance, which will help some of independent producers get their movies screened. It’s becoming apparent that digital distribution is becoming the most viable way to get content seen by viewers, who are now all stuck at home. And, like working from home, many viewers are growing comfortable with this new option.

Bitmax provides media management, distribution services and licensing support for a myriad of independent content owners, giving them the ability to distribute their movies to all of today’s popular streaming platforms including Apple iTunes, Amazon Prime, and Vudu.

We work closely with content owners to ensure their content can be accessed by consumers around the world, and have heard first hand from them that this shift in distribution has only been accelerated by government shelter-in-place mandates.

Bitmax is aggregating independent producer Norman Stone’s film “The Final Fix,” a documentary about the American opioid crisis, narrated by Ewan McGregor.

Stone recently said: “With the film festival route almost closed down for new shows, due to the restrictions of COVID-19, and theatrical options currently non-existent, how great to find the open opportunities of digital distribution not just available, but thriving! With mass audiences sitting in their homes, still hungry to experience content and entertainment, these online platforms, and expert aggregators, are the much-needed silver lining to some very dark clouds.”

Other producers Bitmax is working with who are skipping a theatrical run and debuting their work via digital distribution include Eric Cochran of Taikuli Productions with “Let Them Play: A Triathlon Across America” and Eric Erickson of Viking Dog Films with “Truth.”

Even as movie theatres start to open up, a “Hollywood Reporter” poll out this week found that attendance will be down across all demographics. Eighty percent of the 2,200 U.S. adults surveyed are “unlikely to go to a movie theater before their state meets established benchmarks,” although 22 percent said they were “likely to go within a month after that happens.”

Twenty-three percent of millennials said they “would go to a movie theater before their state met benchmarks, but the majority (69 percent) said they were unlikely to do so.

Everything has changed in this new normal. But the shift in viewing patterns and audience mentality does not mean that producers will necessarily lose out in revenue or industry recognition. Content owners need to pause and examine all the options available to get their content to eager consumers desperate for new movies and an escape from their day to day lives.

At Bitmax, we are seeing the impact of smart strategies to support those forward thinking executives and helping expand revenue not only to PVOD, but via SVOD and eventually AVOD as well.