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Tech Talk in Toronto

16 Sep, 2013 By: Stephanie Prange

This month I moderated a panel on digital delivery and filmmaking at the Toronto International Film Festival. What was most striking about the panel was the mercurial nature of digital distribution and the almost Escher-like path that filmmakers must navigate to strike the right digital delivery deal for their films.

If filmmakers make a deal directly with Netflix or some other digital provider, it may preclude them from making other deals. Also, each film has a different preferred digital strategy. Some films may do better going theatrical first, but other films lend themselves to a digital-release-first strategy.

The marketplace is very confusing for independent filmmakers. Many of them would like to control their own destiny, but ultimately may need studio support. As funding becomes less studio focused, with filmmakers looking to crowdfunding on sites such as Kickstarter to bankroll their films, ironically the guiding hand of the studio may be more important than ever in the ultimate distribution of these films.

Also on the panel were Canada-based digital content distributors BlackBerry, with its video store, and Cineplex, which has a digital distribution arm in
addition to its packaged-media and theatrical businesses.

The distribution channels internationally are also varied and the licenses complicated. The international digital distribution market does not mirror what we see domestically. Netflix may reign in streaming here, but its footprint is much less deep or defined internationally.

On another note, my Canadian friends were very curious about the expansion of Redbox into their territory. While Redbox is a fixture of disc rental in the states, its international development is in its infancy. The lesson: While we Americans are accustomed to being the center of the entertainment universe, we may be missing the big picture. Just as the international business is becoming more important to the theatrical bottom line, so too is it an important part of the home entertainment landscape.

Filmmakers and distributors will have to widen their lenses when contemplating digital delivery.

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