AFM News: Freestyle Digital Media to Focus on Digital, Cable, VOD Distribution

By Anne Thompson

November 2, 2011

In case you were wondering, VOD distribution is here to stay.  Look at JC Chandor’s $3.5 million Margin Call, which lured a strong ensemble of name actors led by Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Zachary Quinto, and has passed the $1.5 million mark theatrically in limited release, as it was also available day-and-date on VOD. More and more people are learning, as Netflix had hoped, to download and stream movies from their cable companies or through Roku, iTunes, PS3 or TiVo. Several folks I know picked up on the publicity and ad noise surrounding Margin Call and watched it on its second weekend in theaters, at home. It’s significant, too, that theater owners are lowering ticket prices for a change. 

At the same time, two more expensive films went into conventional theatrical release and didn’t work. Graham King’s $50-million indie The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp, was marketed and released wide and opened to $5 million, while $30-million period drama Anonymous, starring Rhys Ifans, was dumped into 250 theaters after Columbia saw its weak tracking numbers. The future favors the lean mean theatrical/VOD model, which works for indies, but not for studios—who are still fighting with exhibitors over a 90-day VOD window!

Now indie distributor Freestyle Releasing is launching Freestyle Digital Media (FDM), a new digital distribution service for cable and VOD. FDM is promising indie filmmakers that its new digital VOD platform will increase their revenues via efficiently marketed and targeted day-and-date theatrical and direct-to-video releases to “all major channels thru VOD/EST on all connected devices and services.”

Susan Jackson, co-founder of Freestyle Releasing, has launched FDM and will supervise its day-to-day operations. In addition to the digital VOD platform, the company also offers distribution of DVDs in retail rentals, kiosks and by-mail, subscription streaming services, Pay-TV and specialty markets such as airlines, hotels and cruise ships.

Jackson’s partners in FDM are Steve Harnsberger, executive vice president of business development, who comes from Sonic Solutions, and executed the company’s VOD partnership deals, and Freestyle co-founder Mark Borde, EVP of theatrical distribution, who runs distribution at Freestyle as well. Freestyle Digital Media will also use cloud-based technology to supply film and TV content directly to US VOD/SVOD rental DVD/Kiosks and theaters.

Jackson stated:

We felt it was imperative to be able to offer our content partners a direct channel to the expanding multi-screen ecosystem to enable the growth of their digital distribution business by optimizing revenues from every IP VOD channel plus include rental kiosks, streaming subscriptions and the DVD market.”  She continued, “We are thrilled to be able to release films day and date in theaters on the same day as they launch on the iTunes store, on Amazon Instant Video, on Dish Networks, the YouTube Movie Store and Android mobile devices, and all other cable and internet VOD services.  We are growing our new release and content library by actively signing multiple new deals to enable more than a dozen new direct VOD distribution channels we’re delivering to.”

Freestyle Digital Media launches with a slate including Andrei Konchalovsky’s already-released (and badly reviewed) $90-million family adventure The Nutcracker in 3D, starring Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane and John Turturro, which went out on DVD on November 1;  In My Sleep (November 8, 2011),  a suspense thriller starring Philip Winchester (Strike Back); Nick Broomfield doc Sarah Palin: You Betcha! (November 8, 2011); and Nativity, a British Christmas film starring Martin Freeman and Ashley Jensen, (November 1, 2012), with more to come.