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The Reeler Blog

IFC, Blockbuster Pact Great For Corporations

By S.T. VanAirsdale

IFC Entertainment announced a deal with Blockbuster Video on Wednesday that will give the latter company "an exclusive 60-day window on U.S. rentals and downloads of IFC titles before they're sold," writes Hollywood Reporter correspondent Gregg Goldstein. Moreover, Goldstein adds, the pact gives Blockbuster exclusive rental rights for three years following IFC releases' retail street date and establishes special "indie film" sections in 1,000 of the chain's stores -- approximately a quarter of its locations.

I know some of you think I snipe for sniping's sake, but I'm pretty mad about this, and you should be, too. And if you can't smell the bullshit in Wednesday's PR money quotes, then you probably wouldn't be seeking this site's fresh air anyway; IFC VP of sales and business development Lisa Schwartz got the party started in an official press release:

"We're delighted to join with Blockbuster as we continue our mission of making independent film available to the widest possible audience. ... Blockbuster's national store network, combined with its by-mail and downloading services, made this a particularly appealing agreement for us because it gives millions of customers increased access to our movies."

Besides being factually, mathematically inaccurate (there are a lot more than 1,000 independent video stores -- and their own customers -- who won't have access to rent Paranoid Park or 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days for three full years), this is the same line of garbage IFC fed filmgoers last summer when it said it was readjusting to focus on its First Take slate of day-and-date releases like Hannah Takes the Stairs and The Wind That Shakes the Barley. The idea there was that IFC titles would be "available" on demand to 40 million cable subscribers, which sounds great (I guess) to foreign producers reps looking for the most reach among US distributors. Whereas First Take's theatrical box office was flailing in specifically quantifiable terms, however, there's no accounting for the volume of actual downloads.

That's old news insofar as disingenuous corporate strategizing goes; you almost can't hold it against IFC. At least these films reach the States, right? And while I've previously defended IFC Center's prerogative to monopolize within its Sixth Avenue confines, this week's developments are a disturbing new low ripped from the playbook of Harvey Weinstein, whose home-video distribution wing Genius Products pulled the same stunt in 2006 by setting up Blockbuster as the exclusive outlet for Weinstein Company and Dimension Films releases. It didn't feel as offensive with A-list, video-ready bombs like Miss Potter or Breaking and Entering (and certainly not with Dimension's genre pulp), but with Genius front-and-center again as IFC's DVD conduit, you have to admire the audacity and self-loathing required for anyone involved to spin this as a victory for "independent film":

"This agreement with IFC is a great opportunity for Blockbuster to provide our customers with convenient access to the best of independent film," said Keith Leopard, director, film product, Blockbuster Inc. "Whether it's through our stores, through the mail or through digital downloading, our customers will have access to some of the most exciting, thought-provoking films the indie filmmaking world has to offer. We look forward to working with IFC to dramatically expand our selection of independent titles and to being the exclusive rental outlet for films that otherwise might not have gotten exposure to such a broad audience."

You sick, cynical fuck. This is what I'd call a unilateral attack on the very idea of independence. Are things so bad at IFC that it's worth it to hold cheaply acquired films hostage for the sake of one's bottom line (of which -- hey, look at that -- Blockbuster's conveniently did jump 3 percent in 2007; it was all Transamerica, I'm sure) and shut out the loyal independent proprietors whose legitimate supply-and-demand ratios weren't inflating the stakes enough for their deal memos at Cannes? Or is this just another Genius muscle move against which the label is helpless? It's probably too dramatic to call it a conspiracy, and losing the rental availability of Love Songs isn't likely to sink Kim's or Video Room or Champagne Video or the rest, but in any case it's symbolic of how tenuous the identity of "independent film" actually is -- that while we parse semantics, a "director, film product" at Blockbuster can brag about expropriating art so brazenly from the culture at large. And get away with it.

The real movie people at IFC -- and they know who they are -- have to be beside themselves today, as do filmmakers like Gus Van Sant and Joe Swanberg, whose work just lost the portion of its future audience that maybe is loyal to its local video store and doesn't want to buy Paranoid Park or Hannah Takes the Stairs (thus further enriching Genius Products) for the apparent privilege of watching either film on DVD before 2011. What planet are these people from, and what can be done about them? Is it too early today for a drink? Or is it too late?

Posted at March 6, 2008 12:29 PM

Comments (10)

What I find worrying about this development besides that which you have stated is Blockbuster's position on NC-17 movies which to me will be problematic to say the least, because I have a feeling that if it is between the integrity of the director's vision or BB's corporate directives, the directives will win out and for 3 years, the only versions of those movies available will be the artistically compromised ones.

Actually, IFC is considering editing even unrated films for Blockbuster....

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3i2d56a84474fb58ddcb94c23742824b2f

[The chain does not rent NC-17 titles, and Schwartz says IFC would consider editing even unrated films for the chain, adding that "Blockbuster will decide which version they would like to distribute."]

Have another beer, "cheaply acquired films" just got less cheap, and "there's nothing to prevent standalone video stores and small urban chains from buying and renting IFC titles" during the 3 year hostage siege. Can Greencine buy and rent them too?

You guys are totally missing it. The holdback is 60 days, not 3 years. Everyone knows that Netflix and other rental outlets pick up copies at Walmart when the sales window starts 60 days in, or even earlier by buying directly at a Blockbuster store.

TWC's DEDICATION, for instance, is still in its Blockbuster exclusive window (streeted Feb. 12) but Netflix is renting it right now anyway.

You guys don't even notice that your corporate paranoia is blurring your rational vision.

Just because IFC has/had 'independent' in their name, they have to take one for the team to save Champagne Video? Who's more responsible for the demise of indie video stores - IFC or Netflix? (But no one can say anything bad about Netflix, right?)

Dragon Dynasty rescues CRIME STORY 2 and SEVEN SWORDS but it doesn't matter because Blockbuster gets 60 measly days of an exclusive?

Looks like IFC is about to hit $1M box office for the Romanian abortion movie but let's not celebrate that. HANNAH and LOVE SONGS and FOUR MONTHS all get significantly higher home video revenues trickling back to the producers - BUT let's pretend that's bad because...

because Blockbuster is so 1992?

because Harvey's a cad?

because IFC's production of the Spirit Awards wasn't funny enough?

Stu - get a clue.

You guys have no clue what you're talking about

@T.Holly: "there's nothing to prevent standalone video stores and small urban chains from buying and renting IFC titles"

Not true. You left out an important qualifier at the end: "AT THAT TIME." Other outlets can rent IFC titles after three years; they can only sell them after the sixty days.

@Anonymous: If you're so sure I've got it wrong, why don't you sign your name? Don't be shy! And yeah, genuine hats off to IFC Films for 4 Months; alas, now it's off to Blockbuster, where I'm sure the frontal nudity and aborted fetus close-up will go over well with the chain's unrated-films veto power.

Anyway, not to repeat myself, but it's a 60-day exclusive to buy, not rent, and we're not talking about Dragon Dynasty films or other Weinstein labels over which Harvey lords. Those are his dominion, and I already said the Blockbuster deal makes sense for his more mass-market films; customers include the majority of their target audience. Call me condescending, whatever; demographics are demographics.

But that's not true of IFC releases, and it never will be no matter how many stores have an "indie film" section populated by mini-majors and other labels guaranteed to lowball their ways to shelf space -- same as they do at Wal-Mart etc. This is not "corporate paranoia," but rather the way things work in the real world. I guess Genius's stranglehold on IFC titles may now also be the way things work in the real world; I guess we'll see. But if you really think this means increased revenues for filmmakers or that IFC will deliver more viewership for those films based on jilting a dispersed, loyal audience for the sake of a concentrated potential audience that you and I both know couldn't give a shit about The Last Mistress or Wind That Shakes the Barley, then you're either a Blockbuster publicist, a drugged optimist or just a gutless, garden-variety hate mailer. And in any case, you're wrong.

To think this sprung from your head, I assure you your post is aging well with time.

Wow, thanks for the info. This is indeed disturbing news. As an independent filmmaker, I would want independent video stores, Netflix, or whomever have access to my art. As a IFC Center member, I feel betrayed.

I noticed this story too and did a bit of research. From what I understand, after the 60-day window other rental outlets like Netflix are able to buy the DVDs at WalMart and, under the First Sale Doctrine, rent them. This is how Netflix currently rents titles from The Weinstein Company, which has a similar deal with Blockbuster.

Scott, maybe not. If they're only for sale at Blockbuster, I'm going to try paying with Monopoly game money.

Speaking of non-exclusive DVD rights, this just in, cribbed from the p.r. chicken wing arm of MCN about Phoebe in Wonderland: "THINKFilm will release this film in exclusive engagements this fall. Lifetime will have exclusive television rights and will premiere the film under the Lifetime Pictures banner, and Netflix’s Red Envelope Entertainment will have non-exclusive DVD and streaming rights."

Oops, I fell into the trap, non-exclusive. Will Walmart take Monopoly dollars if the IFC titles are expensive?

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