Kevin Smith Continues To Innovate: Offering VOD Before Theatrical Release… But Also Offering Incentives To Go To The Theater

from the and-that's-how-it's-done dept

We’ve been following, with great interest, entertainer Kevin Smith’s business model improvisations for quite some time now, including some of his podcasting and speaking efforts (beyond just being a filmmaker). We’ve also been interested in his attempt to go around the “traditional” movie marketing and distribution schemes with his latest flick, Red State. While many attacked or panned his plans to tour directly with the movie and then self-release it in theaters, that plan has made the movie profitable, even before the theatrical release. And, in the land of Hollywood accounting, where most movies — even the most “successful” are never “profitable,” that’s quite a feat.

The latest in this plan is that Smith has done a deal with Lionsgate for Video-on-Demand and DVD/Blu-ray distribution. From the beginning, he’d made it clear that he wanted to partner on those things, so this isn’t a huge surprise. Where it does get interesting is that the VOD plan will hit the market on Labor Day this September. That’s noteworthy, because the theatrical release doesn’t happen until October, over a month after the VOD release. And… as we’ve noted, theater owners are so clueless about what it is they really offer the public, that they’re absolutely spooked by any kind of non-theatrical release that doesn’t happen many months after the theatrical release, insisting that they just can’t compete.

So I would imagine that some theater owners who don’t bother to actually understand what’s going on will freak out about this as well (and potentially refuse to show Red State). However, as per usual, and very much in keeping with Smith’s standard way of operating, he’s put together a plan that gives people even more value for going to catch the flick in the theaters. Sure, you’ll be able to watch the movie at home via VOD, but he’s making sure that the theater experience includes a ton of scarce value as well:

Like let?s say Red State is showing at your local multiplex. But then right after the movie ends, a live, interactive Q&A with the filmmaker starts, beamed into the theater via satellite. Even if you?re not there in the room, you?re Tweeting questions from your theater and getting responses from the guy on the big screen. And then, after three hours of movie and interactive Q&A? Boom: LIVE PODCAST! That?s four hours of once-in-a-lifetime entertainment for less than $20: a movie, a show, then another show.

Oh, look at that. Not only is he connecting with fans, but he’s giving them a real, scarce reason to buy. He’s adding additional value to the theatrical performance so that people have more reasons to go out to that, even if they can access the VOD version at home. And, he seems pretty aware of how clueless the big theater chains are about these things, as he walks them through the basics here, step by step:

Now, before some old dick like ol? cranky Mr. ?GET OFF HOLLYWOOD?S LAWN!? tries to make a beef with me and theatrical exhibitors in their ongoing war with the studios over the shrinking theatrical window and premium VOD?s role in decreasing box office revenue, let me remind REGAL and AMC, CINEPLEX or any other theater chain that I?m not the enemy. Please don?t lump me in with people trying to take money out of your pockets, Exhibitors. This is a (not-so) new way to make money and fill your empty buildings when there isn?t a Transformer to save you. On a fucking Monday night, no less.

Want fresh eyes and asses in your theaters? Try a one-night-only screening of a movie, a Q&A, and a live podcast: all for under $20 a ticket. The positive feedback you?ll receive from your paying customers alone will be worth it, but the concessions loot you?ll rake in that night will make you richer than the pharaohs (my people like to eat snacks). And if I can make this work? That means anybody can make this work. And that means more people coming to your theaters. Jump into digital bed with us: there?s not enough money going around anymore to quibble over restrictions that shouldn?t apply to a specialized film in the first place. I can sell these events out and make you money without spending money to do so ? all while giving a normally slow night a massive shot in the arm. If not, no worries: there are lots of Mom & Pop single-screens out there who?ll welcome us warmly as well.

Of course, this is no different than what many of us have been saying for years, but Smith can back it up with paying customers, so maybe (just maybe?) one of those theater owners will take notice.

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Comments on “Kevin Smith Continues To Innovate: Offering VOD Before Theatrical Release… But Also Offering Incentives To Go To The Theater”

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41 Comments
Joe Publius (profile) says:

I think it’s genius, then again I wouldn’t be surprised if some guy comes along arguing that someone shouldn’t have to work so hard to get people to buy something.

Yes, I am setting up a bit of a strawman, but I’ve heard this argument before here. One example equated a creator offering a bit of themselves as a part of the product as equivalent to prostitution, and IIRC they were pretty serious about it.

In the end, Smith is doing what he thinks it will take to give people their money’s worth, and as fan, he’s heading right up my alley. Odds are he’ll get my money, and not only will I be entertained, but jazzed about the whole thing. That’s pretty much an opening for me to chuck more money his way the next time he comes up with a good idea.

Someantimalwareguy says:

Re: Re:

Yes, I am setting up a bit of a strawman, but I’ve heard this argument before here. One example equated a creator offering a bit of themselves as a part of the product as equivalent to prostitution, and IIRC they were pretty serious about it.

What’s wrong with being a good prostitute? The better they are at their craft, the better they get paid and that’s something Hollywood should get behind with gusto…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well if artists are prostitutes, then the MAFIAA is the pimp.

Actually, this analogy is perfect. The MAFIAA really are just like abusive pimps who prostitute the ‘artists’ for cash. And just like pimps, the abuse their hookers, only pay them in drugs, and threaten the clients to fork over more money.

No offense, but I prefer to pay my prostitutes directly instead of having to pay the dirtbag pimp.
I say we make prostitution (artists and customers) legal, and the pimps (the MAFIAA) illegal
It would cut down on all the crime the pimps are benefiting from

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“someone shouldn’t have to work so hard to get people to buy something.”

you’ve never worked in retail have you?

Besides, in the past working for a corporation you also worked hard, but you only get paid depending on your contract while they retain all the ‘rights’ to everything you make. Today all you need is an Internet connection and you can either directly connect with the audience, or be lazy and let google, amazon, apple, microsoft, twitter, facebook do it for you. The new publishers of today are the tech companies of yesterday.
You don’t need anybody giving you a ‘break’ or blowing producers to get started.

And this children, is the reason the old middlemen of yesterday are so afraid of the Internet. They just can’t compete

Anonymous Coward says:

Example:

“Like let?s say Red State is showing at your local multiplex. But then right after the movie ends, a live, interactive Q&A with the filmmaker starts, beamed into the theater via satellite.”

It’s nice, but honestly, will Smith do this for every showing of the movie? Nope. It will be a lottery, with very low odds. In the meantime, the real fans of Smith will have already seen the movie on VOD, will have buzzed on it and waned, and it won’t get the same release buzz when it his the theaters.

It’s stepping over dollars to pick up pennies, perhaps good for a producer who typically doesn’t do very good box office.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No, that’s not the case. It’s not a one on one with a specific theater showing. A group of theaters would be showing this around the same time so he would do this in sets. The incoming tweets, email questions etc would come from all theaters.

This isn’t even totally new (doesnt make it uncool though). Lots of live special events have been done this way (RiffTrax comes to mind).

What Kevin is making sure to add is his interaction during the life broadcast.

Tim R. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Doesn’t do very good box office? Have been getting into Jay’s secret stash?

Clerks: Budget $257,000 (total budget), Revenue: $3,151,130
Chasing Amy: Budget $250,000, Revenue $12,021,272
Dogma: Budget $10,000,000, Revenue 30,652,890
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: Budget $22,000,000 Revenue: 33,788,161
Clerks II: $5,000,000, Revenue 26,983,776
Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Budget $24,000,000
(boxofficemojo.com for the source on the receipts)

Note, the 2 that lost money or made little (Mallrats and Jersey Girl), had people other than Kevin Smith or Scott Mosier producing the film.

For an independent film maker, he’s done surprisingly and fairly consistently well. I think I’ll believe he understands a lot more about what he’s doing than you do.

Tim R. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Doesn’t do very good box office? Have been getting into Jay’s secret stash?

Clerks: Budget $257,000 (total budget), Revenue: $3,151,130
Chasing Amy: Budget $250,000, Revenue $12,021,272
Dogma: Budget $10,000,000, Revenue 30,652,890
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: Budget $22,000,000 Revenue: 33,788,161
Clerks II: $5,000,000, Revenue 26,983,776
Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Budget $24,000,000 Revenue 42,105,111
(boxofficemojo.com for the source on the receipts)

Note, the 2 that lost money or made little (Mallrats and Jersey Girl), had people other than Kevin Smith or Scott Mosier producing the film.

For an independent film maker, he’s done surprisingly and fairly consistently well. I think I’ll believe he understands a lot more about what he’s doing than you do.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s also worth noting that most of those figures are just domestic theatrical box office numbers. That doesn’t take into account foreign sales, nor VHS, DVD, laserdisc, Blu, TV sales, merchandising, etc.

Smith’s movies are traditionally better sellers on video than theatrical, and I have no doubt we can add a 5-10x multiplier on some (if not all) of those figures, at minimum.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“It’s stepping over dollars to pick up pennies, perhaps good for a producer who typically doesn’t do very good box office.”

GRRR!

YOU! This is for you

He’s been in the movie business for a while. He’s tuned in to what may work. I’m sure that if he’s already made all of his money back and then some, then quite frankly, he’s doing something right.

What have YOU done?

dwg says:

Re: Re:

Dude, the buzz from this will be incredible. Imagine this: a business model that encourages people to support the movie-maker. This is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the MPAA/RIAA model does–that model makes people want to fuck it in the ass (and not in a good way). This one gives us all fuzzy feelings about Smith and will accrue to his benefit–financial and otherwise.

Robert Doyle (profile) says:

Smith doesn’t need to do it every night. He needs to do it once a week in several cities. Just like a rock concert. Or a speaking engagement (you know, people pony up big bucks to attend some of those events… tens of thousands of dollars in some cases… for 1 ticket… – look at how much people pay for lunch with Warren Buffett…).

He’s stepping over dollars… to pick up a hell of a lot of pennies…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You miss the point: Most movies don’t have weeks in the cinemas, often not even a full week. It is unlikely that Smith’s low grossing movie would be able to hold screens for very long, so his “live” presentation would likely be a one trick shot.

It’s a nice idea, but as always, the new business models only look successful when you ignore how well the old models worked.

Steve says:

Re: Re: Re:

What the Frak?

To start with, it’s not Kevin Smith’s intention to try to compete with a “blockbuster” like Transformers and hold a theater for a week. His intention is to show the movie once on a weekday when the theater doesn’t need 5 simultaneous showings of Transformers. So you’re partially right, at that particular theater his movie would be a “one trick shot.”

“It’s a nice idea, but as always, the new business models only look successful when you ignore how well the old models worked.” How are you judging success? I would judge the success of any business venture by it’s profitability. You seem to want to judge it by the profitability of other business ventures.

If you got a job making 1 million a year would you say you weren’t successful because someone else made 2?

Joe Publius (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Most movies don’t have weeks in the cinemas, often not even a full week.

In the run of the mill multiplex, sure that may be a problem, but I think you’re thinking to conventionally. Remember that he doesn’t have to recoup 300 million dollars, and then plead proverty when it only makes 500 million like a major studio. Red State is more in the relative pittance of 4 million with what advertising he can do on the sly.

In major cities, even in my sleepy city in the Great Plains there are smaller arthouse or alternative theaters where a movie like that could hang around a month without much trouble.

He grabs a few weeks in the multiplex he can grab, doing a few “deluxe” shows, and gets the independent theaters for a month, doing a few more. Counting tickets, his sharp early adopter VOD sales, and media sales, and let’s not forget a very loyal fan base, and it’s more than possible to make a profit.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s a nice idea, but as always, the new business models only look successful when you ignore how well the old models worked

Ok. Let’s not “ignore” how the old models worked. Smith’s most famous movie, of course, is “Clerks,” which he made for $27k and change. It was a huge success, both theatrically and on home video. It still does well. And, according to Smith, it didn’t become “profitable” until seven years after it was released.

$27k movie. Huge success. Seven years to profitability.

Red State cost $4 million. It hasn’t even opened in the box office yet and *it’s already profitable*.

So, yes, looking at the old models and how they worked make this seem like an *even bigger success*.

Thanks for suggesting we view it that way.

teka (profile) says:

i really dig this idea!
Been a fan of the various “events” being held at my local theaters (i am lucky enough to be close to a few) ever since this format has matured.

Took in a lovely widescreen remastered extended viewing of The Lord Of The Rings over the last weeks, with a Cirque du Soleil (sp) showing before that and some interesting opera/stage show lineups coming through this summer.

It is genius for the theater, often scheduled on off days and in the less-used theaters. Costs little more then a BlueRay disc being mailed around (the security is probably costly) or an authorized encoded download to the already-digital projectors.

I would expect the profit sharing deals would Have to be be more palatable then standard releases as well, on top of my occasional overpriced beverage purchases.

A win for customers, a win for the producers and a win for the movie house. The added wrinkle of the live-broadcast of Q&A and podcast, something that people already line up to pay for on their own if Kevin Smith comes to their town, is just icing on top of some tasty tasty cake (or maybe timbits)

UriGagarin (profile) says:

Nice

In the UK there’s a comedian that’s done 3 series of a weekly podcast that’s run on the basis that its been funded by theatre sales and available for download for free. it was conceived as a way of getting his stuff out there when commissioning directors didn’t want to . As a result he’s been getting more work and more exposure.
Des[ite the fact he’s decided to can the series (more for sanity reasons than anything else) I would describe this as a success.

Anonymous Coward says:

Okay, how is this different from a paywall?

I must admit that I’m quite a bit confused by this. While I agree that Kevin Smith is a certified cool person, the entire plan sounds like it’s a paywall protected by DRM. Yet somehow this qualfies as a scarce resource? How’s this different from what all of the other paywall people want to do? Pleez explain.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Okay, how is this different from a paywall?

Hmmm… I’m confused as to where you come up with the idea of a “paywall”. If you mean paying for a movie rental is the same as a paywall then maybe, but otherwise I don’t get it.

Besides, the “scarce resource” in this case is not the movie rental, nor is it claimed to be above. The scarce resources are the theatrical showings and the live appearances by Smith.

Gsuescum says:

Hmmm

Kevin Smith is not Warren Buffet. Going to lunch with Kevin Smith isn’t going to make me a few million.

I like what Smith is doing but I don’t really want to pay extra to hear him speak…. Sadly the vast majority of his fans are going to watch the vod and/or download pirated copies before it hits the theater and then wait for someone to upload the podcast for free download the day after he speaks.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re:

This is actually Smith’s major motivation for releasing Red State in the way he is. He thinks (correctly, IMHO) that it’s ridiculous for a $4 million movie to have to spend $20 million on advertising and thus have to take approximately $50 million in order to make a profit after theatre cuts, etc.

That’s why Clerks took so long to make a profit, and it may even have been necessary in the VHS era. Today, not so much, as Red State is apparently proving.

PaulT (profile) says:

Hmmm

“Kevin Smith is not Warren Buffet.”

I’m fairly sure he’s not trying to be.

“I like what Smith is doing but I don’t really want to pay extra to hear him speak”

That’s OK, thousands of others will. Smith’s correctly determined that you don’t have to get everybody interested in what he’s offering, just enough to make money.

“Sadly the vast majority of his fans are going to watch the vod and/or download pirated copies before it hits the theater and then wait for someone to upload the podcast for free download the day after he speaks.”

Again, he understands that and it’s not a problem. He doesn’t have to force everybody who listens to his shows or watches his movies to pay, just enough of those people to make a living. A true artist, whether or not you like his work.

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