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Bass Ackwards Distribution Model

A movie called Bass Ackwards which was selected for Sundance this year will be living up to its name:

In an unprecedented distribution maneuver that will bypass theatrical and other traditional windows, the highly anticipated film, Bass Ackwards, which will have its World Premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, will be available nationwide one day after the festival closes. Through this unusual distribution deal with New York based New Video and Zipline Entertainment, Bass Ackwards will be available for purchase and download in tens of millions of homes via major digital retailers, cable VOD and DVD on demand beginning Monday, February 1, 2010. A full retail DVD release in the spring will include in-depth bonus material documenting the unique distribution strategy.

In some ways I love this. It’s a pre-emptive strike at all the distributors who are too scared of the current market to be making deals at Sundance. The movie looks like a labor of love that was shot on the cheap (it’s part of the new NEXT category) and those sort of movies usually have trouble getting big distribution deals. Instead of trying to use Sundance buzz to sell to distribs, filmmaker Linas Philips and his producers, Thomas Woodrow, Mark Duplass and Marian Koltai-Levine, are using the buzz to go straight to audiences.

Here’s why I’m worried:

That’s a graph of American consumer spending on movies in 2008 and 2009 that was in the Wall Street Journal. Which revenue streams would you rather be dipping your movie in? Ain’t VOD.

First of all, let’s concede that — especially for a small film — it costs more in marketing for theatrical than you make back. So, even if you cut off that big candy bar you’re left with two other attainable snack attacks: DVD rental and DVD sales.

Does that mean with this model the producers of Bass Ackwards shouldn’t be waiting till Spring to bring out the DVD?

This could be a model that will work in a few years, when VOD/Digital Download is stronger. I doubt it will work right now, at least not for films that have reasonable budgets they are trying to earn back. Or maybe I underestimate the attention bump Sundance publicity gives.

Either way, it’s a step towards the model of the future: upside-down distribution.


  1. Nice blog — I enjoy checking in! (And I enjoyed your 2-week movie as well! ;)

    It seems to me that they're simply generating free publicity for the movie before they release it on DVD — indeed, they'll be *paid* for the publicity. Early adopter types (many of whom blog and tweet as well) will be able to download and view the movie, and then write about it all over the Internet. Studios do something similar when they provide movie critics with a pre-release screening. A movie this small may not get much mainstream media coverage, so these guys are trying to spread the word virally instead.

    When the DVD is finally released, presumably there will be a greater demand for it built up by all that "pre-release" buzz, and sales should be brisker in the first few weeks than they would have been otherwise. I suspect it's the first few weeks that generates the most cash for a DVD release, so one would want to pack as many sales in as possible. Not to mention, sales generate more sales — word of mouth, the shine of success, etc. — so the better it does early on, the more money it brings in down the line.

    With so few downloading movies, it's hard to see much overlap between the downloaders and the disc-buyers — very few will be forgoing the more expensive option to take advantage of this early release. The proof will be in the pudding, I guess… but one will have to account for other factors influencing sales, like how good or mainstream the movie is!

  2. Thanks, Yarrow.

    Great points. You're right that the biggest factor will be how mainstream/good the movie is.

    I just hope they have something set up for DVD pre-sales from day one so that anyone who is hearing the buzz generated by the downloads can be captured as a (more-profitable) DVD sale too.

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