After nearly two years of partial or full movie theater closures, streaming services are about to experience their biggest moment yet. The 2022 Sundance Film Festival is one of the first major festivals where an ever-growing number of services can test their muscles and their money, not just against the standard-bearers of distribution, but against the traditional methods of distribution they themselves.
“Everyone has gotten incredibly used to the idea of watching movies that are being streamed for the first time without any kind of stigma,” said Picturestart founder and CEO Erik Feig. “Now it’s all about different forms of distribution because they ultimately make sense to the audience, because the consumer is going to dictate how and when they want to watch something.”
Brian Beckmann, CFO of Arclight Films, says Sundance programming has always been tailored to the uniqueness that streaming services offer their subscribers.
“Sundance has become much more of a streamer’s market than any of the other traditional international markets,” says Beckmann. “These projects wouldn’t normally find a very big home with lots of smaller arthouse distributors because they don’t have that kind of pipeline to get it out there, like Hulu or Netflix. You see those higher quality movies that streamers are looking for, and they’re all coordinated in one place, especially for North America.
Earlier in 2021, Nielsen reported consumers had up to 200 streaming services to choose from. Of course, not everyone will be at Sundance, but the companies that will buy content as much to solidify their identity as their libraries.
“I would love to find a movie that Discovery Plus and Mubi are bidding against — and that’s a possibility,” says Liesl Copland, executive vice president, content and platform strategy at Participant. “But it’s about [streaming services] reach audiences they see engaged in what they do. They really need this content so they can gather eyeballs and organize their home platforms and really bring new audiences to them.
IFC Films president Arianna Bocco said her team is looking to snap up titles at the festival but expects competition to be fierce, especially as the pandemic may have limited the number of movies that might be finished in time to show.
“I think it will be a very competitive festival,” she said. “Our priorities are to watch the finished films available to us, but also to seek to enter earlier into some of the film packages that may also be available to us.”
The “packages” referred to by Bocco may include films in development or in various stages of completion, but may also refer to a director, film crew or production company that a distributor, particularly a deep-pocketed streamer, can hitch his cart for the future. projects.
Brian O’Shea, CEO of international sales firm The Exchange, observes that Sundance is a particularly good festival for forging those relationships.
“The development of filmmakers is huge,” says O’Shea. “The right movie could get extremely, extremely aggressive, but there could also be little gems that they pick up at a high price and then they start a very special relationship.”
But what the pandemic has taught the entertainment industry most clearly is that consumers are hungrier than ever for content.
“Now is a good time to be a content creator,” says Bocco. “But I think it’s important to be flexible and fluid in terms of the market. So it’s really about having an eye on the future and being agile in the evolution of the cinema market. There’s enough content for everyone, but also enough where people will be happy to have choices.