Summary:

Film distributor Screen Media Ventures is launching Popcornflix.com, a website that will let indie film fans watch hundreds of movies for free, in an ad-supported format. But can movies with ads bring in as much money as licensing to Netflix or renting through iTunes?

popcornflix

Once the lifeblood of Netflix’s library when its streaming service launched, independent film has lately taken a back seat to newer TV programming and feature film releases on the service. But that’s opened up an opportunity for others to target indie film fans with their own online video services. A few weeks ago, Fandor launched with a subscription offering specifically focused on independent and international films. And now Screen Media Ventures is launching Popcornflix.com, a new service providing free, ad-supported indie films online.

Popcornflix currently has 200 films from Screen Media’s library available in an ad-supported format, and it plans to rapidly expand that number to more than 1,000 titles within the next six to nine months. Some of the films — like stoner documentary Super High Me, for instance — are available through Netflix’s subscription video service. Others are available for rental or purchase through video-on-demand platforms like Apple’s iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand. So if viewers and online distributors are paying for those films, why make them available for free?

Screen Media SVP of Digital Distribution Gary Delfiner told us in a phone interview that the distribution business is typically a non-exclusive one, and that the titles Screen Media distributes are usually on a number of platforms, whether they be ad-supported, like Hulu; subscription-based, like Netflix; or transactional, like iTunes. Furthermore, he said that for indie films, the revenue generated from ad-supported platforms can be just as significant as those generated from transactional platforms. Each movie will have pre-roll ads, as well as mid-roll ads that are inserted to ensure that the sponsor messages don’t break up the action of the film.

Users can browse the site by genre, search for actor or director, and view new arrivals to the site’s catalog. Screen Media also hopes that by adding social sharing features, like hooks into Facebook and Twitter, it will be able to boost the number of views its films get. Popcornflix films are currently available on PC and mobile browsers, but it’s looking to expand to other platforms, such as set-top boxes from Boxee and Roku, as well as mobile apps for Android and iOS devices.

While the bulk of content on Popcornflix now is from Screen Media’s own library, it’s also open to working with other independent producers and distributors in growing the library through revenue sharing agreements. It’s hoping to get film schools from around the country involved as well, with plans to create a genre of movies called “Film School Originals,” through which students will get their first taste of online distribution.

Popcornflix officially launches in the U.S. tomorrow, and will expand with availability in Canada in the next few weeks. Since the distribution firm also has rights for movies around the world, with about 250-700 films in any given territory, according to Delfiner, it plans to gradually roll out to other international markets on a territory-by-territory basis.

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