SXSW Film 2006

DVDs vs Theaters Panel

Saturday, March 11, 1pm

Movie-making is a business, and South by Southwest was crawling with businessmen interested in the bottom line, surely, as much as creative output. Consider the questions behind this panel: Is it essential that independent films open first at theatres? Chris Blackwell, founder of Palm Pictures, drew an analogy to the music business he worked in for years, in which bands go on tour to promote their latest releases. "The most expensive thing is getting the product in front of the public," he said. Is the experiment in simultaneous release of films at the theatre and on DVD a good notion or a bad idea? John Sloss of Cinetic Media believes it's all about consumer demand, and consumers are demanding availability. "This will to convenience is going to blow through these levels of availability," he predicted. The move toward simultaneous release, which Mark Cuban's 2929 Entertainment – which includes Landmark Theaters – is trying, can be compared to the change from times when sports teams were blacked out in their local markets to pump up attendance. "What sells DVDs and tickets is word of mouth," Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League said. "You can't spend your way into success every time." So that leads to one last big question: Who is the bad guy here? For Patrick Kwiatkowski, it's major chains like Wal-Mart, whose sheer size means getting a DVD on their racks equates with instant success. "They're a major gatekeeper, and they won't buy your DVDs," he said in reference to most independent films. For League, it's just as much the corporate-think that promotes sweetheart deals between particular theatre chains and particular film distributors and leaves out the true independent theatres. For example, he said, he was unable to get the Academy Award shorts program that had run in previous years because of a change in ownership that mandated it go to a particular arthouse chain. "A similar alignment was destroyed in 1949 by a theatrical antitrust case," he said.

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SXSW Film 2006, DVDs vs Theaters Panel, Chris Blackwell, Palm Pictures, John Sloss, Cinetic Media, Mark Cuban, 2929 Entertainment, Landmark Theaters, Alamo Drafthouse, Tim League, Patrick Kwiatkowski, Wal-Mart, Academy Award shorts program

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