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Could VOD Destroy The Availability of Independent Film?

I live in a city of roughly 200,000 people — real small town America.

There are a lot of movies we simply don’t get. One such recent example is Snowpiercer where the closest theater to me that’s showing it is over 100 miles away — about an hour and half drive.

The recent growth of simultaneous video on demand (VOD) release would appear to be a godsend.

No longer do I have to choose between driving three hours vs. waiting however many months it takes for the Blu-ray release.

I can watch the movie at home at the same time it is playing in theaters.

And this is what I did with Snowpiercer.

Apparently a lot of other people did the same thing — Snowpiercer’s VOD sales are being hailed a major success stores. For an independent movie like this, supplementing a limited theatrical run with VOD for people in the cultural wastelands like me is much more cost effective than a full theatrical rollout.

As democratizing as this may seem, I’d argue it risks worsening the two-tier system of film distribution we have in the U.S.

The video and sound quality of my Snowpiercer rental purchased from Amazon wasn’t as good as other offerings on Amazon Prime and Netflix, let alone to how it looked and sounded in theaters and will on Blu-ray.

In fact, the quality was so subpar that I almost wished I had just waited for the Blu-ray release

While you could say that something is better than nothing, my fear is that independent film producers who are currently successfully fighting to get their movies into small markets like mine will just give up.

They’ll look at the business Snowpiercer did on VOD — and will have geographical data to see the locations of where people purchased it — and conclude in the future it would be more cost effective to do the same thing.

While we didn’t get Snowpiercer in my town, we still do get the latest Woody Allen and Wes Anderson films, for example.

Not my local theater, but that of EIC Stefan Blitz in Providence, RI

That could all be downgraded to subpar VOD release, decreasing the number of non-mainstream movies available at my local theaters.

And I want to make clear that the issue is less about having the communal movie theater experience, and more about a high quality presentation of movies.

For everyone living in big cities they’ll continue to receive high quality audio and video presentations of all movies.

For the rest of us, an increasing number of movies will be screened at a resolution not even equal top streaming A/V quality (and even if it gets there, we still have to contend with our ISPs that might throttling our download speeds in the middle of a movie).

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