Tribeca Film Festival Goes National with Digital Distribution

Last night the ninth annual Tribeca Film Festival kicked off, and this year the event is guaranteed to be bigger than ever. Until now the film fest has been limited to the folks who could make it to one of the screenings in lower Manhattan.

Tribeca Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival

But this year video-on-demand and online streaming are bringing the Indie film festival across the country.

The 130-film festival is offering a number of the films the same day they screen in theaters in New York, through digital distribution.

A $45 pass to "Tribeca Film Festival Virtual" buys access to stream eight feature films as they premiere at the festival, along with discussions with filmmakers and panels, plus access to the festival's short films. Some 40 million cable and satellite TV subscribers will be able to view 12 Tribeca films, 7 of which are screening at the festival.

This points to a major change at Tribeca this year. The event usually serves as a market for filmmakers to sell to distributors. But this year Tribeca Enterprises is changing that equation—buying the film rights itself in order to be able to distribute them online and via video-on-demand as they debut at the festival.

The company, run by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, has already bought more than 10 films to monetize through these digital streams.

But this raises some questions. Does Tribeca Enterprises take advantage of its ability to schedule movies as its likes, to promote its own investments? What happens if a theatrical distributor wants to bring some of these movies that will be available on video-on-demand to movie theaters? Are filmmakers forgoing that option by selling rights to Tribeca?

Fact is, the economics of independent film have changed—it's so rare to secure a theatrical release for an independent film, that it's smart to shift focus to less-expensive digital distribution.

Tribeca isn't the first festival to get tech savvy. Sundance Film Festival sold some of its movies through streaming on a YouTube site, and sent some of its filmmakers to eight smaller theaters across the country to screen films.

And last year South by Southwest offered five of its films through video-on-demand. We'll see how these Tribeca films perform; their broad availability is a testament to the paradigm shift in independent film.

Questions? Comments?