1 Year Old, SnagFilms Unveils Online Doc Fest and Comcast, Sundance Channel Pacts
by Eric Kohn (July 16, 2009)
SnagFilms's new summer one series will stream documentaries that have not been released theatrically or on television. Snag has also launched its new homepage, marking the completion of its “beta” phase, and the company revealed new partnerships with the Sundance Channel and Comcast’s online portal, Fancast.
“SnagFilms Summerfest,” begins on July 24 with the U.S. premiere of “The Entrepreneur", documentarian Jonathan Bricklin’s portrait of his father, legendary automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin. The movie, executive produced by “Super Size Me” director Morgan Spurlock, had its world premiere at Hot Docs earlier this year. It will remain available on SnagFilms and the company’s distribution network (including AOL, Hulu and the recent addition of Comcast’s Fancast) for one week, followed by other titles to be announced at a later date.
Since officially launching on July 17, 2008, SnagFilms has garnered over one billion page views for its film widgets, which can be embedded on a website or blog. The expansive online audience puts the company, with its library of over 840 titles and counting—double the amount it contained twelve months ago—in a position of bringing documentaries to larger audiences than many of them would normally reach via traditional distribution models.
According to SnagFilms CEO Rick Allen, the popularity of the site reflects an ongoing change in the way people process media over the internet. “Movie fans were just beginning to watch films online a year ago, and mostly they watched short, amateur clips,” he said yesterday. “Now, a huge portion of the public enjoys long-form, award-winning professional content on their computers.”
SnagFilms’s redesigned site indicates an attempt to reflect user demands for greater interactivity. A feature called “Movie Matcher” presents various disconnected words or phrases that can be combined as key words, yielding movie recommendations tailored to individual preferences. The new site also contains “Just Viewed,” “Snagged Today” and “Most Popular this Month” features — obvious attempts to drive the popularity of the library’s contents, which will grow significantly in the coming weeks.
Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” which was the most popular documentary on SnagFilms during the first year, receives its own special place in a new widget entitled “SnagFilms Presents – The Best of Year One,” available now. The widget contains other well-received titles from SnagFilm’s library, including “Confessions of a Superhero,” which follows actors on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame dressed up as comic book characters, and “Darkon,” the remarkably bleak and revealing portrait of adult fantasy role-playing that served as inspiration for David Wain’s studio comedy “Role Models.”
The widget also features Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s “The End of America,” an adaptation of Naomi Wolf’s non-fiction tome, and the fraternity exposé “Haze.” Both films were part of a unique release strategy last fall in which they simultaneously premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival and on SnagFilms.
In addition to such unorthodox distribution experiments, SnagFilms has cultivated a number of partnerships with other entities in the film community and beyond it. In March, the company brought parts of its library to Hulu; April found it entering into Founders’ Alliances with Hot Docs, Outfest and Full Frame, bringing documentaries from the festival circuit to broader audiences; in May, it joined forces with IMDb and YouTube. Now, the company has announced that Fancast will begin carrying titles from SnagFilms’s library this week, and that it will distribute documentaries provided by the Sundance Channel.
Allen emphasized that SnagFilms aims to maximize audiences for three types of films: Traditionally released features, undistributed features and those with immediate relevance (such as “End of America,” with its election season hook) that require an expedited release schedule. In every case, the financial logistics remain more or less the same. “We’re creating a dual revenue stream,” Allen explained, “sharing ad revenue, and converting casual viewers directly into DVD and other e-commerce buyers.”
Allen said the rate of change involved in online developments — reflected in the massive reception of SnagFilms’s widgets, one billion pageviews strong — continually takes him by surprise. “I have been running web businesses as part of bigger media companies for more than a decade, but it’s really accelerating,” he said. “We’ll grow by making it even easier for a worldwide audience to find, watch and share films, and to become more active global citizens.”
Highlighting the notion of “filmanthropy” invented by SnagFilms founder Ted Leonsis as the guiding ethos of the company, Allen sounded a note of optimism about the future. “By next year,” he predicted, “everybody will be snagging.”