Aussie film guns for simultaneous online, cinema release

Animated film proposes to test Australian bandwidth as online streaming hits it big

A Melbourne-based film studio is set to become one of the first Australian production houses to debut a film online and through cinema simultaneously.

Instinct Entertainment, best known for its work with Where the Wild Things Are and production of Michael Caton film, Strange Bedfellows, intends to debut its latest film, the animated Little Johnny at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival on 1 April, with a simultaneous online international release on its website.

The movie will be available online through a Flash player embedded in the website by recent startup Dynamo, with $5 gaining a 24-hour rental and payments made via PayPal or Amazon. Users will also be able, and encouraged, to link and embed the full movie into blogs and other websites, though others must pay to view the film.

According to the production house’s co-CEO and producer, David Redmond, the experimental business model is aimed at garnering as much word of mouth as possible through the online video-on-demand (VoD) model to complement its release in Australian cinemas.

“One of the challenges is to get enough people to see it early enough that the word of mouth spreads while you still have an opportunity to be in cinemas,” Redmond told Computerworld Australia.

“Let’s be honest; you can get illegal copies of every movie that’s at the cinema at the moment, and people do that because the demand is set up, but they’re not able to see it in the way they want or the time they want.

"If it’s priced appropriately and provided at the same time, then it can actually be used to encourage people to see it at the cinema, but it’s not encouraging piracy.”

Simultaneous cinema and online releases have been attempted in the US and the UK several times since 2006, with Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience even offered online weeks before its theatrical debut. Redmond claimed, however, that it was the first time the distribution model had been attempted in Australia.

“As the business models and technologies are rapidly changing, lots and lots of people are exploring that,” he said. “Partly because of the lack of bandwidth in Australia, there’s probably been less exploration at this end of it.”

Redmond posed the release as an experiment in testing Australian internet bandwidth for streaming full-length movies online, particularly for higher resolution versions of the film. YouTube clips at a full 1920x1080 pixel resolution typically require bandwidth of between 3.5 and 5 megabits per second (Mbps).

Bandwidth in Australia currently averages 4.2Mbps, but average speeds are expected to rise among continued rollouts of the National Broadband Network, as well as other fibre- and cable-connected greenfield estates.

Little Johnny will be offered in multiple resolutions through the player, including high definition at Blu-ray quality, and will be hosted from Dynamo’s servers in the US. The movie, which has a multi-million dollar budget, will not be ad-supported but rely on proceeds from the micropayments within the Flash-based player.

Instinct Entertainment trialled the player last year following the release of another of its movies, Torn, along with subscription-based streaming model called Indieflix. Redmond said Dynamo was ultimately chosen as it was more flexible.

Though Redmond hopes the online distribution will bolster theatrical revenues, he said the production house may halt the online model should it prove too popular during its cinema run.

“If we’re getting a really strong response, we may turn it off just in Australia and continue to build the audience internationally through VoD.”

Cinema releases are also planned in North America through the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal in July, as well as Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival in August.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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