Atom Films and IFilm Go Beyond the PC

SAN FRANCISCO (04/20/2000) - Once upon a time, short films were even harder to sell than short stories. But during the past six months, a number of Web sites have launched that solicit and screen short films.

Two of the first were Seattle-based Atom Films and L.A.-based iFilm. Each built up a substantial library of short films and animation by filmmakers who are eager to get discovered online. Now both companies are pushing these films beyond the computer screen. IFilm has teamed up with TiVo, the San Jose, Calif.-based personal TV service, to offer some of its best shorts. Beginning this summer, TiVo boxes will come preloaded with 20 of iFilm's best short films. Once the TiVo box is installed, the viewer will be able to click on the films and watch them on his or her TV screen. The deal is significant, because it moves content that was discovered online to the TV, bypassing the TV networks, which have always been the gateway to TV distribution.

Plus, a major criticism of online short films has been that people don't like to watch films on their computer monitors. Now iFilm will have the opportunity to try the popularity of their content on couch potatoes. For now, the process of updating the films to TiVo is strictly old school. IFilm will FedEx tapes of new films to TiVo, which would upload them to the user's box via phone connection. However, this will change, say company executives. "The great thing for us is, as the technology develops, we'll be the first company positioned to digitally deliver the content direct to the TiVo box," says iFilm's CEO, Kevin Wendle.

The upside for TiVo is that purchasers would use their box and service as a way to get content that can't be found on regular TV. "There are going to be many more announcements of independent content providers who are going to be working with us on comarketing projects like this," said Stacy Jolna, VP of programming and network relations for TiVo. "TiVo is not just about picking TV shows."

Jolna added that the company planned to add other types of entertainment to the TiVo service, including games.

IFilm says it hopes the deal will attract filmmakers looking to hit the big time. "Ultimately, in our experience, filmmakers make shorts because they want to make long films one day," Wendle said. "This is the best way for the very best filmmakers to be discovered on the Net and brought home to TV." However, as always, iFilm will have to compete for filmmakers with Atom Films, which has its own new distribution deal.

Unlike iFilm, Atom Films requires that filmmakers sign exclusivity agreements, and in turn, if Atom gains wider distribution for the films, it shares royalties with the filmmakers. Atom Films has found placement for its films on the Independent Film Channel and on a handful of in-flight airline movie channels. Now Atom is moving onto handheld devices.

Today it announced that it has partnered with Microsoft to distribute Atom Films via the new Microsoft Pocket PC device. The initiative, called "Atom to Go," is part of Atom's overall strategy of branching out into wireless devices, including mobile phones and watches. Atom Films' spokesperson Carrie Morris said the company had been in talks with a number of players, including TiVo, but had no other distribution announcements at this time.

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