Streaming Wars: Indie Streamers Are Getting Nimble in Face of Brand New Distribution World

With streaming dominating the industry — and suddenly becoming the “new normal” in a changing world — IndieWire is taking a closer look at the news cycle, breaking down what really matters to provide a clear picture of what companies are winning the streaming wars, and how they’re pulling ahead.

By looking at trends and the latest developments, Streaming Wars Report: Indie Edition offers a snapshot of what’s happening overall and day-to-day in streaming for the indie set. Check out the latest Streaming Wars Report for updates to the bigger players in the industry.

Buzzy Originals

Embracing the Virtual Experience

In just three weeks, indie outfits like Kino Lorber, Music Box Films, and Film Movement have already rolled out theatrical-at-home plans (otherwise known as “virtual cinema”) that not only bring first-run films into your living room, but also share revenue with the theaters initially booked to show their films. Only weeks into their new initiatives, the distributors are already adding on new films and new theaters.

This week, Kino Lorber announced that its Kino Marquee “virtual theatrical experience” will next host the charming sci-fi comedy “Extra Ordinary,” which debuted at last year’s SXSW and was just digging into its theatrical release when most theaters were shut down. Film Movement’s Virtual Cinema, only days old, is already pivoting to include first-run “theatrical premieres” of some of its films. While the new initiative has so far only hosted films that did receive a theatrical run, if even a truncated one, on April 17, it will debut its inaugural first-run premiere: Hlynur Palmason’s “A White, White Day,” which was Iceland’s official Oscar submission earlier this year.

Elsewhere, the Alamo Drafthouse, after already joining forces with other virtual cinemas options through Kino Lorber, Film Movement, and Magnolia Pictures, is now beefing up its own online offerings through its “Alamo-At-Home” initiative, which includes the (virtual) return of its longest-running programming series, Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday. In addition to first-run films, the boutique cinema chain will now offer online screenings featuring pre-show content, introductions, and discussions conducted on Alamo Drafthouse’s content and editorial website,

And other distributors are rapidly following suit with virtual cinema plans of their own, giving not only their indie brethren a run for their money, but also the handful of studios that are continuing to hold off on more robust VOD concepts.

“Away From Meaning”

This week, Cinema Tropical rolled out its Cinema Tropical Collection, “a new and exciting initiative that makes select Latin American films available digitally for the first time ever.” Last Sunday, that included the “digital world premiere” of Olivia Luengas’ “Away from Meaning.” The film premiered on Cinema Tropical’s website, where it was free to stream for 24 hours. Following that digital debut, “Away From Meaning” headed over to VOD release on Cinema Tropical’s VOD platform, Tropical on Demand.

Upcoming Cinema Tropical Collection releases include the documentary films “Still Burn” by Mauricio Alfredo Ovando from Bolivia and “Tú y Yo” by Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada from the Dominican Republic, plus the fiction films “Kékszakállu” by Gastón Solinicki from Argentina and “Everything Else” by Natalia Almada from Mexico.

New Numbers

What Will Box Office Reports Look Like in the Coming Weeks?

One big question to consider: With all these new virtual cinemas putting cash in the pockets of various theaters (a good thing, to be sure), will that income ever hit box office reports? As of now, such numbers are few and far between, and not offered up with any kind of regularity, certainly not enough to alter a new box office landscape that remains fallow and at the mercy of VOD numbers.

Big Deals

Streamers Capitalize on Bringing Festivals Into Your Home 

Just as the indie streaming world is suddenly more robust (and competitive) than ever, a new contender has entered the arena, offering an already-deep library and serving a niche that’s actually hungry for more content. International streaming service DAFilms has just this week launched in the Americas, complete with a 2,000 film-strong catalogue of festival and documentary films. The platform is one of the main projects of DocAlliance, a creative partnership between seven of the major European documentary festivals, including CPH:DOX, Doclisboa, Millennium Docs Against Gravity FF, DOK Leipzig, FIDMarseille, Ji.hlava IDFF, and Visions du Réel.

Now, those festivals’ extensive lineups are accessible in American homes for just $6.99 a month (or $4.99 with an annual subscription, along with single-screening rentals also available for films). While the service is new to those across the pond, it’s well-established in Europe, and thus arrives with a number of curated offerings, including sections like Spotlight On, Film of the Week, Featured Filmmaker, and Country in Focus, all designed to “guide users through a rich world of independent documentary.”

“Varda By Agnes”

So far, the service has already lined up a wide variety of programming, from a spotlight on Agnes Varda and some of her lesser-known documentaries, along with a wider look at other female filmmakers, a focus on the films of Iran, and a fresh Bernie Sanders doc. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though, as DAFilms is already filled with treasures for film lovers of all kinds. Even better: it’s a filmmaker-led platform, and rights holders get 60 percent of the profits directly.

Other festival lovers can queue up a visit the well-loved Oxford Film Festival from the safety of their own home, as the annual Mississippi festival, typically held in February or March, has partnered with Film Movement to stream five of its selections. Like Film Movement’s other virtual cinema offerings, the platform will split its ticket income with the festival.  While the festival works to reschedule its 2020 event, it’s a wonderful way to support their filmmakers and team. Films available include “Corpus Christi,” “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands,” “L’Innocente,” “The Wild Goose Lake,” and “Zombi Child.” To rent the films, head to the festival’s website.

Other platforms and institutions are also hip to the power of a well-curated program, especially in a world that — for now — must exist without the pleasure of a traditional film festival. The American Film Institute (AFI) has launched its AFI Movie Club, designed as  “a daily virtual gathering to leverage our collective love of film on behalf of optimism in this time of global uncertainty.” Audiences can “gather” online at the new mini-site to view the featured movie of the day with the use of their preexisting streaming services. The daily film selections will be supported by fun facts, family discussion points, and exclusive material from the AFI Archive to enrich the viewing experience.

Viewers looking for a cheap (read: free!) option, Filmatique has created ​7 Days of Cinema​, a weeklong program of free daily films that launches today. Filmatique’s curators will present one film per day, for seven days, available to watch in the U.S. completely free of charge. Per an official announcement, “the aim of this virtual movie club is to open a space of reflection, discovery, and connectedness amid an atmosphere of paralysis and fear.”

For classic film lovers, The Film Detective is also spotlighting older films on both its streaming site and its live component. Beginning April 1, TFD is featuring a collection of classic comics on its live channel and adding more than a dozen comedies to its streaming library of over 1,000 classic film and television titles, plus a variety of movie marathons. This month, that includes a Buster Keaton collection and a Roger Corman Marathon.

Top 5 Power Rankings (April 3, 2020)

1. DAfilms
2. AFI Movie Club
3. The Criterion Channel
4. Kino Marquee
5. The Cinema Tropical Collection

Keep streaming, and stay safe out there.

Additional reporting by Tom Brueggemann.

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