August 8, 2014

Is the VOD Release of 'Snowpiercer' Clever Marketing, or Just a Roll of the Dice?

The world of film distribution is constantly changing. While we've seen that the Netflix/Hulu/VOD model is becoming more competitive with the standard theatre date release, we're not living in the age of theatre model dismissal just yet. However, studios are beginning to experiment with dual releases, and Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer, having now earned $3.8 million via VOD, is an incredible example of such a disruptive innovation in releasing films. These videos give a great recap of the Snowpiercer release situation, as well as some of the analysis on why this particular release is unique:

First, here's a couple of videos from Bloomberg TV's Market Makers anchor Jon Erlichman on the situation:

Snowpiercer opened in just eight cities June 27th, competing directly with the perpetual box office hit Angry Smashing Robot Spectacle 4 (or if you're into the whole brevity thing, Transformers.) But RADiUS, the US art house distribution arm of The Weinstein Company, then opted for a wider release based on positive reviews and buzz, and the film earned has $4.1 million domestic since that move. As mentioned in the video above, there was some controversy surrounding the release (including The Weinstein Company reportedly wanting to cut down/re-edit the film), but now that the dust has settled, the film has profited a nice $8 million in domestic and VOD earnings. One could say that this dual release has proven to be an elegant marketing tactic by TWC -- after all, Snowpiercer is shaping up to be a huge VOD success story.

However, Noel Murray of The Dissolve questions this:

So Snowpiercer’s strong returns are potentially great news for moviegoers. But is this great news for the Weinstein Company? TWC has taken a lot of knocks over the past year (including from The Dissolve) regarding the reports that it wanted to cut Bong Joon-ho’s film, followed by the perception that the company was dumping the uncut version by giving it such a limited opening. As I wrote last week in conjunction with the Weinsteins’ decision to release One Chance on Yahoo Screen, I’m still not sure how much of what’s happened with Snowpiercer is due to a brilliant marketing strategy and how much is due to the movie being so good that people were willing to do whatever they must to see it.

Murray goes on to mention Bilge Ebiri's article in Businessweek in which analysts implied that The Weinstein Company has been "trying to turn a stumble into a somersault".

As Erlichman mentions above in the second Market Makers clip, a film going "straight to video" could be seen as a "stinker". For filmmakers looking to distribute, I think the elephant in the room is simply this -- are we now going to see more dual releases in lieu of the standard theatrical release, and does this dual release of Snowpiercer, a big-budget sci-fi film, mark the beginning of that shift? And will the "straight to video" stigma thus vanish?

What do you think about the situation? Is this a brilliant marketing strategy, or simply the Weinsteins turning "a stumble into a somersault"? And how do you think Snowpiercer's dual release strategy will affect how film's are released in the future?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go flip on my iTunes via Apple TV, and enjoy some recently-released quality sci-fi --

Links:

[Via The Dissolve]

Your Comment

29 Comments

It's such an awful movie. So disappointing.

August 8, 2014 at 9:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rick

Take A Dump. It was fun as hell. Just good old fashioned fun.

August 8, 2014 at 9:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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seth

I sincerely apologise for expecting something with more substance from a director such as Bong Joon-Ho. Pulling pants down now....

August 8, 2014 at 3:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rick

Saying it's awful is a bit harsh, I for one really enjoyed it, sorry you didn't. It certainly wasn't a bad movie. These things are subjective anyway. Plus you're obviously in the minority who thinks it's bad. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 95% fresh rating. I would say it's a good movie that you don't like, doesn't make it an awful movie.

August 8, 2014 at 8:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Shaun Fontaine

I fully respect the fact that you found the movie enjoyable. I love movies, as do you I assume therefore I'm glad that you found enjoyment in this particular film. After I stated that I thought it was awful I also said that it was disappointing. I don't assume that it was disappointing for everyone however, personally I found it extremely disappointing. I'm a huge Bong Joon-Ho fan and when I bought a ticket to see this film I expected much more. There are so many problems with the story it's insane. You can't get behind any of the central characters because the film essentially started halfway through the story and never clears anything up. There's no indication as to who any of the characters in the movie are or what's going on until the point when you realise they basically did a bunch of bad stuff earlier. At that point who cares because they're basically all dead. It's Captain America barreling down a train, but for what reason? Edgar's dead before you even know who he is.

August 9, 2014 at 12:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rick

I accidentally hit enter too early but I can't be bothered going on anyway. I felt it failed on various levels however many people seem to like it, including yourself. I'm purely expressing my disappointment as I expected more from a director that has proven themselves to be a great storyteller.

Ps. If someone can explain what the fish was all about that would be fantastic.

August 9, 2014 at 12:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rick

But now we know that babies taste the best!

August 8, 2014 at 9:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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alex

Agreed.

August 8, 2014 at 10:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Random, but Christopher I just clicked through to your website. Well done, very clean, I like it.

August 8, 2014 at 11:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Benjamin Dewhurst
Writer
writer/director

I believe it is just Folio Grid Pro for Wordpress?

August 8, 2014 at 1:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tom

I'm a huge Bong Joon-ho fan, and i have to agree...This was a real mess.

And before you start defending the movie, know that Bong Joon-ho himself is very unhappy with the "Weinstein" Cut that is now the end product

August 8, 2014 at 12:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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LumberjackSatan

No defending needed. As far as I have read all that was overblown (Straight from the mans mouth) Many films have various cuts for various markets, most being very minor. If you dont like the film that really has nothing to do with me, but taking the movie so seriously, to me, is outside the spectrum of the film and filmmaker's intent. Purely he is having fun here and up to his old gags. Granted the Baby line was damn near unforgivable in that it took me out of the movie, which only adds to the fact that he shouldn't try and infuse any more into the story for substance sake and just keep the movie on the level he does best. Entertainment. i.e. The Host, i.e Snowpiercer. This isn't the Godfather on a Train, its more like fireworks in a bathroom at the age of 15.

August 8, 2014 at 6:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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seth

Have you seen his more serious work? F.E. on Tokyo! and Mother... it might not be the godfather, but it's pretty damn close.

Those aren't 'just entertainment'

August 8, 2014 at 10:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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LumberjackSatan

I agree with you. There are many filmmakers/directors/studios out there that make movies that could broadly be considered 'entertainment'. On the flip-side there are directors such as Bong Joon-ho that have created movies that have depth and substance to them which audiences come to love and become invested in. There's so much shit pumped into the cinemas these days they look to those directors in the hope that they will continue to create great cinema. When they pump out something with a muddled storyline, little to no character development, and looks like the hunger games on a train it's really disappointing to those that expected more.

August 9, 2014 at 1:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rick

I loved that they dual released it. I hate going to theaters and paying to have my seat kicked or the person near me talk through the entire thing. Being able to watch it at home got me to pay for a movie I probably wouldn't have seen in the first place.

August 8, 2014 at 9:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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alex

Dual releases will even make more sense when 80 inch 4K televisions are becoming standard in future homes.
This is one of the best movies of the year so far. A philosophical statement.

August 8, 2014 at 11:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The film itself had enough buzz - given that it's been out a while globally - to generate both the decent opening and the VOD numbers. But that accidental beef with the director may indeed turn into a trial&error marketing plan. As most folks know, the simultaneous national releases only began to take hold in the mid-1970's when "Jaws" became a huge summer blockbuster. Before then, films opened in major cities, earned themselves a word of mouth reviews and allowed the producers to turn the early returns into a subsequent promotional campaign. The new distribution plans may indeed take this step "back to the future" and reexamine how the 'slow rollout" approach can work in conjunction with the VOD.
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PS. IMO, this will work better for films of some substance that people will want to see. The "straight to video" B-movies won't gather much acclaim in the theaters and thus will be priced accordingly on the VOD. "Snowpiercer" is being streamed for $18, while your typical B-movies are offered on YouTube for $4.

August 8, 2014 at 12:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Honest question: no snark here. The nice 8 million "profit" you mention in the article is really just gross receipts. So don't see how that is considered a success.

Given Snowpiercer's budget (whatever that was), the money used to promote it (advertising), the percentage shared with theaters and VOD distro partners -- not to mention talent profit participation deals (likely with Swinton) -- $8 million seems like a loss to the filmmaking/production team.

It stands to reason that Snowpiercer would have to do several multiples higher than $8 million to be consider a financially successful -- where the actual filmmakers make a true profit from the venture.

August 8, 2014 at 12:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Finn Sawyer

The film made $80 million overseas before they released it on VOD, so I'm assuming that $4 million domestic is purely profit. (after splits with distro and talent)

August 8, 2014 at 12:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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No snark detected (and I appreciate that Finn)! This is just referencing the domestic take, and I perhaps should've been more clear on that. According to the numbers linked above at Box Office Mojo, worldwide the film has done about $82 million - not including the $4 million VOD. With an estimated budget of near $40 million, it's doubled it's budget.

Now to your point, how much of that is going to marketing/ad, who knows, but already having a good $4 million in its unique "home release" bodes well, in my opinion.

August 8, 2014 at 12:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Benjamin Dewhurst
Writer
writer/director

It's still boggles the mind that there isn't a "centralized" means for distribution whereby the filmmaker can rent their film directly to consumers (or theaters for that matter).

For example, there are thousands of films new and old that I can NOT rent for streaming. The other night I tried to track down a masterpiece by Alain Tanner "Le Salamadre" from 1971 which I saw on VHS 10 years ago.

Consumers should be able to go to a centralized website -- rent the movie for streaming for say, $5 the website should get 1 and the filmmaker/producer or his estate would then get the $4.

Of course version of this model exists with iTunes (Netflix is a disaster; like a bad cable station) but iTunes barely carries any films (in relation to what's out there).

Thus a "centralized cinema depot" would be a huge boon to both filmmakers and consumers. Filmmakers/Producers would have to pay to have HD or SD version of their film uploaded to the "depot" and then whenever its rented they get a quarterly check.

As it stands now -- films disappear constantly from Netflix and iTunes.

August 8, 2014 at 1:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Finn Sawyer

A central marketing/review site would be good too. Rotten Tomatoes sort of fills that niche but it's not promoted by the studios themselves.
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As to the financial breakdown, TWC just picked up its US distribution for the film. It had nothing to do with the film's production costs. I also assume that, once Harvey decided to keep this small, the marketing budget reflected that. His net will obviously depend on that he paid for those distribution rights to begin with. I assume that it was under $10M for 100%. He'll probably make it back off video.

August 8, 2014 at 2:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

This is the future, it's how it's going to be - and it is a great thing for indie filmmakers.

August 8, 2014 at 5:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ed Wright

VOD is better than the old system of showing at a festival or two hoping to be picked up by a distributor. I'm hoping VOD becomes popular enough and stays open so that someone like me who makes micr-budget films (space trucker bruce) can publish them on places like amazon where there is a big audience and my film can sit right next to big budget movies.

August 8, 2014 at 5:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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This is a completely crap way to release this film. They had the ability to easily gross 50M+ domestically and far more in VOD etc if they had gone with a traditional release. This is such a waste, this is no success story its really a complete failure...seriously 12M bucks...it should of had an opening weekend of more.

Also don't forget after theaters take their share and the 30% off the top from VOD its likely really more like 60-65% of the money they are talking.

August 8, 2014 at 6:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Darren Orange

But there are no marketing costs to speak of. Meanwhile, take the 50% off the theatrical rentals and then take out $20M in marketing costs and you're back at zero unless you do gross $50M and that is far from a given.

August 8, 2014 at 11:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

My feeling is that Snowpiercer is a bad example to use in discussions about VOD. I thought it was the best movie I've seen this year, but it is definitely not a mass market film as shown by the very divided response to it. It has A list talent and production, but it was shot outside of the Hollywood system and presented as an art house movie. The decision to only release it to a small number of theaters in the states was based on a judgement call and not the normal lack of resources or interest that most movies that go straight to video receive. Finally, it was released almost a year ago and has been available by torrent for about five months. It's VOD sales in the states aren't representative of what the movie might have made if it had a proper worldwide release.

August 8, 2014 at 8:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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cpreston

I hope that things become as they were in the V-Cinema market they had in Japan, where releasing straight to video is looked at as just as good and just as viable as releasing in cinemas.

August 8, 2014 at 8:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

I'm confused.
Weinstein tried to bury this movie domesticly to punish the movie's Director for not recutting as Weinstein instructed. It did well internationally and its domestic numbers were dismal. The Bloomberge's article is a strange fluff job. Please see articles. What genius Weinstein are you talking about?

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/movies/2014/06/28/harvey-weinstein-and-s...

http://io9.com/weinsteins-refuse-to-release-snowpiercer-without-cuts-a-1...

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=snowpiercer.htm

August 9, 2014 at 1:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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