It seems like only yesterday (8 months, actually) that the curated rental website Prescreen appeared as one of the many new startups competing for eyeballs in the growing digital distribution world for independent films. Prescreen (technically still in beta) sent a message to users that it would be suspending operations for the foreseeable future and would notify members of future plans with the site. Just because Prescreen is shutting down, however, does not mean all hope is lost for independent film. There are plenty of other services still going strong.
Here is the original launch video for Prescreen:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Pjh3F9ZbHYo
Back in February, Prescreen relaunched with Facebook integration, a sign that the website was heading in the right direction. It seems things were not going well under the surface, however, as they have now officially closed their doors. Here is a portion of the message to users:
Please be advised that on Thursday, May 31, 2012, Prescreen will be suspending our initial beta test until further notice. We very much appreciate your interest in our service and hope that you enjoyed your experience with Prescreen.
In early 2011, we started Prescreen because we believed the future of film discovery and distribution is digital. Last September, we launched the beta version of our site to test this premise. In just 8 months, we proved that this is likely to be the case. In total, Prescreen featured 168 films, rented more than 10,000 movies, and saw more than 115,000 subscribers opt in to receive Prescreen movies. That said, we’re perfectionists and we still don’t believe we’ve seized the opportunity. For now, we’re going back to the drawing board. When we come out on the other side, we’ll be sure to let you know.
So while Prescreen could relaunch at some point in the future, it's likely this is the end of the road for the promising site. Does this mean that independent film distribution is a losing battle? Not necessarily, as online distribution for independent films is still a wild west frontier. While Apple's iTunes has been very successful with digital distribution, independent films have a harder time getting their work onto that platform. Even though Prescreen is shutting down, independent-oriented startups like Distrify, FilmDIY, and Dynamo are still active. If you're an independent filmmaker, you've also got a service like Distribber, which acts as a cheap middle-man in order to get your film on various platforms, including iTunes. Since Apple doesn't directly deal with filmmakers, using a distribution company is the only way to actually get your film on that service.
If you're into doing things yourself, you also have the option of building your own VOD portal. Either way, it's likely we will see plenty more startups in the coming years for filmmakers who want to sell their films directly to fans, but one thing is still clear: building an audience is the first step towards successfully releasing a film on any platform.