It's been a good year for Reelhouse as the direct-to-consumer platform continues to find ways to incentivize audiences to click play. Reelhouse announced a partnership with Sundance earlier this year and now it adds select Warner Bros titles to its repertoire. However, this is not a move away from their independent focus, but an attempt to connect some of the virtues of the independent marketing sphere to the studio world. Read on to catch up with Reelhouse CEO Bill Mainguy to talk about their new initiative.
"It's interesting to see how it goes both ways and seeing which industry influences the other."
NFS: Warner Bros is "testing" you guys out. What are they looking for?
Bill: This isn't a change of our platform in any way, it's just an extension of what we've been doing. We're applying what we've been doing with independent filmmakers to a studio.
In the physical world people saw great value of buying a film over renting a film -- it saved you from late fees, returning, etc. In the digital world those incentives don't correlate really well. So studios are still looking for how to still provide that in the digital world. So our platform was identified as something that lent itself really well for that, because it allows the studio to offer more for purchasing the film rather than just renting the film, whereas on many other platforms the only difference is the repeatability of that film.
Also, being on a direct-to-consumer platform allows studios to finally get the data they need. For example: with DVD extras nobody really knew if you bought it for the extras or bought it just for the movie. And finally studios get that information so they can tailor their offering more towards what people like. This has been de-facto in the independent world, but it's interesting to see how it goes both ways and seeing which industry influences the other.
NFS: What is the all-access pass?
Bill: You can rent or purchase a film, but the pass can give you sneak peaks to blog posts by cast and crew, extra video content, special discounts to things in the merchandise store, access to interactive games and more. This all aims to provide a very strong value proposition for people to purchase a film.
This is where the studio world can learn a lot from the independent world: filmmakers who are savvy with how to promote their films online place a lot of value on the assets that are in addition to the film itself. They inform their backers or their audience with what's going on. All of this goes to immersing the viewer and getting them more attached to that story. There's never been that in the studio world. These types of extras and interactive experiences get a bad rep as being gimmicky, but I think that's because they haven't been prioritized. Now they are.
NFS: What kind of growth have you seen in your community this year?
Bill: Not too long ago we removed the Beta invite only, so any filmmaker can come and sign up and get distribution and there's no barrier for that now. We're very happy to be able to go on Reelhouse and literally discover films on our platform, and seeing these micro-communities emerge within our user base. There's a very strong outdoors extreme sports community on our platform, a strong surfer community for example. And that's because of the word of mouth and the fact that it's a community; it's not a stand-alone dot com. If you're a well-known filmmaker yes maybe you can send a massive following to a standalone site, but if you want to take advantage of a vibrant community surrounding a particular theme or genre, we see that as a solution.
"There's a current way that distribution works and to change it overnight alienates users that want to slowly start adopting this type of distribution."
NFS: What does this mean for indies? Will the studio presence push them out?
Bill: It's great to see these films co-exist. That's something very unique on our platform -- you see a strong independent community, but it's also a place where you can watch (hopefully) more and more studio films as well. We look at Valve and Steam as great benchmarks of those kinds of marketplaces, and we would be flattered to be compared as an equivalent marketplace for film one day. We're still open and looking to partner with specific films that can provide a great case-study for other filmmakers. So, a note out to any filmmaker who is trying to decide how to distribute their film -- we're constantly looking for unique partnerships.
NFS: With the recent closing of other platforms like Chill, what steps are you taking to remain competitive?
Bill: This may sound weird, but we're trying to not just think about the world of film. We're thinking about this as an entertainment platform. We go to a lot of film festivals and speak on a lot of panels and there's a lot of very savvy intelligent people who come from the traditional production world of film. But then there's a large viewership base that isn't in that world who don't get hung up on the nuances of how the traditional system works. We want to think about the viewers, because at the end of the day sometimes people don't want just independent feature-length fictional films. Chill may have just had too many indie-specific films and not enough general appeal. It's something we can't control being an open platform, but it's something we definitely try to encourage.
We're also really flexible. What many months with the studios have taught us is that there's a current way that distribution works and to change it overnight alienates users that want to slowly start adopting this type of distribution.
NFS: Tell us about increased DRM for the Warner Bros titles.
Bill: There was no room for negotiation when you're dealing with Man of Steel, so we had to adhere to the same standards they apply to iTunes, Amazon, etc. So we have the same enterprise-level DRM protection. We wanted to offer some of the same conveniences that you have with independent films that are not DRM protected, for example you could download a non-DRM protected film on your laptop and watch it on a plane. We didn't want studio films to suffer from that option, so we built an offline player so you can sync and "download" the film on the Reelhouse offline player and watch it that way.
NFS: What are the benefits for having one destination for your film as opposed to many?
Bill: I don't believe that it's better for your film to be on every possible platform so you can have the most reach. The fact that your film is online gives you as much reach as you possibly need. If you put it on multiple platforms, not only is it redundant, but you're fragmenting the experience that every type of viewer is getting and you're not taking advantage of consolidating your most valuable resource: your fan base. So if you want to release an update or something it just becomes really messy and not as effective in you building a fan base.
NFS: What's coming in the future?
Bill: We're trying to get on a media center device, a box in your living room. We don't want to just be another tile that you click on where you have a bin full of movies. We want to offer a unique benefit of being on that platform, so we're gonna choose carefully. We don't want to build it just for the sake of building it. Getting your film online and selling online has been solved many times over in the past year. We're trying to evolve and define what it means to watch a film online, and really trying to listen to filmmakers and ask: "What do you want?"
As Reelhouse continues to grow and evolve, they are putting a huge value on the conversation with their users, filmmakers and audiences alike. Let them know how they're doing. Is this a positive step forward for the platform? Do you think this detracts from the distribution of smaller films? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.