Film festivals and the online audience

The Tribeca Film Festival will start in three weeks in NYC and I hope to attend parts of it. However, there are wonderful festivals around the world that I would love to attend but can’t. For example, I’ve wanted, but been unable, to attend Sundance for the past couple of years.

I am sure this is true for many people. Wouldn’t it be incredible if the film festivals showed their programming online?

I know that there are lots of issues around rights for the films and filmmakers may not want to hand over the online rights to any one festival. While it would be very cool to have the films available online for weeks or months, it may not be possible. So let’s make it easier – the festivals would have the rights to show the films online only during the festival itself – they could tie up with iTunes to make the downloads accessible only for a limited time. That means while Sundance is going on in Utah, I can be sitting in NYC and watching the same films at home.

Cannibalization could be a worry, but it is solvable. Festivals could charge the same fee (ticket price) to watch online. That would solve the monetary aspect of cannibalization. They may worry about loss of audience – valid concern. However, the people who make the time attend festivals in their city or those travel to festivals want to see these movies on a large screen. They want to hear the filmmakers talk about their films. They want to meet other movie buffs. Those people would still go because you can’t get that experience online.

So why is no one doing this?

If the goal of festival programmers is to highlight little indie gems to as broad an audience as they can, making the films viewable online is the way to go. I, for one, would love to watch the programming at Berlin, Toronto, Sundance, Tribeca and a whole host of others.