Fandor Launches Indie Movie Rentals—Sundance Meets Netflix

4/6/11Follow @e_craig

The inspiration for Fandor, an online movie service for independent and international films, came in late Spring of 2009, as two of its cofounders were bemoaning the fact that neither had been able to see many films lately. Dan Aronson had hardly made it to any of the films he wanted to see at the San Francisco Film Festival, and Albert Reinhardt says he “had a young child, hadn’t been to a festival info forever, and couldn’t even get to a video store.”

The casual conversation quickly evolved into a business idea—a sort of Sundance Film Festival meets Netflix, for people who don’t have the time or the money to spend days and days at film festivals. San Francisco-based Fandor launched its monthly subscription service two weeks ago at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX. The service lets users watch movies directly in a Web browser and also streams data to the Boxee Box, an Internet set-top video device.

The concept for Fandor gelled after Aronson chatted with Jonathan Marlow, who had recently quit his job at Vudu, a pay-per-movie online streaming service acquired by Wal-Mart in early 2010. Marlow was intrigued by the concept. He felt he hadn’t quite achieved what he’d wanted to at Vudu, or earlier at GreenCine, a DVD rental service that was an early competitor of Netflix. And one of the things he’d wanted to do was build a subscription video service with independent and international films.

“I’d noticed for many years that it’s enough of a challenge to separate people from their money for something they already have familiarity with,” Marlow says. “It’s [even more] challenging to do that with films they might love but they just aren’t aware of. [A] subscription model could be useful as a discovery pathway for much of those films.”

The three founders realized they were talking about a sizable market—audiences spend about $2 billion a year on independent and international films, a surprisngly high number considering that these films generally have limited exposure compared to big studio films. “With that, we were able to put together a scrappy little team with this common passion for good films that are underrepresented, and started working on different biz models to bring this to market,” says Reinhardt, who’s now Fandor’s vice president of product.

For Marlow, now vice president of content development and acquisitions, the decision to sign on was all about the timing. “As Netflix moves more and more into competing directly with television, particularly with Hulu, they’ve left this space open for someone else,” Marlow says. A year earlier or a year later, and he wouldn’t have gotten involved. But given the direction Netflix was taking, and with his background in the film industry and Aronson and Reinhardt’s background in tech, he felt the company was “uniquely positioned to take advantage of the space in the market,” he says. “If someone is going to do this, it might as well be us.”

Fandor subscribers pay $10 a month to access a library of about 2,500 film titles, a collection that Fandor’s founders are proud to say is curated by … Next Page »

Elise Craig is a freelance reporter based in San Francisco. Follow @e_craig

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