Ex-Groupon Exec Puts Indie Movies Online at Startup Prescreen

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himself. The company’s nine employees work from a hip third-floor office in one of SoMa’s ubiquitous former warehouse buildings. Bercuson says Prescreen has signed up 65,000 newsletter subscribers. Trailers on the site are typically viewed 1,500 to 4,000 times, and Prescreen’s conversion rate—the fraction of trailer watchers who end up renting—is between 5 and 10 percent.

The startup’s best-performing film so far is The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience, a documentary about the house-music festival held each year in the southwestern U.S. The movie happened to go up on the site last Friday, the day I visited Prescreen’s office, and Bercuson’s colleagues watched excitedly as the metrics on their screens ticked upward. More than 50 people rented the film during the hour I was interviewing Bercuson. As of yesterday, the trailer had been viewed almost 19,000 times.

Still, all those numbers are small compared to the audiences for theatrically distributed feature films, and even compared to the viewership for films distributed via iTunes or Netflix. The point being that Prescreen and related startups like SnagFilms and Fandor, an indie rental site we profiled here last spring, are still in their infancy. The wave of digitization and fragmentation that has been roiling the publishing and music industries for more than a decade has yet to truly transform the movie business, though it’s clear from the headlines that the big studios are scared to death about losing their traditional revenue streams from theaters and DVDs— the decision by Warner Bros. last week to double the wait time before movies get to Netflix and Redbox is a case in point.

Prescreen's trailer page for 'The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience'

To Bercuson, the losers in today’s tussles over film distribution are audiences, who can only see new films in the manner, and at the time, prescribed by the studios. “You have the theatrical window, the premium video-on-demand window, the DVD window, the streaming window, and finally the Internet window—iTunes, Amazon, and so on,” he says. “So [the studios] are spending a whole lot of money to only allow one segment of the market to consume at any given time. Our whole thesis is that people who want to consume online are not going to go to a theater. If you give them access online today, they will buy it. And if they want it and you don’t give them access they will find a way to get it,” such as a pirated bittorrent version.

But Internet viewing and traditional theatrical release don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Bercuson points to Margin Call, a Roadside Attractions feature film released online last October on the same day it hit theaters, as an example of the way Internet marketing can actually boost box-office revenue. “What happened was, people online started talking about it and Facebooking it, and all of a sudden people knew about it, and it did much better, and it drove people to the theater.”

Now HDNet and Magnolia Pictures, Mark Cuban’s cable network and movie studio, are experimenting with so called “day-and-date” releasing in which movies appear simultaneously in theaters, on cable TV, and on DVD. “And this is all just in the last two months,” says Bercuson. “Theaters have always been afraid that this is going to hurt their exclusivity, but in reality it creates conversations and makes the marketing better for everybody.”

Filmmakers who sign up to put their movies on Prescreen don’t forego potential theatrical distribution deals, Bercuson says. In fact, Prescreen can provide analytic and demographic data that helps them figure out where to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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  • Thanks for covering Prescreen Wade. I like the data overlay you explained about how the filmmakers can get a quick directional read about their likely audience. I was curious about how Shawn built the email list and if he knows yet how it matches to the general film consuming audience. Ie. is the Prescreen list and behavior likely predictive of mainstream audiences? Does it even need to be?

  • Wade – Thanks again! Great article and very well written. Much appreciated.

    Jules – Hi! Great to see a familiar name on here :) Growth has been a combination of organic traffic from great articles like this one, filmmakers driving traffic to Prescreen (some of which use our “insider access” tool we built to help filmmakers leverage their existing audiences), and CPC. As you can imagine, organic traffic has been the most powerful and we see impressive sharing numbers from this cohort.

    Since Prescreen is only 3 months old, we’re assuming we are getting early technology adopters and people who LOVE movies. This may not be predictive of the general mainstream audience yet, but as a startup, we’re thrilled to find Prescreen evangelists and not just consumers who are less likely to share (though we love both equally). As we continue to grow and collect this data, we’re confident that shining some light on the audience for filmmakers who currently are not building an audience (much less analyzing them) will help them become more efficient (therefore more effective) in their efforts to market their film. Our team is super excited because each day we grow and add more data points, Prescreen becomes a smarter business and a more reliable source for predicting mainstream audiences.

    Founder & CEO