Ex-Groupon Exec Puts Indie Movies Online at Startup Prescreen

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focus their efforts. “Every movie gets a ‘Prescreen Performance Report’ that says ‘Here was the open rate for the e-mail, the click-through rate, the trailer views, the total purchases, how many purchased on day one, how much money you have earned,'” he explains. (Prescreen gives filmmakers 50 percent of its rental revenue.)

But the really interesting thing for filmmakers, Bercuson says, is that “We can also understand who these people are. We can say, ‘The majority of people who rented your film live in the United States, specifically California and New Mexico, they are aged 18-24, and they like cooking, French films, and dancing, and we think that for this title your addressable market is 1.7 million people.’ If you want to go theatrical, we can tell you what are your top U.S. and international cities.” Prescreen obtains such details by correlating subscribers’ e-mail addresses with anonymized demographic data compiled by investor Auren Hoffman’s company, Rapleaf.

Bercuson says he’s aware that Prescreen’s PC-only streaming will present a hurdle for many potential viewers, but he says his small team wants to optimize that experience before building, say, an iPad version of the service. “We know that 7 percent of our daily users are opening their e-mails on their tablets, so we know that their preferred method of watching is probably going to be on their tablet,” he says. “But we are four months old and we are learning, just like the filmmakers and everybody else.”

I asked Bercuson if he feels there’s any danger that Prescreen might come to be seen as the reject site—a refuge for filmmakers who didn’t win distribution deals at Sundance, Toronto, or Cannes. He answered that there are plenty of worthwhile films to go around, and that Prescreen is all about economies of scale—except that in this case, the economics favor the small end. “We’d love to work with the blockbusters, but we don’t need to,” he says. “If a movie has an audience of 750,000, we are more than happy to find that audience, whereas distributors would not be. Look right now at some of the content on our site—each of these films has found an audience, whether it’s 15 people or 1,500. That’s what we are trying to enable.”

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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