Last week, as reported in Variety, IFC Entertainment signed an agreement to give Blockbuster a 60-day exclusive for all of their DVD releases.
This plan will surely boost profits for IFC, but at what cost to the consumer? Jim Emerson took apart pretty much everything that’s wrong with this deal in his scanners blog on Saturday, a well-researched piece that also captures the utter hypocrisy of Blockbuster’s contradictory policies on unrated films. (Sex comedies like Superbad and American Pie knock-offs? Yes. Sex dramas like Lust, Caution and Bertolulcci’s The Dreamers? Sorry, gotta cut these down to an R rating.) But it bears repeating that this is no help to the audiences that generally seek out these titles.
The Weinstein Company (TWC) struck a similar but more limited deal with Blockbuster over a year ago. They gave Blockbuster a rental exclusive but continued to sell their DVDs through traditional outlets, thus giving any rental store with even the most limited initiative to purchase copies (often at wholesale costs) they could then rent out. TWC responded by putting a warning on the disc that told viewers what they were watching was “For purchase only,” even though the warning carried no legal weight of any kind.
IFC is making their deal with Blockbuster much tighter, giving the store an exclusive 60-day window for both sales and rentals. Competitors can still purchase copies from Blockbuster (at retail price) and rent them in their own stores, though they will likely do so in smaller numbers than TWC titles. After 60 days, the sales window opens to all other outlets, though Blockbuster will still have an exclusive 3-year rental window (which, as the TWC shows, is unenforceable in any legal sense).
But the deal is ultimately a slap in the face to the very stores that have been supporting indie and alternative titles all along: the independent neighborhood stores, the alternative-minded regional mini-chains, all those rental outfits that serve diverse audiences and nurture the interests in titles beyond the blockbuster. IFC senior VP of sales says: “It gives millions of customers increased access to our movies.” (quoted in the Variety report on the deal)
I spent over ten years working in two such video stores, including three years as an inventory manager at Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, and I know that our customers (as well as those regulars at Rain City Video, Broadway Video, On 15th Video, and many other stores) came to us because we had those titles ignored by the corporate chains.
Even more troubling, what happens to the NC-17 or unrated IFC movie when it comes to Blockbuster? The chain only carries recut R versions of films released theatrically NC-17 or unrated, like Lust, Caution and A Dirty Shame (just to name two). Will IFC withhold any such film from the deal, or bow to corporate policy and cut their own films?
I’m sure Scarecrow and others will make sure they have those IFC titles that Blockbuster now hordes, though in smaller numbers. And IFC will make money in this two-year exclusive deal because of minimum buys guaranteed by Blockbuster. But will it serve those folks who actually seek out the alternative titles the IFC releases?
The first title in the agreement was Jeff Garlin’s I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, which hit Blockbuster shelves last month. It will be available to purchase through other outlets on April 15. According to the Variety article, future titles include Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, Savage Grace with Julianne Moore, Christopher Honore’s Dans Paris, and Joe Swanberg’s “mumblecore” indie Hannah Takes the Stairs.