IFC checks out Blockbuster deal

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Blockbuster is going indie.

The home video giant has inked a deal with IFC Entertainment for an exclusive 60-day window on U.S. rentals and downloads of IFC titles before they're sold and is establishing an indie film section for new releases in about 1,000 of its 4,000 stores.

Blockbuster's two-year pact also includes exclusive physical rental distribution rights for IFC titles for three years after their retail street date, which is typically six months after each film's debut.

Although there's nothing to prevent stand-alone video stores and small urban chains from buying and renting IFC titles at that time, it's a sharp blow to these retailers, whose cineaste customers are among indie film's most passionate supporters.

Many microbudgeted indies are distributed by IFC as part of its 24-27 annual releases through the day-and-date theatrical/VOD program First Take and the recently launched straight-to-VOD service Festival Direct. The two-month digital download and rental availability adds to immediate VOD rentals available on IFC parent company Rainbow Media's cable systems.

"It's hard having to economically rely on a handful of independent video stores, and this makes films available to 1,000 national stores in many areas where people don't have an arthouse or indie video store," said Lisa Schwartz, IFC senior vp sales and business development. She points to the indie new release section as expanding the chain's indie film selection and supporting films from all indie distributors.

There will be an indie film section in around a quarter of Blockbuster's stores, and wider distribution will vary based on individual titles. "The bulk of our films will be available in all stores," Schwartz said.

Content may play a role in both the breadth of distribution and the versions of titles Blockbuster will rent. The chain does not rent NC-17 titles, and Schwartz says IFC would consider editing even unrated films for the chain, adding that "Blockbuster will decide which version they would like to distribute."

Blockbuster will add special promotion of IFC titles in its stores, on its Web site, via its by-mail subscription services and through digital downloading service Movielink.com. Some of the first available titles will be Gus Van Sant's drama "Paranoid Park," Tom Kalin's thriller "Savage Grace" with Julianne Moore and Christophe Honore's French- language "Dans Paris."

Genius Products will continue distributing IFC DVDs for rentals and sales. Schwartz would not comment on future rental plans for Festival Direct VOD titles but said an announcement is forthcoming.
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