AFM 2011: Ex-Groupon Executive Takes New Venture Prescreen to Santa Monica

Shawn Bercuson P 2011

The online platform for movies and other long-form content launched in September and already has 50,000 users.

Groupon, the online deals company where Shawn Bercuson was once an executive, had its IPO on Friday. But Bercuson, who turns 30 next week, was already in Santa Monica for his first-ever AFM to look for content and business deals for his latest venture, Prescreen.

The online platform for long-form content, mostly movies, but also concerts, launched in September and wants to provide filmmakers and distributors with an alternative to traditional distribution channels, online and otherwise. It features curated content, with a film suggestion and trailer emailed to users every day - Groupon-style. Users can rent it for $4 on day one and $8 for the rest of a 60-day period. "It's not about an investment of money, but of time," Bercuson, who is Prescreen's founder and CEO, explains.
Once rented and started, people can view the content for up to 48 hours. And they can share it through their social networks. One key social aspect about the site is the TrendSpotter feature, which earns users credits toward their next movie if they are one of the first 5 percent of at least 20 people to purchase a movie or get three of their friends to buy it.

The content owner gets 50 percent of the revenue a film makes on the site, information on how often a film has been bought and privacy-protected information on the people who chose it, including their age bracket, the city they live in and their interests, among other things.

With info that a film has an addressable market of 1.7 million people, that most buyers are 18-24 and live in California and New Mexico, and that their interests include cooking, French films and dancing can help with targeted online marketing, which Bercuson wants to start offering, and limited release and other forms of targeting. "Ultimately, we care about shifting ad dollars to online" hope to earn commissions from content partners for digital ad buys, he says.

Standup comedy shows, which Prescreen hopes to add to the mix, could also include a link to ticket buying sites in another useful service to content partners, he says.

Prescreen, which Bercuson says his team still sees as being in beta mode, already has 50,000 users and is adding about 1,000 per day.

Its first movie was How to Start Your Own Country, which got about 90 rentals. A concert from the band The Civil Wars has also been on offer. "This week, we had our first breakout movie," he adds. I Am sold over 550 rentals in one day and stood at 4,092 trailer views and 676 buys as of Friday. Overall Prescreen views stand at around 2,100.

The company has a staff of 11. How does the team select content? Bercuson says they look for material that is either entertaining, educational, enlightening or inspiring. And he says he wants to bring people some hidden gems. The site touts that movies on Prescreen get "blockbuster exposure on an indie budget."

Content can be in the pre-theatrical, theatrical or even DVD or later stage, but has to be exclusive in Prescreen's online realm for its period that it is on the site. "It can be available - more expensively - in electronic sell-through, but it makes sense to use us earlier in the life cycle because of the research you get, Baucson says.

"We have a lot of movies, but don't schedule more than a week ahead," he adds. That allows the site to offer films tied to world events or societal trends, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Prescreen is only Web-enabled now, but plans to be on iPads, phones and Web-enabled TV sets down the line.

Prescreen incorporated in February, Bercuson raised $1 million from Groupon friends and venture capitalists in March, hired the first engineer in May, and the site is already up and running.

Bercuson says he enjoys movies, but was never a film buff and knew nothing about the film business until he went skiing in Sundance with his father and was asked by friends who were attending the film festival to take meetings about digital distribution. "I stumbled in, but it became all-consuming," he recalls. "I saw great opportunity...I thought that if I don't do it, someone else will."

His next goal: getting a trial run from a big studio - there have already been some talks - and crossing 100,000 views on one day. 

At AFM, he is looking to meet indie filmmakers, content owners and other possible business partners. "We're here looking for content and do business development," he says.
What has Baucson learned about the movie business so far? The average trailer is too long for online viewing, losing 30 percent of viewers every 30 seconds, he said. "Online audiences are different from people who sit in a  movie theater," he says. "Online trailers have to be much shorter."

How does he feel about Groupon's IPO, which was priced at $20 and saw the stock of the online deals site rise 31 percent to $26.11?

"It's exciting to be part of something that has changed and  invented an industry," Baucson says. "I got up a little earlier today and lost a little sleep over it and was checking my phone more than usual. But it didn't change me. It hasn't really sunk in."


Twitter: @georgszalai