Tribeca: Film Panel Sees Twitter as Promotional, Distribution Platform

Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival
Kevin Smith's "Red State"

A panel discusses social media opportunities for Hollywood and how VOD is becoming a key part of deal-making in the indie film sector.

NEW YORK -- Now that movies are being distributed digitally through Facebook, with Warner Bros. recently starting to offer such titles as The Dark Knight and Inception, Hollywood will also eye other social media platforms, such as Twitter, for digital distribution. 

That was one prediction, offered by Paramount Digital Entertainment president Tom Lesinski, at a panel entitled "Digital by Design" that took place as part of the Tribeca Film Festival here Tuesday.

"I think the social media sites as real destinations for video consumption" will come into focus, Lesinski said when asked about predictions for the near future. He pointed to a recent app that his studio offered on Facebook that allowed consumers to download a recent Jackass film.

"That technology will create even more opportunities for movie consumption in places you would have never guessed," Lesinski said, adding that noone would have ever thought three or five years ago that people would be watching a movie on Facebook.

"It's going to happen on places like Twitter," he predicted. "Wherever there is a large audience, Hollywood will try to get a movie in front of those people."

Lesinski also told the crowd that Paramount these days tracks the social media profile of talent, because millions of Twitter followers and the like can help open a movie. He mentioned Justin Bieber: Never Say Never as a recent film example. Paramount likes talent that can engage with an audience, he said.

Twitter has also played a key role in marketing Kevin Smith's Red State, said John Sloss, managing partner and founder of entertainment law firm Sloss Eckhouse and founder of Cinetic Media.

Smith has 1.8 million followers on Twitter, he pointed out. "He has been saying this to me for years -- that he doesn't have to work for the studios, because he works for his public," Sloss said. "A number of people have 1.8 million followers on Twitter, but I always say, with regard to Kevin, he is the first person those 1.8 million people think about when they wake up. They are really devoted to him." Sloss said his firm oversees the windowing for Red State.

What's holding back digital content usage and availability for now are such issues as consumers not being sure if digital content will work on all devices, said Miramax CEO Mike Lang.

Delivery platforms and devices must be easy to use and interoperable, and content must be available at a reasonable price and accessible anywhere, he suggested. Without that, "I don't see how as an industry we will ever really drive a digital purchase economy," he said.

Digital indeed is a great opportunity for Hollywood, but it won't immediately make up for lower home entertainment financials near-term, panelists said.

Already, though, VOD is becoming a key part of deal-making in the indie film sector, according to Sloss.

At Sundance this year, many movies were sold with VOD in mind. "That's the business that IFC and Magnolia are in where they can back-stop their purchases, knowing that they'll get a VOD number on it, and they can offer a certain amount of money," Sloss explained. "And I would say 80% of the transactions that took place at Sundance this year were driven by that model."

Twitter: @georgszalai