B-Side forced to close after five successful years when investors withdraw support
About one year ago, we mentioned here on shortfilm.de the new business idea hatched by the Austin-based film distribution company B-Side. In keeping with its motto “the audience is never wrong” (see below*), B-Side decided to aggregate audience data from film festivals. Audience ratings, reviews and recommendations were used to help market films, giving films with top audience rankings a chance for distribution. Back in the days of the dot.com euphoria, this method was first applied as a business concept by Atom Films.
By contrast with its forerunners and similar projects – in Germany, for example, the MEDIA-sponsored company Moviepilot – B-Side concentrated on the independent-film sector, i.e. films that have a particularly hard time achieving theatrical release and reaching a large audience. Also special about its approach was B-Side’s idea of working with film festivals. In exchange for providing services, for example a free festival website or tools for festival management, B-Side was given access to information on a festival’s films and audience composition, and the latter’s preferences.
B-Side’s first major breakthrough was the marketing of the documentary “Super High Me”, which reached more viewers in the first few days after its release than any conventionally distributed documentary film ever had before. Not at the cinema, though, but through grass roots DVD screenings, home video sales and VOD. With an investment of less than $10,000 for marketing, the film went on to gross over $2 million!
On the heels of this success, more and more festivals began cooperating with B-Side, evidently not put off by the fact that B-Side was making a profit from their own groundwork. When the number of partner festivals reached one hundred, B-Side announced that it would establish its own submission platform, in competition with Withoutabox, which in the meantime belongs to Amazon. B-Side wanted to reverse the system used by Withoutabox, which profits when filmmakers submit their films to a large number of festivals and it receives a corresponding share of the entry fees. B-Side’s planned submission platform, Submission 2.0, would instead have allowed festivals and curators themselves to search through the registered films for appropriate titles and to invite directly their makers to enter.
B-Side’s most successful project is the “Festival Genius”, an Internet tool that helps festival visitors choose the films they want to see and put together a schedule that avoids any time conflicts. B-Side offers festival organizers the advantage of an online festival catalogue compiled in part by the filmmakers themselves. The tool also assists with tasks such as film management, ticket sales and the organization of screenings, and even with making forecasts of viewer numbers.
At the same time, Festival Genius allows users to recommend films to other festival visitors, asking them to rate the films, which in turn provides important information for marketing and sales of individual films after the festival.
By the end of 2009, B-Side’s festival technology had persuaded more than 220 film festivals worldwide to become partners. Most recently, the acclaimed Sundance Festival came on board, in 2010. But then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the lights came down on the project. On 22 February 2010, Chris Hyams, founder and CEO of B-Side, announced that the project’s venture capital financers had withdrawn their support. After sinking more than $7 million in B-Side since 2006, the private equity investors evidently no longer believed in its chances for success, or they simply came under pressure due to the financial crisis. At any rate, Hyams says on his blog that he sees himself as a victim of the economic crisis, unable in this difficult business climate to find any new investors.
While B-Side’s original core business, film distribution, has fallen apart with the withdrawal of funding, a purchaser has been found for the festival tool. Festival Genius will now be carried on by the New York non-profit organization IFP, together with media company Slated.
New B-Side URL: http://bside.com/
*Footnote: This famous saying comes from Billy Wilder. It’s worthwhile savouring in its entirety: “An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark – that is critical genius.”