'Snowpiercer's' VOD gamble is paying off

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Snowpiercer is undoubtedly one of the buzziest films of the summer season. It’s got stellar reviews, a cool underdog vibe after becoming a huge blockbuster in South Korea, and stars Captain America himself. So, how is it that two weeks after it finally hit U.S. theaters in limited release, audiences can already rent the film on VOD? Ten years ago this might have signaled a failure, but today, it’s just part of RADiUS-TWC’s distribution plan. And based on this weekend’s numbers and the fact that the pic skyrocketed to the No. 1 spot on iTunes and many other digital platforms less than a day after launching, it seems to be working.

Anyone who follows box office knows that distributors are usually loathe to discuss VOD specifics publicly. When consumers are used to seeing $60 to $100 million opening weekends for major blockbusters in wide release, VOD numbers, no matter how “good,” look miniscule in comparison. Add on the fact that Snowpiercer is the widest multi-platform release ever, and the tricky exercise of figuring out how to combine theatrical earnings with weekend estimates from digital and cable providers, and the territory gets even more unfamiliar.

But RADiUS-TWC is taking steps to create a new language around digital platform revenues, with Snowpiercer earning an estimated $1.1 million from VOD this past weekend, nearly twice as much as the $635,000 it earned in theaters. “From a layman’s perspective these numbers are possibly not that interesting,” admits RADiUS-TWC co-president Tom Quinn. “But from an industry perspective, it’s a game changer.”

Why? For a distributor, VOD is both cheaper and more profitable. “That $1.1 million gross is actually worth almost double to me in terms of how it nets out in our bottom line,” says Quinn, who claims that the film’s real-value weekend gross is thus about $2.6 million, enough to land in the box-office top-10.

This strategy also didn’t require a traditional TV spend. “We are being promoted on TV, but we are being promoted on TV to consume,” he explains. “We have a TV campaign, but it’s in service of actually selling the movie to be purchased. That’s very different.”

Also, VOD—with access to 85 million homes—doesn’t have the same drastic theatrical drop-offs from week to week. In fact, based on their successes with 2012’s Bachelorette, sometimes it grows.

Still, a two-week theatrical exclusive is an extremely short window, especially since Snowpiercer opened in only eight theaters and is currently showing at a mere 356 locations. For a movie this buzzy, it’s possible that they’re missing out on some theatrical dollars by making it VOD-available so quickly. “Should we have opened larger [in theaters]?” says Quinn. “Possibly. It’s a fair discussion for us to consider, but I also feel like in some respects we absolutely nailed the timing from our original theatrical launch to our debut on VOD.”

Plus, Quinn teased that he and fellow co-president Jason Janego have plans to tie the two platforms together in the next few weeks—with Snowpiercer set to show in 210 theaters this weekend—but he wouldn’t reveal any details on what exactly that meant.

The big question is whether or not they’ll implement this strategy for future films. Quinn says he would for the right movie, but they’re still in the very early stages of evaluating the unconventional campaign. “This is completely uncharted territory but it’s 100 percent within the consumer’s control how you want to see this film,” says Quinn. “That’s what our goal is at RADiUS: A screen is a screen is a screen and it’s your choice where you see it.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Snowpiercer is expanding to 600 theaters this weekend. We regret the error.

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