Someday We’ll All Watch Movies This
Way…” So reads the tagline of MovieFlix (,
an emerging Website that streams movies from D.W. Griffith’s silent
classic Broken Blossoms to the at-home creations of its own subscribers.
In fact, this statement seems to sum up the cautious optimism of
those closely watching the development of the Internet as a force
in the world of film. In the words of MovieFlix COO Rob Moskovits,
“For now, watching movies online is in its primordial soup stage.”

Like the advent of television and home video, the
Internet’s arrival in homes around the world seemed to herald a
seachange in the way we watch movies. But the Internet’s impact
on movie watching has—so far— hardly turned out the
way many pundits first envisioned. Says John Geyer, VP of Marketing
at CustomFlix (,
a Website that marries the Internet’s publicity power to more traditional
means of indie distribution, “I’d compare [the introduction of the
Internet] to when the VCR was introduced. Everyone thought theaters
would shortly be out of business. As we all know, the opposite happened—there
was a resurgence of interest in the art form and more people flocked
to theaters than ever before. Likewise, the Internet has spurred
a huge growth in video sales.”

The initial vision of the Internet was as a free space
of two-way communication. Of course, this also was the initial vision
for other media—including television—that have increasingly
become one-way distribution channels. The Internet, though still
the most viable avenue for an individual to reach the broader world,
has reached an age of maturity as a more commercial space. With
this maturity, the potential for interaction between movies and
Internet technology has grown and changed focus.

Says Moskovits, “In many ways, the Internet is still
a great place for low-budget and non-theatrical movies. However,
with broadband becoming more ubiquitous, the Internet is also becoming
a [great] place for content providers.”

CustomFlix’s Geyer has also witnessed this change.
“I’d say the focus has shifted, and companies are now looking at
ways to distribute content which people will pay for, i.e. Hollywood
and maybe the top indie films, via streaming. Movielink (
is the latest initiative to make streaming pay for itself. Given
the players involved, it just might succeed, though some of the
basic problems still remain.”

With the popularity of DVD-ROMs soaring, some are
content to let their computer screen serve as an ersatz television
screen. But are mass audiences ready to make this transition? And
is the technology even ready? Companies like MovieFlix are offering
subscribers plenty of options of what to watch, many selections
for free and others for a nominal fee. For less than the cost of
the average movie ticket, you have unlimited access to thousands
of movies—from the classic to the bizarre. However, for now,
watching movies on a computer seems to remain the domain of commuters
with laptops and college students with no room for a television
and a computer.

“For now, at best, the Internet is only another place
for people to consume audio video. Currently, the Internet is not
capable of replacing traditional distribution methods. However,
with more broadband just around the corner and improvements in technology,
that is sure to change,” says Moskovits.

“Additionally,” adds Geyer, “no one wants to watch
movies on their computer that aren’t broadcast quality—and
no one wants to view them from a chair that just isn’t as comfy
for hanging out on as the couch! It’s hard to beat television at
its own game: non-interactive watching of long-form content.”

Roger Brooks, President of MovieClub Online (,
a company which offers discounted movie tickets and video rentals
through partnerships with major theater and video store chains,
is confident that consumers and the technology will eventually be
ready for larger-scale online distribution. “Unfortunately, I do
not believe that consumers have yet caught up to the technology
or distribution methods of the Internet. I do believe they will
in years to come,” he says.

What we have learned from radio, television, video
and DVD is that new media technologies tend not to replace existing
modes, but to interact with them. In fact, the Websites that are
currently having the greatest impact on how people watch movies
function where the new medium meets existing media.

“The greatest change the Internet has brought to film,
in my mind, is clearly the sales and marketing of film. From DVD,
VHS and movie ticket sales to showtimes, trailers, reviews and more,
the Internet has brought an instantaneous wealth of information
and product to consumers around the world,” notes Brooks. “Jack
Valenti said earlier this year that the more that Americans watch
movies on DVD and VCRs, the more they go to the movie theater.”

“… many thought streaming would
be the savior of the independent filmmaker, providing a pipeline
from producer
to viewer… but the ideal vision
of a free channel of distribution that will reach a worldwide
audience hungry to watch films online has somewhat faded…”

A perfect example of this new-medium-meets-existing-medium
model is the growing capability for viewers to purchase movie tickets
online through companies like Fandango and MovieClub. This option
is currently available only through select theaters, but is likely
to become more ubiquitous. The sites entice viewers by offering
discounted prices on tickets. “Our goal is to market the sale of
film through non-traditional channels and to attract an occasional
moviegoer to become a frequent moviegoer,” states Brooks.

MovieClub also offers discounts through video rental
outlets, and other companies like Netflix (
are making it possible for viewers to skip the video store altogether,
and “rent” movies online. This means no more late fees—and
no more wandering around the aisles in a stupor.

The Internet, of course, is also a powerful tool for
publicity, allowing moviemakers to target films to their desired
audience more efficiently and effectively than traditional advertising.
Of couse, one can’t speak of Internet publicity without citing the
unprecedented success of The Blair Witch Project, whose
publicity origins can be traced back specifically to Internet. It
remains relatively low-cost, as well, allowing films that would
otherwise pass far under the radar to gain worldwide publicity.
Comments Brooks: “Consumers now have a vehicle like never before
to provide them with choices on how they will participate in the
filmgoing experience.”

Adds Geyer, “The Internet gives filmmakers a powerful
advantage in that its sheer existence gives them a place to tell
their story and potentially get a very large audience to view it. South Park, 405 and Troops, the Star Wars parody, are stellar examples of how filmmakers made use of the Internet
to get recognition on an unprecedented level. The Internet makes
it possible for pretty much everyone to see a clip—even I
saw these and there’s no way I would have had it not been for the

In fact, CustomFlix is a textbook example of an organization
that uses the Net to promote independent film. The Net functions
as a showroom for smaller films in a way that other media cannot.
The films themselves are then sold in physical copies (VHS and DVD)
to interested viewers.

Geyer explains, “We believe in a hybrid model, where
we use the Internet to attract people interested in a film, let
them watch a short clip of the movie and send them the physical
goods which they expect—and are happy—to pay for and
can watch on their TV.”

Direct distribution over the Internet continues to
be the eventual goal for many, and is currently a viable reality
for some. Websites like AtomFilms have reorganized their focus,
but still continue to distribute independently-produced films online.
And there are scores of smaller sites that host thousands of online
film databases. In fact, MovieFlix encodes, hosts and streams the
cinematic creations of pretty much anyone who is interested in submitting
their original work, promising “Exposure to hundreds of millions
of eager movie watchers who can’t wait to see your movie.” However,
the ideal vision of a free channel of distribution that will reach
a worldwide audience hungry to watch films online has somewhat faded—at
least until the technology becomes more widely available.

“In the early days of the Internet, many thought streaming
would be the savior of the independent filmmaker and that finally
there was essentially a free pipe from producer to viewer. Sites
like AtomFilms (
and iFilm (
are still standing, but they don’t/can’t cater to all filmmakers,”
remarks Geyer.

“I’d say the dream of low- or no-cost broadband distribution
for all filmmakers with an audience savvy enough to download and
watch them in their living room is five, probably more like 10 years

But even if streaming full-length movies over the
Internet isn’t really ready for prime time yet, the Internet does
bring to the table a uniquely powerful mechanism for reaching a
diverse audience. Filmmakers have excellent new forums to let the
world know about their projects. And films with a highly specialized
appeal have a powerful new mechanism to reach their niche markets,
free of geographic constraints,” says Geyer.

Geyer notes that the ability to use the Internet as
a marketing tool allows moviemakers to target their promotions more
directly toward the desired audience, and that this, in turn, may
create a new avenue for films made by individuals who fall outside
the standard Hollywood demographic. “Women and minorities in some
ways have a leg up [on the Internet]. There are many more sites
and groups that readily identify themselves and support these areas
of interest. I believe that it makes reaching them, in general,
less difficult.

“At the highest level, I’d say it is the Internet’s
ability to build communities, to build interest and excitement around
film that has probably done the most to help the industry as a whole,”
concludes Geyer.

The impact that the Internet may eventually have on
movies and how we see them remains an object on the horizon, but
it is clear that companies like MovieFlix, MovieClub, CustomFlix
and others have positioned themselves to help viewers and moviemakers
optimize the technology that’s currently available. MM