HDNet Films launched in October 2003 with the announcement it would produce about seven HD features per year. Among the first is Alex Gibney’s The Rise and Fall of Enron (w/t), a US$700,000 doc set to wrap by year’s end.
Enron didn’t adhere to conventions and the doc that charts its demise won’t either. Like all of HDNet Films’ titles, it will hit the market as a simultaneous release – a strategy that sees traditional release windows collapsed. ‘Besides movies, there’s no other medium where I watch it in one place but can’t get it for awhile,’ says Todd Wagner, CEO of HDNet Films’ L.A.-based parent company 2929 Entertainment. ‘If I hear a song on the radio, I don’t have to wait to buy the cd. Nobody has stepped back to ask, ‘Does this make sense?”
That’s exactly what Wagner and partner Mark Cuban have done, and the film industry is keeping close tabs on the outcome. The new formula could see a film made available at once via TV, DVD, VOD and theaters – a move that takes advantage of 2929 Entertainment’s vertically integrated holdings. At the moment, those include film and TV library Rysher Entertainment, two HDNet cable channels, production units HDNet Films and 2929 Productions, and indie distrib Magnolia Pictures, which released Capturing the Friedmans and Control Room. In September, 2003 it acquired art house chain Landmark Theaters, which Wagner says they’ll equip with HD projection within the next 12 months. In September, 2004 they formed 2929 International, a foreign distrib arm, and in early 2005, Wagner hopes to announce a DVD initiative.
In other words, 2929 can map a film from start to finish, all in the digital medium. ‘Technology now allows digital bits to be sent anywhere simultaneously. Why not take advantage of that?’ asks Wagner, who made his fortune with Cuban when they sold broadcast.com to Yahoo! in 1999 for $5.7 billion. ‘If we can make advertising buys more efficient by only doing it once, drive the budget cost down and take the cost of shipping prints out of the equation, then we’ve helped on the margins to make it a better business. If we can enhance the revenue streams, then we’re onto something.’
One of the challenges for 2005 will be securing rights for external products in a way that allows for this untested approach. The best way to convince people, he says, is to succeed. ‘We’ll guinea pig on our own stuff and hope that people then say, ‘Oh, I see. That makes a ton of sense.”