A recently launched website, SnagFilms, is aiming to get quality docs streaming all over the Web. With a name that highlights the site’s ability to ‘snag’ a film from the site and embed it in social networks and blogs, SnagFilms is trying to bring docs to the masses through a website near you. Stephanie Sharis, EVP of SnagFilms, talks to realscreen about the evolution of the company.
Formerly branded as AOL True Stories, the company has some media heavyweights behind it. The idea to start the company came to former AOL vice chairman Ted Leonsis when, as executive producer of documentaries Nanking and Kicking It, Leonsis saw firsthand that distribution options were slim for documentary makers. With SnagFilms’ CEO Rick Allen, formerly of National Geographic, the two felt they had a great idea to bring a solution to independent filmmakers who were having problems getting eyeballs to screen their films.
The answer was a library that is constantly updated with films that can be shared virally through the Web with widget technology. Right now every film in the catalog, from National Geographic and PBS docs to Super Size Me, is widgetized automatically. Having users embed and stream the docs for friends and family means that SnagFilms doesn’t have to rely on the notion that everyone has to come to their website to consume the content.
The company is independent from AOL, but still maintains business ties. Editorial promotion of SnagFilms is featured on AOL’s moviefone, Cinematical or spinner.com whenever it’s appropriate, the video player on which SnagFilms are aired is powered by AOL and the ad revenue is raised by AOL. That revenue is then split between the content provider, either the distributor or the independent filmmaker.
At the beginning of the year, paperwork transitioning the company out of AOL True Stories to SnagFilms was finished but it wasn’t until March that the SnagFilms team started to actively talk to distributors, filmmakers and producers and encourage content owners to license their films to them. From March to the launch date of July 17 they signed 400 films to the library. Simultaneously the website was built from scratch, says Sharis, which is currently still in beta.
Viewers and filmmakers alike have reason to applaud the company. ‘We are breathing life into titles that may be in the DVD window,’ says Sharis. ‘We can drum up more attention and energy around the title. For some of our films where we are the de facto premiere window, it’s a great way to finally reach a global audience.’
Looking ahead, Sharis says the company has many plans to make the site bigger and better. ‘We think a new and important development is to let users create a widget with the titles that are their favorites. That will be in October. We will also be rolling out ways to keep our widgets updated, ways to go straight from the 300 x 250, which is the size of our widgets, kind of a baseball card sized, to immediately go to full screen, so that when bloggers keep a widget on their page their audiences can go straight to full screen without leaving the blog.’
And for those independent filmmakers that Leonsis originally created the company for, Sharis says that they are highly encouraged to send their films in via the website. Currently they are being submitted the old fashioned way every day by filmmakers at firstname.lastname@example.org, but there are plans for the end of the year or early next year to have an automatic submission process.