John Barnett explains the new distribution strategy debuted by Dog’s Best Friend

Dog’s Best Friend is an animal lover’s documentary that shows the inner workings of an Aussie rehabilitation centre for troubled dogs (read our 4-star review).

In an innovative distribution model, it plays exclusively on the big screen at Auckland’s Hollywood Cinema and is available simultaneously to stream at home via the cinema’s website – enabling customers purchase a ticket to stream the film and watch online from anywhere in New Zealand while it is “in season” at the cinema. 

We spoke with producer and industry luminary John Barnett, director of SHIFT72 (whose streaming platform ScreenPlus enables this), about this new distribution strategy.

FLICKS: What does this synchronised release entail, and how does it work for the punter?

JOHN BARNETT: we’ve established a platform called ScreenPlus. And what we’re going to do is enable the punter sitting at home to go and see the film in the cinema or to watch it at home. And we’re driven very much by the fact that we want the cinemas to do well, so the only place that you can book to see it at home is actually through the cinema. So both the cinema exhibitor and the distributor get a share of the revenues, which is important because we want to keep cinemas going. And this is the first picture that we’re using as a trial. In a month or two, we’re hoping to have a bigger trial.

We think that there’s a lot of demand from people to have entertainment available everywhere. And currently, the exhibitors aren’t making any money off iTunes or Netflix or anything else like this. And when you think about the fact that people say an evening in is Netflix and chill, well, that doesn’t do anything for the cinema. So we think that using the ScreenPlus platform, the cinema will actually get to share in this revenue and will be able to promote the films that it’s got currently in cinema.

It’s a bloody good idea because so many films rely on both—at home and in the cinema—to work financially, yet both providers, home viewing and cinema, are often posited as enemies of one another. So it’s a really nifty solution to that problem.

And that’s really silly because when you think about it, it’s the cinema experience that the distributor backs. So all that advertising money goes into promoting it into the cinema. Then there’s a hiatus. In New Zealand, the picture might only play three weeks, in which case there’s going to be the best part of five months where it’s not available on any platform.

There’s that immediate consumer benefit. It’s a simple message: “This thing is out, you can watch it.” And obviously, there are cost efficiencies from the distributors’ side as well because you have one crack at it and make it work.

Well, that’s true. What we would suggest and what we’re promoting is that to watch it at home will cost more. There will be approximately the cost of two cinema seats. But you can watch it when you want to. You don’t have to be 10 o’clock at a cinema a couple of miles away. But the cinema still gets a share of it and that’s important.

We did some research late last year that shows movie-watching is on the rise. That among the most movie-invested people, their cinema attendance is slightly creeping up but they’re also watching a ton of movies at home as well. Is that what you’re seeing from your side too?

That’s what we’re seeing everywhere in the world. Where cinema attendances are going up, so is in-home viewing and Netflix subscribers tend to go to the cinema more than non-Netflix subscribers.

It feels to me like one of the impacts of Netflix has been that interest in documentaries is probably higher than it’s ever been because people see it as a more acceptable entertaining or enlightening art form than maybe they would’ve previously.

I think that’s true. And I think, also, with a picture like this, it’s unlikely to get a normal commercial cinema run again. But here’s the opportunity for people to go and see it. And we think that, particularly for a lot of New Zealand films, this is going to be a great way to get to a wider audience.