The "Trimultaneous" Release

Straight to video. There's no worse insult in Hollywood. But not to Neverland Films. The independent film company released the feel-good holiday flick "Noel" in select theaters on Nov. 12th. The following week, Amazon started shipping the DVD on Flexplay discs, which expire 48 hours after the package is opened. In addition, the movie will air this Sunday on TNT.

The company that recently acquired Flexplay Technologies, The Convex Group, is billing this as the first "trimultaneous" release of a feature film, "designed to offer consumers multiple viewing choices while also generating awareness about Flexplay," according to a press release. It should also generate awareness for the film: Despite its star-studded cast (Susan Sarandon, Penelope Cruz, Alan Arkin, directed by Chazz Palminteri), the film is being released in only about a dozen theaters. Convex Group, interestingly, is owned by Internet wunderkind Jeff Arnold, the former CEO of WebMD, who also owns LidRock, which distributes promotional CDs on the lids of soda drinks at movie theaters and fast-food chains. (Trivia: Arnold's company recently designed the web site for the Clinton Presidential Center.)

Roger McNamee — Silicon Valley visionary, business partner with Bono, Flying Other Brothers guitarist, and author of the just-released "The New Normal" (Portfolio, November 2004), an idea first formulated in our pages — highlighted the "Noel" launch as one of the most interesting moves in the entertainment industry these days when he stopped by our offices last week. Indeed, Neverland's move follows the trend of letting the consumer control how, when and where they want to view their content (think TiVo, MP3 downloading) rather than being trapped by the content producer's rules. It's too soon to tell how well the movie will do, but it's fascinating to think what this sort of bold and innovative move could mean for the future of independent film and perhaps, Hollywood in general. At the very least, someone's finally thinking beyond the traditional blockbuster weekend launch.

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  • Jena McGregor

    Sorry for the confusion! I'm not sure what you mean by the "take back" period. Flexplay DVDs are a fairly new technology. They're not meant to be permanent; rather, they're designed more for "rental" type use. Except that you don't really rent it--or return it to the store--rather, you just throw it away when the DVD expires. On its web site, the company explains that "All DVDs are optically read via a laser beam. ...Flexplay has developed a proprietary process that makes a DVD unreadable by the DVD player's laser beam after a pre-determined time period lapses." So a clarification: the Noel launch makes the film available temporarily (it's $4.99 on Amazon, about the same as a Blockbuster rental), rather than truly for purchase.

  • Rob

    I didn't get past the first paragraph on this one, I got hung up on the "Flexplay" dvd's. Since theyre able to have these things expire in forty-eight hours, can they make it so that they will expire just after the "take-back" period is over? I mean, so that one continually has to replace this disc? Is this kind of thing allowed? Am I missing something?