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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.