Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2011: #7

Margin Call Proves Viability of Day and Date Video on Demand

By David Mumpower

December 27, 2011

What is that dead-looking thing on my head?

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I am someone who owns a large number of titles in my digital locker. My preferred service thus far is Amazon Video, particularly because of the partnership they have with TiVo that allows for direct downloads to my DVR. As an early adopter by trade, I am always seeking out new options for media consumption.

A few months ago, I was perusing a list of new releases available through Amazon’s rental service. The one that grabbed my attention was $7.99, over twice the price of a regular rental through the service. In spite of the price, I found myself sorely tempted to make the purchase and in this simple consumer action, I found myself mirroring the behavior of many others. As a group, we enabled Margin Call to become an engrossing small scale triumph as well as a glimpse into the not-so-distant future of independent and possibly even mainstream film distribution.

Margin Call is a strange project in and of itself. The movie stars industry icons such as Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore and Paul Bettany. A project with two different Academy Award winning actors and other such luminaries should be awards bait. The producers of Margin Call, however, struggled to find domestic distribution. As BOP’s Dan Krovich aptly described it, the project was too big to be a small, outsider project and too small and arcane to be a major studio release. As recently as six months ago, this film of exceptional quality was anathema to film distributors of all kinds.


Stuck in the middle, Before the Door Pictures (co-founded by Margin Call co-star Zachary Quinto) evaluated new options in the marketplace. Eventually, they settled upon a strategy most comparable to the releases by Magnolia Pictures. The difference is that Mark Cuban’s company exhibits those titles on his HDNet cable television channel. Margin Call utilized altogether different means. They employed a daring day and date video on demand release strategy to double down on their revenue options.

Made available through cable VOD services, the Wall Street critique accidentally became the movie of the moment. Its release had been delayed to October of 2011 in order to avoid HBO’s showier piece, Too Big to Fail. By the time Margin Call was available for consumption, it had become the topic of the moment due to the nascent Occupy Wall Street movement. Through easy television access, viewers could pay roughly the same price as a theatrical experience in order to watch the film at home. Since the cast was great and the price was right, Margin Call became a huge hit on home video. Many consumers such as myself felt that a cast of such impeccable quality for a movie costing the same price as a movie ticket was a solid gamble. While it is not THE most popular day and date VOD film to date, its $4 million in revenue through this service exceeds its modest $3.4 million production cost.

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