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Amazon Offers Sundance Film Selections Up to $100,000 Bonus for Exclusive Streaming Rights

Variety logo Variety 1/18/2017 Todd Spangler
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Amazon is whipping out its checkbook with a no-haggle offer to filmmakers whose movies are official selections of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival — if they agree to make their movies available on Prime Video for two years.

Under Amazon’s Film Festival Stars program, all films screening as official selections at this year’s Sundance are eligible to opt-in to a special Prime Video distribution package, which includes a one-time cash bonus and enhanced royalty rates. It’s an extension of Amazon Video Direct, the open video-distribution service the ecommerce giant launched last spring.

Amazon will pay $100,000 for U.S. dramatic films and premieres, and $75,000 for U.S. documentaries and documentary premieres. In addition, it’s offering a $25,000 bonus for World Dramatic, World Documentaries, Next, Spotlight, Kids, Midnight and New Frontier selections.

To participate, filmmakers must grant Amazon worldwide streaming video-on-demand rights to their movies for 24 months, with the first 12 months exclusive. Currently, no films are part of Amazon’s Film Festival Stars, which is launching at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Amazon said more info on the offer will be available at the festival Jan. 20-23 at the AVD Filmmaker Discovery Lounge at 570 Main Street in Park City, Utah (interested parties can email avd-sundance@amazon.com to set up an appointment).

Of course, top-tier Sundance films potentially could earn far more money if they sell to Netflix or other distributors. Indeed, Amazon Studios on Wednesday announced the acquisition of Grateful Dead documentary “Long Strange Trip” ahead of its Sundance premiere and is likely to continue to be an active bidder at the fest. Last year it paid $10 million for Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” which premiered at Sundance, in a bid for awards-season prestige.

But Amazon is banking on a certain number of filmmakers taking the Film Festival Stars route for a guaranteed payout. “Amazon Video Direct believes that expanding distribution options for filmmakers will result in a larger number of great films reaching a bigger audience — a win for filmmakers and customers alike,” the company said in a statement.

Amazon said the bonuses for Sundance films that opt for AVD distribution may be used at the filmmakers’ discretion, but that the cash is intended to let filmmakers subsidize self-funded theatrical distribution and/or other marketing efforts in support of their film.

In addition to the cash bonuses, Amazon is sweeten the pot for Sundance filmmakers by doubling the royalty rates their movies will earn on Prime Video versus the regular AVD rates.

Film Festival Stars titles will earn 30 cents per hour viewed in the U.S., and 12 cents per hour viewed internationally. Amazon Video Direct’s regular royalty rate for titles included in Prime Video is 15 cents per hour viewed in the U.S. (and 6 cents elsewhere), with a cap of $75,000 per month.

Amazon Video Direct, in some sense, competes with YouTube, Vimeo and other video-publishing platforms targeted at individual creators. But Amazon says AVD is different, starting with the fact that it offers multiple distribution options. In addition to Prime Video, AVD includes an ad-supported option under which content providers receive 55% of net advertising revenue streamed with their titles. Creators also can sell their content for monthly subscriptions, for rental, or for purchase via Amazon Video Direct (receiving 50% of net monthly revenue).

In addition, Amazon pays AVD participants a share of a $1 million monthly bonus pool to the top 50 movies, top 10 TV seasons and top 25 digital content providers published in Prime Video.

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