Fox Uses iTunes to Deliver Awards Films

   Update Jan. 16, 2011- Paramount and Focus Features later join Fox and Fox Searchlight in offering movie screeners to film awards voters via complimentary iTunes downloads.
By Robert Marich
   Jan. 9 2011—The super-secure iTunes ecological system wins kudos from 20th Century Fox Pictures and Fox Searchlight, which on Friday announced they will make downloads of three prestige movies available to awards voters via the Apple downloads service. It’s a risk for the two distributors owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. because pirates would love to have pristine digital copies available so early, and not have to wait for the DVD/video-on-demand release to consumers to pinch movies.
   A Fox press release says “nearly 100,000 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) members Fox Searchlight Pictures’ 127 Hours, Black Swan and Conviction in HD from iTunes for viewing on their iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac or PC, or with Apple TV on their HD TV. The films will be available to members from January 7-28 during the SAG awards consideration window.”
   Adds a Los Angeles Times article by Ben Fritz, “Fox co-Chairman Jim Gianopulos said his studio is also in talks with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose members vote for the Oscars, and with the British Film Academy, about making iTunes downloads available to their voters as well even though they have already been sent DVD screeners.”
   In the studio PR, Gianopulos is quoted as saying, “We are thrilled at the nominations these fantastic films have received from this prestigious group, and while we would always prefer voters see films in a theaters, we realize that is not always possible, so we wanted to make sure as many voters as possible have the opportunity to screen them. iTunes enables us to make our films still in theatrical release available to a large number of important voters.”
   Marketing to Moviegoers: Second edition notes that a serious publicity campaign for a film or an actor to angle for Oscar awards costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.
   The biggest campaigns are $1-2 million, but these are only films thought to have a chance of winning Best Picture, because spending that much money would be a waste for anything less.
   The campaigns include delivering screening copies of films to voters (typically DVDs, but now also via iTunes), events such as industry cocktail receptions, business-to-business advertising and pushing media for news stories. Besides the Oscars, there are a raft of film critic awards such as the Golden Globes and industry awards such as the SAG Awards leading up to the Oscars.
   The Fox move to downloads, despite its piracy risk, puts pressure on other distributors to follow, or else they risk losing in balloting for Oscar-season awards because their films have less exposure with voters.
   The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences prohibits overt Oscar electioneering with rules banning specific practices, but film marketers pursue awards via activities that are allowed.
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