Public Libraries are the New Video Rental Stores

Rumors abound that video stores are no longer.

OK, fine. There are, in fact, a few video rental stores left in this country — but nowhere near as many as there once were. In the “heyday” of the video rental business, back when movies were only available on videocassettes, there were some 40,000 video rental stores, both big and small, where you could wander in and browse the shelves for something to watch.

So, now, in 2024, what’s the alternative?

Look no further than your local public library branch.

Dan Gurlitz

There are close to 18,000 public libraries in the United States alone. Add Canada to the mix and you’re talking over 21,000. While not all of them carry DVDs or Blu-ray Discs, many do.

That’s a lot of shelf space — and physical media is what these locations are all about.

It’s also worthy to note that some of these library disc collections are not that small. My hometown library on Long Island, N.Y., for example, has over 1,500 square feet of audio and video physical media that a card-carrying member can borrow.

Consider, too, that library DVD and Blu-ray Disc offerings are not limited to major motion pictures. Many library branches are focused on the community they serve and will carry what they believe their constituents will want.

Sounds a lot like the neighborhood video stores of the 1980s and 1990s, doesn’t it?

From a consumer standpoint, the deal is super. Most libraries do not charge anything (other than a late fee at times).

From a distribution perspective, this is a fairly powerful sales channel to tap — if it’s not already being tapped. And reaching libraries is not that challenging and not that expensive. While you will likely not reap 20,000 units on a title, selling 300, 500 or even 1,500 units is quite within reason for an independent film — depending, of course, on the film, its genre and its characteristics.

Companies like Midwest Tape specialize in this market. With the exit of Ingram Entertainment from the physical disc arena, the company that seems to be reaping reward is Alliance Entertainment. These are two biggies, but there are other smaller players as well.

And, if you have non-theatrical/public performance exhibition rights to your film or films, that’s yet another channel to consider when it comes to public libraries. Many regularly hold film screenings.

Dan Gurlitz is a home video veteran and the founder of Soundview Media Partners, a boutique film company specializing in film representation, educational licensing, and publishing The Sound View newsletter. 

Independent Film Distributors Gear Up for AFM as Film Market Opens Today

Independent film distributors, whose target audience primarily watches movies at home, are gearing up for the annual American Film Market (AFM), which starts its six-day run today (Oct. 31) at Le Méridien Delfina Santa Monica (530 Pico Blvd.).

Andreas Olavarria, president and CEO of Level 33 Entertainment, said he’s “looking to meet with sales agents and discover some good feature films for our 2024 slate of theatrical and on-demand releases. We are open to content in all genres, but typically look for movies with a strong hook and known cast/elements. We also are selling several wonderful feature films from festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca at the market this year.

Olavarria said he’s attended AFM for more than a decade “and bought many films over the years. We acquired the movie Simmer from Sublimity Entertainment, and it went on to air on HBO and Max after a successful VOD and DVD release. Deadly Cuts is a film we acquired from Myriad Picture at AFM, and it is currently on Showtime and Paramount+. We were approached last year by the director of the award-winning film Waikiki, which will be released in select theaters in November and on demand beginning in December.”

Ed Seaman

Ed Seaman, CEO of MVD Entertainment Group, a family-run business that has been releasing music and film to home viewers since 1986, also will be at AFM 2023.

“It is a great opportunity to spend face-to-face time with clients and customers, to have some time to be cerebral and creative with our trade partners,” Seaman said. “We are not so much looking to buy films here but strengthen our relationships, and build new ones. So often we think we know what our trade partners do until we have some unstructured time, and we find there are new ways we can help each other.”

Another indie who will be at AFM this year is Richard Wolff, CEO of Breaking Glass Pictures, which licenses about 30 titles a year and produces 10 films annually for worldwide distribution. “Yes, we are attending from the beginning to the last day,” Wolff said. “We’re looking for films of all genres – we’re hoping to secure about a dozen pictures.”

Wolff, too, is a longtime regular at AFM, “beginning when the market was in February. We always made great deals, as this is the last market of the year. I’m curious to see how the new venue fares – and the condition of the elevators!”

Bill Sondheim will also be at AFM this year. A veteran home entertainment executive who once was president of PolyGram Video when the company was approaching the ranks of the majors, he now runs Greenfield Media LLC, a content consulting company that helps content creators find distribution and financing for their films before they are made, helps producers develop and package films, and represents films already made for licensing deals.

“I am going to AFM and looking forward to a busy few days,” Sondheim said. “I have several films at various stages of development that I will be pitching to distributors. I also represent some distribution companies, and I will meet with program suppliers that might benefit from added distribution capabilities. This show allows me to meet with dozens of content companies in a pleasant and convenient meeting area.”

Bill Sondheim

Sondheim said he’s gone to AFM “for many years and always found it productive. Last year I sold two films as a producer that started with dialogs at AFM. I also got a new representation deal due to meetings at last year’s AFM. Going to the show is a very productive time.

Mitch Mallon, the founder and CEO of Stadium Media, also is attending the show. “We attend to continually measure where the business is and possibly progressing to, as well as to meet and establish initial relationships with some of the newer suppliers from the United States and around the globe.”

Stadium Media is a global distribution company established in 2015 with a catalog of over 400 titles. Mallon and his team work directly with most digital and OTT platforms throughout North America “and the ever-expanding global digital landscape,” Mallon said.

“I have been attending AFM since our launch and have met, and developed relationships with, several suppliers that we still work with to this day in releasing digitally. AFM is where I began to formalize what Stadium Media might become.”

Absent from AFM this year is Michael Rosenberg of Film Movement. “We went last year, but decided to skip it this year,” he said. “We’re in regular contact with everyone and saw a bunch of sales agents in Venice, at TIFF, and in Karlovy Vary. Also, we have a lot of films in the pipeline already at this time.”

Another no-show is Dan Gurlitz, the founder of Soundview Media Partners, which specializes in independent films as a sales agent, represents films for non-theatrical exhibition licensing, and publishes The Sound View: Independent Film Digest, a monthly publication focused on the release of unique films, both classic and contemporary.

AFM, he said, “is not a show that caters to the kind of films Soundview Media Partners traditionally specializes in. More importantly, business has been extraordinarily strong. Leads and new clients come in mostly via word of mouth, so there’s little need to attend a show like this at this time.”

AFM 2023 has lined up 245 exhibitors, according to organizers. Film screenings will be held at theaters throughout Los Angeles, while the AFM’s conference series will take place at The Hilton Santa Monica Hotel (1707 4th St).   

The exhibitor list features independent film and TV production, sales and distribution companies as well as national pavilions from China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Thailand and the United Kingdom. International trade organizations, film commissions and production service companies also have a significant presence as part of this year’s enhanced LocationEXPO exhibition, according to organizers. 

Registrants include buyers from more than 65 countries, according to organizers.  

Video Vet Dan Gurlitz Lands at MVD

Dan Gurlitz, a veteran of the home video industry, has joined MVD Entertainment Group in digital sales and documentary acquisitions.

With 35 years of experience in film distribution, Gurlitz previously held executive positions for such companies as Entertainment One U.S., The Disinformation Company and Wellspring Media/Fox Lorber Associates. He is also the founder of Soundview Media Partners, a boutique firm he launched in 2010 to work with independent filmmakers, establish distribution of their films and represent their educational and non-theatrical licensing.

“With Dan’s longstanding passion for independent film, specifically documentaries, we know he will contribute immensely to our organization,” said Rob Hyman, digital director of MVD.

“I have held MVD in the highest regard for many years and have been impressed by the smoothness of their operation and the growth they have experienced and continue to experience,” Gurlitz said. “I could not be more excited about joining their team and playing a positive role in their future.”

MVD Entertainment Group is a music and movie distribution firm, exclusively representing thousands of audio and visual products on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, CD, vinyl, and digital, worldwide. MVD also exclusively distributes a growing line of merchandise including limited edition collectibles, T-shirts, and more.