Canadian Startup Reelhouse Partners with Warner Bros in Digital Distribution Deal

Vancouver’s status as the center of Canada’s film industry has been hotly and rightfully contested over the past couple years.

However, Vancouver’s thriving startup scene has thrown its weight towards supporting filmmakers, to great success. One startup that’s managed to make its presence known over the course of its first year in business is Reelhouse.

The Mount Pleasant company provides filmmakers with a digital distribution model: for a nominal fee, users of the platform can rent or download films. Filmmakers who choose the platform don’t just have a marketplace at their disposal—they can use Reelhouse as a soapbox, a merchandise booth, a news station and a place to do their fundraising. Film aficionados can come to Reelhouse and find projects from around the world, and a community that truly loves the medium.

Since its foundation last November, Reelhouse has been a local powerhouse with international reach. Filmmakers who have chosen the platform hail from France, Switzerland, Germany, the US, and New Zealand, and February saw Reelhouse partnering with Sundance, befitting its status as a platform for independent filmmakers.

But as of December 5, Reelhouse will now be offering content from its new partnership with Warner Bros., with streams and downloads of five Warner intellectual properties: The Great Gatsby, Pacific Rim, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Man of Steel and Argo. Bill Mainguy, CEO and one of the cofounders of Reelhouse, readily shares his excitement. The relationship between Warner Bros. and Reelhouse had been building for a few months after having participated in their WB Media Camp earlier this year. It’s their first studio partnership, but if this venture proves successful, perhaps other studios will follow suit.

“In the digital age, people are seeing less and less reasons to buy rather than rent a film—if rent at all—so what we’re trying to do with the studios is seeing is whether we can provide value back to the concept of buying a film,” Mainguy told Techvibes. “Our take on that is offer more: offer extras, offer incentives to buy that film.”

“In the physical world, the incentive to buy a film is having that nice box on your shelf, not having to go down to a video store and avoid late fees, and now with everything at the click of a button, what is that benefit? The ability to repeatedly view a film isn’t enough for viewers,” he continued. “The conversion rate from physical buyers to digital buyers is not what it needs to be. That’s what we’re striving for.”

The launch of this pilot program with Warner Bros. is only the beginning of a very ambitious 2014. The platform is browser-based at present, but 2014 will be the year that Reelhouse ventures into the home media center world, with intentions to be on video game consoles and Roku expressedly stated.

Other pundits have wondered how Reelhouse will differentiate itself: with this partnership, Mainguy speaks firmly about what Reelhouse brings to the table. “For the studio market, what we offer is a multi-layered experience, and what we mean by that is that we’ve seen the Hollywood film world become very commoditized. We see platforms that deliver the film’s content to you for a price, and that’s as immersive as it gets,” he says.

Warner Bros. has been a studio willing to experiment with technology since the 1920s; in 1927, it was Warner Bros. who released The Jazz Singer, the first talkie. Experimentation paid off ninety years ago. A 21st century lightning strike could be just what the director ordered.