Web Tones Down Sundance Presence

Internet companies swarmed the Sundance Film Festival last year, snapping up short movies and pitching the Web as the next big thing in film distribution.This year, after many Internet firms folded or merged and Web investment dried up, some of the survivors are back at Sundance, still talking up the Web as an entertainment conduit, but in more realistic tones."The momentum we saw last year, all of that has decreased significantly. I'd say it's dropped by two-thirds," said Ian Calderon, Sundance director of digital initiatives. "The rush has simply slowed to a little bit of a crawl."Too many companies leapt in too quickly, raising cash and setting up elaborate Web sites filled with short films and other entertainment, counting on advertising revenue that never materialized.Some high-profile Web efforts never even got off the ground, such as Pop.com, whose partners included Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. Pop.com's founders scrapped the entertainment Web site last September after nearly a year of planning.Another notable failure was Digital Entertainment Network, a site that tried to create original programming for the Internet."A lot of these companies were able to raise substantial amounts of money but never really had clear business plans," said Oliver Eberle, chief executive of Showbizdata.com, which sells entertainment-industry data and organized a trade show at Sundance for Internet and other technology companies. "That onrush of feeling that you can get rich quick on the Internet, that thinking is over."At Sundance and other festivals, Internet entrepreneurs scrambled to acquire film shorts, figuring the content would draw viewers to their Web sites and that dollars would follow."These companies came out of the woodwork and said, `We'll put some short-form entertainment on the Web, sell ads and somehow we'll make money," said Jannat Gargi, vice president of acquisitions and development for AtomFilms, which distributes short movies on the Internet and such outlets as television and airlines.AtomFilms, which recently merged with Shockwave.com, is trolling Sundance for new films and showing off movies already in its library. The company has movies entered in Sundance's short-film competition and the first Sundance online film festival.Despite the Internet shakeout over the last year, filmmakers remain confident that the Web will help their movies reach wider audiences.Jennifer Arnold said the exposure her short film "The Mullet Chronicles" receives as part of the Sundance online festival will draw attention to an hourlong version of the documentary she plans to complete this spring.The online festival "is like a little trailer for the longer movie," said Arnold, whose project examines the appeal of the "mullet" haircut _ short in front, long in back. "What I'm hoping for is to start a buzz on the Internet, get a following on the Web and let people know there's an hourlong film coming, then hopefully, make a sale for that."The online festival, which runs through late February, was started to broaden Sundance's audience via the Internet. About 20 short films can be viewed on the Web.Because of their relatively fast download time, short films remain the most practical entertainment available on the Web. Feature-length films can be rented or bought over the Internet, but they are only practical for those with high-speed access such as cable or DSL.Even then, a full-length movie can take half an hour or more to download.Still, Internet companies that survived the shakeout expect the Web to grow into a viable means of delivering entertainment."There already is an ample market for us," said Jennifer Pesci-Kelly, marketing director for Sightsound.com, which rents and sells full-length movies over the Internet.The company's films are especially popular on college campuses, where many dorms already are wired for high-speed Internet access."Students are definitely some of our early supporters," Pesci-Kelly said. "They use their computers as entertainment centers in the dorms, and more and more people will do the same in their homes in the future." Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.