Web fever blunted at Sundance Film Festival

— 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.


AP Photo

Ian Calderon is director of digital initiatives for the Sundance Film Festival.

"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.

Despite the Internet shakeout during the past 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.


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