In the meantime, I came across this Los Angeles Times article about Netflix entering into an agreement to distribute DVDs of Independent Spirit Awards nominees to the organization's members. Of more interest to me, though, was some surprising information regarding what Netflix subscribers rent:
Overall, Netflix controls only 8% to 9% of the DVD rental market. But the company accounts for one-third to one-half of all rentals of "indie" and low-budget movies. According to Sarandos, the Netflix executive, specialized films often outperform mainstream studio movies rented via the service.
For example, 1 in 4 Netflix subscribers have rented "The House of Sand and Fog," the critically acclaimed drama that made little at the box office. The New Zealand film "Whale Rider," whose young star Keisha Castle-Hughes earned an Oscar nomination but whose ticket sales totaled about $20 million, has been rented on Netflix more than either "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" or "The Hulk."
I've been a subscriber for almost a year and am pleased with the service. Turnaround time is fast enough--I can drop a DVD in the mail on Monday and get a replacement Friday--and the selection is much larger than any of the nearby chain rental stores provide. (I'm also glad Netflix recently dropped the monthly subscription rate.) My rentals are predominantly the indie/arthouse titles, foreign films, and classics, but my pattern is skewed because I see all of the blockbuster titles when they play in theaters.
Both of these films made my 2003 Top 10, so I'm surprised--and thrilled--that HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG and WHALE RIDER have found audiences that might not have had the opportunity to see these films at their local theaters. Neither film's release pattern would be a textbook example for Jonathan Rosenbaum to dissect if he were to update his book MOVIE WARS, but the theatrical gross versus home video rental performance of each would bolster his argument that more people would see smaller films if they were given better access to them.