SnagFilms Offers Free Instant Streaming and Viral Sharing of Hundreds of Documentary Films : Ad Revenue Shared With Filmmakers, Viewers Connected To Causes

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At a time when independent documentary films are experiencing a creative boom, yet theatrical distribution channels have gone bust, the beta launch today of SnagFilms helps both independent filmmakers and iconic production companies – and the audiences that want to see their movies.

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The power of a single film to change the world is immense – but only if people get to see the film

SnagFilms ( was created to address the bottleneck in distribution for quality documentaries that has left many great films unable to reach their potential audience or to provide a viable financial return. It also offers established media companies with deep libraries a way of getting "long-tail" documentaries out of the vaults and before a worldwide, on-demand audience.

Founded by Ted Leonsis, AOL Vice Chairman Emeritus and producer of award-winning documentary films; backed by Leonsis, AOL co-founder and Revolution LLC Chairman Steve Case, and venture capitalist Miles Gilburne; and led by industry veterans, SnagFilms brings the best nonfiction films to a global web audience, promotes viral web distribution through virtual movie theater widgets, and encourages users to engage with the films' issues and supporter communities. At launch, more than 250 films are available for immediate streamed playback, requiring no software downloads, sign-ups or waiting, and an additional 200 films, already under contract, will be added by mid-August.

The new service features award-winning titles from some of the greatest names in documentary film production and distribution, including PBS, National Geographic, United Nations, Sundance Preserve, IndiePix, Peter Jennings Productions, Arts Alliance America, ITVS, Koch Lorber Films, and many others. (See below for a list of participating libraries, and a sample roster of the films available for immediate viewing.) Many of the most prominent documentary filmmakers are participating not only by having their films distributed via SnagFilms, but by engaging with their audience through blogs and offering special "bonus" material, as well as suggesting nonprofit organizations that viewers motivated by these films can link to and support via charitable contributions, volunteering or spreading the word.

In a separate news release, SnagFilms announced that it had acquired indieWIRE, the leading news, information, and social networking site for the international independent film community. IndieWIRE will continue to operate as a standalone, independent site while also providing content for The release announcing the acquisition of indieWIRE is here:

"There has never been a time when so many high-quality socially relevant documentary films have been made, yet even though tens of thousands of documentaries are submitted to film festivals every year, only a handful find theatrical distribution. SnagFilms was created so that anyone who has a website, publishes a blog, or participates in a social network can open an online multiplex theater, giving others an opportunity to watch one or more of the films we'll stream, to distribute these films by snagging them for their own sites, and to support the causes promoted by these films by linking to participating nonprofits. Through SnagFilms, everyone on the web can be a theater owner and a film distributor if they just donate their pixels and enable these incredible documentaries to be seen," said SnagFilms Chairman Ted Leonsis.

How It Works

Viewers who go to the SnagFilms website can find, view, "snag", share, and support one of the hundreds of films available for free, advertising-supported viewing.

Find: Visitors to can find a documentary they would like to see via the search window; or by scanning a complete list of films, selecting from the most popular, most recently added; or from editorial recommendations; or by browsing eleven categories, from "Politics" to "Sports", "Environment" to "Health", from "History" to "Life and Culture", and more. All of the films have information pages including descriptive, contextual material, in some instances chosen or created by the filmmaker exclusively for the SnagFilms' audience. Films are also accompanied by a list of similar titles recommended by SnagFilms' editors. Films offered include both recently produced documentaries, and some classics of the genre made available online by some of the industry's most prominent distributors.

View: Viewers can choose to watch the documentaries on, with each film streamed via an embedded media player. Each film will include brief advertisements. Viewers will be able to comment on specific movies on the site by rating the film, providing reviews and recommendations, or posting comments on the film's blog.

Snag and Share Virally: Each film also is available in a widget that easily allows viewers, bloggers and others to take the film and accompanying material with them (hence the name "SnagFilms") and place it on their own website, blog, or social network page. The SnagFilms widget, modified from software developed by Clearspring Technologies, seamlessly enables the viewer to snag either a single movie, or multiple movies in pre-arranged category widgets. With a few easy clicks, these widgets can be placed by any viewer on their Facebook or MySpace pages, and dozens of other social network sites. Indeed, SnagFilms widgets can turn any web page into a digital movie theater, offering free, full-length viewing of the best of non-fiction films via a pop-up player. The potential for viral distribution is infinite, as anyone can snag and share any of the films in the library, and from any site on which the widget is offered.

Support: Participants can turn their support for a film into action by linking to one of the participating nonprofits. In some cases, nonprofit organizations have been specifically designated by the filmmakers. In other cases, SnagFilms will link to a charity designated by Global Giving (, which connects donors to several hundred pre-screened projects around the world.

Content providers share equally with SnagFilms in the in-stream advertising revenues on the website and wherever on the web the film is played via a SnagFilms virtual movie theater widget. Additionally, SnagFilms provides links to sites chosen by the filmmaker or distributor, or enabled by a SnagFilms partner, where the viewer can purchase many of the films in DVD or download-to-own formats.

How SnagFilms Came To Be

In 2007, the Ted Leonsis-produced documentary Nanking debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, and was bought for theatrical, TV and other traditional distribution channels. "I wanted to make films that had a double-bottom line – movies that had a return on their investment, but which also righted a wrong, or spurred viewers to social action. I began to think about the concept of 'filmanthropy,' believing that filmmakers could transform the energy created by a film that shined the light on injustice, or which exposed a social need, into greater audience participation. For example, I identify nonprofit charitable partners to connect with in any film project in which I'm involved. Yet I learned very quickly that even having thousands of dedicated, talented filmmakers out there doing meaningful work and making incredible movies, the odds of getting these important films to an audience they could inspire were long. As important, I learned that many great documentaries, released even two or three years ago and having run through their traditional distribution, are now hard to find, and large media companies want an easy way to have these films connect with an audience."

While at AOL, Leonsis and others developed TrueStories, a site that delivered free, advertising-supported long-form documentaries to an online audience and provided a platform for their discussion. "True Stories was the perfect service to build upon, but as with all destination sites, viewers had to know the site was there, and they were only given one place to watch, rather than allowing a fan or blogger to share the film with friends where they naturally congregate." After retiring from AOL, one of the companies that Leonsis became involved with was Clearspring Technologies – he is Chairman of the company's Board -- the leading provider of widget creation and syndication services. When a Clearspring widget created to promote a major studio's theatrical release was virally distributed to tens of thousands of websites and tens of millions of viewers, Leonsis wondered: what if documentary films could be distributed virally through widgets? From that vision, SnagFilms was born.

In 2007, former National Geographic and Discovery Communications executive Rick Allen teamed up with Leonsis on a second film -- Kicking It. By the beginning of 2008, they assumed the operations of True Stories. (AOL will continue to provide technical and ad sales infrastructure for SnagFilms, and will have the right to utilize SnagFilms' content through a number of its channels, including Moviefone.) Working with Stephanie Sharis (the former True Stories GM), the site's staff and a team of newcomers, they began development of a new site, a widget-based distribution strategy, and a greatly expanded library from top documentarians. Steve Case, the Chairman of Revolution LLC, and noted investor Miles Gilburne joined Leonsis as owners of the new company.

In sessions convened by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Paley Center for New Media, the SnagFilms team listened to foundations that fund films, filmmakers and others. (The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. The Paley Center for New Media is a premier convener of programs focused on the dynamic and important role of media in society.) A common theme stated by all of the participants was that the bottlenecks in traditional distribution were threatening the economics of the medium and diminishing its impact. Alberto Ibargüen, Knight's President and CEO, noted that, "documentaries can be an especially powerful social tool at a time when traditional investigative journalism is under budgetary and other pressures. We believe in harnessing the web's power to democratize the distribution of these films, and SnagFilms does this." Ibargüen, other foundation leaders, and Paley Center President and CEO Pat Mitchell will provide input to SnagFilms to make it an effective platform for the greatest possible number of filmmakers, and increase its community and charitable connections. Knight Foundation is also providing a multi-year grant to assist these activities.

"The power of a single film to change the world is immense – but only if people get to see the film," said SnagFilms CEO Rick Allen. "Now they can – not only viewing for free, but sharing with friends, supporting filmmakers, and helping to get things done. These award-winning films now are badges of personal belief, tools of social change, common bonds of community … and a great way to spend a lunch break or evening."

"SnagFilms is going to change the world of independently produced documentary films. It will change the way this business works by making many more films available to many more people, while respecting both the filmmaker and the audience. We are very pleased to be supporting the SnagFilms launch," said Bob Alexander, the President of IndiePix, the internet-based, independent film distribution company.

Danny Glover, the actor, activist, and co-founder of Louverture Films, "SnagFilms is an essential new vehicle for the distribution of what I'd call 'essential films.' Making the best use of the promise of the Internet, by making content free and easily accessible, SnagFilms offers hope for filmmakers and audiences with a genuine hunger for content that is courageous, innovative, creative, informative, and most importantly, truthful."

Said Morgan Spurlock, the award-winning director of Super Size Me and Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden, "As a filmmaker, your goal is to get your film seen by as many people as possible. I believe SnagFilms will be an indispensable outlet for not just film makers, but audiences everywhere."

Biographical material on SnagFilms' principles can be found here:

  Selected Titles in SnagFilms Library

  Africa Unite, Directed and Produced by Stephanie Black Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore, Directed by Frank Popper, Audience Award, Silverdocs (2006) Class Act, Directed by Randall Miller Darkon, Directed by Luke Meyer, Audience Award, SXSW (2006) Dig!, Directed by Ondi Timoner, Sundance Film Festival - Grand Jury Prize (2004), Bend Film Festival, Jury Prize, Best Director (2004) Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars, Directed by Matt Hames, produced by The Redford Center at Sundance Preserve, narrated by Robert Redford The Future of Food, Directed by Deborah Koons Heavy Metal in Baghdad, Directed by Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti, shown at SXSW Film Festival (2008), Toronto Film Festival (2007), Berlin Film Festival (2008) The Ladies, Directed by Christina Voros, Grand Jury Prize Winner, Slamdance (2008) Living Goddess, Directed by Ishbel Whitaker Paper Clips, Directed by Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab Run Granny Run, Directed by Marlo Poras, Audience Award, SXSW (2007) Street Children, Directed by Ivan Nikolov, premiered at 2007 Cannes Film Festival Super Size Me, Directed by Morgan Spurlock What Would Jesus Buy, Directed by Rob VanAlkemade     SnagFilms Production Companies and Partners

  Alive Mind Media (a division of Lorber HT Digital) Arts Alliance America APL, Anderson Productions Ltd Alexandra Juhasz Blowback Productions Bradley Beesley Brave New Films Braverman Productions, Inc. Cactus Three Campus MovieFest EUE Screen Gems EyeSteel Film Filmoption Georgetown University Athletics ITVS IndiePix James Lester Films Jigsaw Productions Kartemquin Films Keep A Child Alive Koch Lorber Films Louverture Films Matson Films Media That Matters Film Festival/Arts Engine, Inc. National Geographic Open Door Co. Open Eye Pictures, Inc. Palm Pictures PBS Peter Jennings Productions Peter Rosen Productions, Inc. Post Factory Red Envelope Entertainment Reel Works Season of Light Seventh Art Releasing Sundance Preserve, Inc. United Nations Westlake Entertainment , Inc. XPLR Productions  

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