EXCLUSIVE: Distributor The Orchard has released on-demand figures for its documentary Cartel Land, a likely strong contender as awards season ramps up. Altogether, the Sundance Film Festival 2015 debut by Matthew Heineman, has amassed an estimated $550K in just two weeks on VOD. The company also said its VOD gross for another 2015 documentary, Dior And I, has come to $400K since becoming available on-demand in July.
The Cartel Land numbers are actually more impressive given that during its first week the doc was only available via internet video on demand (iVOD), including iTunes, Amazon, Google, Xbox et al., excluding cable and satellite. Home audiences purchased Cartel Land to own, or electronic sell-through (EST) at an average cost of $13.99 ($12.99 SD and $14.99 HD) representing 17,700 units across all digital platforms. The total EST for the first week represents $246K of the total $550K non-theatrical revenue. Cartel Land has cumed about $700K in theaters since opening July 3. Cartel Land, which won both the Directing and Cinematography awards at Sundance last January before heading to the Tribeca Film Festival, opened to a $15,581 gross in two theaters its opening weekend, or $7,791 per theater. As of this morning, the movie’s theatrical gross is $700,876.
“Aside from the obvious upside that an Oscar nomination can drive, when it comes to the overall revenue pie we expect 25% of revenue will come from theatrical for the life cycle of the title,” said The Orchard’s SVP Film & TV Paul Davidson. “iVOD represents 50% and cable VOD and satellite represents about 3% of the pie. Personally for us, we haven’t seen cable perform higher than that for documentaries in the past, although we are encouraged by their newfound enthusiasm in growing their indie business. Multiple forms of streaming, which includes SVOD (subscription-supported) and AVOD (ad-supported) represent about 17%.”
Cartel Land is an on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels. In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as El Doctor, leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Altar Valley – a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley – Tim “Nailer” Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across our border. Heineman was embedded with both groups over the course of a year of filming.
The Orchard’s original projected financial model for Cartel Land‘s first month of non-theatrical revenue was”closer in the range of $320K to $350K,” according to Davidson. “So generating $550K in the first two-weeks was a big win.”
“I attribute [Cartel Land‘s appeal] to a couple of things. The quality of the filmmaking has driven word of mouth and we’re also in a moment of time in which there are multiple pieces of narrative content out there, like Sicario which is driving even more attention to the cartels and the border,” said Davidson. “There’s also constant dialog out there related to the border coming from [Presidential candidates] like Donald Trump. It’s a perfect storm of discourse coming around Mexico and the border and that has helped drive interest. That being said, we also mounted a truly great marketing campaign around the theatrical release that effectively targeted the border states. We saw this over-performance in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and the San Diego area. There was great awareness through executive producer Kathryn Bigelow and great discussion led by director Matt Heineman in various markets and in the media. All these things turned up the volume on this film. In the short term we expect this to continue to go this way as we head further into the fall and then winter.”
Davidson pointed out that there are still many possibilities for Cartel Land and its other titles as the on-demand space evolves. He also said the business could find its way into the narrative realm. “There is obviously way more upside to these estimations because we have rights to a title like this for 7 to 10 years and the industry, business models and consumer adoption of digital will evolve, but we prefer to be as conservative as we can,” he said. “Who knows, some years from now it could be made into a feature film.”
On-demand numbers are rarely disclosed publicly. Nearly all specialty distributors include at least some on-demand component to their releases, but unlike theatrical box office, revenue figures from those sources remain secret. RADiUS and The Orchard have been key exceptions. “We can only gauge success on digital against our own internal data since most companies don’t share the performance in this window,” said Davidson.
The Orchard had a successful theatrical run on another documentary, Dior And I, which has cumed over $1 million in the box office since opening in April. In July, the title became available on-demand and has grossed $400K. Its first-week EST units were 7,535, or approximately $115K its first week.
RADiUS’ Twenty Feet From Stardom, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2014, had cumed about $1.3M in VOD by the time the title reached its theatrical cume of nearly $4.95M in June of that year. Its VOD numbers have grown since then, though RADiUS hasn’t given an update on that total. Likewise, the company’s Citizenfour won the doc Oscar earlier this year. The company has not disclosed VOD, though it has cumed about $2.8M in the theatrical box office.