Demonstrating the potential future for specialty film earnings through video on demand, The Orchard has disclosed that The Yes Men Are Revolting, which opened day and date last Thursday, has grossed an estimated $45K on-demand. This take puts it in the top 15 on iTunes’ documentary charts.

The third installment of The Yes Men documentary series grossed $15,544 in 10 theaters over the weekend, meaning that on-demand revenues are roughly three times its theatrical bow. This isn’t the Orchard’s only film to see VOD earnings top theatrical. The company’s Sundance ’14 U.S. Documentary Jury Prize winner Rich Hill grossed $144K in the box office, but, as the company told me this week, over the course of its on-demand run it brought in $200K. Like The Yes Men Are Revolting, Rich Hill was a day-and-date release.

Whether or not these films’ theatrical gross might have been higher had their runs not coincided with on-demand availability is up for debate, but it is true that most exhibitors are reluctant to show films theatrically outside the traditional 90-day exclusion because of such fears. Even so,
as The Orchard told me last month, the company wants to be transparent with its on-demand numbers. To that end, I was also told that Club Life, which The Orchard opened in late May, grossed an estimated $100K in its first-week run.

Though video on demand is an increasingly important part of the film distribution landscape, only a small group of primarily specialty distributors are disclosing on-demand numbers. In fact, the only other company to regularly give VOD numbers is RADiUS. The company reported back in 2013 that it had grossed $1.5M on VOD for Keanu Reeves’ Man Of Tai Chi. More recently, its late April release Adult Beginners has had an estimated $554K VOD gross as of mid-May, compared to a box office cume of $104K.

Is it time to take VOD seriously and for distributors to release figures regularly as with box office returns? Perhaps, but so far progress on that front has been slow. It’s been over two years since since producer John Sloss, whose Producers Distribution Agency grossed more than $120K via on-demand for Escape From Tomorrow, called on fellow distributors to disclose these figures. “It’s time for that statistics to be known,’ Sloss said in 2013, “because it is the functional equivalent to theatrical box office.”