UK film companies are waking up to the possibilities of releasing independent films through VoD services (both online and TV).

Dogwoof Digital, a film distribution company dealing with independently produced feature films, has announced it will launch the UK's first digital platform from its own website, bypassing the service provider, in this case Tiscali TV.

Three years ago the company started offering film content to Tiscali, which, Andy Whittaker, head of Dogwoof Digital, says was ideal for experimenting with cinema audiences and finding out about the user. "What we see is an audience crying out for more alternative cinema content, as in the independent films which don't get a chance to be seen by most people," says Whittaker.

The main service providers in the UK are of the same thinking, and this year sees new deals that will increasingly bring together the distributor and service provider, offering the independents new opportunities.

Sky Box Office (SBO) has struck a groundbreaking deal with Artificial Eye for independent film, The Edge Of Heaven (out February 22).

The service will offer the film through its VoD on SBO at the same time as the film's cinema release in the UK.

The company has recently signed off another deal of the same kind with Momentum, to include the release of two films (The Hoax and Vegas Baby) on demand at the same time as on DVD. Ian Lewis, director of Sky Box Office, says his service is quite advanced, compared to Europe, in terms of the numbers of people who use it: "We have just reached the 2 million mark."

Meanwhile, Tiscali has partnered with Guerilla Films for the premiere of British romantic comedy, January 2nd, which will be available free and on-demand through the internet service provider's website. While the film is not planned for cinema release, it will be backed by a marketing push unheard of for a small film without cinema distribution.

Whittaker says that not only do these deals suit the ethos of the independents - allowing them to release a small film and bring it to an audience that would not see it, including those outside of London, it also pre-empts many of the discussions that are taking place in Hollywood and beyond.

Hugh Williams, director of programmes at Tiscali, agrees: "Independent films are always going to struggle against Hollywood blockbusters and we are providing them with an opportunity to be seen elsewhere and operate truly independently.

For now, though, Williams says the market for online and TV VoD is relatively small. "Although there is a growth, it is slower than I expected, but that's often the case with new technologies that race ahead of consumer demand."

European VoD services, 2007
CountryNo ofIncrease in
ServicesTotal Over 1 yr
Source: European Audiovisual Observatory