The Download: SnagFilms expands selection, distribution channels

Web startup SnagFilms got in on the Internet-turned-TV movement three years ago, carving out a niche as the place to view documentary films and pass them around the Internet via blogs and social media.

But last week the District-based company took perhaps its boldest step yet away from that narrow mission by expanding its library to include more fictional titles and making its content available through a broader slate of distributors.

“We have our place [in the market] but very, very quickly the agenda of the company has become big,” said Washington investor and business mogul Ted Leonsis. “This has the opportunity to be a world-class, huge new-media company that is positioned at the highest value.”

Fueled by a $10 million investment earlier this year from New Enterprise Associates and Comcast, SnagFilms has added to an already wide network of distributors as viewers tune into entertainment through new mediums.

Its smartphone and tablet presence now includes apps for Android and BlackBerry devices. Films can be screened through Xbox game consoles, rented or bought at online vendors like Vudu and Samsung Media Hub, purchased through DirectTV or accessed on Internet-connected televisions made by Sony, Vizio and Samsung.

“Each one of these applications takes a lot of thought and money,” said Rick Allen, SnagFilms’ chief executive and a former executive at National Geographic and Discovery Communications. But “you’ve got to be everywhere, so that’s the distribution play.”

The future of online television and movies was thrust front and center last week when one of the sector’s leaders, Netflix, split into two companies with one focused on streaming video and another on mailing DVDs.

SnagFilms is far from becoming a rival to Netflix, if that’s even the company’s aim, but Leonsis said that the Web site will add content that makes sense for the audience already tuning in for documentaries.

“We don’t have the size and scale to go out and buy the rights to ‘Star Wars,’” he said, adding “that’s not to say we would never do that.”

The company’s library holds more than 2,300 documentaries to date and it will now introduce independent and foreign films to the mix as part of an expansion that was first reported earlier this year.

“This is where we’ll establish ourselves,” Leonsis said. “We’ve seen companies build unbelievable value on smaller niches.”

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.
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