Timing Is Everything: Indie Movie Discovery Platform Prescreen To Close Its Doors

It was just last September that we covered the launch of Prescreen, the startup founded by former Groupon and Zoosk execs that aimed to help independent films find the publicity they nearly always lack. To do so, they built a curated, on-demand video platform that would give filmmakers and distributors an alternative to traditional ad and distribution channels, while giving users an easy way to discover low-budget films they wouldn’t otherwise.

In February, Prescreen redesigned and relaunched with Facebook Open Graph integration, and in March added Netflix founding exec Mitch Lowe to its advisory board. Things were looking good.

But, as it goes in Startup Land, sometimes even veteran advisors, seed capital, and a good idea aren’t enough to keep a business afloat. Yesterday, Prescreen notified its users that it will be suspending its beta until further notice. While this doesn’t exactly mean that the startup has hit the deadpool, for all intents and purposes for its users, Prescreen is no longer operational.

Prescreen co-founder Shawn Bercuson tells us that, while the site will be officially closing its doors tomorrow, it’s reimbursing its users who had paid for movies — as well as its filmmakers — and is making an effort to put users who want to continue finding indie movies in touch with their creators. The startup will officially remain in a kind of holding pattern while the founders and advisors consider their options, as Bercuson says that it’s had interest from other companies in terms of both acquisition and merger.

That being said, much of the team has found — or is beginning to find — work elsewhere. And with $1.4 million raised from from the likes of Former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya, Ed Cluss, Auren Hoffman of Rapleaf, Saad Khan of CMEA Capital, and having featured 168 films, rented more than 10K movies and having attracted over 115K subscribers (10 percent of whom became paying customers), it’s a disappointing end for the team.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” said Bercuson, who was also a founding ThePoint/Groupon employee, “but we’re going back to the drawing board proud of what we’ve accomplished … we see this is a part of the game we chose to play and are excited to apply what we’ve learned to our next endeavors.”

The decision to move on is also likely a result of something many founders and entrepreneurs are familiar with: Timing. As Marc Andreessen says, for startups, “timing is everything, but it’s also the hardest thing to control … being too early is a bigger problem for entrepreneurs than not being correct. It’s very hard to sit and just wait for things to arrive. It almost never works. You burn through your capital…”

While Prescreen saw interest both from users and filmmakers (and the co-founder added that some of its investors were willing to re-up), timing is crucial. The space is hot, and Bercuson believes that it’s inevitable that a platform like Prescreen will be successful, but the startup just couldn’t continue to bet on third-parties — or play the waiting game.

In the startup ecosystem, one company doing well often leads to success for many, but in Hollywood, the CEO says, it’s an individual endeavor. At this point, studios and executives see online, on-demand platforms like Prescreen as competition, and the whole digital realm as a “zero sum game,” he says.

I would argue that this is a frustration cord-cutters and everyone who consumes movies and TV shows online is familiar with — don’t want to pay for a subscription to HBO, but you want to watch the new Game Of Thrones episode without breakin’ da law? Good luck.

Content should live anywhere that people want to consume it, and eventually that will be the case. But change has been slow, as those who control rights, networks, and the distribution of content continue to fight it, Aereo being a good example. That may be the case with Prescreen, or it could be a number of other factors. We’ll update as wel learn more.

But, startups are on a different timeline, the Prescreen CEO admitted, and at this point it just wasn’t worth it for them to wait it out. Without mind-melting traction and with many obstacles still ahead, the costs were too high.

For now, the founders are considering whether to sell off the technology and move on or opt for a merger, perhaps working within a bigger entity that has more developed inroads in the industry. They haven’t ruled out the idea of eventually re-launching the website as is, with a new approach, but for now, that’s up in the air.

For more on Prescreen, you can find it here before the doors close on Friday. The startup’s notice to users is below:

Notice below:

Prescreen Notice of Change of Service

Please be advised that on Thursday, May 31, 2012, Prescreen will be suspending our initial beta test until further notice. We very much appreciate your interest in our service and hope that you enjoyed your experience with Prescreen.

In early 2011, we started Prescreen because we believed the future of film discovery and distribution is digital. Last September, we launched the beta version of our site to test this premise. In just 8 months, we proved that this is likely to be the case. In total, Prescreen featured 168 films, rented more than 10,000 movies, and saw more than 115,000 subscribers opt in to receive Prescreen movies. That said, we’re perfectionists and we still don’t believe we’ve seized the opportunity. For now, we’re going back to the drawing board. When we come out on the other side, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Team Prescreen thanks you for your support from the bottom of our digital hearts :)

Team Prescreen

Ryan Lawler contributed to this story