(1) The digitization of the modern movie theater. As studios has pushed back on exhibitors to outfit their facilities with digital projection technology, the requirement to create a 35mm print to play in a big house has fallen by the wayside. Digital theaters can now screen everything from DCPs to Blu-Rays, brining the cost of creating a screenable "print" from thousands to hundreds of dollars.
(2) Low weekday attendance at movie theaters. There's a reason that the industry reports weekend box office rather than weekly box office. People go to the movies on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, leaving an opportunity for alternative revenue sources during the quiet weeks at the art houses and multiplexes. A model where theaters can show a movie without shouldering the risk makes a lot of sense.
(3) DIY. With Kickstarter and IndieGoGo filmmakers are raising capital themselves. And with the decreasing cost and increasing access to equipment, filmmakers have the ability to make films with more autonomy and creative control. For the entrepreneurial filmmaker, digital distribution and on-demand screenings offers an extension of this approach, affording artists the opportunity to control the distribution process, determine price and access, directly monetize a fan base or all of the above (see: Louis CK).
(4) The niche-ification of the independent film business. As studio films get bigger, small films seem to be getting smaller (Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca have recently launched sections explicitly for micro-budget filmmakers). Just as the music industry has seemed to transition from churning out overnight successes that could speak to most of us, to an array of middle class theater-playing acts that speak to few of us, the film industry may be headed in a direction where filmmakers grow and nurture smaller, but loyal audiences. Bring on the sub-genres.
Whether on-demand screenings are a new and legitimate alternative to traditional theatrical release, a marketing tool to help raise awareness and allow filmmakers to directly access (and monetize) their fans, a revolutionary approach to repertory cinema, or something in between, it's a fascinating development and one we should all have our eyes on as it continues to find its footing.