Like many aspiring producers, Lee Waterworth learned quickly that getting movies into theaters and then getting people to go to screenings is tough.
His idea to make it easier: A digital theater that can be embedded onto any website. On Thursday, Waterworth’s start-up Yekra announced that it’s improving the player and adding to its library a series of major films from studios such as Warner Bros. Pictures, including “The Dark Knight,” “The Great Gatsby” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
Yekra's 15-employee team is based in an apartment space turned industrial-like office in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo community. About $3.8 million is backing Yekra, with Allegiant Air’s Chief Executive Maurice Gallagher as the principal investor.
After signing up for a Yekra account, people who run websites can select a film or a customizable playlist of films that they want to embed on their sites. It’s similar to taking a video off YouTube and embedding it on a personal blog. The difference is that Yekra can charge people to rent or download that high-quality movie stream from within the player.
“Right now, there’s about 10 places to buy content, like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu,” Waterworth said. “They all try to pull people to a destination and if you’re not on the front page, you’re not going to make much revenue.”
Yekra’s goal is to reverse the market by “empowering anyone to deliver content where the eyeballs already are,” Waterworth said.
He suggested that a website that covers the sport of bicycling could have a page dedicated to cycling movies such as “The Armstrong Lie.” When a website visitor pays to watch the Lance Armstrong documentary, Yekra and the news website each receive about 10% to 25% of the sale. The rest goes to the film’s owner. The player also enables companies to sell DVDs, with Yekra handling fulfillment.
Yekra has recorded $2.5 million in sales during the past two years on about 2.5 million loads of the video player. About 33% of people who see the player watch a trailer and 7% of them make a purchase, Waterworth said.
The hope is that blockbusters and the new customizable playlists will draw viewers to check out more of the independent titles in Yekra’s library of about 250 films.
Three years ago, while working on the documentary "Thrive: What on Earth Will It Take?", Waterworth and Foster Gamble conceived of Yekra as a digital distribution tool for independent filmmakers. Yekra, which is a combination of the Farsi words meaning “one path," would be a single tool for people to distribute movies to the right people.
Big studios, of course, face the same challenges online and are willing to try to new tools, Waterworth said. Unlike some competitors, he added, Yekra can offer digital rights management protection.
To show people what’s possible with Yekra Theater, the company also unveiled Thursday a partnership with the Dove Foundation, a nonprofit that rates films on their family- and faith-friendliness. Dove plans to regularly curate a theater of approved films and share it with a network of 80,000 churches, Waterworth said.
“The church can tell their members, we can get the revenue iTunes would normally get if you bought the movie there,” Waterworth said.
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