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Distributor finds success independent of New York Passion River Films sees steady growth from Warren address

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Passion River President Allen Chou: “Consumers are dictating what they want to see and how they want to see it.”
Passion River President Allen Chou: “Consumers are dictating what they want to see and how they want to see it.” - ()

Now that cloud-based streaming grants instant access to entertainment, the need to own DVDs has decreased significantly.

And with millions of user-created content from iPhones, companies are now competing with customers just to get paid for entertainment.

So how does one get noticed in such a busy world?

Passion River Films, an independent film distributor in Warren, feels it has the answer.

The company acquires, distributes and represents independent films and documentaries with the goal to not only create sustainable business by securing partnerships with digital providers and retail outlets, but also to increase revenues for filmmakers they represent.

President Allen Chou — who also serves as a marketing consultant and adjunct faculty at New York University — believes films that “engage audiences and impact communities” are the way to achieve these goals.

Chou originally created Passion River in 1998 to represent commercial directors in New York City, but transitioned his company to represent filmmakers when one of the largest distribution companies in the city closed.

Two years ago, he secured a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration to migrate and consolidate all Passion River business and staff to their cost-effective location in Warren.

“We felt once we established ourselves and our presence by acquiring enough titles and accounts, we didn't need to be in New York any longer,” Chou said.

With 10 full-time staffers and ongoing construction, Passion River continues to expand.

The company often sends Mat Levy, senior director of sales and acquisitions, to film markets and festivals such as Cannes, Hot Docs, Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca to acquire new films and establish relationships.

Passion River chooses films such as “Burn,” a philanthropic documentary about Detroit firefighters produced by Dennis Leary, or narratives such as “Wedding Place,” the first Asian-American romantic comedy with social media appeal.

Passion River also collaborates with fellow distributors to create publicity events and hosts its own in-house marketing department to build communities through nontraditional avenues.

“We spun off a new division where filmmakers can hire us to perform social media marketing and engagement strategies even if we're not handling their film for distribution,” Chou said.

Passion River then licenses the films to major retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Walmart and Target; academic institutions such as libraries and universities; and digital markets such as Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes.

Because 80 percent of Passion River's business comes from documentaries and films with valuable social subject matter for academic institutions, its DVD sales have declined less than 10 percent — much less than pure entertainment distributors.

And digital sales have doubled over the last year, with growth continuing to be exponential. Chou said that's driving Passion River's decision to launch its own digital channel with Roku, a company that makes streaming entertainment devices for television, late this summer.

“Consumers are dictating what they want to see and how they want to see it — what device they want to use, when they want to access it and how,” he said.

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

The biz in brief
Name: Passion River Films
Headquarters: Warren
Founded: In 1998 in NYC; relocated to New Jersey in 2012
President: Allen Chou
Employees: 10
Revenue: Not disclosed, but Chou says digital sales have doubled over the last year and growth continues to be exponential.
One more thing: Look for Passion River’s own digital channel on Roku later this summer.

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