European distribution series: OnlineFilm
By Sheri Candler
Here is the second part in a series on European distribution tools. I met OnlineFilm AG CEO Cay Wesnigk, based in Germany, while attending the FERA General Assembly in Copenhagen. Like most people in attendance, he is trying to understand the repercussions and opportunities of the online space to the film industry. His response was to come up with a solution that allows filmmakers themselves to profit and to spread their work to territories outside of their home country by using the internet.
SC: What does OnlineFilm hope to accomplish for European filmmakers and film audiences?
CW: The Onlinefilm.org System is a multilingual marketplace for films and an application service provider for digital distribution and marketing services, owned by a collective of independent producers/ filmmakers. Any rights owner from all over the world can use its technology to offer films as download to own and stream to rent or both.
To reach these goals, we want to strengthen and enlarge our network of national partners that are running the Onlinefilm.org system in their territories and run national websites that use the same technology to develop local markets. Together with our partners we want to develop new tailored ways of marketing by using social media and viral campaigning in their languages and territories and then learn from each other and teach our best practice examples to the film makers to empower them to use the onlinefilm.org system in the best possible way to market their films.
Our motto is “Films are made to be seen” and we want to make it possible for the international audience to access the films they are interested in and find those they did not know existed, helping the makers to find and access their audience.
SC: Do you think the audience is ready to start watching full length films online or on mobile devices?
It should be added to the question, “legally aquired” films. I think it is a proven fact that our audience is watching films on those devices, just go through a train in Europe and you will notice how many people are watching films on laptops and tablets, some even on smart phones. In catalogues of supermarkets, hard disks are offered that have a connection to regular TV and a remote control as well as Network access that make it easy to bring downloaded films to the TV screens. For us, the question is not if there is an audience out there for our films, the question is, is there an audience willing to pay for them?
But there is another angle to your question, a topic for online watching of films is the deceleration of the audience. It is difficult to watch 90 minutes linear programming with no interaction expected on a computer or tablet when the IM Messenger pops up, the Skype rings and your email program reminds you that a new mail has arrived in your mailbox… For that we need to find ways to decelerate our audience. One is the easy connection of the device with the TV set as mentioned above. Leaning back in front of the TV with the mouse out of reach is half of the trick. The other half still has to be developed.
SC: There are already many online streaming platforms for films, many of them are free streaming and ad supported streaming. What is the plan for driving audience interest to OnlineFilm?
CW: A film is a little bit of celluloid and a lot of marketing…
We have experienced that many film-makers do not promote their films once they have upload them in to the system by using the tools and strategies actively that we supplied for them. Some of them do not even link to the films from their own homepages, let alone think about how to promote their films through other channels that would generate audiences for them. Even a good Google ranking for film titles searches that we can supply does not bring the revenue, since for that, the customer has to know that a film exists and must actively search for it. So we have drawn the conclusion that we must act more on the filmmakers behalf to create more sales and such make the option to offer films through the Onlinefilm.org system more attractive. One measure we took was the cooperation with other outlets and websites by offering them tailored Mediatheks for their visitors, creating more outlets and chances that audiences will find a film by chance.
The next step will be to create best practice examples through social media campaigns that will lead to more sales of the promoted example films.
We offer tools to the filmmakers to help them create their own audiences. We offer at the same time a Platform for curators, for the hunters and collectors. They can use the search tools the site offers them to find the raw diamonds. They can browse through the categories, use our full text search in German and English or search for directors or film titles they might already be aware of.
The film of the week section on the landing page of www.onlinefilm.org can change its focus on three different film categorie; Docs, Short- or Feature films, or offer a mixture of all of them (default). With this preselection we want to promote films to people who just drop by our platform with no special film or interest in mind. We often change the selection and try to keep the offer interesting and diverse so every visitor should find something of interest to him and, if not, might be motivated to dig deeper into the catalogue, to find out more about its wealth of topics and genres.
In the second line “the featured films”, the recommendations also changes accordingly once a customer selects where his point of interest lies (docs, short, feature). If someone tells us he is interested in shorts, the site will offer him different shorts. If he tells us he likes docs, he will be offered mainly docs. This is how we try to keep our first time visitors on the site and offer them selected films out of our large catalogue that might be of interest for them. The more we get to know from a visitor on the site, the more we want to tailor the offers made to his interests.
Our national portal Strategy – many different editorial lines
If a visitor decides to “explore the Network” he will be guided to the overview map with all national sites that are active so far. He can then select one of them, where our national Partners have the editorial control, offer national content or content they consider interesting for their fellow country man. Their editorial line is subjective. They will offer the films from their country and others they have found in the system and deem interesting for their audience. We plan to extend the editorial possibilities of the partner pages so the partners will also have their own film of the week and other editorial possibilities to promote certain films on their sites.
By creating sub portals with a special focus, it is also always possible to follow a new editorial line if enough films to justify that are in the system..
Our Greek partners www.greece.onlinefilm.org are the most advanced, they have been with us right from the very beginning of the project in 2007 and they also have made the most out of the technology that onlinefilm.org has offered them so far. As an example, on their editors page, they made their own sub categorisation and such made it possible to browse through the films via topics they have selected on their own.
They also have published the Roviros Manthoulis collection and make it possible to browse through the films of this renowned Greek filmmaker. Both serve as an example for an individual editorial line of a partner portal.
Another example is Ireland.onlinefilm.org. Our Irish partner has chosen quite a ew titles from the system and publishes them on his site. Among them a French/Greek film called IRLANDE: LA MEMOIRE D’ UN PEUPLE about Ireland and its music in the 70s. This film has become quite popular on the Irish website and no one in Ireland would ever have known about this document of Irish folk music if it would not have been uploaded by our Greek partner and found and published by our Irish partner. Also interesting to note is that our Irish partner translated the site into Gaelic language, another way to make the site something special. We use a multi language editor that makes it possible to translate any of our sites in as many languages as necessary.
Since it is always also possible for any rights owner to upload any film from anywhere, we have many films from countries where we do not have a partner installed yet. The more films we get from one country the more active our search for a partner there becomes. We always offer anyone who uploads at least 30 films to get his own Macro shop. This would entitle him also to get a promoter percentage of 8% for any customer that enters the System through his shop. If the relationship develops well and we see the person is active and well connected, he can apply to become a national partner and will then be able to also add other films he has not uploaded into his shop. If he is willing to invest into the cooperation, he can apply for full partner status that would also guarantee him part of the revenues any film uploaded from his territory might generate as a partner percentage. An example of a tailored Macro shop of a German distributor is here: www.filmgalerie451.onlinefilm.org
This is how we slowly built our Network of national partners and built more and more local outlets with their own editorial line.
Some more examples you will find here
www.kurzfilmtage.de/videothek the Videothek of the Oberhausen Shortfilmfestibval, run with onlinefilm technology and with Onlinefilm films
www.freitag.onlinefilm.org A videothel of a German Newspapers Website, run on onlinefilm technolog and with Onlinefilm films
SC: Is this platform mainly for German films or is the focus on all foreign language films?
CW: Any one can upload a film no matter where he or she comes from. We encourage people to upload the film in its original language version and in English. Subtitles are sufficient. More language versions can be uploaded and offered for different self chosen conditions. We even offer a tool ( in Beta) with which one can create subtitles to a film which is uploaded into our system and save and offer them. Subtitles can also be imported into the tool and exported into many formats if produced with the tool. The subtitle tool is designed in a way that a filmmaker could ask a professional or friend in another country to create the subtitles of a film he has uploaded. We are also planning to create a system to allow a person who has created subtitles to opt in and get a piece of the revenue as remuneration for his work, any time the film is watched with his subtitles.
SC: What prices are being asked of the audience to pay?
CW: The price per download or stream is defined by the rights owner who offers the film via the onlinefilm.org system. Over the last 2 year,s the average download price per title has increased from € 2,50 (2008) to € 5,00 in 2010 and to € 6,00 in June 2011 (from a range between € 0.99 and € 16,00). Our bestseller right now costs € 8,50 per download (around $10 USD).
SC: How do you handle payments on the system for all different currencies? Can those not on the Euro still use the OnlineFilm system? How about those who don’t have credit cards?
CW: Right now you pay via Paypal in Euro, that works also with a credi card via Paypal guest status, then you can stream or download the film direct when redirected by Paypal after the payment is done on their server. We are looking into possibilities to offer films in different currencies viaPpaypal right now and hope to offer that kind of service in the near future!
As an alternative, we already offer payment through international bank transfer via IBAN and BIC to our account in Germany. Once the money is sent to our onlinefilm account, the buyer sends us a pdf with the view of the online money order ( screen shot or what the online banking software offers) and we sent him or her the download links via e mail or put the film for streaming into his or her account at onlinfilms under “my films” This sometimes takes a few hours to fulfill but it is better than nothing. So far it has been used mainly by Paypal haters.
SC: What is the revenue split for filmmakers? Are there any fees that have to be paid for the films to use OnlineFilm?
CW: No fees are asked just to offer the film on onlinefilm.org. If you just use the system to host trailers/teasers and use our promotion tool to send free downloads and streams to selected people, but you do not offer the film for payment to a general audience, we would ask you to pay for used bandwith and storage. But there is a free amount of traffic per month, sufficient for trailer hosting of average films, that anyone can use before that happens.
The revenue is split as follows. 51% of the turnover always goes to the producer/ rightsowner. If the rightsowner buys 1.000 shares of the Onlinefilm AG and such becomes co-owner of the system ( option) he can get 5% more which then ads up to 56% . If he sells the film via an embedded shop or Macro shop from his own page and opts in for the affiliate percentage, he will get an extra 8% which then makes his or her revenue climb up to 64% of the sales price (the Affiiliate system still has to be implemented).
SC: What kinds of films are doing well at the moment? documentary, horror, drama? What might these successes all have in common? Do they have notable names, festival accolades, strong coproduction deals that have given lots of promotion, great mainstream media reviews?
CW: We mainly have quite old films on the platform so far, this has many reasons in copyright issues unclear, release windows and power play of the old gatekeepers trying to hinder the films going online all together. Only very few of the films could profit directly from any marketing campaigns.
The films that are successful right now have a campaign behind them or at least some promotion mostly done by the filmmaker via personal website or mailing list. The others are just occasional sales by active seekers for exactly that title. They live on their past time fame.
One very successful 15 year old film Deckname Dennis is a first part of a film called Die Mondverschwörung presenting the same character and using the same technique, that has been released theatrically recently. Through the press the new film received and by creating a social media campaign for the new film that clearly stated its predecessor was available online (Facebook, Youtube, a website, Twitter) we made that film popular again. You might say it went viral and made quite an impressive turnover for its rightsowner. To download the film, the price is 8,50 Euro. We were extremely happy that through a good text the director posted in the blog of a pirate site where the film was also available, we got them to link to our legal offer and take down the illegal offer. Through our link statistics, we can see that many people come from there to us.
SC: I know that the German film industry is particularly concerned about online piracy, how does a site like OnlineFilm help alleviate this concern?
CW: We do not use DRM systems simply because we do not believe in them and we do not want to make it difficult for the customers. Also we do not want to greet our customers as criminals that we do not trust. We follow the principle of “digital rights fair trade” in short “do not bullshit your audience and your audience won’t bullshit you”. Our download is DRM free, whoever buys it will also be able to download the film again, when he needs to. He just needs to log in with his username and it will be in the “my films” section. Since our streaming technology is “dedicated flash streaming” it is not quite as easy to save the stream as with other techniques. The stream is rented for 48 hours and usually cheaper than the download, but it can also be offered solely if people want to better protect their work and do not want it downloaded.
SC: Is there a geoblocking mechanism on OnlineFilm so that if a filmmaker has sold a online sales territory or has a sales agent looking to sell a territory, that territory is blocked? I know that many sales agents ask for a hold back timeframe on titles so they can sell those territories around the world. Is the site mainly to exploit titles that are no longer active in the marketplace? In effect, taking films out of the “library” mode and putting them back out into the marketplace?
CW: At the moment we do not offer geoblocking. Anyone half clever seems to be able to enter any system with a false IP and ridicule these mechanisms. Secondly, we think if a customer wants to legally purchase a film we should sell it to him and not tell him to go elsewhere (namely the pirate sites). We will nevertheless implement an IP scan and geolocation tools in the near future. We have to since the industry seems not to change its ways as fast as it should. We hope to be able to serve the customer by offering a revenue share with the person or distributor who has the rights in the territory where the customer comes from. But this might still take while to program and implement.
SC: Does OnlineFilm do any marketing on the part of the titles? Or is the filmmaker expected to conduct their own marketing strategy to drive traffic to the site?
CW: Onlinefilm does marketing for the site and through the many partner sites also tries to drive more traffic towards the films. We also market some titles that we select via our onlinefilm Facebook page and via the film of the week and the recommendations on the landing page. We have a space on the Kulturserver Network where we can promote individual titles.
When our staff has time left, we also try to encourage links to topic driven films from topic driven websites. We offer marketing support for filmmakers that are open for it, but we ask for a fee if they want a campaign run by us. Then we try to build a social web campaign with them and show them how to, or do the job for them depending on their skills and time or money they want to invest.
This is something we definitely need to put more energy in because far too many filmmakers here do not know how to self promote their films and rather invest their time in making a new one. The revenue made online with many of the films is so far not big enough to encourage distributors or filmmakers to invest a lot of time or money in extra marketing. But since we see that the turnover with films is growing constantly, we hope that this will change and lead to an exponential growth of sales once people will be willing to invest more in marketing once they see the potential.
We are preparing a social media campaigning and online marketing handbook. At the same time we are trying to connect with people who specialize in the craft of online film marketing. We want to develop business models with them that will work for them and the rights owners possibly also on a revenue share basis.
My thanks to Cay Wesnigk for taking the time to talk with us and explain how his company is helping European filmmakers make the shift from a primarily cinema driven distribution model to an online one.
Orly Ravid July 25th, 2012
Tags: Cay Wesnigk, Copenhagen, download, DRM, European Digital Distribution, featured films, FERA, geoblocking, Germany, Greece, Ireland, online film distribution, OnlineFilm, Paypal, Roviros Manthoulis, streaming