By Smriti Mundhra

Smriti Mundhra is a Los Angeles-based director, producer and journalist. Her film A Suitable Girl premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017 and is currently playing at festivals around the world, including Sheffield Doc/Fest and AFI DOCS. Along with her filmmaking partner Sarita Khurana, Smriti won the Albert Maysles Best New Documentary Director Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.

asuitablegirl

I recently attended a panel discussion at a major film festival featuring funders from the documentary world. The question being passed around the stage was, “What are some of the biggest mistakes filmmakers make when producing their films?” The answers were fairly standard—from submitting cuts too early to waiting till the last minute to seek institutional support—until the mic was passed to one member of the panel, who said, rather condescendingly, “Filmmakers need to be aware of what their films are worth to the marketplace. Is there a wide audience for it? Is it going to premiere at Sundance? Don’t spend $5 million on your niche indie documentary, you know?”

Immediately, my eyebrow shot up, followed by my hand. I told the panelist that I agreed with him that documentaries—really, all independent films—should be budgeted responsibly, but asked if he could step outside his hyperbolic example of spending $5 million on an indie documentary (side note: if you know someone who did that, I have a bridge to sell them) and provide any tools or insight for the rest of us who genuinely strive to keep the marketplace in mind when planning our films. After all, documentaries in particular take five years on average to make, during which time the “marketplace” can change drastically. For example, when I started making my feature-length documentary A Suitable Girl, which had its world premiere in the Documentary Competition section of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Netflix was still a mail-order DVD service and Amazon was where you went to buy toilet paper. What’s more, film festival admissions—a key deciding factor in the fate of your sales, I’ve learned—are a crapshoot, and there is frustratingly little transparency from distributors and other filmmakers when it comes to figuring out “what your film is worth to the marketplace.”

Sadly, I did not get a suitable answer to my questions from the panelist. Instead, I was told glibly to “make the best film I could and it will find a home.”

Not acceptable. The lack of transparency and insight into sales and distribution could be the single most important reason most filmmakers don’t go on to make second or third films. While the landscape does, indeed, shift dramatically year to year, any insight would make a big difference to other filmmakers who can emulate successes and avoid mistakes. In that spirit, here’s what I learned about sales and distribution that I wish I knew a year ago.

As any filmmaker who has experienced the dizzying high of getting accepted to a world-class film festival, followed by the sobering reality of watching the hours, days, weeks and months pass with nary a distribution deal in sight can tell you, bringing your film to market is an emotional experience. This is where your dreams come to die. A Suitable Girl went to the Tribeca Film Festival represented by one of the best agent/lawyers in the business: The Film Collaborative’s own Orly Ravid (who is also an attorney at MSK). Orly was both supportive and brutally honest when she assessed our film’s worth before we headed into our world premiere. She also helped us read between the lines in trade announcements to understand what was really going on with the deals that were being made – because, let’s face it, who among us hasn’t gone down the rabbit hole of Deadline.com or Variety looking for news of the great deals other films in our “class” are getting? Orly kept reminding us that perception is not reality, and that many of these envy-inducing deals, upon closer examination, are not as lucrative or glamorous as they may seem. Sometimes filmmakers take bad deals because they just don’t want to deal with distribution, have no other options, and can’t pursue DIY, and by taking the deal they get that sense of validation that comes with being able to say their film was picked up. Peek under the hood of some of these trade announcements, and you’ll often find that the money offered to filmmakers was shockingly low, or the deal was comprised of mostly soft money, or—even worse—filmmakers are paying the distributors for a service deal to get their film into theaters. There is nothing wrong with any of those scenarios, of course, if that’s what’s right for you and your film. But, there is often an incorrect perception that other filmmakers are somehow realizing their dreams while you’re sitting by the phone waiting for your agent to call.

Depressed yet? Don’t be, because here’s the good news: there are options, and once you figure out what yours are, making decisions becomes that much easier and more empowering.

Start by asking yourself the hard questions. Here are 12+ things Orly says she considers before crafting a distribution strategy for the films she represents, and why each one is important.

  1. At which festival did you have your premiere? “Your film will find a home” is a beautiful sentiment and true in many ways, but distributors care about one thing above all others: Sundance. If your film didn’t beat the odds to land a slot at the festival, you can already start lowering your expectations. That’s not to say great deals don’t come out of SXSW, Tribeca, Los Angeles Film Festival and others, but the hard truth is that Sundance still means a lot to buyers. Orly also noted that not all films are even right for festivals or will have a life that way, but they can still do great broadcast sales or great direct distribution business – but that’s a specific and separate analysis, often related to niche, genre, and/or cast.
  2. What is your film’s budget? How much of that is soft money that does not have to be paid back, or even equity where investors are okay with not being paid back? In other words, what do you need to net to consider the deal a success? Orly, of course, shot for the stars when working on sales for our film, but it was helpful for her to know what was the most modest version of success we could define, so that if we didn’t get a huge worldwide rights offer from a single buyer she could think creatively about how to make us “whole.”
  3. What kind of press and reviews did you receive? We hired a publicist for the Tribeca Film Festival (the incomparable Falco Ink), and it was the best money we could have spent. Falco was able to raise a ton of awareness around the film, making it as “review-proof” as possible (buyers pay attention if they see that press is inclined to write about your film, which in many cases is more important to them than how a trade publication reviews it). We got coverage in New York Magazine, Jezebel, the Washington Post and dozens of other sites, blogs, and magazines. Thankfully, we also got great reviews in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and even won the Albert Maysles Prize for Best New Documentary Director at Tribeca. Regardless of how this affected our distribution offers, we know for sure we can use all this press to reignite excitement for our film even if we self-distribute. On the other hand, if you’re struggling to get attention outside of the trades and your reviews are less than stellar, that’s another reason to lower expectations.
  4. What are your goals, in order of priority? Are you more concerned with recouping your budget? Raising awareness about the issues in your film (impact)? Or gaining exposure for your next project/ongoing career? And don’t say “all three”—or, if you do, list these in priority order and start to think about which one you’re willing to let go.
  5. How long can you spend on this film? If your film is designed for social impact, do you intend to run an impact/grassroots campaign? And can you hire someone to handle that, if you cannot? Do you see your impact campaign working hand in hand with your profit objectives, or separately from them? The longer you can dedicate to staying with your film following its premiere, the more revenue you can squeeze out of it through the educational circuit, transactional sales, and more. But that time comes at a personal cost and you need to ask yourself if it’s worth it to you. Side note: touring with your film and self-distributing are also great ways to stay visible between projects, and could lead to opportunities for future work.
  6. Does your film have sufficient international appeal to attract a worldwide deal or significant territory sales outside of the United States? If you think yes, what’s your evidence for that? Are you being realistic? By the way, feeling strongly that your film has a global appeal (as I do for my film) doesn’t guarantee sales. I believe my film will have strong appeal in the countries where there is a large South Asian diaspora—but many of those territories command pretty small sales. Ask your agent which territories around the world you think your film might do well in, and what kinds of licensing deals those territories tend to offer. It’s a sobering conversation.
  7. Does your film fit into key niches that work well for film festival monetization and robust educational distribution? For example, TFC has great success with LGBTQ, social justice, environmental, Latin American, African American, Women’s issues, mental health. Sports, music, and food-related can work well too.
  8. Does your film, either because of subjects or issues or both, have the ability to command a significant social media following? A “significant” social media following is ideally in the hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, but is at least in the high five figures. We know the last thing you want to think about when you’re trying to lock picture, run a crowdfunding campaign, deal with festival logistics, and all the other stress of preparing for your big debut is social media. But don’t sleep on it. Social media is important not only to show buyers that there is interest in your film, but also ideas on how to position your film and which audiences are engaging with it already. Truth be told, unless you’re in the hundreds of thousands or millions of followers range, social media probably won’t make or break your distribution options, but it can’t hurt. And, in our case, it actually helped us get a lot of interest from educational distributors, who were inspired by the dialogue they saw brewing on our Facebook page.
  9. How likely is your film to get great critic reviews, and thus get a good Rotten Tomatoes score? Yeah, not much you can do to predict this one. However, a good publicist will have relationships with critics who can give you some insight into what the critical reaction to your film might be, before you have to read it in print. They also reach out to press who they think will like your film, keep tabs on reactions during your press and industry screenings, and monitor any press who attend your public screenings. This data is super useful for your sales representatives.
  10. How likely is your film to perform theatrically (knowing that very few do), sell to broadcasters (some do but it’s very competitive), sell to SVOD platforms (as competitive as TV), and sell transactionally on iTunes and other similar services (since so many docs do not demand to be purchased)? While these questions are easy to pose and hard to answer, start by doing realistic comparisons to other films based on the subject, name recognition of filmmakers, subject, budget, festival premiere status, and other factors indicating popularity or lack thereof. Also adjust for industry changes and changes to the market if the film you are comparing to was distributed years before. Furthermore, adjust for changes to platform and broadcaster’s buying habits. Get real data about performance of like-films and adjust for and analyze how much money and what else it took to get there.
  11. Can your film be monetized via merchandise? Not all docs can do this, but it can help generate revenue. So, go for the bulk orders of t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags during your crowdfunding campaign and sell that merch! Even if it just adds up to a few hundred extra dollars, for most people it’s pretty easy to put a few products up on their website.
  12. Does your film lend itself to getting outreach/distribution grants, or corporate sponsorship/underwriting? With the traditional models of both film distribution and advertising breaking down, a new possibility emerges: finding a brand with a similar value set or mission as your film to underwrite some portion of your distribution campaign. I recently spoke to a documentary filmmaker who sold licenses to his film about veterans to a small regional banking chain, who then screened the film in local communities as part of their outreach effort. The bank paid the filmmakers $1000 per license for ten separate licenses without asking them to give up any rights or conflict with any of their other deals—that’s $10,000 with virtually no strings attached. Not bad!

Sadly, Netflix is no longer the blank check it once was (or that I imagined it to be) and the streaming giant is taking fewer and fewer risks on independent films. Thankfully, Amazon is sweeping in to fill the gap, and their most aggressive play has been their Festival Stars program. If you’re lucky enough to premiere in competition at one of the top-tier festivals (Sundance, SXSW, and Tribeca for now, but presumably more to come), then you already have a distribution deal on the table: Amazon will give you a $100,000 non-recoupable licensing fee ($75,000 for documentaries) and a more generous (double) revenue share than usual per hour your film is streamed on their platform for a term of two years. For many independent films, this could already mean recouping a big chunk of your budget. It also provides an important clue as to “what your film is worth to the marketplace”—$100,000 seems to be the benchmark for films that can cross that first hurdle of landing a competition slot at an A-list festival.

I’ll admit, I was a snob about the Amazon deal when I first heard about it. I couldn’t make myself get excited about a deal that was being offered to at least dozen other films, sight unseen, with no guarantee of publicity or marketing. A Facebook post by a fellow filmmaker (who had recent sold her film to a “legit” distributor) blasting the deal as “just a steep and quick path to devalue the film” left me shaken. But again, appearances proved to be deceiving.

I discussed my concerns with Orly, and she helped me see that with so few broadcast and financially meaningful SVOD options for docs, having a guaranteed significant platform deal with a financial commitment and additional revenue share is actually a great thing. Plus, one can build in lots of other distribution around the Amazon deal and end up with as robust a release as ever there could be. Orly says one should treat Amazon as a platform (online store) but as a distributor and that can provide for all the distribution potential. If one does manage to secure an all-rights deal from a “legit” distributor (we won’t name names, but it’s the companies you might see your friends selling their films to), oftentimes that distributor is just taking the Amazon deal on your behalf anyway, and shaving off up to 30% of it for themselves. So the analysis needs to be what is that distributor doing, if anything, to create additional value that merits taking a piece of a deal you can get on your own? Is it that much more money? Is it a commitment to do a significant impactful release? Are the terms sensible in light of the added value and your recoupment needs? Can you accomplish the same via DIY? Perhaps you can, but don’t want to bother. That’s your choice. But know what you are choosing and why.

Independent filmmakers are, yet again, in uncharted territory when it comes to distribution. Small distributors are closing up shop at a rapid pace. Netflix and Hulu are buying less content out of festivals, and creating more of it in house. Amazon’s Festival Stars program was just announced at Sundance this year (2017) and doesn’t launch until next Spring, so the jury is out as to whether it will really be the wonderful opportunity for filmmakers that it claims to be. By this time next year, several dozen films will have inaugurated the program and will be in a position to share their experiences with others. I hope my fellow filmmakers will be willing to do so. Given the sheer variety of films slated to debut on the platform, this data can be our first real chance to answer the question that the funder on the panel I attended refused to: “What is my film worth to the marketplace?”

Orly adds that the lack of transparency is, of course, in great part attributable to the distributors and buyers, who maintain a stranglehold on their data, but it’s also due to filmmakers’ willful blindness and simple unwillingness to share details about their deals in an effort to keep up appearances. That’s totally understandable, but if we can break the cycle of competing with each other and open up our books, we will not only have more leverage in our negotiations with buyers, but will be equipped to make better decisions for our investors and our careers. Knowledge is power, and if we all get real and share, we’ll all be informed to make the best choices we can.

July 5th, 2017

Posted In: Amazon VOD & CreateSpace, Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, DIY, education, Film Festivals, Hulu, International Sales, iTunes, Marketing, Netflix, Publicity, Theatrical

This post was originally published on the Sundance Artists Services blog on April 23, 2012. This is an interview between Rights Stuff’s Wendy Bernfeld and The Film Collaborative’s Orly Ravid on the state of digital in Europe

In the past, many new media and VOD platforms – whether based on pay-per-transaction (TVOD), subscription (SVOD), free to user/ad supported (ADVOD) or download to own (DTO) — came and went, to the disillusionment of those brave souls trying to explore and develop the new sector and audiences.

Some filmmakers, sales agents, distributors who dared to license were wonderfully pleased with surprisingly good results for particular films (and not always the same ones that were mainstream successes in traditional media), but on balance, let’s face it, most were underwhelmed with the lackluster performance or transience of the various sites, and eventually became jaded about the whole sector. But it’s no longer a viable option just to sit back.

Over the past 18 months particularly the digital/VOD sector (including internationally) has finally begun paying off well for filmmakers, producers, distributors, and sales agents… at least for those who are willing to take the time to navigate (alone or partnered with others) the complexities of the sector, play with creative ”windowing’’ while balancing opportunities from traditional media, and accept initially more modest revenues from multiple smaller deals across various platforms and regions (yielding cumulative revenues in a largely non exclusive sector).

In addition to traditional media deals and VOD deal potential with IPTV, telecom, and cable offerings, and larger American sites (e.g. Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, iTunes), your film may well find interested audiences and homes on EU/international platforms…even if not picked up in the USA.

HOW IS INTERNATIONAL DIGITAL DIFFERENT FROM THAT IN THE USA?

The EU (beyond UK) deals with multiple languages, different tastes and appetites, different windows (vs consistent release patterns/dates per country), different platforms to navigate and balance against multiple different traditional media buyers, and, to be honest in general more work for smaller potential revenues from each deal/window.

But on the plus side, films can find homes overseas in many markets and windows, even if not ending up in the mainstream or major US/UK platforms.

The UK is at the moment probably the more stable and lucrative for English (the VOD market is already very competitive, with large platforms like Netflix, Lovefilm, BSkyB, FilmFlex, iTunes, and Blinkbox) but as soon as you ripple out to EU, digital distribution will take more work and art and generate relatively less money, especially if your film is only in original English language, and not already exposed in terms of promo/PR (theatrical, DVD release in the region etc.). However, there is indeed a growing appetite by now for art house, festival, docs, quality indie films, and foreign language films, if well curated, e.g. around festivals/brands/themes rather than as one-offs.

WHO’S OUT THERE in EU and what are some of the key territories where digital is meaningful?

Digital is immediately more meaningful in the UK, France, the Nordic region, and in Benelux, where there are already pc/mobile and tech-savvy customers and a willingness to view films in English with subtitles (vs. the dubbed regions of Germany, Spain, Italy etc., where one has to invest more to get the languages to cross over).

Although publications often refer to figures noting several hundreds of VOD platforms in Europe, in my view there are only probably 100 or so that are worth talking about when discussing licensing—half of which the main revenue generators, and another half of which are still potentially significant buyers(depending on the film of course)

In Europe, as in America, transactional VOD (pay per view) platforms are more established – some regional (per country), and others multi region (e.g. Acetrax, UPC/Chello, Headweb, iTunes, Playstation Network Live, Voddler, Xbox Live). Outside of the UK, one obviously enhances possibilities if addressing customers in their own languages and tailoring content to local preferences such film classification, advertising, and general consumer and cultural tastes.

iTunes has only recently (in autumn 2011) begun to expand its footprint into Europe, including in the following EU countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Non-English stores include: Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, and Portugal. They also just recently launched in Brazil / Latin America as well.

NETFLIX, Amazon (via Lovefilm), and Hulu are expanding their international footprint too. Netflix, for example, recently launched in UK/Eire, and is anticipated to roll into other regions such as Spain thereafter, and has already extended its occasionally original production commissioning activities to EU (e.g. Denmark – Lillyhammer deal, and more recently France (Gaumont etc) – Hemlock Grove series funding ). Lovefilm already has a presence beyond the UK (in Germany and Nordic), and is anticipated to expand regions. Hulu has not yet launched in EU but did launch already in Japan. As part of its competition rampup (in the US against Netflix in the SVOD market, it has also began commissioning original programming, (Day in the Life – Morgan Spurlock, for example, which was just picked up by Fremantle for distribution thereafter)….and also continues seeking special films or shows to do stunts around. We understand that they are trying to acquire more Spanish rights for the US…an important strategic move for other US players trying to expand their footprint in EU as well. Meanwhile in early 2012 the UK became a hotbed of activity for SVOD, with deals that would formerly have been nonexclusive (with e.g. Netflix, Lovefilm) being now struck on a lucrative exclusive basis, following the example of the competitive SVOD vs. Pay TV market in the US.

So what are the other key EU platforms? Trends?

Various international platforms are now becoming increasingly interested in licensing more art house, niche and festival films–not just mainstream titles. It is expected that some of the larger brand sites this year (e.g. those in UK like Netflix, Lovefilm, etc.) will expand the indie/art house and festival category further, and also be open to foreign language films (dubbed or subtitled as applicable per country audience as above). Most deals for art house/fest films, where not locally versioned or released in theatres or DVD, are on a non exclusive rev share basis, and in some cases where there is particular acclaim or cast, it can be coupled with a modest upfront, while if on an SVOD basis, flat fee deals apply (similar to non-exclusive Pay TV licensing deal parameters).

But in countries where the Pay TV incumbent is competing against a new web player, such as a traditional Pay TV player “vs.” SVOD (like Netflix “vs.” HBO in the US, or Lovefilm/Amazon “vs.” BSkyB in UK), as above, the fees can be more lucrative, in the form of true flat license fees in the Pay TV range. – whether on exclusive or non exclusive basis, and thus matching or exceeding the normal price ranges before the competition. As well, when competition heats up over one category of title, it’s also not unusual to have the competitors round out, extend, or diversify their consumer offer and move into other genres, to try to distinguish themselves from the competition. This is happening in more and more countries– for example the Netherlands, where HBO /Ziggo just launched in February and the local incumbent, Film1, responded by adding a branded art house/indie thematic channel (Sundance Channel).

Key note: Deals are generally non-exclusive and thus if carefully staggered, one can license the film sequentially through various windows (TVOD, SVOD, AVOD, and if applicable, DTO) and in multiple regions.

An example: one can first license a current film for transactional VOD (TVOD) on a rev share basis to cable and telecom VOD platforms (like France Telecom/Orange, UPC, etc) as well as (simultaneously) web based players (e.g. iTunes), then to subscription -based windows (premium Pay TV (e.g. HBO, Viasat) and their corresponding “TV Everywhere” offerings, thematic Pay TV, and/or standalone SVOD services . Thereafter, the film can move to other ad-supported services (free to consumer, web based, e.g. YouTube AVOD). This pattern can apply in multiple countries.

As mentioned above, there are hundreds of local European platforms —both standalone web-based services and mainstream and/or local telecom and Cable VOD platforms that have online offerings of their own. VIASAT, for example, was historically a premium pay service, but now offers not only conventional Pay TV and ”TV Everywhere” but also standalone thematic offerings to non-subscribers (SVOD to PC). Similarly, BSkyB just announced the upcoming launch of NOW TV – also aimed at non- subscribers (“Cord Nevers, and/or Cord Cutters”) – a thematic SVOD/low pay offering of films.

Opportunities will only increase in 2012 and 2013 as more from USA players, sites, and OTT box offerings beyond Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon gradually cross over to EU/international markets particularly if the new services don’t limit themselves to mainstream offerings and tastes.

Getting to the platform: As in the United States, some of the larger platforms (such as LOVEFILM, BlinkBox, Netflix, itunes) only take larger packages of films with a minimum volume, and are unwilling to deal direct with producers and distributors for “one off” deals. Until recently, most of the larger sites also focused mainly on mainstream films. In general, these services steer filmmakers towards conventional distributors, or aggregators/digital distributors like Movie Partnership (UK); but sometimes will accept dealings direct for certain films, or will go via an agent working on a flat fee basis (like Rights Stuff / Film Collaborative). In the latter scenario, the film IP remains in the filmmaker’s/distributor’s name, the money from deals flows to them directly and they get access and paid advice through third party consultants/agents/advisors.

Up until now, having had a DVD and/or local theatrical release was quite important for enhancing deals. But increasingly now online sites are willing to handle more innovative windows, e.g. premiering films online, or Day & Date with other windows (or shortly thereafter). Lesser-known or library (catalog) films can usually find a home on a non- exclusive and on ad-supported (AVOD) basis, but more current films usually start with transactional (TVOD) basis and/or subscription platforms (SVOD)… If filmmakers have titles already encoded to the expensive iTunes spec, this can be helpful in wider distribution, but it’s not essential; many digital platforms are now willing to take delivery of indie or art house films even via DVD or a hard drive/ digital master.

In terms of deal models, some aggregators (middlemen) take larger %s but then take care of all encoding and delivery fulfillment, while others who are more in an advisory or agent role take a lower share for deal making and platform access but leave you to arrange the encoding separately. In some countries (e.g. Brazil), platforms may not take English versions unless local subtitles or dubs are available, and work with distributors who create versions where necessary. These distributors co-curate packages with filmmakers based on experience of what “moves” best in the region so as not to invest in encoding or language versioning for films that may not generate enough revenue to justify it…

A side note regarding subtitling, by the way: Film Collaborative is looking into software that helps facilitate dubbing in the same voice as the actor/speaker, but meanwhile in any case, subtitling for digital is getting less and less expensive and can be done via relatively inexpensive software or labs. If one has shown a film at a film festival in another country and plans to then distribute the film there, we’d recommend you ask the fest for access to the subtitles (if cleared for other distribution). Traditionally, Nordic, Benelux, and some other regions are fine with and prefer subtitles, while others (such as Germany, Spain, and Italy) require dubbing. However, in the higher-educated arthouse/filmfest world, one can often get away with just subtitled versions even in the dubbing countries.

As indicated above, for better platform access, one may want to pick or join with new media /digital distribution specialists – particularly if your traditional sales agent or distributor, strong in conventional media (theatrical, video etc.) is however not active or savvy in the VOD landscape above (platforms, deal terms, contacts etc). Otherwise it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that you then ”don’t make money in digital’’. It’s a balancing act of cost vs. services, and a lot of work in international!

And filmmakers, whatever you choose to do with respect to your digital distribution, do not forget that one can also reach the whole wide world via one’s own website(s) and social networking pages by utilizing DIY digital distribution services (for more on this topic please refer to numerous past blog posts about digital distribution and DIY platforms and services at www.TheFilmCollaborative.org/blog and/or the Resource Place at www.TheFilmCollaborative.org/ResourcePlace).

As for piracy: in various cases filmmakers can tap into or derive indirect benefit from these online communities. See for e.g. Sheri Candler’s case studies in www.SellingYourFilm.com, Some filmmakers partner with Bit Torrent, Pirate Bay etc to launch their films online, tapping into the audiences already there (e.g. Nasty Old People, The Tunnel, Yes Men Fix the World).

LET’S TALK ABOUT POTENTIAL FUTURE TRENDS:

Diversification, Cross Platform/Transmedia: We believe 2012 will see continued consolidation of platforms and fuller diversification within the genres offered. Also as above, some key platforms (such as Hulu, Netflix, Yahoo, Endemol/AOL, Nokia, Canal+, Orange, ARTE, Channel4, ) are now also selectively commissioning transmedia and/or branded film opportunities (YouTube has not begun funding outside US yet). New funds and educational bodies (including MEDIA, Power to the Pixel) are increasing the emphasis on digital as a 360 proposition from inception of the film production process.

Multi-Layered Business Models: Platforms’ business models are also starting to become more multi-layered to handle different genres, consumer price points, and windows. For example, AVOD platforms such as YOUTUBE and SVOD platforms such as Lovefilm are now adding premium transactional VOD (TVOD) in order to handle current films. And as above, SVOD players are expanding their offerings beyond just library titles, beginning to buy newer and newer films in order to compete against premium PAY TV. This trend is continuing in the newer launching countries, e.g. Holland and Brazil where new PAY TV and localized SVOD and AVOD entrants have launched (e.g. YouTube regional sites). YouTube is also commissioning Made for Web content (MFW), although first in English language countries.

Festivals: Some European festivals have also recently started offering select titles on a TVOD basis. Rights Stuff recently worked with IDFA.tv to put around 100 films online—some on an AVOD basis and some on a TVOD basis—and in future more will follow. Certain other festivals (such as IFFR) have also begun to follow the US festival path of offering limited TVOD around or during the festival. This can open many doors for filmmakers, but also requires careful juggling and balancing when figuring out distribution patterns for conventional vs. online and new media….the balancing act is always key.

Traditional Players add VOD as well: As to the more traditional PAY TV players, last year after EPIX began licensing international festival documentaries it then turned its focus more to co-productions instead of acquisitions. And over 2011/12,As in the US, many traditional PAY TV platforms are going cross-platform and on multiple devices (a la “TV EVERYWHERE”, and similarly the nonlinear online channels are often seeking multiple device rights and/or at least have an App). Thus balancing traditional PAY TV sale vs. digital media requires more attention in rights grants and windows, but offers more opportunity correspondingly. In terms of trends, it still seems like the bigger funds and platforms are still more focused on more mainstream content, however as above this is starting to expand in EU to a wider net of content and genres.

REGIONAL EXAMPLES: VOD LICENSING PLAYERS AND WINDOWS in EU:

For bigger indie titles and mainstream ones, there are usually about 5-8 or so VOD outlets that one can target per country. Most of these will buy TVOD rights and sometimes also SVOD and/or AVOD. Platforms include television-related services (IPTV, Telecom/Cable companies, etc), as well as online and/or mobile sites, OTT box offerings, and consumer electronic (e.g. connected TV) portals.

For e.g. in Holland, a film or TV show can have various TVOD deals, not only with MSO like KPN, Tele2, Ziggo, and UPC, but also with web based services like Cinemalink.nl (for art house), iTunes, and the newly launched service from theatrical distributor Pathé (a Rights Stuff client), pathethuis.nl a bold move by a traditional theatrical exhibitor to also launch and embrace TVOD for a fuller offer to its film-loving audience base.

That would then be then followed by Premium PAY TV and/or SVOD sales (e.g. Film1, Ziggo/HBO, Ximon, Mubi.com), then AVOD (YouTube, IDFA.tv) with various competing players per region. The same film can also attract interest of foreign platforms not yet launched in the region but scaling up behind scenes, poised to launch there (e.g. those seeking to next move after UK into, say, Spain or other Benelux regions/Nordic). And this is on top of the broadcaster based proprietary VOD services (e.g. RTLXL and Veamer (from SBS and public TV catchup sites.

There are also various local equivalents of genre sits like Fandor or IndieFlix in certain EU regions. MUBI (www.Mubi.com) (co-owned by the rights holder to one of the most expansive libraries of art house cinema, Celluloid Dreams) is technically available everywhere, and is sometimes syndicated as an SVOD channel to telecom platforms (as in the case with Belgacom in Belgium). It is also on Sony Playstation. Last we checked, 60% of its audience was the US and most of the rest in Europe. Revenues from it for our films (TFC) have been small to-date, low 3-figures but it’s a good pedigree platform and perhaps revenues will increase.

A few others in EU include e.g. Orange, Canal Plus, (France and, multi region), Telenet, Belgacom, (in Belgium), SF Anytime, Voddler Film2home, Headweb , Viasat etc in Nordic /other regions), Telefonica, … Maxdome (Germany), Sony-related Qriocity, Daily Motion (many countries in EU), Movieeurope, Zattoo. Sales agent Wild Bunch has also recently launched a platform service called FilmoTV.

And as an aside, in Brazil/Latin America, the market has been heating up intensely in late 2011/12, with various TVOD and IPTV platform launches players, as well as competitive new PAY TV and SVOD services (eg Netflix, Netmovies, Terra) springing up or extending VOD. NewPAY TV laws (from fall 2011) are resulting in more potential competition, which is good news for filmmakers seeking new audiences over there. Our recommended approach to filmmakers seeking deals in this region is to partner locally, e.g. with ELO Distribution, with whom we work traditional and non-traditional (new media) players.

These are just a few categorical examples…there are plenty more buyers and platforms emerging internationally, including consumer electronics manufacturers (such as Samsung and tablet and connected TV manufacturers in EU and internationally who are getting into the game either on the licensing front or occasionally even funding/commissioning Transmedia or mfw (Made for Web). However, these usually license fuller sites (like a Lovefilm or Snagfilms) and not individual one –off titles.

Overall, there are a lot of small markets and platforms, and all this takes a lot of work, but if one has built community around a film and awareness then the effort may pay off and add up to a nice revenue stream. Once the first deals are in place with platforms (deal structures, relationships, contacts, contracts) it’s easier to build on that and add new films to the deals with just short amendments or riders, so the effort at the front end makes years of future dealings run smoother.

TRENDS RE: OTHER GENRES:

Aside from art house, festival indie films, and docs, one area that we expect to see more SVOD licensing around is kids’ films. Various smaller sites also have a strong appetite for gay/lesbian, martial arts, and horror programming, graphic novels, and made for web/cross platform/Transmedia original productions…but one has to be selective. As to documentaries, the combination of a large number of doc sites in the EU with the heavy exposure of docs on public and conventional TV in EU means docs can be relatively harder to monetize here, unless well curated and packaged, for e.g. under a larger brand/festival, like IDFA.

WINDOWING:

Typically films follow the sequential windowing described above when moving through the Transactional, Sell Through, Subscription, and ADVOD windows. But for certain films it it can be clever and compelling to have windows intentionally reversed or out of sequence. For example, premiering a film ONLINE or day-and-date with another cross-promoted window ahead of theatrical, and heavily emphasizing social media marketing can allow producers to build (and engage with) the audience before the film is even out. The key is to know your audience and try to tailor the marketing and distribution patterns accordingly…producers can be more active these days to heighten the chances of film success.

More and more platforms are open to this REVERSE WINDOWING (which began successfully in the US, e.g. with Lars von Trier’s Melancholia), . For example, in Holland, the film Claustrophobia launched online first and its success via social networking ultimately brought it a theatrical deal. In another case, Submarine NL’s film ‘’Molotov Alva’’ (a second life documentary released online virally first) later secured a HBO sale on premium pay tv, and in another film we worked with (the documentary Surfing and Sharks), intensive social network/audience engagement before and during the film’s festival exhibitions helped not only to enhance the potential audience for the film ahead of commercial released, but also to attract wider sponsor support. Ultimately, the visible online appetite for the film (including the number of Twitter and Facebook followers amassed in a very short time) helped result in a stronger all-rights distribution deal as well.

There are various new platforms focused on these models that are launching and expanding reach in EU– e.g. EU1 (The Makers Channel), which just launched in the Netherlands and will soon expand to other EU regions. One part of the site is business-to-business (geared towards talent, directors, actors, producers, etc.) providing for online pitches and related crowd sourcing and crowd funding (like Kickstarter). The other component is business to consumer, and allows exhibition of works online, on a rev share VOD basis… which will be coupled for the first time with TVOD exhibitions on UPC/Chello/Ziggo (the Cable TV VOD platform partners) thus giving much wider audience reach than conventional web VOD to PC. In some cases films can also combine a theatrical (conventional or event theatrical local) release for the films “day and date” with or in staggered creative windows. We are working with two English film cases in NL already, and as this site expands to other regions and to wider English crossover, this will open up many more opportunities (in some ways similar to what you see already in the USA on Tribeca/Sundance with exhibitions on cable households (TVOD).

SHOW ME THE MONEY:

Even where indie features have no theatrical or DVD release, if there is some cast and acclaim from festivals, and the film is new/current, TVOD is possible . This is usually on a rev share basis (with %s ranging from 50-50 to 70-30, with various deductions to negotiate). In SVOD/PAY TV, flat fees are normally paid instead of rev share, usually, along lines of comparable non-exclusive PAY TV license fees for indies. For example, in medium sized, non-English language EU countries, we’ve seen SVOD flat fee prices range from 5K-50K per title where it’s been theatrically or DVD released, etc, while with less exposure or more niche, sometimes the flat fees can be lower and more aligned with AVOD. In AVOD, deals are usually rev-share, (50-50 to 70-30) with sometimes a small upfront fee. In a medium-sized EU region, MG’s (Minimum Guarantees), when given at all for indie film, can range from a few hundred dollars (plus rev share) to 1-2K for higher end material. The very largest platforms may get away with no upfront fees at all due to their scale and reach, but smaller EU sites may well, depending on the film, offer something modest. When you do multiple nonexclusive deals, these can add up and help defray some costs of versioning, digitization, deliveries, etc.

As to revenues generated from VOD once the license is done: again it is platform and film specific, and one cannot generalize. We’ve seen certain cases where niche foreign language art house films yielded 40K in 2 months of non-exclusive TVOD revenues across a few platforms, , while other titles from the same distributor yielded only 1-2K in the same deals/time period. Things are similar with SVOD – fees can range in one small non-English EU country from 5k to 40k for a single SVOD window license fee (non exclusive) – so the key is still in our view still to engage in a reasonable number of deals in each country across various windows, platforms and business models.

IN SUM: SOME TIPS FOR GOOD RESULTS IN DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION:

  1. We strongly advise building audience for the film before release, even while the film is still being made. Engage in social media marketing around the themes of your film and the cast: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube (promos) etc. This not only enhances the audience and reach of your film, when it is released, but potentially your distribution and/or digital deal making as well.
  2. Once a deal is done and even after the film is sold, it still helps for the producer or distributor to take an active role in social media marketing, e.g. to direct attention (via social media etc.) to scheduled exhibitions of the films on various platforms licensed. Many platforms in EU are still showing viewers EPG’s with clumsy alphabetical “listings’’(as opposed to the type of creative Netflix/Lovefilm recommendation engines and suggestions), so helping viewers find the film will in turn increase returns.
  3. As for digital deals: We’d also recommend that individual producers who cannot afford tailored individual advice consider combining forces via producer groups to collectively fund some serious upfront advice – help each other curate more attractive packages of their better material, so easier to sell on to platforms directly or indirectly – and grouped in many different ways (theme, genre, category, audience etc.).
  4. If necessary, try to have “split rights’’ deals. If the person to whom you are entrusting the film in an “all rights” deal is less strong in digital and likely to “sit on” new media rights, you can explore splitting these rights /sharing them non exclusively with the distributor and another specialized digital distributor, case by case. Rights Stuff has often done this working with sales agents and distributors and producers directly to maximize digital distribution.
  5. Work with festivals (both traditional and online), who can play an increasing role in EU as they cross over to the digital space and VOD offerings. But be careful about the scope and duration of rights granted vs. other traditional and digital media, to maximize potential in all areas.
  6. Don’t abdicate completely, ie don’t’wash your hands of the film once you put it in someone else’s hands (the conventional sales approach) – keep involved along the way, gain as much learning as possible, split revenues, resources, knowledge base, contacts … and lever the outcomes to your next and future films.

Final notes: Pricing of films on the transactional side is relatively commensurate with that in the US, however non USA SVOD and AVOD markets are smaller with lower revenue per deal. . We did not include VIEWSTER in this article but feel free to check them out. They are a consumer-facing platform that also supplies other platforms (i.e. functions like an aggregator). They seem to favor films with cast, more commercial films and those with a bigger profile. www.Viewster.com

 

May 15th, 2012

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, Hulu, International Sales, iTunes, Netflix

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Recently I was invited to be on a panel at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) and participate in their mentoring sessions and the lab at Cinemart.  Great experience. I am always amazed by the difference between the US and Europe. The whole government funding of films and new media initiatives as our government is about to shut down.  Well, their policies and practices do take their own financial toll too but one I think is worth it.  For all my europhileness I have to note that the Europeans can be just as guilty of not wanting to watch subtitles in fact some countries dub films instead. And of course we know that Hollywood is big business in Europe too. But all in all, art house cinema seems to reach more broadly in Europe and even some parts of Asia than it does in the US.  Films in Cannes and other top fests can sell all over Europe and never in the US or success in opening theatrically only in NY and maybe LA and overall it seems to me box office is generally down for foreign language cinema.

International filmmakers want US distribution and it was painful for me to discuss their prospects at IFFR because for so many, the prospects are slim.  But this one’s for you! (Please note this blog is focused on digital distribution and not healthy categories for foreign language cinema such as Non Theatrical including Museums, Films Festival, Colleges, Educational / Institutional).

Cable VOD was 80% of the digital revenue in the US in 2009 but it’s now declining little by little, now estimated to be in the high 70’s (approx 77%) and may decline further still. The reason for this change, which is expected to continue, is that Internet based platforms are growing.  Regarding FOREIGN LANGUAGE ON CABLE VOD: Distributors and aggregators agree that foreign language cinema is very hard to get onto Cable VOD platforms and slots for non-English cinema are reserved generally for marquee driven films and/or films with a real hook (name cast/director, highly acclaimed, genre hook).   A big independent Cable VOD aggregator notes a real struggle in getting foreign language films to perform on Cable VOD and even Bollywood titles that had wide theatrical distribution and a box office of upwards of $1,000,000 still perform poorly (poorly means 4-figure revenue, 5-figure tops). They have had some success with foreign martial arts films and will continue with those in the foreseeable future. Time Warner Cable (TWC) remains more open to foreign language cinema though it plays the fewest films, a range between 190 – 246 at any given time (with a shelf life usually of 60 days and with 2/3rd of the content seeming to be bigger studio product, and the rest indie).  By comparison Charter and AT&T play about 1,000 and Verizon plays 2,000, and Comcast plays about 4,000.  [See below for the 2010 breakdown of Cable subscription numbers.] Hence, individual titles may perform better on Time Warner Cable for obvious reasons, Comcast may have more subscribers but there’s less competition and TWC is in New York, the best demographic for art house cinema.

Generally speaking, platforms overall are far more receptive to foreign films following the recent success of DRAGON TATTOO, TELL NO ONE, IP MAN, etc.  than they have ever been before.  However as one can see from the titles noted, foreign genre films are preferred because they have the opportunity to reach broader audiences than the usual foreign film.  Genres that reportedly work include:  sci-fi, thriller/crime, action, and sophisticated horror.  Dramas have had limited success, and comedies often don’t translate, nor does most children’s content. In regard to Cable VOD – foreign box office is becoming an important proxy, because the marketing and pr tend to build US awareness on the larger titles prior to being available here.  Many companies have built very successful VOD businesses pursuing a day and date theatrical or DVD strategy.  Again, genre films work best, with horror and sci fi being the top performers.  3 of the top 10 non-studio titles in 2010 were foreign language subtitled releases.  Small art house distributors say that at most it’s a small dependable revenue stream via services such as INDEMAND http://www.indemand.com (iN DEMAND’s owners are and it services Comcast iN DEMAND Holdings, Inc., Cox Communications Holdings, Inc., and Time Warner Entertainment – Advance/Newhouse Partnership.)  Distributors and aggregators all site Time Warner as being far more open to foreign language cinema than Comcast, because it’s urban focused (NY, LA, etc) not heartland focused as Comcast is.

In terms of these titles finding their audiences on Cable VOD, Comcast announced improved search functionality by being able to search by title and Cable VOD is aware of its deficiencies and is said to be improving in terms of marketing to consumers but Cable VOD is still infamous for its lack of recommendation engines and discovery tools. Key aggregators work to have films profiled in several categories and not just the A-Z listing.

Top 25 Multichannel Video Programming Distributors as of Sept. 2010 – Source NCTA (National Cable Television Association)

Rank MSO BasicVideoSubscribers
1 Comcast Corporation 22,937,000
2 DirecTV 18,934,000
3 Dish Network Corporation 14,289,000
4 Time Warner Cable, Inc. 12,551,000
5 Cox Communications, Inc.1 4,968,000
6 Charter Communications, Inc. 4,653,000
7 Verizon Communications, Inc. 3,290,000
8 Cablevision Systems Corporation 3,043,000
9 AT&T, Inc. 2,739,000
10 Bright House Networks LLC1 2,194,000
11 Suddenlink Communications1 1,228,000
12 Mediacom Communications Corporation 1,203,000
13 Insight Communications Company, Inc. 699,000
14 CableOne, Inc. 651,000
15 WideOpenWest Networks, LLC1 391,000
16 RCN Corp. 354,000
17 Bresnan Communications1 297,000
18 Atlantic Broadband Group, LLC 269,000
19 Armstrong Cable Services 245,000
20 Knology Holdings 231,000
21 Service Electric Cable TV Incorporated1 222,000
22 Midcontinent Communications 210,000
23 MetroCast Cablevision 186,000
24 Blue Ridge Communications1 172,000
25 General Communications 148,000

FOREIGN LANGUAGE CINEMA VIA OTHER DIGITAL PLATFORMS and REVENUE MODELS:

DTO (Digital Download to Own (such as Apple’s iTunes which rents and sells films digitally) – this space has been challenging for foreign films in the past, and most services do not have dedicated merchandise sections. Thus, the only promo placement available is on genre pages, so the films need to have compelling art and trailer assets to compete.  iTunes and Vudu (now owned by WALMART – see below) are really interested in upping the ante on foreign films over the next 12 months.  Special consideration will need to be made for the quality of technical materials, as distributors have encountered numerous problems making subtitled content work on these providers.

SVOD (Subscription VOD such as NETFLIX’s WATCH INSTANTLY) – this space is probably the best source of revenue for foreign content because the audience demos skew more sophisticated and also end users are more inclined to experiment with new content niches.  Content in this space should have great assets and superior international profile (awards, box office), and overall should evoke a “premium feel” for the right titles, license fees can be comparable to high end American indies.  Appetite for foreign titles will increase as the price for domestic studio content continues to accelerate.  Genres are a bit broader than VOD/DTO, but thrillers, sci fi and action still will command larger sums ($). Good Festival pedigree (especially Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance, etc.) will also command higher prices.  Overall, it’s a great opportunity as long as platforms keep doing  exclusive deals.  NETFLIX has surpassed 20,000,000 subscribers and a strong stock price and is in a very competitive space and mood again. (See more below).  Hulu expects to soon reach 1,000,000 subscribers  “to approach” half a billion in total revenues (advertising and subscription combined) in 2011, up from $263 million in 2010. That’s from $108 million in 2009. (see more below)

AVOD (Advertising Supported VOD – such as SNAG and HULU) – Another great space for foreign content (as evidenced by the recent exclusive HULU – Criterion deal – (see below) although that deal is actually for HULU’s subscription service (Hulu Plus). These platforms are more willing to experiment with genres and content types and favor art films and documentaries over genre films. Depending on the film, annual revenues can approach low to mid four (4) figures in rev share.  SNAG recently was capitalized to the tune of $10,000,000 but seems to be spending that money on marketing and not on “acquiring” so a film’s revenue is likely to be dependent on performance and rev/share unless one strikes an exclusive deal with SNAG and manages to get an MG.  HULU’s revenues are covered above.  Films report low 4-figures but sometimes 5 and 6 figure revenues but up until now those higher performing films have been English language and appeal to younger males.

TELEVISION / BROADCAST SALES: For foreign language cinema unless one has an Oscar™ winner or nominee, or an output deal, the prospects of a meaningful license fee are slim. Even worse, if you do secure a deal, it will likely preclude participation in Cable VOD, Netflix and any of the ad-supported VOD platforms such as Hulu and Snag.

KEY SPECIFIC TOP SPECIFIC DIGITAL PLATFORMS / RETAILERS:

AMAZON reportedly is readying a service that would stream 5,000 movies and TV shows to members of its $79-per-year Prime free-shipping membership program. Amazon being corporately tied to extremely popular entertainment information service IMDB and the film festival submission service WITHOUTABOX gives it a potential edge in the market, one that has never been fully harvested but easily could be and seems to be looming. And since its inception, Amazon has let film content providers open up shop on their site directly without a middle-man. Middle man aggregators get slightly better terms. Amazon presently offers 75,000 films and television shows combined and plans to soon exceed 100,000. It should be noted Amazon VOD has been US-focused though recently bought Love Films in the UK.

FOCUS FEATURES’ NEW DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION INITIATIVE: There is not much information out on this yet but FOCUS/UNIVERSAL are launching a new digital distribution initiative that may or may not brand their own channel on iTunes etc., but does seem to be focused on niche cinema to some extent and this may speak to foreign language titles. An option to watch out for.

GOOGLE is working on encroaching into the content delivery market with its launch of GOOGLE TV, which unfortunately has not created quite the fanfare the company planned for.  It boasts: The web is now a channel. With Google Chrome and Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Google TV lets you access everything on the web. Watch your favorite web videos, view photos, play games, check fantasy scores, chat with friends, and do everything else you’re accustomed to doing online. GOOGLE TV does come with the Netflix App and others. Google partnered with some of the leading premium content providers to bring thousands of movie and TV titles, on-demand, directly to your television. Amazon Video On Demand offers access to over 75,000 titles for rental or purchase, and Netflix will offer the ability to instantly watch unlimited movies and TV shows, anytime, streaming directly to the TV.

HULU: Hulu’s numbers keep growing for certain films, which has to-date not been foreign language but that may change given the Criterion Collection announcement. Hulu is also now a subscription service (HULU PLUS) and announced the Criterion deal is for that. Criterion of course specializes in classic movies from the canon of great directors–Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, etc.–and has about 800 titles digitized so far, many of which are also available via Hulu competitor Netflix. It’s understood that this will be an exclusive deal, and that the Criterion titles that Netflix does offer will expire this year.  Hulu Plus subscribers will initially get access to 150 Criterion films, including “The 400 Blows,” “Rashomon” and “Breathless.” Hulu says the movies will run without ad interruptions, but may feature ads before the films start; the free Hulu.com service will offer a handful of Criterion titles, which will run with ads.  Hulu, owned by Comcast’s NBC, Disney’s ABC and News. Corp.’s Fox introduced the Hulu Plus pay service last year. Hulu CEO Jason Kilar says the $7.99-per-month offering is on track to reach one million subscribers in 2011. Competing for exclusive content seems to be on the rise as platforms compete for household recognition and top market share.

iTunes (APPLE): iTunes dominated consumer spending for movies in 2010 but that may not last long. One can get onto iTunes via one of its chosen aggregators such as New Video, IODA, Tune Core, Quiver…  Home Media Magazine reported the findings of an IHS Screen Digest report that showed that Apple was able to hold off challenges from competitors like Microsoft’s Zune Video (via XBOX Kinect), Sony PlayStation Store, Amazon VOD and Walmart’s VUDU.  Despite the new competition,  the electronic sellthrough and video on demand market rose more than 60% in 2010, Apple iTunes still came out on top, perhaps due in part to the release of the iPad last spring and Apple TV last fall.  Research director of digital media for IHS, Arash Amel, said, “The iTunes online store showed remarkable competitive resilience last year in the U.S. EST/VOD movie business, staving off a growing field of tough challengers while keeping pace with a dramatic expansion for the overall market.”  However, it’s important to note that although iTunes staved off competition, the overall iTunes consumer spending fell almost 10% in 2010 to 64.5%.  It was 74.4% in 2009.  Insiders predict it will not hold its market dominance for long.

Microsoft’s Zune Video was one of Apple’s biggest competitors last year, accounting for 9% of U.S. movie EST/iVOD consumer spending in 2010 but this does not seem a key platform for foreign language cinema.

MUBI:  www.Mubi.com having added Sony Playstation to its platforms reach, MUBI now has reportedly 1,200,000 members worldwide and is finally in a better position to generate revenue.  Still its own figures estimates amount to 4-figures of revenue and that’s for all its territories.  Mubi’s partnership with SONY does not extend into the US.

NETFLIX as reported in Multichannel News “as its subscriber base has swelled, Netflix has become a target for critics complaining that it is disrupting the economics of TV” is now a competitor to Cable and in fact Cable VOD companies won’t take a film if it’s already on NETFLIX’s Watch Instantly service. But Netflix is realizing it erred by losing focus on the independent and is now quietly offering bigger sums that compete with Broadcast offers and that are on par with the 5 and 6 figure revenues generated by Cable VOD for the stronger indie / art house films. Having films exclusively may be the driving force of future monetization in digital, or least in SVOD.  Regarding 2011 outlook, Netflix’s “business is so dynamic that we will be doing less calendar year guidance than in the past,” the execs said.  For the first three months of the year, Netflix expects domestic subscribers to increase to between 21.9 million and 22.8 million, with revenue between $684 million and $704 million and operating income between $98 million and $116 million. Internationally — meaning, for now, Canada — the company expects 750,000 to 900,000 subscribers with revenue of $10 million to $13 million and an operating loss between $10 million and $14 million.

REDBOX: Redbox, whose brick-red DVD vending machines are scattered across the country, is aiming to have a Netflix-like video streaming subscription service up and running by the end of 2011, company executives told investors mid February. Redbox is a wholly owned subsidiary of Coinstar. The Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based company claims to have rented more than 1 billion DVDs to date through vending machines at about 24,900 U.S. locations nationwide, including select McDonald’s, Wal-Mart Stores and Walgreens locations. It should be noted though that Redbox is very studio title focused and wide release focused but its streaming service will likely move beyond that.

WAL-MART bought VUDU and is expected to be a major player. Walmart is the world’s largest retailer with $405 billion in sales for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2010. In the U.S., Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. operates more than 4,300 facilities including Walmart supercenters, discount stores, Neighborhood Markets and Sam’s Club warehouses.   VUDU, is Walmart’s recently acquired online media source where consumers can rent or buy movies and TV shows for their internet-ready HDTV, Blu-ray Disc players or PlayStation 3 consoles.  Like iTunes, there are no monthly fees.  Consumers can buy and rent movies when they want, and 2-night rentals are only $2.  It will be interesting to see how VUDU will rise as a contender in 2011 and whether iTunes will suffer as a result of their success.  Wal-Mart advertises that regarding VUDU: “from Internet-ready HDTVs to WiFi enabled Blu-ray players, you’ll find all the VUDU ready electronics you’re looking for at Walmart.com. Whether adding a flat panel TV to your dorm room or upgrading your home entertainment center, our selection of VUDU ready HDTVs has you covered. You’ll also save money on our VUDU ready products when you select items with free shipping to your home. With VUDU, you’ll be able to stream HD movies directly from the Internet to your TV in dynamic surround sound for a great low price. Shop VUDU ready HDTVs and Blu-ray players at Walmart.com — and save. “ And the retail giant makes sure all relevant devices / electronics it carries are VUDU-enabled.  2011 and beyond will be telling.  Wal-Mart caters to the average American so it remains to be seen if there is an appetite for foreign language film via VUDU in the months and years to come. In its inception VUDU was catering to early adaptors of new technology and those eager to watch HD but now it seems to be becoming more generic. New Video is a preferred aggregator to VUDU, among others.

VODO (Free / monetized Torrent): www.VODO.net: This has not been tried in the US by most distributors if any and not for foreign language cinema but it has worked for several projects such as Pioneer One which generated $60,000 USD by having the content made available for free and then getting donations in return.

Other emerging retailers entering the digital space:

Sears and Kmart are the latest over-the-top threats to pay-TV providers’ video-on-demand businesses. Sears launched its online movie download service, Alphaline Entertainment, which will let Sears and Kmart customers rent or purchase movies, including on the same day they are released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, provided through digital media services firm Sonic Solutions.  Titles currently available to rent or buy from Alphaline include studio and successful TV shows. Under Sonic’s multiyear agreement with Sears, the companies will provide access to Alphaline services through multiple devices including Blu-ray Disc players, HDTVs, portable media players and mobile phones. Sears and Kmart, said in a statement. “We’ll continue to increase the reach and flexibility of the Alphaline Entertainment service by providing consumers on-demand access to the latest entertainment from a range of home and mobile electronics.” Sears, which merged with Kmart in 2005, is the fourth largest retailer in the U.S. The company has about 3,900 department stores and specialty retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.  It remains to be seen if they take on foreign language cinema. New Video is also an aggregator to them.

That’s all she wrote folks. Until the next time.

March 10th, 2011

Posted In: Amazon VOD & CreateSpace, Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, Hulu, International Sales, iTunes, Netflix, Uncategorized

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Unfortunately, a great number of key digital platforms must be accessed through the use of an aggregator. Of course there are always exceptions, but the general rule is that to get your films onto Cable VOD, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Sony Playstation and other device oriented options and retailer digital platforms , you will have to go through an aggregator or a distributor. We either directly or via partners offer both a commission or a flat fee option (range depends on platforms).

However, you can get onto Amazon directly. Also, you can access DIY oriented ones such as Mubi, Fans of Film and other platforms like them. To the best of our knowledge, more money is made on the key high trafficked platforms, if one can get on them.

Once again we remind you, MARKETING, MARKETING, MARKETING is key to your film’s success no matter what distribution outlet you use.

This concludes our series of tidbits for the time being. As always, if you have questions or need guidance to figure out your film’s distribution path, we would love to hear from you. No rights taken.

August 27th, 2010

Posted In: Amazon VOD & CreateSpace, Digital Distribution, DIY, Hulu, iTunes, Marketing, Netflix

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From a revenue-generating point of view, at present, those who deal in the space will tell you that iTunes is the #1 platform; Hulu is working well for some but not for all; and that Netflix’s “Watch Now” is starting to show promise but one’s film needs to be on DVD with them too and be somewhat in demand. Some platforms are subscription based, some are transactional, and some are ad-tagged revenue-based. And sometimes a hybrid of the two not is only a doable solution but actually an ideal one, especially for smaller special-interest films.

Much of this information can be found within our Digital Distribution Guide, available to our members. For this week, you can gain access to the full Guide by contributing $35 to our IndieGoGo campaign.

July 1st, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution Platforms, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix

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The Film Collaborative was recently on a panel at the Los Angeles Film Festival as part of their SEIZE THE POWER SYMPOSIUM which focused on DIY & DIGITAL Distribution. This was the description of the panel we were on and that I moderated and will discuss below:

NEW DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION INITIATIVES
Leading digital distribution executives present new solutions for distribution
as they explain their business models and the opportunities they offer
filmmakers to reach audiences and bring in revenue for their films.

Erick Opeka, New Video
Nolan Gallagher, Gravitas Ventures
Orly Ravid, The Film Collaborative (TFC)
Scilla Andreen, IndieFlix

After the panel was over someone asked how he could decide which one of us to work with; he liked us all. It was clear to me that even though we had just finished an hour long panel at which we each presented our respective companies and then answered questions, it was not enough to make clear to everyone the way in which to relate to each company and how to make decisions about whom to work with in distribution.

Recently on Ted Hope’s blog

Jon Reiss and Ted Hope and many others including filmmakers discussed the relevance of panels and expert books and even more recently Jon Reiss wrote a blog titled “Coping with Symposium Workshop Brain Fry”. That is what I want to address here, specifically in relation to the panel I moderated and was on called “New Digital Initiatives”.

At the LAFF Panel all the companies discussed what they do and here’s some of that information below, and what we recommend a filmmaker do to make sense of information given at a panel.

Gravitas Ventures talked about its focus on Cable VOD and the fact that it works with Warner Brothers (WB) which (when WB takes a film) can lead to a film being available in up to as many as 50,000,000 homes via about 30 – 40 cable operators and up to 80,000,000 – 90,000,000 homes when one factors in digital. When WB does not take the film on Gravitas can at least get the film out to about up to 12,000,000 – 15,000,000 Cable VOD homes. Of course one in this circumstance has to realize that when WB is in the picture, there are two fees being taken as well as two companies being relied on to provide information and to pay. The other aspects to analyze are 1. the benefits of having a studio involved in VOD and Digital often leads to HIGHER revenues from Cable MSOs (Multi System Operators) and digital platforms and also MARKETING LEVERAGE. But, 2. the Studios are also glutted and not necessarily focusing on your film and you may get lost or inadvertently shafted (and I know it’s happened) so one has to have contractual commitments or protective clauses, and 3. They won’t let you keep digital rights usually, though maybe Netflix SVOD; and 4. accounting can be soft on the details. Gravitas does 2-year deals and about 350 -400 films per year and is the largest VOD aggregator at this time. Gravitas noted revenues per film ranging from as low as $5,000 – $250,000. A FILMMAKER must ADDRESS MARKETING and COSTS RECOUPMENT whether in dealing with Gravitas or any other Cable VOD & Digital Aggregator (e.g. TFC also works with Brainstorm Media & Fluent / Lions Gate), or any of the other studios who are or will be opening up to “independent product”.

The Film Collaborative’s entire purpose is to help sift through the information available at the time your film is ready or will be ready for release and help you resolve your COMPLETE DISTRIBUTION STRATEGY. Gravitas Ventures can get you the VOD and digital access you need but they don’t necessarily do much in the way of marketing so that will be more up to you to either have them commit to that effort or do it yourself (and perhaps in collaboration with us and our marketing partners). A marketing plus (+) though for Gravitas is that if WB gets behind your film, they can get iTunes and the Cable Operators to give your film a bigger marketing push. This can be very valuable.

New Video is a very well respected DVD distributor that is known for doing a great job, including on the marketing side, and for being very transparent, filmmaker friendly and very reasonable in its fees. It takes for example just 15% fee for digital distribution, and 20% for Cable VOD but again, like Gravitas, it works with Warner Brothers so that’s two fees there.. (but no different than many distributors who do their digital and VOD through Warner Brothers, such as Oscilloscope, Strand, Wolfe, I think Kino, etc.) Their encoding is all done in-house and all one has to do is supply an uncommpressed file) and it seems to be done cheaply (Gravitas who refers out to Fotokem I believe). New Video noted an “Online Management” service to help track your placement and revenues. New Video noted for digital revenue only that revenues range from a similar low as Gravitas did, $5,000 – $150,000 but I also know there have been times that New Video has generated over $250,000 in revenue for a film but that included DVD sales. It should also be noted that VOD is newer to New Video and also the company’s presented revenue range on the panel was regarding docs. It should also be noted that most films with Gravitas don’t get up to the high, and that high is more for the rare hits such as The Secret and Crips & Bloods. New Video notes the success of films that appeal to young men or tech culture (films such as Helvetica and Purple Violets were successful). And of course all the obvious factors help films success in distribution, names, the right genres, niche appeal, and theatrical release (especially if it goes well).

IndieFlix is a very filmmaker friendly and transparent option too and they don’t lock up your rights and as Scilla Andreen mentioned, they take a more HOLISTIC approach and do more grassroots outreach and public / community screening work for films. They give filmmakers a royalty of 70% (NET but modest and capped expenses if desired). They can do DVD releases and they can get you onto iTunes, Netflix and Hulu, all good platforms, Hulu being the least so but actually quite worthwhile for certain films and it can also simply help drive other transactions too. On the Cable VOD & Broadcast side Scilla noted that IndieFlix was providing content for Broadcast and Cable VOD. IndieFlix explained this to me after the panel about their handling of VOD: they do it “via Gravitas and New Video for now until we are able to deliver direct.  Gravitas refers content to us and New Video will place content on our site. We all play together very well in the sandbox.  I think the real strength is in the partners marketing powers.  We do tell filmmakers so that if they choose to go direct they can. All have chosen to go through us since we work so closely with the filmmakers to market.”  IndieFlix is also starting a “FILM FESTIVAL IN A BOX” initiative that seems cool.  This is what they say about it: “Film Festival in a Box is a social gaming platform that connects people through movies.  A game changer no pun intended and a completely out of the box form of distribution and audience building tool in a tiny little package.  Film Festival in a Box is a game bridging on and off line communities and connecting people through movies. It’s another delivery platform and revenue stream for the filmmaker. It’s non-exclusive.  It’s a game. It’s a social experience. It’s marketing. It incorporates brands in a meaningful way. It is audience building. It’s data collection. It directly connects the filmmaker with his/her audience. It’s more than a game.”

So all in all to answer the QUESTION asked at the PANEL about how do you CHOOSE between service providers and how to sift through the INFORMATION presented on PANELS. HERE’s HOW:

  • Recognize that VOD is still 78% of the revenue in the digital space and if your film has Cable VOD potential (names, major fest awards, solid theatrical release, strong niche appeal, genre appeal) then one ought to find the most financially efficient and productive way to have Cable VOD distribution that takes into account the marketing required to drive awareness and transactions.
  • Not only do the PERCENTAGE of FEES being taken and HOW MANY FEES are taken but knowing you are comparing right elements… some companies make take a smaller fee but also get less from the platforms or MSOs so do ALL THE MATH.
  • Not all companies are right for all films so assessing special talents and interests at companies and experience in handling films that relate yours is key and get REFERENCES.
  • Compare Financial terms of the deals on all fronts (including costs recoupment, Delivery / Encoding…)
  • Look into your ability to split rights when / if in your best interest.
  • Evaluate willingness to memorialize all verbal commitments and promises in writing.
  • and again – MARKETING — who is doing what (and if not you, get it in writing).

— ALL THESE DETAILS MATTER — and where we, The Film Collaborative come in is what we note below about helping you know all your options and analyze and implement them AND of course we also offer direct digital distribution for either 15% fee or nominal flat fees (e.g. $500 – $1,200 depending) and we can get your films onto Cable VOD through our various partners (and we don’t take extra commissions for that); and we can get your film onto iTunes in the same way Distribber does and we’re also working with Distribber too (w/out charging an extra fee) and we are direct with many platforms (all the usual suspects) as listed on our site and the list keeps growing… We’ve very excited some new digital platform deals with two big retailers that we have not officially announced yet, stay tuned! We will be direct with some Cable MSOs (VOD) but that will take some more time. And we do have a MARKETING SERVICES menu and complete menu of marketing service options that we can service in-house and in tandem with our top-notch marketing service partners. TFC is committed to end-to-end distribution education and distribution solutions.

Our first written testimonial (we’ve had many oral ones) really fits into the subject of this blog entry:

“The Film Collaborative fills a void. In Indie distribution you can go out and hire a pricey consultant that seems to withhold information and contacts to lure filmmakers along with the proverbial distribution pot of gold, or you can attempt to wade through all the landfill that exists on the internet yourself (it’s all there but good luck!). This is where the Film Collaborative, come in. They have sifted through it all and presented in a transparent way so filmmakers can determine for themselves where their film sits and take action where it best makes sense.”
– Mark Hug, filmmaker of LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME

That’s truly what we’re about, being a trusted and transparent informational resource and strategic partner / connector to all your distribution and marketing options so you can find and customize the best possible distribution solution for your film.

June 27th, 2010

Posted In: Comcast, Digital Distribution, Distribution Platforms, DIY, Hulu, iTunes, Marketing, Netflix

On Ted Hope’s website, there is a discussion brewing about the relevance and right pricing of panels and seminars and the degree to which filmmakers should be attentive to and responsible for the business side of their film’s release.

Film is a relatively new art form. It is the most expensive art medium in the world. My thinking is, if it’s your money it’s your decision. If it’s grant money, it’s really a non-issue. If investors are counting on their money back, it behooves you to either let them know up front what the realistic possibilities are, or commit yourself to supporting the return on their investment. TFC’s entire purpose and mission is to try to make up for the fact that the US does not have the same funding as Europe does that supports an industry of art film.

At Cannes I was invited to be part of the Cannes Producer’s Network networking breakfasts and through that I spoke to producers about The Film Collaborative. I have been and will continue to be invited to speak at panels and seminars and all of that industry stuff and seen as an “expert”. I think there’s good and bad that comes with all that. The good is that some great information is often shared, and often for free or for a lot less than one would pay for it if one had to reach out to each panelist individually. One makes connections one might not otherwise. The bad is that filmmakers sometimes think they now have the answers and that is not enough. AND, panels at festivals and markets are often put together by people who actually are not in the day-to-day world of distribution and/or sometimes festivals are swayed by other influences and panels are stacked with not-so-appropriate panelists. Sometimes panels are positioned as having all the information about a topic but are actually quite limited either because of time or the panel itself. The saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” can and does often apply. And in today’s new media world, intimate knowledge with the present space and all its ever-and-quickly-changing nuances is critical. It’s also important not to apply information that may not apply to your film.

The “expert” books are useful (Jon Reiss’ is one we’re fond of especially for docs that can be segmented and merchandized, and Scott Kirsner’s is good too for fan building, and of course Roberta Munroe’s for short films) but with regard to actual distribution details, books are quickly out-of-date for anything new media oriented or related to business opportunities. Whether one likes it or not, people handling lots of films tend to be ahead in knowing about distribution and marketing opportunities and the knowledge is more real and detailed and nuanced. I’m not advocating old world anything; I don’t even believe in rights licensing model but I do believe in the best distribution possible per film, and it’s different per film.

Lawyers love to charge by the hour or take a big commission for their “expertise” and I suggest that a lawyer who has no or little distribution background relating to your deal but doing a distribution contract will get you a great air tight contract perhaps, but a crap distribution deal and a big fat waste of time and money and rights into the film. It’s not black and white of course, I’m just making a point. Every “expert” has a limited perspective to his/her experience and an agenda, and of course that includes me too. So think for yourself, cross-reference, and keep up-to-date, or designate someone on your side to. The digital space is truly changing weekly. The MSOs behind the Cable VOD space are not letting go of their turf any time soon, whilst Google makes its play, and all the Telcos make theirs… CinemaNow is going to be working its Digital Locker at Best Buy (digital) and Blockbuster (digital) and we shall see what happens with iTunes, Hulu and Netflix etc etc. On the DIY digital distribution front — I always await the numbers intel regarding platforms such as FansofFilm, and to see if Amazon VOD can ever generate business for the DIY releases — and for some, 4 and 5 figures of revenue is as much as they could have hoped for or expected, but some it’s not. The dilemma is really evaluating the numbers when a licensing option is an option because there is a certain leverage in the marketplace that bigger distributors still have over the DIY model and unless you’re a brand like Banksy whereby you already have a built in following, your film may have just enough commercial potential to need the distribution and marketing muscle of a company that may be able to do more than you can do via DIY. And yet, for many films, there is no such company that will step forward and a lot one can do on one’s own.

But back to panels – I will say this, I don’t think Ostrow & Company is an appropriate company to be introduced to filmmakers in a panel or industry networking setting (and they have been) because they ask for more than $10,000 up front (I think it’s up to $11,000 or $14,000 on average) and I don’t know of too much good they have done for anyone. Neither do any of my ‘industry’ peers.

My last thought before I sign off… This past week it was announced that TFC brokered a deal with IFC for Made in China. We did and we’re very proud of our service and always impressed by the impeccable taste and service to films at IFC (even though I cannot say I am in love with their $$ waterfall). We charge a fraction of what sales agents charge and we don’t recoup for fancy dinners in Cannes. I want a world in which sales agents are used for what they do best, getting filmmakers deals they cannot get themselves, there are buyers around the world and I do believe there is a place for a company to get films to market and do business that otherwise would not be done, especially for theatrical films or where good TV deals are still viable. I do however wish for filmmakers to save themselves and their investors the waste of big fees and expenses being recouped out of a deal one could have done directly.

Film is the most expensive art medium in the world, it’s also presently the most powerful. If you’ve already made a film, you might as well stay committed to its exhibition and your end of the bargain with investors and above all, your ability to keep making your work, for your audience.

At your service,

– O/R for TFC

May 31st, 2010

Posted In: Amazon VOD & CreateSpace, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Digital Distribution, Distribution Platforms, DIY, Hulu, Mobile / Wireless, Netflix, Uncategorized

Hello again. It’s been a while since my last post. Been traveling to festivals after SXSW–we did Palm Beach International Film Festival, then TriBeCa. Next up is Cannes where I am invited to speak to the Producer’s Network. Will post about it all after Cannes.

Some Distribution TidBits:

MovieGallery is closing its doors, a further signaling of the decline of DVD in some way, and yet Netflix and Redbox keep it going on the rental side and Blu Ray sales are up. THE STATS ARE: According to US sales figures for the home entertainment industry released April 15, 2010 by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, “Blu-ray Disc software sales continued to rise in the first quarter of 2010, up 74% compared to the same period last year. BD Rental was up 36%. Hardware sales experienced remarkable growth, with set-top players up an “astounding” 125% versus first quarter 2009.

Household penetration of all Blu-ray Disc compatible devices, including set-top players, PC drives and PS3 consoles has now reached 18 million US homes. Some 34 million Blu-ray Discs shipped to retail in North America, up 72% over the same period last year. Consumer spending for the first quarter in the home entertainment window for pre-recorded entertainment, which includes DVD, Blu-ray Disc and digital distribution, was $4.8 billion, down 8% compared to the same period last year. Total rental was down 14% in the first quarter, largely as a result of brick and mortar store closures, according to Rentrak Corporation’s Home Video Essentials.” (SOURCE: DEG 1Q Home Entertainment Report).

Of course, one wonders how much of this relates to indie / art-house cinema. How long is long tail and how long and how many can it hold-up? That’s a rhetorical question. On the purely DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION side: Digital delivery rose 27% in the first quarter of 2010 from the year-ago quarter, growing to $617 million. 60% of adult Americans have Broadband but the FCC is committed to getting into every home while Verizon and Google are also are in progress on plans to provide faster connectivity and greater bandwidth to American homes. (see our Twitter Distribution TidBits for regular stats like these).

I wanted to remind you of the SXSW INTERACTIVE section. There were so many good panels and I covered some topics in the last blog but here’s a link so you can peruse yourself. I also caution ever relying on information from any one source or panel and in fact that is what today’s blog is all about. We encourage one to contextualize information. Filmmakers benefit from guidance on how to evaluate VOD vs Broadband opportunities and timing (and distribution options); VOD branded channels such as IFC vs going through non-branded aggregators to get to the Cable MSOs and TVN vs. building their own brands and platforms. These are questions of direct revenues (when one can even go direct) and garnering audiences and transactions, input vs output.

More to consider: MGs vs better back-end — and — how many layers of people handling sales are advisable? Is it the same for every film? When is it best to just go with one big deal vs when it’s best to split rights as much as possible? It is critical to know how to identify rights and classes when it comes to revenue terms and best distribution options? When and why to do Theatrical / Hybrid-Theatrical? And how to resolve timing of Theatrical and VOD and all windowing. To window, or not to window? With all the new online platforms, and expanding VOD and mobile distribution, and also now the intersection with PCs (e.g. iPad) there’s a lot to keep track of and decide on.

What about the festivals’ distribution offerings now thanks courtesy of Sundance and TriBeCa and others sure to follow…and of course the SXSW films on IFC etc. How to vet those opportunities or even get them. Do more DIY oriented digital platforms generate revenue? How much are filmmakers generating on their own sites, converting their own sites into platforms? Should you have an iPhone or iPad App for your film? The Film Collaborative will, but should each film individually? We touch more on mobile below. How to conceive of the best marketing plan for one’s dollar? How much can one rely on social networking and how best to work it? When is piracy good marketing vs. cannibalistic?

I won’t be answering all this today in this blog post but we will be covering all this and then some in blogs to come and also in our upcoming case-studies. Not all films are alike and it concerns me to see filmmakers reading books or attending panels and applying what they hear to their film when it may not be remotely applicable. Case in point: a documentary about a popular topic that can be serialized has different options than a narrative feature with no cast. A narrative feature with name cast has different options than a feature length documentary about a relatively obscure topic. We’ll cover the above one topic at a time as we continue to blog and post our Distribution TidBits on Twitter, Facebook and beyond. Of course if you have any questions before we get to the topics at hand, please feel free to contact us any time.

EXIT THROUGH A GIFT SHOP: DIY vs. MG / TRADITIONAL DISTRIBUTION: It interests me greatly that Exit Through A Gift Shop chose to not accept big offers by anyone’s standards and go the DIY route. Hiring good people to do the theatrical and marketing and of course John Sloss does not need help on the digital side. All this makes perfect sense because they are getting as close to the revenue as possible (CRM is at least) and they have a film that has built in marketing potential, plus Sundance buzz and of course a cult following and money to support the release. They, like anyone are dealing with Internet piracy (Torrents, YouTube) but that we believe is good marketing to some extent and in any case, cannot be avoided completely.

SOME DIY DISTRIBUTION TIDBITS: REGARDING
 THEATRICAL EXHIBITION:
 “There are currently 39,000 movie screens in the U.S., of which 8,700 are equipped for digital projection so theatrical gets cheaper and more accessible, as more theatres are booking with filmmakers directly as well (AMC announced its indie initiative; and Quad in NY announced its, and of course there are many more). And of course now YOU TUBE is offering its new self-service rental plan will be the first opportunity YouTube users have to make money off of their content though it remains to be seen how many users (who is considered an “industry professional” and how well the content finds its audience and vice versa.

We cover YouTube on our Digital Distribution Guide and in past blogs etc and we’re curious to see if it can ever become a competitive platform to the leading revenue generators (Cable VOD / MSOs, iTunes, Netflix, Amazon VOD — usually in that order, and sometimes though so far rarely, Hulu (and time will likely change that one way or another). (Note: The Hulu-will-charge-you-money rumor is back and not going away and making many angry and accusing Hulu of greed. More on Hulu a tad further below).

But back to YOU TUBE — keep in mind: YouTube is the SECOND LARGEST search engine in the world with 100MM videos. YouTube streams/day is over 1.2 billion/day worldwide. Almost a day’s worth of video is uploaded to YouTube each minute. Every 2 hours, more video minutes are uploaded to YouTube than those broadcast across the big three networks since the dawn of television (1948). YouTube’s rental store now has hundreds of videos. We await the growth in revenue to filmmakers.

ON THE MARKETING SIDE TO HELP SUPPORT A YOU TUBE RENTAL MODEL and OTHER DIY DIRECT DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION: Social Networking developments: Facebook as of March 13 enjoyed more US traffic than Google (as of February they claimed 400,000,000 users; 50% of which log on any given day). 4 out of 5 Internet users visit a social networking site on a monthly basis with Facebook having over 400 million users Twitter has 105,779,710 users. 300,000 new users sign up per day and approximately 60% are from outside the U.S. Twitter receives 180 million unique visitors per month. 75% of Twitter traffic comes from third-party applications. 60% of all tweets come from third-party Apps. There are 600 million search queries on Twitter per day. Studios and corporate brands are using Twitter as a way to infer and define trends and popular interest, BUT, can relying on it to market be reliable enough? We’re doing case studies and would love feedback if you, gentle reader, have any.

RE: FACEBOOK as the POTENTIAL NEW INTERNET & POTENTIAL PENDING MOBILE OPERATING SYSTEM (OS): From Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and cofounder of HDNet (and also owner of Magnolia& Magnet (the distribution companies) and Landmark Cinemas (leading art house theatre chain) asks the question if Facebook is the new Internet and if Microsoft will soon try to buy it: “Facebook is now where we kill time at work, on our mobile devices or while at home with the TV on.

Everything that the net was 5 or more years ago, Facebook is today…Slowly but surely they are extending their tentacles into traditional websites, mobile apps (android/iPhone/iPad) and soon your HDTV. It started with Facebook Connect. It extended with search from inside the Facebook Platform. Now they are accelerating their extensions through Virtual Currency (a future goldmine as it extends to business), allowing websites to add a Like button with user pictures through a simple widget and much much more. In other words, your favorite website doesn’t know it yet, but Facebook is in the process of annexing it…The only thing FB has not done is create a mobile operating system ala Android/iPhone as a platform for applications.

Why would Facebook create a mobile operating system? For the same reason Google (NSDQ: GOOG) did. For the same reason that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) banned Flash and other meta platforms from the iPhone. The mobile operating system is the ultimate trojan horse for billions of devices. If you can create a mobile operating system that phone manufacturers adopt and that becomes a popular platform for application development, you have hope of controlling your own destiny. If you are just an application on someone else’s operating system and perceived as a threat you can be “Flashed.”

Does Facebook have a choice but to create a mobile operating system? It wont be long, if it hasn’t already happened that Google and Apple will see Facebook as a unique threat to their future. Apple has some level of connection to its customer/users, Google has minimal if any connection to their users. Facebook knows more than all of us like to admit about its users. They have our personal information, our pictures, our friends, our family members, our employers and business associates all in a database and they are extending that information base to what we like on sites outside the Facebook platform. Plus they are creating their own currency.

Just as important is the fact that we are progressively spending more time on Facebook than we are sites and applications that Apple and Google can control. That is a threat to Apple and Google. Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is already a shareholder. Already with a mobile and desktop operating system /development platform. Most importantly, already with billions in cash and the capacity to pay 15 or 20 Billion dollars or more to acquire Facebook,” which is what Cuban predicts will happen and how Facebook will then undermine Google and Apple.

BACK TO MORE ON YOU TUBE & HULU… While we wait on seeing if the YOU TUBE rental model has any traction (Sundance films did not fare well)…what if Hulu does initiate a subscription model like Netflix has? According to James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research: “currently online people watch video on 2.6 video devices a week. Young adults aged 18-34 have already expanded that number, watching video on 3.3 devices a week — usually a TV, a PC, a portable device like a phone or an MP3 player or both. We estimate that by 2015 people will watch video on four to five devices each week, including new platforms like netbooks and tablets. That’s a business that Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) has already shown the world you can profit from by effortlessly serving up video on whatever device the consumer happens to be in front of. Hulu wants a piece of that action.

You as a consumer should want Hulu to get in that game so you can download a Hulu widget to your Samsung connected TV, pull up the Hulu experience in your Wii, and, yes, even get a Hulu app on your iPad.” In this multi-platform world, Hulu will necessarily have to offer more control – playlists, bookmarks, TiVo-like search, even auto-assembled recommendations that consider your entire viewing history, not just what you’re viewing right now. This is one of the secrets to Netflix’s success, with its back catalog of Watch Instantly content that you didn’t know you wanted to watch until Netflix identified it for you.” And soon services like this will compete with Cable VOD which is why the MSOs are taking on more content and banding together to market that to consumers.

MOBILE & APPS: This is a quickly growing distribution category and it’s just a matter of a few years at most before the US catches up to Asia in consuming feature content on a mobile device. And now that the PC and the mobile device are merging that trend will catch on even faster. Check out the Open Mobile Media Summit in London May 26 & 27 and we’ll be updating you… TFC is developing its own iPhone and iPad Apps and also works with its Mobile partner Babelgum as well as telecom licensing as part of VOD aggregation. Filmmakers are increasingly creating their own mobile phone Apps which is one way of having a film available through iTunes and of course the Apps can be a platform and a platform driver. 300,000 iPads sold within the first 24-hours they went on sale. Stay tuned.

My parting thoughts: Films are all different so in making decisions about yours try to compare like-to-like… and in evaluating distribution options, consider where the audience is most likely coming from.. to what extent your film can find it and the audience find your film via your various options and above all things, start thinking, researching analyzing and comparing notes BEFORE your first festival showing.

Collaboratively yours,

—Orly Ravid

May 10th, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, DIY, Facebook, Film Festivals, Hulu, Long Tail & Glut of Content, Mobile / Wireless, Netflix, Social Network Marketing, Uncategorized

Topics on my mind: The dilemma of the long tail and social networking glut and the trends of the giants. 2010 will oversee the SVOD wars as everyone competes with Netflix for a viable subscription VOD model… Hulu, Cinema Now, Blockbuster, Amazon et al, and including Apple will compete with Cable VOD too. And of course there’s Google which I’ll cover in the next edition.  According to Jon Reiss (filmmaker, blogger, and author of Think Outside the Boxoffice),  ‘Studios are experimenting with releasing catalog titles via Amazon’s CreateSpace’ (which one can read about in The Digital Distribution Guide on our website: http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/digitaldistribution.html ) — and he postures that may create an appetite in consumers and a comfort level in getting non-blockbuster content via the web. Studios are experimenting with release windows to work up consumer appetites.

Avatar is a game changer as far as the experience audiences will learn to expect.  3D film is a growing business. There’s an impact on indie cinema? Mergers continue as Comcast bought NBC Universal and rumors resurfaced of Amazon’s potential acquisition of Netflix (both covered below).  Gigantic was a smaller start-up platform that did not make sense to me because it was too small and too unspecific and offered nothing special and indeed Mark Lipsky has ankled it this week.  And now, in answer to Comcast, The Walt Disney Co. and CBS have expressed interest in cutting deals with Apple to offer programming as part of a monthly Internet TV subscription service. The media companies are in early discussions with Apple on the service, which is being positioned as a competitor to cable and satellite TV. (This is not new, Netflix has already had streaming video content deals with TV networks, such as Starz and MTV for example). Comcast (the leading cable company) and the bigger Cable VOD platforms are decreasing their appetite for Indie cinema, at least in the short-term, and going for the more sure things, such as studio library content, marquee driven content and TV.  The rise in supply of indie cinema has made it harder for individual films to compete in a crowded market place of blockbusters and media conglomerates who cover them. I cover this more below.

Old rumors never die. In our Digital Distribution Guide we have previously covered the rumor that “Amazon may be buying Netflix”.  BusinessInsider.com and Reuters reporter Anupreeta Das have all pointed to heavy trading activity on Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) call options as the speculative root of the born again rumor. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) is the logical suitor, as always. Given Amazon’s ownership of IMDB and WithoutABox and its search technology maybe having the two merged will help the long tail films better find their audiences. Amazon, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), and Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI) have been struggling in selling digital celluloid. Cable giant Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is losing video subscribers. In that time, Netflix is a great trusted brand that knows its customer and its customers know how to find films. Amazon needs a digital distribution solution better than its current offerings.

Speaking of Netflix which recently initiated a partnership with retail giant Best Buy, CinemaNow is now directly competing. CinemaNow’s founder went to work for Lions Gate (the studio behind the release of Precious) but CinemaNow is still in the game. The partnership between Best Buy and CinemaNow includes both physical and digital media.  More particularly, the deal will allow consumers to buy DVDs from Best Buy, then watch the same movie through CinemaNow on their computers, smartphones or Blu-Ray players.  It’s almost like buying a DVD and getting a digital copy on the second disc, but now you require just an Internet connection rather than the digital file.  The exact details of the partnership have yet to be revealed, but it’s expected the service will launch in early 2010, just as soon as some studios jump on board. (Of course we presume some day soon Studios will be direct with customers off their own sites).

Best Buy’s plan will require a DVD to be bought, but there’s no guarantee that the DVD will stay with the buyer, or that the stream will.  If it does work, however, it will add yet another streaming service to our media boxes.  As it stands with Netflix, Amazon Video, Blockbuster OnDemand, Hulu among others, we already have quite a few.  I expect some attrition and survival of the fittest.

Back to the topic of Long Tail and the increased competition in the indie film space. I wanted to link to an interesting article in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14959982

I select and quote a few key paragraphs from the article below. In summation, it’s about how the growth of “Long Tail” (as Chris Anderson of Wired coined it) has lead to a glut, a competitive crowded space where only the strongest survive, and hence its own demise. Some niche content maintains its appeal but much of the middle never makes the radar and the biggest blockbuster films continue to rise because they are the most known and talked about.

From The Economist:

“Ever-increasing choice was supposed to mean the end of the blockbuster. It has had the opposite effect “NOVEMBER 20th saw the return of an old phenomenon: the sold-out cinema. “New Moon”, a tale of vampires, werewolves and the women who love them, earned more in a single day at the American box office than any film in history. The record may not stand for long: next month “Avatar”, a three-dimensional action movie thick with special effects, will be released…  There has never been so much choice in entertainment. Last year 610 films were released in America, up from 471 in 1999. Cable and satellite television are growing quickly, supplying more channels to more people across the world. More than half of all pay-television subscribers now live in the Asia-Pacific region. Online video is exploding: every minute about 20 hours’ worth of content is added to YouTube. The Internet has greatly expanded choice in music and books. Yet the ever-increasing supply of content tailored to every taste seems not to have dented the appeal of the blockbuster. Quite the opposite. This is not what was predicted by one of the most influential business books of the past few years. In “The Long Tail”, Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, a technology magazine (and before that a journalist at The Economist), argued that demand for media was moving inexorably from the head of the distribution curve to the tail. That is, the few products that sell a lot were losing market share to the great many that sell modestly. By cutting storage and distribution costs, the Internet was overturning the tyranny of the shop shelf, which had limited consumers’ choices. And, by developing software that analysed and predicted consumers’ tastes, companies like Amazon were encouraging people to wallow in esoterica. Such companies did not just supply niche markets—they helped create them….” (Note: The article sites research and statistics from the music industry, television, film and books and concludes)… “In short, just because people have more choice does not mean they will opt for more obscure entertainments. That is especially clear in the book trade. But nobody knows quite what to do. The old-media world of limited choice, in which any product that was not too objectionable was guaranteed a decent audience, was a comfortable place. Pleasing a customer who can choose from several hundred films and television programmes even without getting up from the sofa, by contrast, is an unnerving prospect.”

I referenced at the beginning of this post that I wanted to cover the clutter in social network marketing as well. Huffington Post is going to offer sponsored Tweets.  Every other blog or article in this business waxes prolific about Facebook and Twitter… how will unique voices continue to be heard and find more listeners when corporate brands use this space as much as they do Second Life to hock their wares.  We’ll have more about this and more about digital distribution platforms (especially mobile) and opportunities for Indie Filmmakers in the next edition.  One thing we can be sure of, there will always be independent filmmakers and their audiences. We’re committed to connecting them as directly, dynamically,  efficiently and inexpensively as possible, always.

The Collaborative will keep the information and service support coming in 2010.

Have a happy and safe new year!

December 26th, 2009

Posted In: Amazon VOD & CreateSpace, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Comcast, Digital Distribution, Distribution Platforms, Gigantic, Hulu, iTunes, Long Tail & Glut of Content, Marketing, Retailers




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