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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Don’t worry folks, I have not forgotten the 3rd and final part of the blog series “IF I WERE A FILMMAKER GOING TO SUNDANCE”… it’s posting this week. But in the meantime, this just in, well actually not, it’s been brewing for a while…

Festivals getting involved in distribution is all the rage. For festivals with very strong brand recognition, it makes sense to move into this arena. We’ve been recommending it to fests for years (since 2005) and we are happy to see some, such as Sundance, are getting into the fray. It makes sense for the biggest brand festivals to be using their name recognition to bring attention to the films they screen. We at TFC have a Foreign Language Oscar Initiative with Palm Springs International, a festival known for its curation of world cinema. It makes sense that together we will bring the recognition of PSIFF chosen films to a wider audience.

The Sundance brand, being strongly recognized with consumers even outside of the independent film industry, is ideal for filmmakers to use to their distribution advantage as close to the festival as possible. With the festival getting involved in distribution, the time between festival premiere and release will only help. For festivals that do not yet have a very strong consumer brand or niche it may make less sense.

An article today in the New York Times talks about some of the fests’ distribution plans.

We’ll be drilling more into this in the coming months. For now, we wanted to address TriBeCa Films distribution.

TriBeCa Films is a for-profit company and in that way they are acting like a traditional distribution company taking rights, offering Minimum Guarantees (MGs) but charging interest, all the usual stuff.  That’s the difference between TriBeCa and what Sundance has indicated its distribution will look like. The difference between it and let’s say a digital aggregator such as IndieFlix is that it has strong direct Cable VOD relationships (e.g. Comcast) and TriBeCa has a strong marketing partnership in AMEX (as noted in the article) which brings significant financial sponsorship support to marketing and we expect other partnerships are in the works.  It’s been said that overages from TriBeCa Films have been quite healthy and that the Cable VOD distribution paid off.

They started with 11 films last year and they plan to increase to 26 this year.  They partner with New Video for their DVD and for access on other digital platforms (iTunes, Amazon etc), an excellent partner but yet another middle man. The theatrical aspect of their distribution seems modest at this moment but that is no different than many other distributors and it may change in time.

Sundance is just starting to formulate its plans, but it is a non-profit and is not seeking to behave like a traditional distributor. Rather, their initiative will facilitate certain components of distribution access to key platforms under the strength of its brand and that would be a key difference.

The NYT piece cites Janet Pierson’s unwillingness for SXSW to join in the digital distribution business. As she rightly surmised, distribution is complicated, it is not always revenue generating, it can be cost-intensive, it can invite great scrutiny from filmmakers and industry and certainly does complicate a film festival’s activities and politics. So maybe for SXSW, it is enough to be at the top of the technology front and be a successful event for the convergence of art, technology and media happenings and leave well enough alone.

These are changing times indeed, with no shortage of options on accessing platforms where audiences could find your work. Branding and marketing are crucially important, and so on that note, until the next blog post.

February 28th, 2011

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , ,

*This is Part II of the “If I Were a Filmmaker Going Sundance…”

*Part III to will be written in the aftermath of the glow of the fest.

Sundance 2011, insofar as distribution was concerned, saw a spike on both the traditional sales and the DIY front.   42 deals were done so far and more to come. One difference between this year’s Festival and those of recent years is that several acquisitions were done prior to the Festival and more deals occurred right at the beginning of the Festival rather than taken several days or weeks to materialize. In addition, some of the acquisition dollar figures were bigger than in recent times. There was a definite sense of ‘business is back’  (though mostly still for bigger films with either name directors or cast or both – and this we address below).  And DIY is seeing a new dawn with directors like Kevin Smith announcing a self-distribution plan and Sundance’s solidified commitment to helping artists crowdfund (via Kickstarter) and market their films (via Facebook for example) access certain digital distribution platforms (in the works and TBA).

Starting with the deals. So far I counted 42 (one at least was a pre-buy / investment in production) and two so far are remake rights deals.

I only list the deal points that were publicized… meaning if no $$$ is listed then it was not announced.

Deals done Pre-Sundance:

1.  Project Nim (James Marsh who did Man on Wire)  – sold to HBO for a hefty yet unreported sum.

2.  Becoming Chaz – produced by renowned World Of Wonder and sold to OWN (actually we gleaned OWN invested in the film and at the fest Oprah announced her commitment to doing for docs what she did for books via a Doc Club).

3.  Uncle Kent went to IFC

4.  The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock) – went to Sony Classics.

5.  Septien:  (Michael Tully) – was nabbed by Sundance Selects

6.  Mad Bastards also went to Sundance Selects

Deals done at Sundance according to sections:

US Dramatic Competition:

7.  The Ledge: sold to IFC – Low seven figures

8.  Like Crazy: (Director of Douchebag)  – Paramount for a worldwide deal – $4,000,000.

9.  Martha Marcy May Marlene: sold to Fox Searchlight, congrats to TFC Board of Advisor EXP, Ted Hope – 2 mil

10.  Circumstance: Participant is funding the release and will (along with the filmmakers) choose a distribution partner, we hope Roadside Attractions.

11.  Homework: Fox Searchlight – $3,000,000

12.  Another Earth: (Mark Cahill) – Fox Searchlight – a $3 mil deal, with an aggressive P&A as reported and for US and all English speaking territories.

13.  Gun Hill Road: Motion Film Group

14.  Pariah: Focus Features – $1 mil deal

15.  The Flaw: New Video

16.  Take Shelter: Sony Pictures Classics

Premieres (‘names’ in films):

17.  My Idiot Brother: TWC – $7,000,000 for US and key territories with $15,000,000 P&A

18.  The Details: TWC – $7,500,000 MG and $10,000,000 P&A

19.  I Melt With You: Magnolia (reported mid-high 6-figure deal reportedly w/ healthy backend)

20.  Life in a Day: NatGeo Films

21.  Margin Call: Joint deal with Lions Gate and Roadside Attractions – $2,000,000 deal

22.  Perfect Sense: IFC

23. The Future:  (Miranda July) – Roadside Attractions

24.  Salvation Boulevard: IFC

25.  The Son of No One:  (Dieto Monteil) – Anchor Bay

26.  The Devil’s Double: (Lee Tamahori) – Lionsgate – a reportedly seven figure deal

U.S. Documentary Competition:

27.  Buck: Sundance Selects

28.  The Last Mountain: Dada Films (MJ Peckos and Steven Raphael)

29. Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times: Magnolia and Participant

30. Hot Coffee: HBO

31. Crime After Crime: OWN (this will have an Oscar qualifying run before airing on OWN)

32. Miss Representation: OWN

33. The Black Power Mix Tape 1967- 1975:  Sundance Selects

34. Sing Your Song: HBO Documentary Films

Doc Premieres:

35.  These Amazing Shadows:  Sundance Selects

Park City at Midnight:

36.  Silent House: Liddell Entertainment

37.  Hobo with a Shotgun:  Magnolia/Magnet

38. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel:  A&E IndieFilms

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:

39.  The Guard:  Sony Pictures Classics – $1,000,000 deal

Next:

40.  Bellflower:  Oscilloscope

Not distribution deals per se but Fox Searchlight bought worldwide remake rights to

41. The Bengali Detective

42. TWC bought remake rights to Knuckle.

Please let me know if I missed any deals and feel free to comment in this blog. Of course more may be announced even as this posts and I am on a plane.

So we see mostly name filmmakers or cast but also definitely a few non-names generating deals the details of which are not publicized thus far.

AND NOW ON the DIY side:

RE: SLITTING RIGHTS & DIY: Andrew Hurwitz and Alan Sacks wrote an article in the Hollywood Reporter addressing all the same stuff TFC has talked about before, splitting rights, working and sometimes conflating windows and not settling for bad deal terms when one could do better on one’s own working with consultants etc. It’s nice to see trades addressing this in a context that speaks to more traditional industry players.

THE FLAT FEE MODEL EXPANDS: Distribber (now owned by IndieGOGO) announced a partnership that has been brewing with one of our Cable VOD partners, and TFC Board of Advisor Meyer Schwarztein of Brainstorm Media. Basically it expands Distribber’s flat fee digital distribution offerings to include Cable VOD (and also Hulu).  If a film gets onto all key MSOs the fee is set for now to be $9999 and there are prices per platform if a film cannot make it on to any given platform so that one is not paying for a platform or service they are not getting onto. As per the press release: “The films will be presented to audiences on the new “Filmmaker Direct” label; consumers who purchase films on “Filmmaker Direct” will know that 100% of profits go directly to the filmmaker, instead of to a parade of “Hollywood Middlemen.” For more info check out: http://www.distribber.com.  My only cautionary note: this is not a great idea for smaller films for which the gross revenues that would not justify the flat fee. One must remember and always know to ask about the splits that the Cable VOD aggregator is getting from the MSOs. They range, to the best of my knowledge to-date, between 30% and 60% depending on company and films. Studios get the higher splits for the obvious reasons. And so one has to do the math. And of course also evaluate MARKETING (which will be the focus on the 3rd and final part of this Sundance Blog series).  In any case, we work with both Adam Chapnick at Distribber and Meyer Schwarzstein at Brainstorm and are fond of and trust them both.

BRAND NAME FILMMAKER DIY: Kevin Smith fueled the torch of DIY in his own flame-filled way.  He auctioned off the distribution of Sundance Premiere Selection RED STATE to himself and has pre-booked theatres and plans to be his own decider in distribution, sans print ads (Amen). We wish him well but caution his very “old world” production and release budget (4mil Prod & and 2.5mil to release (for prints etc)… immediate launch broad release plan… a slow build never hurt anyone.  David Dinnerstein formerly of Paramount Classics and Lakeshore consulted on the release.  For more on this topic just search the WWW.

ABOUT THE SHORTS:

DIY Hats off to the Sundance SHORTS filmmaker such as Trevor Anderson and I believe 11 others who are on Sundance’s YouTube Screening Room Initiative with tens of thousands of views. Anderson exceeded 94,000 views as of the other day and has put all his shorts including this year’s HIGH LEVEL BRIDGE on www.EggUp.com which allows him to monetize them via transactional digital sales.  TFC refularly refers filmmakers to EggUp and now also TopSpin though our guru Sheri Candler advises TopSpin works better for filmmakers with an already robust following.  Whilst Anderson may not be getting rich just yet, it’s a perfect model for a prolific and vibrant filmmaker who is building a brand and getting his/her work out there.

Last but not least, Sundance announces its DIY oriented initiative.

Sundance Institute announced (I’m now quoting from its press release) its Three-Year Plan with Kickstarter as Creative Funding Collaborator / Facebook® to Provide Guidance to Institute AlumniA new program to connect its artists with audiences by offering access to top-tier creative funding and marketing backed by the Institute’s promotional support…The creative funding component was announced today with Kickstarter, the largest platform in the world for funding creative projects.  A new way to fund and follow creative projects, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects on Kickstarter every month. In exchange for support, backers receive tangible rewards crafted and fulfilled by the project’s creator. Support is neither investment, charity, nor lending, but rather a mix of commerce and patronage that allows artists to retain 100% ownership and creative control of their work while building a supportive community as they develop their projects… In the coming months, Sundance Institute will build an online hub of resources related to independent distribution options, funding strategies and other key issues.  The goal is to provide for filmmakers a central location to explore case studies and best practices, in addition to live workshops and training opportunities with Institute staff, alumni, industry experts and key partners.  As the first of these partners bringing their expertise to the community, Facebook will offer Institute alumni advice, educational materials, and best-practices tips on how to build and engage audiences via the service…Further development will include access to a broad and open array of third-party digital distribution platforms backed by Sundance Institute promotional support.  In the future, additional opportunities for theatrical exhibition will be explored in collaboration with organizations such as Sundance Cinemas, members of the national Art House Project, and others.”

I have been championing festivals getting involved with exhibition since and distribution beyond the festival itself since 2005 and discussed some options and ideas with Sundance staffers last year and am thrilled about this powerful and liberating announcement that so connects up with TFC’s mission whilst having some serious muscle and we look forward to being involved in some way hopefully.

MARKETING IS KING:  One thing no one talks about in much detail is MARKETING. Of course the big guns have the cash to buy marketing but the small distribs and aggregators are starting to be difficult to distinguish at times, and yet sometimes distributors do earn their fees by investing real talent and expertise and even money in marketing. So comparing what one can do oneself (if one does not get the big fat offer) with what traditional but small distribution deals bring will be the focus of the 3rd and last post in this series to come after Rotterdam but hopefully before Berlinale.

Over and out for now. Questions and Comments always welcome!

January 27th, 2011

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Marketing

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I recently posted on our Facebook page a note about the fact that one has to be mindful about when to initiate a NETFLIX VOD window.  Sheri Candler asked to me blog about it.  I do everything she says.

We have heard consistently from Cable VOD operators and aggregators and Broadcasters such as Showtime that the Netflix VOD window is considered a cannibalizer of revenue for Cable VOD and TV so know that before licensing rights and resolving windows.  When it comes to Netflix they have gotten so successful that they are a more selective platform than Amazon. Amazon wants has recently passed the 80,000 titles mark and is racing to aggregate as many as possible. Netflix has over 100,000 titles on DVD and over 17,000 titles on its streaming service but is now getting more and more selective. Netflix SVOD rights are sold for a flat fee, at least for now. To get onto Netflix, first one has to get on their radar and into their system, and then get that demand up in their queue system to get a good fee offer.  One has to then resolve everything else before risking inadvertently killing any chances of a Broadcast sale or Cable VOD distribution. However, depending on the film, you may make more money from Netflix than by selling to let’s say EPIX which will want your Netflix SVOD rights anyway. And you may make more money distributing directly then doing a small Broadcast deal or going with a distributor or aggregator that will take all your digital rights anyway. Though it should be noted most filmmakers cannot get to Netflix directly.

As with anything in film distribution, there is no one rule that applies to all films. This is a case-by-case business. Some films are big enough that one can stagger windows and monetize them all. Some films are better served by being available on all platforms at once or close to it. Some films lend themselves more to rental or ad-supported free-on-demand and others can really generate the transactional (pay per download) business.

The point of this little missive though is just to note the conflation of TV and the Internet is happening. Google TV  is here and retailers, Television and device manufacturers, cable operators and telcos are all competing to aggregate and offer as much content as possible. Even print media companies are following suit wanting channels of content on their websites.  And soon enough it will be less a discussion of rights and more a discussion of PAYMENT METHODS or MONETIZING METHODS and I think that will always depend on the film and its demographic targets.  The options will always be: 1. Ad-Supported / Free on Demand, 2. Subscription 3. Pay Per View 4. Download to Rent, and / or 5. Download to Own. And now instead of focusing on packaged media the focus is is on whether one can play content back on as many devices as one wants and that aspect related to all the various payment methods options. The content providing industries are all racing to aggregate as much content as they can and for it to be playable across as many devices as possible and payment methods vary so far depending on service and distributor choices. Hulu (a platform backed by studios and that was once only ad-supported is now beta testing its Netflix imitation subscription model).

Brands will attract customers just like they always did when video stores were king and just like when you choose which cell phone provider to use or whom to get your Internet connection through, assuming you live in an area with choice.

The other day on a Digital Hollywood Conference panel, I learned a stat from Erik Opeka of New Video: iTunes has 130,000,000 credit cards on file. Some of you are thinking right now, “I’m in the wrong business”.

October 21st, 2010

Posted In: Amazon VOD & CreateSpace, Digital Distribution, 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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The Tidbits this week will be bolstered by CASE STUDIES and real numbers  to come after the initial releases have completed. These TidBits are the conclusion of our first DISTRIBUTION TIDBITS series and a bit of a general overview of how to blend traditional distribution with new DIY  opportunities.

FOREIGN (OUTSIDE US DISTRIBUTION): TFC usually employs a hybrid approach when it comes to distributing films outside of the US.  There is still a lot a distributor in another country can do with your film that you cannot do yourself, i.e. theatrical and non-theatrical,  additional festivals per territory are harder to suss , and of course 
retail DVD and often TV etc. To balance things out, TFC often combines licensing rights to distributors with some DIY. For example, we make sure filmmakers can sell off their own site (we can help facilitate that) and also have the right to get the film onto any 
digital platforms that the distributors cannot and we can facilitate a worldwide iPhone App and other Apps which also allow for direct digital distribution in many countries around the world. We also aggregate directly and through our partners to key digital platforms available worldwide.

TFC helps filmmakers with foreign sales  and will also soon have a booth at key sales markets. If you are going with another sales company, we will help you not get stuck in an abusive deal or one that recoups excessive costs at your expense of  reasonable revenue.  And many buyers will buy directly from filmmakers  if they are properly motivated, thus decreasing the need for a sales agent.

August 23rd, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Theatrical

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We have mentioned what the platforms offer as far as marketing, but they should not be solely depended on to do this work.

Unless you have a real budget to buy significant internet real estate, you will be connecting with your target market via websites and bloggers. You may find it necessary to incentivize those sites in order to promote your film. The most common tactic is contests and giveaways — meaning you provide the website with something to give away to reward their loyal readers….i.e. merchandise, sponsored travel, or free copies of the film. Creating online games themed around your film are another possibility — but of course not all independent films lend themselves to gaming. And if you’re asking the cast, crew, and everyone else you know to FB, tweet, and blast about your release, consider creating an incentive for them as well.

If you’re working far enough in advance, you MAY be able to find an appropriate brand or agency to sponsor some marketing, but know that you’ll need to start this work many months in advance of release.

August 11th, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Marketing, Social Network Marketing, Uncategorized

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New Video-They are choosy about the films they represent and they charge 15% of all revenue generated.

IndieFlix– They go through New Video and charge a 30% Fee on all revenue generated (we think that’s inclusive of the New Video fee but are waiting to confirm).

Indie Rights– They go through New Video and charge a 20% fee in addition to the New Video fee.

IndieRights and IndieFlix also work with platforms other than iTunes as do we at TFC so that should be factored in when making distribution decisions.

Tunecore-Aggregates straight to iTunes. Distribber uses Tunecore to access iTunes. Distribber charges a flat fee of $1,295 for iTunes and all the revenue flows back to the filmmaker, no backend fees. TFC uses Tunecore and works with Distribber as a partner (we are working with them for no extra charge to filmmakers).

Gravitas– A VOD / digital aggregator (who often goes through Warner Bros), they will handle your iTunes submission, but that’s two fees (each at 15% as we understand it and they claim that Warner Bros and studios in general get better revenue even from Apple).

Warner Bros and Lionsgate- TFC works with Lionsgate and it seems that both have more marketing leverage (as does New Video)  to get best promotion possible on iTunes. This can make a big difference and should be factored in along with analysis of backend splits and fees.

TFC works with both the flat fee and commission models because of the fact that when cable VOD or even sometimes DVD is a valuable option, regular digital often goes with them.

August 9th, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution Platforms, iTunes, Uncategorized

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Windows are a reference to release windows, the prescribed time gaps between which films are released in different media. Make windowing deliberate rather than confusing the customer with scattered pricing in different formats and releases.

The preferred release schedule should be: Cable & Satellite VOD; then Transactional; then Rental; then Ad-Supported platforms; then Mobile/Wireless. In the next tidbits, there will be examples of each of these platforms.

July 5th, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution Platforms

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Some platforms can be accessed via Self Distribution (e.g. Youreeeka or Maxcast) while others can only be accessed via an aggregator (e.g. Netflix, and iTunes, which at the moment is by far the greatest revenue generating platform in the digital distribution space). Some aggregators are better than others and some distributors and aggregators take lower fees than others. Choosing the best platform/portal for your film must be done with care and must also take into account the type of film it is and its overall release plan.

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.

June 30th, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution Platforms

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