By Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler

In the past 2 posts, we have covered knowing the market BEFORE making your film and how to incorporate the festival circuit into your marketing and distribution efforts. This post will cover terms you need to know; whether a foreign distribution agreement is in your film’s future and what to do if it isn’t; the patterns, or windows, that need to be considered in your release. Just to be clear, we are targeting these posts mainly to filmmakers who seek to self finance and actively control their distribution. If that is not your plan, the usefulness of these posts may vary.

Distributors; platforms; aggregators; self hosting sites; applications

If you are new to the distribution game, here are some terms you now need to be familiar with.

Distributors (ie.  A24, Oscilloscope, Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics, The Weinstein Company, Roadside Attractions) take exclusive rights to your film for a negotiated period of time and coordinate its release.  These companies often acquire independent films out of the most prestigious film festivals and pay decent advances for ALL RIGHTS, sometimes even for ALL TERRITORIES. A signed and binding contract takes all responsibility for the film away from its creator and places it with the distributor to decide how to release it into the public. Distribution through these entities entails theatrical, digital, DVD, educational, leisure (airline/hotel/cruiseship).

Platforms (ie. iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, Netflix, cable VOD) are digital destinations where customers watch or buy films. Viewing happens on a variety of devices and some allow for worldwide distribution. Mainly platforms do not deal directly with creators, but insist on signing deals with representative companies such as distributors or aggregators.

Aggregators (ie. Premiere Digital, Inception Media Group, BitMAX, Kinonation) are conduits between filmmakers/distributors and platforms. Aggregators have direct relationships with digital platforms and often do not take an ownership stake. Aggregators usually focus more on converting files for platforms, supplying metadata, images, trailers to platforms and collecting revenue from platforms to disperse to the rights holder. Sometimes distributors (Cinedigm, FilmBuff) also have direct relationships with digital platforms, helping reduce the number of intermediaries being paid out of the film’s revenue.

Self hosting sites (ie. VHX, Distrify, Vimeo on Demand) are all services that allow filmmakers to upload their films and host them on whatever website they choose. Vimeo on Demand also hosts the video player on its own central website and has just integrated with Apple TV to allow for viewing on in-home TV screens.

Applications for many digital platforms can be found on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets),Over the Top (OTT) internet-enabled devices like Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, Playstation and Xbox and on smart TVs. Viewers must add the applications to their devices and then either subscribe or pay per view to the platforms in order to see the film.

What about international?

In the latest edition of our Selling Your Film book series, Amsterdam based consultant Wendy Bernfeld goes into great depth about the digital distribution market in Europe. Many low-budget, independent American films are not good candidates for international sales because various international distributors tend to be attracted to celebrity actors or action, thriller and horror genre fare that translate easily into other languages.

Rather than give all of your film’s rights to a foreign sales agent for years (often 7-10 years duration) just to see what the agent can accomplish, think seriously about selling to global audiences from your own website and from sites such as Vimeo, VHX, Google Play and iTunes. The volume of potential viewers or sales it takes to attract a foreign distributor to your film is often very high. But just because they aren’t interested doesn’t mean there is NO audience interest. It simply means audience interest isn’t  high enough to warrant a distribution deal. However, if you take a look at your own analytics via social media sites and website traffic, you may find that audience interest in foreign territories is certainly high enough to warrant self distributing in those territories. Look at this stats page on the VHX site. There are plenty of foreign audiences willing to buy directly from a film’s website. Why not service that demand yourself and keep most of the money? Plus keep the contact data on the buyers, such as email address?

Often, sales agents who cannot make foreign deals will use aggregators to access digital platforms and cut themselves into the revenue. You can save this commission fee by going through an aggregator yourself. In agreements we make with distributors for our Film Collaborative members, we negotiate for the filmmaker to have the ability to sell worldwide to audiences directly from their website. If you are negotiating agreements directly with distributors, the right to sell directly via your own website can be extremely beneficial to separate and carve out because sales via your website will generate revenue immediately. However, this tactic is now being scrutinized by distributors who are allowing direct to audience sales by filmmakers, but asking in their agreement for a percentage of the revenue generated. It is up to the filmmaker to decide if this is an acceptable term.

If you do happen to sell your film in certain international territories, make sure not to distribute on your site in a way that will conflict with any worldwide release dates and any other distribution holdbacks or windowing that may be required per your distribution contracts. An example: You have signed a broadcast agreement that calls for a digital release holdback of 90 days-6 months-1 year or whatever. You cannot go ahead and start selling via digital in that territory until that holdback is lifted. Instead, use a hosting service that will allow you to geoblock sales in that territory.

Photo credit David Goehring

Know your windows.

If you do decide to release on your own, it’s important to know how release phases or “windows” work within the industry and why windowing was even created.

The release window is an artificial scarcity construct wherein the maximum amount of money is squeezed from each phase of distribution. Each window is opened at different times to keep the revenue streams from competing with each other. The reason it is artificial is the film continues to be the same and could be released to the audience all at one time, but is purposely curbed from that in order to maximize revenue and viewership. The Hollywood legacy window sequence consists of movie theaters (theatrical window), then, after approximately  3-4 months, DVD release (video window). After an additional 3 months or so, a release to Pay TV (subscription cable and cable pay per view) and VOD services (download to own, paid streaming, subscription VOD) and approximately two years after its theatrical release date, it is made available for free-to-air TV.

Now, there is a lot of experimentation with release windows. Each release window is getting shorter and sometimes they are opened out of the traditional sequence. Magnolia Pictures has pioneered experimentation with Ultra VOD release, the practice of releasing a film digitally BEFORE its theatrical window and generally charging a premium price; and with Day and Date, the practice of releasing a film digitally and theatrically at the same time. Many other distributors have followed suit. Radius-TWC just shortened the theatrical only window for Snowpiercer by making it available on digital VOD within only 2 weeks of its US theatrical release. During its first weekend in US multiplatform release, Snowpiercer earned an estimated $1.1 million from VOD, nearly twice as much as the $635,000 it earned in theaters.

So, while there are certainly bends in the rules, you will need to pay attention to which release window you open for your film on what date. For example, it might be enticing to try to negotiate a flat licensing fee from Netflix (Subscription VOD or SVOD window) at the start of release. However, from a filmmaker’s (and also distributor’s) perspective, if the movie has not yet played on any other digital platforms, it would be preferable to wait until after the Transactional VOD (TVOD) window in order to generate more revenue as a percentage of every TVOD purchase, before going live on Netflix. If the transactional release and subscription release happen at the same time, it cannibalizes transactional revenue.

Also, sites like Netflix will likely use numbers from a film’s transactional window purchases to inform their decision on whether to make an offer on a film and how big that offer should be. Subscription sites such as Netflix also pay attention to general buzz, theatrical gross, and a film’s popularity on the film’s website. There is value in gathering web traffic analytics, email database analytics and website sales data in order to demonstrate you have a sizable audience behind your film. This is useful information when talking to any platform where you need their permission to access it. Caution: Netflix is not as interested in licensing independent film content as it once was. If your film is not a strong performer theatrically, or via other transactional VOD sites; does not have a big festival pedigree; or does not have notable actor names in it, it may not achieve a significant Netflix licensing fee or they may refuse to license it for the platform. Netflix is no longer building its brand for subscribers and it has significant data that guides what content it licenses and what it produces.

Also be aware that some TV licensing will call for holding back Subscription VOD (SVOD) releases for a period of time. If your film is strong enough to achieve a broadcast license deal, you will need to wait before making a subscription release deal. On the other hand, holding out too long for a broadcast distribution offer might cause the publicity and interest you’ve generated for your film to dissipate.

If your film is truly a candidate for theatrical release, most cinemas will not screen a film that is already available on TVOD or SVOD services. In fact, most of the chain cinemas will not screen a film that is available in any other form prior to or at the same time as theatrical release.

The way you choose to release your film is a judgment call in order to reach your particular goal. All decisions have consequences and you will have to live with the decisions you make in releasing your film. Like all decisions, you base them on what you know at the time with no guarantee as to how they will turn out.

 

 

July 16th, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, DIY, International Sales, Theatrical

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Written by Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler

Now that the line up for feature films screening in Park City has been announced and the Berlinale is starting to reveal its selections, let’s turn our attention to the potential publicity and sales opportunities that await these films.

For those with  lower budget, no-notable-names-involved films heading to Park City this January, we understand the excitement and hopefulness of the distribution offers you believe your film will attract, but we also want to implore you to be aware that not every film selected for a Park City screening will receive a significant distribution offer. There are a many other opportunities, perhaps BETTER opportunities, for your film to reach a global (not just domestic) audience, but if you aren’t prepared for both scenarios, the future of your film could be bleak.

For any other filmmaker whose film is NOT heading to Park City, this post will be vital.

Sundance Egyptian

Have you been a responsible filmmaker?

What does this mean? Time and again we at The Film Collaborative see filmmakers willingly, enthusiastically going into debt, either raising money from investors or credit cards or second mortgages (eek!) in order to bring their stories to life. But being a responsible filmmaker means before you started production, you clearly and realistically understood the market for your film.  When you expect your film to: get TV sales, international sales, a decent Netflix fee, a theatrical release, a cable VOD/digital release, do you understand the decision making process involved in the buying of films for release? Do you understand how many middlemen may stand in the money chain before you get your share of the money to pay back financing?  Was any research on this conducted BEFORE the production started? With the amount of information on sites like The Film Collaborative, MovieMaker, Filmmaker Magazine, IndieWire and hundreds of blogs online, there is no longer an excuse for not knowing the answers to most of these questions well before a production starts. This research is now your responsibility once you’ve taken investors’ money (even if the investor is yourself) and you want to pursue your distribution options. Always find out about middlemen before closing a deal, even for sales from a sales agent’s or distributor’s website, there may be middlemen involved that take  a hefty chunk that reduces yours.

Where does your film fit in the marketplace?

Top festivals like Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto give a film the start of a pedigree, but if your film doesn’t have that, significant distribution offers from outside companies will be limited. Don’t compare the prospects for your film to previous films on its content or tone alone. If your film doesn’t have prestige, or names, or similar publicity coverage or a verifiable fanbase, it won’t have the same footprint in the market.

Your distribution strategy may be informed by the size of your email database, the size of the social media following of the film and its cast/crew, web traffic numbers and visitor locations from your website analytics, and the active word of mouth and publicity mentions happening around it. These are the elements that should help gauge your expectations about your film’s impact as well as its profitability. Guess what the impact is if you don’t have these things or they are small? Yeah…

Understand the difference between a Digital Aggregator and a Distributor?

Distributors take exclusive ownership of your film for an agreed upon time. Aggregators  have direct relationships with digital platforms and often do not take an ownership stake. Sometimes distributors also have direct relationships with digital platforms, and so they themselves can also serve as an aggregator of sorts. However, sometimes it is necessary for a distributor to work with outside aggregators to access digital platforms.

Do  understand that the digital platform takes a first dollar percentage from the gross revenue (typically 30%), then aggregators get to recoup their fees and expenses from what is passed through them, but there are some that only take a flat fee upfront and pass the rest of the revenue back. Then distributors will recoup any of their expenses and their fee percentage, then comes sales agents with their expenses and fees. And finally, the filmmaker will get his or her share. Many filmmakers and film investors do not understand this and wonder why money doesn’t flow back into their pockets just a few months after initial release. You guys are in the back of the line so hopefully, if you signed a distribution agreement, you received a nice advance payment. Think how many cuts are coming out of that $5.99 consumer rental price? How many thousands will you have to sell to see some money coming in?

Windowing.

If you do decide to release on your own, knowing how release windows work within the industry is beneficial. Though the time to sequence through each release window is getting shorter, you still need to pay attention to which sales window you open when, especially in the digital space. Anyone who has ever had a Netflix account knows that, as a consumer, you would rather watch a film using the Netflix subscription you have already paid for rather than shell out more cash to buy or rent a stream of the latest movies. But from a filmmaker/distributor’s perspective, this initial Transactional VOD (TVOD) window maximizes profits because, unlike a flat licensing fee deal from Netflix, the film gets a percentage of every transactional VOD purchase. So if you release your film on Netflix or another subscription service (SVOD) right away without being paid a significant fee for exclusivity, you are essentially giving the milk away. And when that happens, you can expect to see transactional purchases (a.k.a. demand for the cow) decrease.

Furthermore, subscription sites like Netflix will likely use numbers from transactional purchases to inform, at least in part, their decision as to whether or not to make an offer on a film in the first place. In other words, showing sales data, showing you have a real audience behind your film, is a key ingredient to getting on any platform where you need to ask permission to be on it.  Netflix is not as interested in licensing independent film content as it once was. It is likely that if your film is not a strong performer theatrically, or via other transactional VOD sites, it may not garner a significant  Netflix  licensing fee or they may refuse to take it onto the platform.

Also be aware that some TV licensing will be contingent on holding back subscription releases for a period of time. If you think your film is a contender for a broadcast license, you may want to hold off on a subscription release until you’ve exhausted that avenue. Just don’t wait too long or the awareness you have raised for your film will die out.

Direct distribution from your website

Your website and social channels are global in their reach. Unless you are paid handsomely for all worldwide distribution rights to your film, your North American distributor should not run the channels where you connect with your audience; the audience you have spent months or years on your own to build and hope to continue to build. These channels can be used to sell access to your film far more profitably for you than going through several middlemen.

Many low budget American films are not good candidates for international sales because the audience worldwide isn’t going to be big enough to appeal to various international distributors. Rather than give your rights to a sales agent for years just to see what they can do, think seriously about selling to global audiences from your own website and from sites such as Vimeo, Youtube, and iTunes. In agreements we make with distributors for our members, we negotiate the ability to sell worldwide to audiences directly off of a website without geo-blocking unsold territories. If you are negotiating agreements with other distributors, the right to sell directly can be extremely beneficial to carve out.  If you do happen to sell your film in certain international territories, it is wise to also make sure you do not distribute on your site in a way that will conflict with any worldwide street dates  and any other distribution holdbacks or windowing that may be required per your distribution contract.

You can sell DVDs, merchandise, downloads and streaming off your own site with the added benefit of collecting contact email addresses for use throughout your filmmaking career. Above all,  don’t hold out for distribution opportunities that may not come when publicity and marketing is happening. So many times we are contacted by filmmakers who insist on spending a year or more on the festival circuit with no significant distribution offers in sight and they are wasting their revenue potential by holding back on their own distribution efforts. You can play festivals AND sell your films at the same time. Many regional fests no longer have a policy against films with digital distribution in place. When the publicity and awareness is happening, that’s the time to release.

Festival distribution is a thing

Did you know that festivals will pay screening fees to include your film in their program? It’s true! But there is a caveat. Your film must have some sort of value to festival programmers. How does a film have value? By premiering at a world class festival (Sundance, Berlin, SXSW etc or at a prestige niche festival) or having notable name cast. Those are things that other festivals prize and are willing to pay for.

You should try to carve out your own festival distribution efforts if a sales or distribution agreement is presented. That way you will see these festival screening fees and immediately start receiving revenue. Our colleagues, Jeffrey Winter and Bryan Glick, typically handle festival distribution for members of The Film Collaborative without needing to take ownership rights over the film (unlike a sales agent). TFC shares in a percentage of the screening fee and that is the only way we make money from festival distribution. No upfront costs, no ownership stake.

Deliverables

This is an expense that many new filmmakers are unfamiliar with and without the proper delivery items, sales agents and distributors will not be able/interested in distributing your film. You may also find that even digital platforms will demand some deliverables. At TFC (as well as with any sales agent/distributor), we require E&O insurance with a minimum coverage of $1,000,000 per occurrence, $3,000,000 in the aggregate, in force for a term of three years. The cost to purchase this insurance is approximately $3000-$5000. Also, a Closed Captioning file is required for all U.S. titles on iTunes. The cost can be upwards of $900 to provide this file.  Additionally, many territories (such as UK, Australia, New Zealand and others) are now requiring official ratings from that territory’s film classification board, the cost of which can add up if you plan to make your film available via iTunes globally. For distributors, closed captioning and foreign ratings are recoupable expenses that they pay for upfront, but if you are self distributing through an aggregator service, this expense is on you upfront.

You may also be asked to submit delivery items to a sales agent or a distributor such as a HD Video Master, a NTSC Digi- Beta Cam down conversion and a full length NTSC Digi-Beta Pan & Scan tape all accompanied by a full Quality Control report, stereo audio on tracks 1&2, the M&E mix on tracks 3&4 and these may cost $2000-$5000 depending on the post house you use. If your tapes fail QC and you need to go back and fix anything, the cost could escalate upwards of $15,000. Then there are the creative deliverables such as still photography, key art digital files if they exist, electronic press kit if it exists or the video footage to be assembled into one, the trailer files if they exist. Also, all talent contracts and releases, music licenses and cue sheets, chain of title, MPAA rating if available etc.

Distribution is a complicated and expensive process. Be sure you have not completely raided your production budget or allocated a separate budget (much smarter!) in order to distribute directly to your audience and for the delivery items that will be needed if you do sign an agreement with another distribution entity. Also, seek guidance, preferably from an entity that is not going to take an ownership stake in the film for all future revenue over a long period of time.

For those headed to Park City, good luck with your prospects. TFC will be on the ground so keep up with our Tweets and Facebook posts. If the offers aren’t what you envisioned for your film, be ready to mobilize your own distribution efforts.

 

December 19th, 2013

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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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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