Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 11: Ranking System for Indie Films?

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Three Months of Work

Ranking System
Consistent feedback from VoD platforms: it’s tough for them to decide whether to accept -- or reject -- an independent film. And how useful it would be to have some sort of independent films ranking system, to give them some indication of how well a movie might perform on VoD. We agree. So we’re building it. We found the perfect person to create what is quite a complex real-time algorithm -- an indie filmmaker with a math PhD from Harvard.

Here’s the concept: For every film uploaded to KinoNation we gather dozens of data points. Film in a festival? It gets points, based on the prestige and importance of the festival. More points for an award nomination. Even more for a win. Trailer has 10,000 views on Vimeo or YouTube? That’s also part of the ranking. Ditto with Facebook fans, Tweets, IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes score, etcetera. You get the idea. There are 50+ metrics in all.

The secret sauce is the algorithm, of course -- how much each metric is worth, damping factors, and the statistical integrity of the ranking. Is it perfect? Far from it, and obviously a high KinoNation rank doesn’t guarantee that a film will perform in the VoD space. There are plenty of movies whose trailer goes viral on YouTube but the film fails to take off when the audience has to pay to rent or buy. But we believe a novel and transparent ranking system could be helpful, not just to VoD platforms who have to pick and choose films based on limited data, but also to filmmakers who will see their ranking improve as a function of their marketing efforts. No question it’ll be controversial. Obviously it’s tough to measure the “quality” of a film -- which is highly subjective -- based on the film’s engagement with social media. A film might have no trailer, no Facebook page, and no festival wins, but still be fantastic. Right?

VoD at the American Film Market
I’m spending some time at AFM this week, which -- like KinoNation -- is in Santa Monica. Today was the video-on-demand conference. I showed up for “VoD Release Strategies.” Panelists from SnagFilms, Magnolia Pictures, IndieFlix and Tribeca. Everyone very bullish about the rapidly maturing VoD market and the potential to reach millions of households. My 5 point takeaway:

1. Major studios are dumping hundreds or even thousands of their library films into the VoD system, crowding out indies to a certain extent, and certainly clogging up the encoding houses.
2. Comcast is the 800lb gorilla of cable VoD, way ahead of the other cable systems (Time Warner, Charter, AT&T, etc.) in terms of the revenue they generate for indie films
3. The cable companies VoD interfaces are generally awful, but unlikely to improve fast because it’s so expensive to swap out millions of cable set-top boxes.
4. Try as they might, it’s hard for VoD platforms to duplicate the “visual feel” of a Blockbuster-type video store. But indie filmmakers can stand out from the VoD crowd by creating big, gorgeous poster art for their film. This shouldn’t be an afterthought. Invest in great art and photos for your film, it’s often the defining factor for consumers.
5. VoD platforms that showcase films “in theaters now” -- which can really super-charge online rentals -- have wised up to distributors who are essentially cheating the system by four-walling the movie in 1 or 2 theaters.

Foreign Intervention
A dozen more films submitted to our Private Beta this week. Keep them coming! I’ve been talking to a couple of filmmakers whose movies have a foreign language element. Director Rafael Blanco made two versions of “The Last Intervention” -- one version in English, and one in Spanish. Makes sense since it’s a comedy about a dysfunctional Dominican family. Rafael is uploading both versions to KinoNation. But worth noting that most VoD platforms won’t accept burned-in subtitles, and we encourage filmmakers to upload their subtitles as metadata with timecode, so the consumer (as with DVD) can turn on/off the non-English version. Meanwhile, Luxembourg based filmmaker Ady El Assal submitted “Les Fameux Gars” (The Famous Guys.) This raw, high energy movie should find its audience among French speaking teens -- and reminds me that we need to woo Paris based platforms CanalPlay, Arte, My TF1 and Iliad. VoD is huge in France and a big opportunity for KinoNation.

Next week: Post # 12:  Doubling the Upload Speed

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.