Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma
By Roger Jackson
The Producer’s Dilemma You probably know the classic movie making conundrum that indie producers struggle with: talent (or rather their agents) won’t commit to a film project until you prove you have funding, and investors won’t write a check until you prove you have talent attached. The producer’s dilemma. And, of course, all successful producers find creative solutions to that thorny issue. KinoNation has a similar challenge: It’s tough to get filmmakers fully committed without video-on-demand distribution outlets in place, and it’s hard to sign VoD outlets without a slate of films.
Meeting with Hulu
So in an industry (Hollywood) that’s notoriously suspicious -- even hostile -- towards outsiders and upstarts, our first meeting with a VoD distributor was a breath of fresh air. Hulu “got it” immediately. They were informed, candid and provided the type of objective but positive feedback that Klaus and I needed. Yes, you can be a content partner with Hulu, they said. Just show us you can aggregate great independent features and documentaries, and then prove you can deliver them to Hulu in the high quality format we require. Deal! We got to work immediately on the ideas and to-do list that sprang from the meeting -- in a new venture like KinoNation, the positive momentum from this type of informal encouragement is huge.
Acronyms on Demand
Since then we’ve been talking to video-on-demand platforms all over the world.  So now is probably a good time to deal with the soup of video-on-demand acronyms we find ourselves swimming in. SVoD, TVoD, FVoD are among the most common, but the list goes on, it’s confusing, and from now on I’m just going to use the umbrella term VoD -- “Video on Demand.” But, for the record,  SVoD is “subscription“ video-on-demand, where the customer pays a flat monthly fee. Like Netflix, or Hulu Plus. TVoD is “transactional” video-on-demand, where customers pay each time they rent or buy a movie. Like iTunes, or Amazon Instant. And FVoD is “free” video-on-demand.  Like Vimeo, or YouTube. OK, with that out of the way, suffice it to say we’re busy knocking on the doors of dozens of VoD companies, worldwide.
Now We Need Movies
Now the flip side of our producer’s dilemma: we need an initial slate of films -- fifty or so would be ideal. So last week we fired up an Invitation Only page on KinoNation, seeking full-length films (and filmmakers) for what techies call Beta Testing. As we wrote on that page “These films will form the initial slate of films to be run through our automated Upload-Transcode-Distribute process...filmmakers involved will help shape the creation of KinoNation.” The response already has been great -- indie features from the USA, UK and Australia, documentaries from France and South Africa, and amazing enthusiasm from filmmakers who know they can drive an audience to their films, but want help getting them out there!

First Mover Advantage So who are these bold filmmakers, and what are they submitting to KinoNation? And why are they motivated to be “first movers?” Here’s a sampling. Husband and wife filmmakers Lindy and Kris Boustedt are sending us their beautiful existential drama This is Ours. Lindy notes that “We’re confident we can market/find an audience for our film, we just want a simple route to getting our film into paid video on demand.” South African filmmaker James Walsh has submitted his stunning mountain bike documentary An Epic Tale, and writes “Love the simplicity of Kinonation! More than happy to be a guinea pig for this process.”  From Australia we heard from director Sky Crompton, who has submitted his Austral-Asian drama Citizen Jia Li. Veteran LA filmmaker Rich Martini (what a great name!) already has his incredible after-life doc Flipside out on DVD, and writes that “VOD is definitely the smartest way to go with my own particular niche of story telling...once it’s available on demand I can sell the heck out of it...thank you KinoNation for showing up at exactly the right time to enable a new vision of distribution!”

So I invite you to submit your film to our Private Beta. The form takes 2 minutes to complete, the rules are super-simple, there’s no obligation to participate, no cost, no strings attached. And there’s absolutely no danger that your baby will be stolen, or end up on DVD at the night market in Shanghai. Although as filmmaker Lindy Boustedt wrote, “"We'd be oddly thrilled if This is Ours was pirated. Cause that would mean it was popular enough to steal."

 

Next week:  Post #4: Story Arc for Investors or Why I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Raising Money.

Roger Jackson is a producer and 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 LA, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. He is executive producer at Midnight Swim Productions.

Is The Hell Worth It? Content Licensing for Digital New Media Platforms

Guest post by Wendy Bernfeld, Managing Director, Rights Stuff It’s no surprise for producers and distributors, that revenues from traditional sources such as TV and DVD have generally been declining, along with minimum guarantees for international sales. Despite earlier disappointments, we have seen that the digital marketplace (web, mobile, IPTV/vod, etc) has now become a source of real revenue, although requiring careful attention to suitable platforms, ’windowing’ and deal structuring.

Rights Stuff has spent the last decade dedicated particulary new media platforms , or traditional platforms expanding into new media dealings, as well as filmmakers/distributors/ content owners, helping them in content acquisition/licensing and maximising revenue streams. There are a wealth of opportunities arising from non-traditional/digital platform buyers and funding sources, outside the comfort zone of your usual buyers database . Even beyond known IPTV, web and mobile platforms; there are also gaming/consumer electronics platforms, kiosks, memory card makers and handset manufacturers in the video space. Even as recently as this summer, New tablet devices, OTT (Over-the-top) boxes and web enabled connected TV’s further blur the distinctions and assumptions affecting deal-making and audiences. Opportunities are multiplied when you take the international arena into account, and good target markets for new media deals are often overlooked.

For example, VOD is no longer just ‘one thing’ to hold back or give away; it can span up to a dozen different forms,(Transactional (TVOD),Suscription (SVOD,) free, ad-supported ( AVOD), sell-thru (EST/DTO, etc), and span different platforms (IPTV, web, mobile, handhelds etc) each affecting rights and license potential. Each can now represent a small but cumulative revenue stream in the generally non exclusive new media licensing scheme.

Even if a producer is blocked in his local country due to prior production or broadcaster funding /presales, the opportunities are often wider outside their own local region. Overall, whether electing to focus time maximizing exploitation across all possible avenues, or just focussing on a few key big brand deals, it is already worth the hell!

However, keep in mind that in most European countries, there are still extremely limited, legal alternatives for video viewing, (for example I-tunes video is still NOT available in most of Europe) and pirated free viewing is the real competition.

One of our European clients, indiemoviesonline.com, tackled this challenge by offering high end independent feature films, streamed online, free to consumer, but on a targeted premium rate ad-supported (AVOD) basis. With clever SEO (search engine optimization) and other tech tools, they managed to redirect significant traffic away from these pirate sites. In one case, they achieved 10,000 views in one weekend for an otherwise lesser known film.

For another client, a top European art house film traditional distributor, we helped them select from their back catalogue, important films/key genres to digitize and rights-clear, as well as upgrading acquisition deals, to allow for various forms of new media exploitation. That client achieved literally 10s of thousands of views within a month or two on a simple pay per view basis and for just one film – whereas before, such film would normally have gone straight to pay tv. Even without minimum guarantees they more than recouped and profited from that new window. . Who’s out there? Aside from the biggest web VOD/EST partners such as YouTube, Hulu I-Tunes, Netflix, and the more ‘general interest’ and American sites, content owners can target other regions for international IPTV and web/mobile platforms seeking film, and engage with various smaller but high quality and genre focussed reputable sites, such as indiemoviesonline.com, cinemalink.nl, mubi.com, and thematic channels including via IPTV ‘tv everywhere’ platforms. The mainstream sites and some gaming platforms like Sony PS3 have also finally started to expand their programming, to embrace more niche programming including indie and art house, and to selectively commission online premieres.

As to negotiations, It’s still the same negotiation “ballet” as in traditional media, between the buying in (get wide rights) and licensing out (give narrow rights), so be sure to read the fine print. One can deal direct (more work, but more returns) or go via aggregators or sales agents/distributors, but in the latter case ensure they’re really focussed on, savvy in and committed to the new media exploitation, not just a contractual rights-grab. Remember that new media deals, other than the more familiar TVOD, are not yet “standard,” and again, at least in the short term, remember to watch media, delivery means, devices, windows, and revenue definitions. With careful windowing and deal making, there are finally real new media revenue streams to be made, and it can be worth the hell.

Wendy Bernfeld  MD Rights Stuff  Rights Stuff is an int’l content licensing consultancy specialized in acquisition, distribution, and pragmatic approaches to related rights issues, primarily in the new media and cross platform sector (e.g. film/TV and/or original content for Internet, VOD, mobile, subscription TV, handheld devices, and other digital platforms), including made-for-web and cross-platform /transmedia productions. Rights Stuff also assists producers and distributors seeking to maximize exploitation of their rights across multiple windows and platforms/screens and also assists transmedia productions that contemplate from inception both storytelling and business models across multiple screens. Rights Stuff is also active in new digital channel creation,development and programming, including international adaptations and channel carriage negotiations.

For more info (incl. services, case studies & clients), please refer to www.rights-stuff.com.