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.