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.

We Need More Outlets For Community Support/Collaboration

Awhile back in The Huffington Post, Marshall Fine pointed to Comic Con as an example of what is wrong with the Studio Biz these days. I too miss the days when it seemed like there was business in creating work for mature audiences. I will be among the first in line for Innaritu's BUITIFUL for sure, and when I watched FAREWELL the other night, I longed to make a film of that weight, craft, and themes.  Looking at what my immediate future holds as a producer in the USA, I don't think I will get much opportunity for such exploration anytime soon, at least not on a reasonable budget. Nonetheless, as opposed to Marshall, ComicCon does not represent for me what's wrong with the film biz, but quite the opposite.  Although the communities are smaller , and the passion and fervor far less, the art house contingents should take note what ComicCon does.  It is the only populist film event we have in this country.

I am incredibly energized by ComicCon and believe it is a model that can be extended to support work beyond the specific genre it currently supports. That is, if the audience and community for specific genres and subjects can unite the way ComicCon's has, we as filmmakers could truly start to collaborate with audiences the way the fan boy and geek crowd does with their filmmakers.  Taking SUPER to ComicCon was one of the highlights of my twenty plus years in the business.  I felt unbridled support for what we've made, and we only offered up a wee taste.

The following is a bit of an update to the reply that I posted to Marshall on the Huff:

I share your lament about Hollywood abandoning more serious fare, but it is what it is. Let's face it, movies for adults are difficult to execute and difficult to market; how can you blame the studios from abandoning them?

Audiences need to unite and demand what they want. They need to move from being audiences to creating communities. Film festivals and film societies need to move into year round programming that can support more ambitious work. We can't all wait until it goes on Netflix streaming. There is no community in streaming, only convenience.  You know how great it is when people come together into a common space to discuss and appreciate work.  The question is how can we offer that in a way that both sustains and nurtures creators and their appreciators alike.

We have to support the work we want, both as filmmakers and film lovers. You do it with your screening series, Marshal, as many others do too, but it is still not enough to generate more serious film work.  The filmmakers to have to reach out and bring communities together.  No one can afford to wait to have others do it for them.

I've generally made ambitious films for adults, precisely the type of movies you miss (and many that you have programmed and written about). But I am also incredibly excited to take my new film, James Gunn's SUPER to Comic Con. It is a chance to connect with a COMMUNITY who wants the film -- even before we have finished it. You don't get this opportunity in the art house world. By showing their demand for a no-holds-barred look at what a real-life superhero (vs. say... Kick-Ass) would look at, the so-called geek community has given birth to one of the most daring films I have had the good fortune to be part of.

Hope For The Future pt. 2: Building The List

We started the list here (click to link).  Now we continue onwards.  We will only get to 52 with your help.  What else gives you reasons to be hopeful for film culture?

5. Giving it away for free is good business.  Anderson's essay is required reading.  Look at Google who gives away 90% (est.) of what they create (the search engine) and drives a good advertising business in the process.  For years The Greatful Dead were one of the top grossing concert acts, driven in a good part by their willingness to allow their fans to "bootleg" their concerts and "distribute" them themselves.  The question is what do you give away and what do you use to produce revenue.

6. Film Festivals are evolving.  Local film fests have already identified the core film lovers in every region.  For decades these festivals have been content to live in a single period each year, overloading their audiences with too many choices come festival time.  Now festivals are giving theatrical bookings as awards (help us build a list of these).  Some are moving to a seasonal subscription model.  Some are even paying significant screening fees.  And then there are the cash awards (those are still around somewhere, aren't they?).

7. Internet Streaming is being used by filmmakers to build A WORLD of Word Of Mouth.  Slamdance has announced that they will stream films right after the festival.  For years we have know that word of mouth is the primary way that a specialized film succeeds.  But it is costly, but now that has changed.

8. 2008 is the strongest year for under $1M EVER.  I have seen almost 20 films this year by filmmakers who clearly will develop a great body of work.  Only a few were at Sundance. They keep on coming.  They may still be hard to find, but the films are out there and at a quality and quantity  as never before.  Check out Hammer To Nail's list of top 13 films of the year and get watching.