The two sides of the Welcome to New York experiment
by Fabien Lemercier
- Success and question marks surround the direct-to-VoD release of Abel Ferrara's film
With 100,000 screenings having taken place over the one week since its release on video on demand (VoD), the momentous launch of Welcome to New York [+see also:
film profile] by Abel Ferrara has met some of the expectations of its producer and distributor, Wild Bunch. Sold at €6.99, more expensive than the €4.99 that new VoD releases usually cost, the film achieved one of the best scores of the year (with The Volcano [+see also:
film profile] retaining its place at the top of the 2014 results, having had more than 140,000 screenings) and generated a huge media buzz, which was scarcely affected by the often harsh comments levelled at the quality of the movie by critics.
A standard bearer for Wild Bunch in its struggle to make the distribution windows more flexible (the legal time limits in France governing the release of films in their various formats, starting with theatres, followed by video four months later, then pay TV ten months later, and so on), the broad lessons to be learnt from the Welcome to New York experiment must nevertheless be qualified. On one hand, its (very impressive) score still lags very far behind last year's most widely sold film on VoD (Les profs [+see also:
film profile], with 390,000 screenings) and would appear to be below par compared to original expectations. On the other hand, Wild Bunch made the most of the media hype surrounding the Cannes Festival in order to over-promote its event, although a number of industry professionals were not impressed by this leeching off the Croisette, which caused quite a lucrative confusion among the public, as many viewers thought Ferrara's film had been selected at the festival. At first glance, this masterfully conducted PR strategy that capitalised on the somewhat inflammatory subject of the film (the notorious New York v Strauss-Kahn case) would therefore not appear to be repeatable in exactly the same way with other titles – especially as Welcome to New York benefitted from an extremely advantageous exposure on VoD platforms that had partnered with the scheme.
While it is now clear that a direct-to-VoD release of a title that enjoys significant marketing investment can turn out to be profitable for the distributor under certain optimal conditions, films that are not as well known are not guaranteed to find as much of an audience there, because the platforms themselves are at risk of drowning the films out in the huge tidal wave of new releases – apart from if a significant amount of money is poured into TV advertising, as Wild Bunch did. Beyond the heated debate between supporters of day-and-date simultaneous multi-format releases and those people who champion the idea of exclusively using distribution windows (theatres, Canal+, free TV channels), the real question is how to improve and speed up the provision of certain works without crippling the global pre-financing system. The ongoing, never-ending negotiations among professionals and the mountain of reports addressing the matter go to show just how much interests are still diverging. Because it is not about a squabble between the old and the new, as certain parties would have us believe, and nor is it a brave ethical campaign aiming to give more exposure to smaller films; rather, it is about the first battle for tomorrow's box office.
(Translated from French)