New distribution and marketing models in the on-demand age
by Giampietro Balia
- CANNES 2016: The CNC organised a discussion focusing on the media themselves, rather than the content they carry
“The medium is the message.” This stirring quote by visionary crackpot Marshall McLuhan opened multi-talented Ira Deutchman’s enlightening introduction to a strategic discussion on new distribution and marketing models in the on-demand age. The focus of this new meeting organised by the CNC was on the media themselves, rather than the content they carry, and a quick excerpt from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall was all it took for Deutchman to gain the audience’s attention. His academic approach was key to an in-depth analysis of how HBO first, and Netflix and Amazon later, revolutionised the way we think of television and how film distribution works. As Frank Rose theorised: “If stories are universal, the way we tell them changes with the technology at hand. Every new medium has given rise to a new form of narrative.” The transition from invention to art has proven to require approximately 25 years, but new data-driven services such as Amazon or Netflix have much more information to work with, so they will need less than that to complete the cycle – 27 years after HBO was founded, The Sopranos set the stage for what everybody called “the television renaissance”, which was not television any more; it was HBO.
To showcase the diversity of VoD services available on the market, experienced analyst, journalist and consultant Michael Gubbins moderated the panel focusing on how we get onto these channels, how we integrate VoD into the way we sell, produce and make the films accessible, and finally, how we connect to audiences once we are out of the festival markets. The starting point is to think differently about content because, just like water, it will sit at a different level according to the platform. New business models and delivery technology will inevitably lead to new forms of content but also to a re-categorisation of content. Within Europe, the rules put in place to protect theatrical distribution are going to be an issue as VoD grows. But it is not a theatrical-vs-VoD or old-world-vs-new-world type of market. In fact, Bobby Allen, VP content and business development at MUBI, uses the momentum generated by the theatrical release to get a 30-day exclusive on his platform, adhering to the belief that “great cinema has to exist both in the cinema and in your household, giving you the chance to choose”.
Jason Ropell, worldwide head of motion pictures at Amazon Studios and Prime Video, knows only too well that windows will evolve over time, and Amazon needs to look for strategies that work for its customers and overcome the legal restrictions and variations within Europe. Gubbins joked about the fact that “Amazon knows what my wife wants for Christmas better than I do”, introducing the key to success in the VoD market: data that can be used to measure the interest of the audience. Cédric Monnier, CEO of FlameFy, works in the area of empowering media to build and manage a solid audience, and optimise their marketing strategy using data calculated in real time. His business model is based on the notion that his clients need only four or five data references to make decisions on a daily basis, and while collecting data is quite easy today, using it to reach your audience can be very intricate.
To facilitate the process of releasing and exploiting feature films, Jérôme Chung co-founded Under the Milky Way, a feature-film aggregator that ensures the operational, editorial, marketing and financial interfaces between the rights holders and the VoD platforms. In a complex and crowded international system with several distribution options like iTunes, the Sony Entertainment Network, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Xbox, to name the most commonly used, it’s becoming very profitable to look at the domestic markets and use the data one collects to address a specific niche, which sometimes means millions of people. Tristan Du Laz, deputy CEO at TF1 Studios, launched a new label called E-Cinema, dedicated to the internet release of feature films. Supported by Wild Bunch, one of the world’s leading players in the field of international sales, E-Cinema aims to reach French film enthusiasts, wherever they may be, and allow them to enjoy a film without having to worry about its fleeting theatrical life.
VoD releases have become increasingly strategic, and even big players like Spike Lee (Chi-Raq via Amazon) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Junun via Mubi) have decided to make use of these platforms. While a quick VoD release can help filmmakers to make the most of the momentum generated by the awards and reviews received at film festivals, there is still a lot of scepticism from sales companies that would rather try to maximise their deals. Many guests in the audience also pointed out that, while DVDs took off extremely quickly, the small players in the VoD market are still struggling to generate any profit. In order for this powerful system to really work, all the professionals in the film industry have to look beyond the current models and be open to innovation, understanding that, in Marshall McLuhan’s words, “The user is content.”