“The platform is dedicated to libraries – primarily, public and university ones”
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Juliette Le Baron and Alicia López Ríos • Project manager for International Development and project developer for the UK and Ireland, filmfriend
During our conversation, we discovered how the filmfriend platform helps public and university libraries to build a vast film catalogue
Cineuropa sat down with Juliette Le Baron and Alicia López Ríos, respectively project manager for International Development and project developer for the UK and Ireland for filmfriend, an innovative platform helping public and university libraries to build a vast film catalogue for their users. In detail, our chat focused on the outfit’s expansion plans, the challenges it is facing and its partnerships.
Cineuropa: When did you start working on filmfriend? What’s your main mission?
Juliette Le Baron: filmfriend kicked off in 2017. We launched it in co-operation with the Berlin Library in July. Since then, it has grown throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland. As of today, it has been chosen by over 400 libraries across the three countries. The platform is dedicated to libraries – primarily, public and university ones. Users can log into filmfriend by using their library accounts – and there’s no need for an additional registration – so that they can access the whole film catalogue with no restrictions. They can watch as many titles as they want, and as often as they want, on several devices, on their browsers, through phone or TV apps, and on Chromecast and AirPlay. We developed the technology of the platform with our in-house programmers, and sometimes, festivals and cinemas use our infrastructure. Specifically, we see cinemas and festivals as partners, not as competitors, so we work with them to offer their audiences an efficient online platform. That being said, our main end users remain libraries.
One of your long-term goals is to become a pan-European service, right?
JLB: Yes. Besides the DACH region, we’re now aiming to expand in our neighbouring countries – the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Belgium – while Alicia is working on entering the Irish and British markets.
Alicia López Ríos: Yes, and we’re slowly starting to work on the Italian market as well.
Are you partnering with any other organisations?
JLB: Yes, we co-operate with the German Centre for Youth Films (Deutsches Kinder- und Jugendfilmzentrum) so that we can adopt an additional educational age recommendation that they give to our showcased titles. We’ve also established partnerships with some festivals – the Nature Film Festival in Darßer (Darßer NaturfilmFestival) and the Duisbourg Film Week (Duisburger Filmwoche) – and we’ve sealed some deals with the Deutsche Kinemathek. The cinematheque shared some of its titles, and we created the collections based on the films we licensed. We also did something similar with some DEFA [Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft, the then East Germany’s state-owned film studio] films.
What are the main challenges you’re facing in terms of developing your business and expanding it internationally?
JLB: The big problem is the fact that the rights vary on a geographical basis. For example, we have many films available in Germany, but we can screen only a very small number of these in other countries, so we need to work more on this aspect and negotiate with the rights holders. Another issue is represented by the language barrier. When you’ve got one film, let’s say a French one, it will usually include English subtitles, but not German ones – this would obviously be good for Ireland and the UK, but not for DACH audiences. Sometimes, we ask festivals to help us with this, but we currently don’t have enough budget to commission subtitling in-house.
ALR: Also, reaching the right people working for the different libraries can be very tricky. It’s a time-consuming activity, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out whom to reach out to.
What are your next steps?
JLB: We’d like to make the offering more accessible, especially to people with disabilities – for example, to make it easier to use for people affected by visual impairments – and add more subtitles. That’s surely one direction we’re looking into.
How many titles do you feature in your catalogue?
JLB: It depends on the individual country. In Germany, for example, we have over 3,500 titles available, whilst in Luxembourg we have 600, and for Belgium and the Netherlands it’s around 400, but we’re adding new titles at least once every month.
Is there anything else you’d like tell our readers or potential partners?
JLB: It’d be really great for us to gain more content from new countries, not necessarily from Europe. We’re also looking for something not pertaining to the traditional areas of fiction – for example, shorts, children’s films, educational content, archive footage, local documentaries and so on. In other words, anything that could be interesting for a library to screen.
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