Berlinale 2023 – EFM
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Europa Distribution is “Surfing the Waves” at the EFM
BERLINALE 2023: A panel focusing on how to adapt to the changing environment in the independent film-distribution industry explored the key aspects involved in building and expanding cinema audiences
The EFM Industry Session “Surfing the Waves: Audience Building in a New Period of Changes” was moderated by analyst, journalist and consultant Michael Gubbins, and was held in partnership with Europa Distribution.
In his opening address, Gubbins mentioned that independent film distribution has partially recovered in theatres, with audience levels being about one-third down from pre-pandemic figures. While US streamers remain dominant, there are indications that the ecosystem is becoming more stable, with new elements emerging, such as FAST channels and AVoD. Audience behaviour is changing, with 30% of French streaming subscribers shifting away from cinemas, and economic pressures are affecting spending on subscriptions. However, an emerging ecosystem of cooperation between exhibitors, producers and distributors, along with technological innovation, is helping in the fight to adapt to these changes.
Noortje van de Sande, managing director of Picl, presented the Dutch-based platform, which allows viewers to watch films on the same day they are released in cinemas, with a portion of the revenue going to the partner cinema. Picl's streaming is considered to be a “day and date” model, and it evolved because of the low availability of certain films in theatres. The platform initially faced scepticism from cinemas but is now collaborating with 39 theatres across the country. Furthermore, the platform is doing a research project on virtual cinema, exploring the possibilities of exhibiting films online, to determine what works and what doesn't in different territories. A comparison of online and offline data from cinemagoers showed that the same people would attend a physical screening or watch it online, depending on the convenience of the showtimes. Insights into this type of hybrid consumer can help distributors and cinemas target their marketing efforts for maximum impact.
Eduardo Escudero, CEO of A Contracorriente, emphasised that cinemas are essential to the future of independent films, and digital ventures complement them. He stressed that going to the cinema and creating audience loyalty schemes is more cost-effective in creating a brand for the “long tail” of a film. He also highlighted the importance of creating audiences, citing his platform's offer of one free cinema ticket every month as part of the subscription price in order to encourage subscribers to go to the dark rooms. Furthermore, Europa Cinemas’ Collaborate to Innovate programme has proven successful, and brought audiences together through simultaneous premieres and Q&A sessions in 30 different Spanish cities. The scheme helped create a network of cinemas and distributors that are still collaborating to this day.
Algirdas Ramaška, director of the Vilnius International Film Festival, explained that the survival of film festivals and other businesses in the industry depends on their ability to adapt to new challenges and constantly seek out new business models. For example, his own gathering, which faced the problem of expensive festival licences and limited audience reach, developed a new model of festival distribution by buying rights and showing the films in cinemas throughout Lithuania, investing in marketing and creating a brand. This model not only helped expand the audience reach of the festival, but also created new opportunities for post-festival distribution and alternative uses for the films, such as for educational purposes. He also acknowledged that adapting and innovating can be risky, but suggested that taking creative risks can lead to great rewards and a sense of achievement.
Agnete Juul, a distributor at Camera Film, who also operates Copenhagen’s The Grand cinema, said that attendance in Denmark has been rising again after all the lockdowns ended. Having said that, they are dealing with a much more fragmented audience than before, so they have to look at different online campaigns to hit the various audience segments. The Grand’s reputation for dependable film selection has translated well into its streaming platform, which is operated in conjunction with LevelK and has a carefully curated selection of titles that fit the profile of the cinema's audience. Through various events, such as talks and interesting topics connected to a film, the cinema is also promoted organically and caters to different segments of the audience. Overall, despite the rise in streaming services and the impact of the pandemic, she believes that the cinema experience will always be popular.
Noortje van de Sande explained the importance of collaboration and data sharing in the film-distribution industry. Different marketing strategies work for different films and audiences, so it's crucial to experiment and learn from each other. By working together, distributors and cinemas can target specific audiences with tailored campaigns, which can have a positive impact on both the theatrical and the online releases of a film. Escudero underlined the challenges of building momentum in a fragmented business with audiences spread across multiple platforms. He mentioned the success of their FAST channels and their holistic approach to integrating these channels with their physical cinema locations. Their unique catalogue of films not available on other streaming services has helped build a rapport with the audience and pique interest in the cinema experience. Ramaška added that filmmakers need to take responsibility for promoting their movies and invest in this process from the beginning. The current experiments begin at the customer-facing end, with distributors and exhibitors, but for a truly holistic approach, the process needs to start with developing and producing things that fit the system.
Regarding diversification, the panellists noted that diversity needs to be built into everything, including marketing, programming and education. Diversity can be built by taking content to new locations beyond the big cities and into smaller towns where people will be excited about new films, making use of technology to bring the experience to people at home, and involving people with film festivals and events. Building diversity requires a joint effort from the production and distribution teams, and they need to be experimenting with new approaches to reach new audiences.
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