Alan R. Milligan and Olivier Affre • CEO and Operating Partner, White Rabbit/Embrace the Fans (EZF)
“We believe that the future isn't in platforms, the future is viral”
- The groundbreaking project is set to exploit P2P's huge potential to empower the film industry
We had the chance to chat with Alan R. Milligan and Olivier Affre, CEO and Operating Partner of White Rabbit. White Rabbit recently received, together with Binge Media, Creative Europe MEDIA funding for Embrace the Fans (EZF), a groundbreaking project set to exploit P2P's huge potential to empower the audiovisual industry and shake up the global distribution landscape.
Cineuropa: Why did you start developing Embrace the Fans?
Alan R. Milligan (AM): Like many other projects, it started from an idea born out of frustration. This frustration was twofold: one as a producer – I had successful titles that premiered in Venice, Berlin, Cannes and won some awards, and yet I saw declining revenues, owing to the collapse of DVDs in 2014/2015, so I was still trying to make business sense out of my films – and the other frustration was as a fan – it was just hard to get all the films that I wanted to watch! One of the films I wanted to watch was Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck and I couldn't find it anywhere. It didn't come to Norway. So I checked on a website called Popcorn Time, which boomed in popularity in 2016 growing at five times the rate of Netflix. It was simply Netflix with everything on it and was very easy to use, with great UX design, better than every other platform of the time. We thought: “Well, if we could just allow people to watch everything, anywhere they want to, then we could ensure absolute diversity of content!” The idea was to build something that recognises content anywhere it's streamed and allows people to watch it and pay the rights holders directly, thus creating a bridge between those who create content and those who watch it. We believe that the future isn't in platforms, the future is viral.
What type of content producers approached you?
AM: Some content producers invested in the project, companies in the likes of K5, The Bureau and Elzevir. Our goal is to empower the producers and filmmakers with technology. So we're also building a registry of film rights, as a free public good. In detail, the registry enables direct payment to rights holders via dApps (decentralised Apps), each connected to the registry secured on a Blockchain delivering micro transactions at scalable cost. Once a film is ready for distribution, the content, ID and chain of the title are integrated with a waterfall so connected dApps execute payments accordingly. From that, producers can easily connect their films to dApps which offer innovative ways to finance, market and distribute the film. The registration process for the industry is easy and transparent yet secures immutable ownership and access to the largest untapped market for data and revenue in the world: P2P.
In addition, the producers will have amazing data from the market – basically, every figure that OTT’s keeps for themselves, we'll share it with the producers, so that they or their distributors can market the film in the best way possible.
So, there's a plugin integrated into a browser and whenever I “tap” and watch the content, I generate a stream of revenue, right? How did you develop it?
AM: Exactly. We have a great team of developers who created the extension with backing from the industry and from Creative Europe. We'll be launching this product at the end of the summer so we're looking forward to showing the world what we've built.
I suppose that the revenue generated from Amazon Prime or Netflix for arthouse films is rather small.
AM: Yes, the thing is that when we do a direct transaction between a viewer and rights holders, we reduce a lot of middlemen who are not part of that process, so our tool implies a lot of cost saving. Like avoiding centralised servers hosting a lot of content and instead using the CPU power and the bandwidth of fans who are streaming allows for massive cost and environmental savings. Technology can allow for a much more efficient and fairer distribution of our content. Werner Herzog himself said that P2P is the best form of distribution ever created, and it's also the original purpose of the Internet. P2P is a European technology, as is blockchain and the identification technology we've built. We are a European project offering an alternative to Big Tech owning our IP and its distribution, which essentially is like owning our culture.
Olivier Affre (OA): It's very important to understand that beyond the savings, we really aim to distribute films that now have a very hard time being distributed – indie films, lower budget productions struggling to find their space on platforms. We don't want to distribute films that have already found their place on Amazon or Netflix. They're already very well distributed and they always fund the same pockets. We aim at supporting the European and global independent film industry with all its diversity.
AM: Let's take a concrete example, Blue is the Warmest Colour [+see also:
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film profile] (2013), a fantastic film whose lead actress [Léa Seydoux] was later cast in a James Bond film. The long tail value of this film became apparent with the peak interest in her as an actress coming a few years later, attracting 600,000 viewers streaming it P2P in the period 2019-2020. With a direct payment model like this, the sudden blossoming of these films would go straight into the pockets of the rights holders and creators.
It's a huge untapped market. But then this technology could even be extended to other forms of art and entertainment, such as videogames right?
AM: You're spot on. P2P was born because Tim Berners Lee and universities were sharing scientific knowledge. The Internet was born P2P. Then someone came in and had the idea to own part of the Internet. But as we see, the world has gone completely viral with hashtagging, influencers, Reddit and so on... Also, if you're to stream a live global event in 4K, how are you going to do that through a server? You need to use the capacity of P2P in order to serve a global audience that is streaming content and no longer watching their TVs. So yes, we have the ability to recognise content, no matter what the content is. There's no reason why we wouldn't consider anything that is moving pictures, even beyond cinema.
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