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VoD is a risky business


- At the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, industry members discussed the realities of the online market

VoD is a risky business
From left to right: independent expert André Lange; secretary general of the International Federation of Film Distributors' Associations (FIAD) Jelmer Hofkamp; Ivo Andrle, Czech distribution company Aerofilms; Michael Gubbins, moderator; and Edward Arentz, Music Box

Although there are about 700 online platforms in Europe, it can be difficult for distributors to determine successful strategies for video-on-demand (VoD) releases for European films. This was the main topic at a Europa Distribution panel, organised in partnership with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the LUX Prize. Until recently, there were no legal options for releasing arthouse films online in the Czech Republic. “We tried to cooperate with local VoD services, but they were not happy to play our films,” explained Ivo Andrle, CEO of Czech distribution company Aerofilms. For this reason, he created his own online platform where customers understand the kinds of film they can expect. “Labelling is very important. We copy what we do in cinemas and are selling the same kind of films. Instead of waiting for Netflix, we decided to do something on our own.”

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As independent expert André Lange pointed out, there is a lack of transparency with platforms such as Netflix because they don’t reveal any data. “Netflix is like a black box. They pay for your film and you have no idea if you made a good or a bad deal,” said Edward Arentz, who runs the independent distribution company Music Box in the US. “The lack of transparency makes it very difficult to have a fair relationship with them.”

The distributors want to build a sustainable model, but those who control the VoD market don’t care, argued Jan Nazewski, a sales agent at New Europe Film Sales. “VoD is not a reactive system. They sell and promote content, but they don’t take risks.” Netflix makes people pay for content. “That is helpful,” stressed Andrle. “In the online world, all the data are there. That is in favour of the films.”

“The idea of VoD is to give people access to content,” pointed out Jelmer Hofkamp, secretary general of the International Federation of Film Distributors' Associations (FIAD). But consumers only go on platforms where they know the names of the film and talents. “We have to do all the work to create the identity for a film,” stated Hadrien Lanvin, an e-distributor from the French company Pickup. “VoD is a risky business, but we have to try it. The model is changing - I expect that it will be reshaped again. If Facebook and Google are doing VoD, it will change the game.”

So far, only a few VoD providers contribute to the public financing of European films. “In ten European countries there are obligations for VoD platforms to invest in production or contribute to film funds,” said Lange. The risk is that national providers don't contribute to a fund, because international companies such as Netflix don't do it. "If there is no possibility for member states to defend their film-funding systems, all the financing could be dismantled in five or ten years.”

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