What is the NEXT step for the immersive content market?
by Vassilis Economou
- CANNES NEXT: The conference on financing and monetising immersive content explored the factors that can help the emerging industry to be more profitable and address a wider audience
The Cannes Film Market’s NEXT welcomed one of its regular speakers, Liz Rosenthal, CEO and founder of Power to the Pixel and VR programmer for the Venice Film Festival, to moderate the conference on financing and monetising immersive content. Organised by Telefilm Canada and the Canada Media Fund (CMF), the conference aimed to shed light on the rather fragmented, but still emerging, financial part of the industry.
Rosenthal opened proceedings by presenting an overview of all of the production phases in the immersive arts, including the hottest topic at the moment: distribution. One of the key facts presented was that over $1 billion were invested in immersive art in 2017; as expected, most of this was invested by big studios, and was mainly for software or hardware development and marketing, but it is still a positive development. At the same time, distribution is on the rise, with new players entering the market, encompassing both “at home” services or streaming platforms, including traditional media like public broadcasters, and location-based entertainment providers, which are the trendsetters in the market. Also, it is clear that festivals have a particular importance and, much like NEXT, are setting the agenda for what is interesting in immersive art.
The Canadian market could easily be one of the most welcoming environments for immersive artists, according to Stéphane Cardin, vice-president of the CMF. In the past few years, the CMF has supported over 90 projects with an amount totalling $40 million, which is impressive given that its focus is mainly on independent productions. Cardin also presented one of the CMF’s main schemes, the Innovation Program, which is open to international co-productions.
Antoine Cayrol, co-founder and producer of Paris-based immersive entertainment studio Atlas V, focused on the importance of co-productions, which are taken for granted in the traditional film industry, although the immersive market is still in the process of adapting to them. As national funding schemes (both private and public) are still adjusting, having producers attached to a project in different countries is one of the most important factors. Cayrol also mentioned the support available in France, which mostly comes from the CNC and other regional funds, and how crucial it is to facilitate collaboration between European and international partners. The hardest part is still to find an audience and the right broadcaster for your content, and this is where sales agents and distributors can still play a role in the digital era.
This aspect is what Within, one of the leading independent distribution platforms that offers a variety of content to its users, works on. The company’s business development manager, Daniel Coplon, showcased various aspects of its library and stressed the importance for Within to also co-produce the content it offers. This was also the focus of Wendy Bernfeld, founder and managing director at international consultancy Rights Stuff, who explained the different parameters of B2B and B2C distribution, and how content licences can actually be implemented. She also underlined the importance of festivals and markets, as the recognition they offer to immersive content increases its value. The unknown factor is still the big players, such as broadcasters and telecom providers, which are currently in stealth mode and poised to launch a platform.
Finally, Dogwoof founder Andy Whittaker presented his new venture Other Set, which specialises in director-driven VR. His focus as a sales agent, having already sealed deals for titles like Vestige at Tribeca (see the news), is to bring the content to a wider audience through location-based experiences and to encourage new creators to join the market. The question, of course, remains as to whether the traditional channels for film distribution can be applied to VR as well.
On the question of whether immersive content can be treated as a single artistic, but also business, product, given that there are various different formats, the panel stressed that it is a combination of both the artistic level of each product and the needs of the consumers to consume. Also, despite the niche character of the market, it is already returning the investments and the revenue is flowing.
The most surprising factor is that most of the revenue comes from the least advanced format of immersive content, such as 360-degree videos. The explanation for this is that it keeps the audience interested, it is easier to produce, and the new players are keen to offer this content at a flat fee, or even for free, as a way of introducing the public to the new technology. The aim is, of course, to advance to more complex experiences, but we are still in a transformational period. The next step forward in that direction is to educate the consumer while enhancing the quality of the content.
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