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CANNES 2020 Marché du Film

Curation is key at Meet the Streamers

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- CANNES 2020: Representatives of independent streaming platforms from the USA, Spain and Sweden discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic

Curation is key at Meet the Streamers
The participants in Meet the Streamers: (clockwise from top) Tom Grater, Jaume Ripoll, Richard Lorber and Olle Agebro

Since COVID-19 forced cinemas and festivals to close down around the world, streaming platforms have become our main providers of audiovisual content and found ways to collaborate with theatres in presenting new releases. In a Cannes Marché du Film online panel on Monday, representatives of three independent streamers – Richard Lorber, of US platform Kino Marquee/Kino Now; Jaume Ripoll, of Spain's Filmin; and Olle Agebro, of Goteborg Film Festival's Draken Film – shared their experiences and expectations for the future. The talk was moderated by Tom Grater, of Deadline.

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Lorber, who heads up Kino Lorber, one of the strongest independent arthouse distribution companies in the USA, related how the company's TVoD platform Kino Now formed the basis for the newly established streaming service Kino Marquee, which was launched in response to the closure of cinemas, in only seven days. They set up a "virtual cinema" that 400 venues have joined to date, and when viewers are buying tickets on the platform, they purchase them for a particular theatre that booked the specific film, and half of the money goes straight to it. They started with Bacurau [+see also:
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, which was released a week before the shutdown, and moved the theatrical premieres of Sorry We Missed You [+see also:
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and Beanpole [+see also:
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online. The documentary Capital in the Twenty-First Century [+see also:
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was the first film originally planned to go online, and some 200 theatres booked it, despite there being basically zero prior awareness of it in the USA.

"We had much more engagement from the theatres for virtual screenings than we were ever able to achieve for physical ones, for the simple reason that many small cinemas never had the capacity to screen all of the Kino Lorber films they would have wanted to," Lorber said.

They are now setting up what Lorber calls a "duplex releasing strategy", where films would be released both online and physically. They are still working out how this will function with windows and digital holdbacks for individual titles, but Lorber says the possibilities are exciting and the situation will force distributors and exhibitors to work together more closely on this issue when cinemas reopen at only 30% capacity, which will not bring in enough income for them to sustain their operations.

The Draken Film SVoD platform is also supporting independent cinemas, as Cineuropa reported in March (see the news), where subscribers pick which theatre will get half of the revenue. Now, more than 100 cinemas are part of the network. "When the coronavirus started, we saw an increase in traffic and decided to share this extra revenue with cinemas that have no source of income any more. During spring, our subscriber base more than tripled," said Agebro.

Spain's biggest independent SVoD and PVoD platform, Filmin, which also covers Portugal, saw a 30% spike in subscribers in the first few weeks of lockdown. They hosted festivals that went online, sharing revenue with a ratio of 60:40 in favour of festivals, such as Docs Barcelona, which showed 45 films over ten days and had a ten-fold attendance level compared to previous editions. "We did a lot of business with local distributors on PVoD releases. We had a great experience with Matthias & Maxime, which took more admissions in the first week than any other Xavier Dolan film in cinemas in Spain," said Ripoll.

The most successful local film release was Alex Montoya's Asamblea [+see also:
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, which sold 30,000 virtual tickets. Filmin is now partnering with Skopje-based VoD platform Cinesquare so that audiences in five Balkan countries will also be able to access a part of its content, which could be one option for a possible model to deal with territorial rights for arthouse fare in the virtual world, especially festivals.

As for the more expensive PVoD and TVoD options, where users are expected to pay close to a theatrical price for a premiere, Lorber argues that the film is available for five days and that the users are aware they are supporting their local cinema, so for him, this model is sustainable. The Spanish and Swedish experiences are perhaps logical: Ripoll is doubtful with the economic crisis looming over Spain, while Draken simply includes all of the new films in its standard offer. "We lose some money this way, but we believe it's worth it in order to create value for subscribers," said Agebro.

With audiences swamped by the streaming giants in coronavirus times, how can independent services stand out and attract subscribers? "Curation and high quality are key," said Lorber and Ripoll, and Agebro agreed, with Ripoll adding "an exclusive offer and a large catalogue", and the latter pointing out high demand for special Draken selections curated by Swedish film directors.

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