VOD Gold Rush – Panel Summary From San Sebastian Film Festival

by Kobi Shely

Celebrating the 10th edition of its San Sebastian workshop in partnership with the San Sebastian Film Festival, Europa Distribution proposed this year a panel on the promotion of independent films on VoD, open to all Industry accredited of the festival. Is VoD the new Gold Rush? How can independent films hope to dig some gold out of it? The crowd who filled the Function Hall of the San Telmo Museum on September 19 proved that indeed the question echoes in the minds of many, across all sectors of the Film Industry.

I had the great pleasure to share a panel with four distinguished speakers at the table, moderated by Michael Gubbins (founder of Sampo Media, UK), presented each a specific perspective on the subject: I illustrated the power of data for both marketing and programming, Alexandra Poch represented the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUPIO), Quentin Carbonell discussed MUBI’s strategies in acquisition and audience targeting while Anna Harding offered a practical example of how indie distributors are creating their own platforms. Emmanuel Joly represented the MEDIA unit and shared the views of the European Commission.

As Michael Gubbins pointed out in his keynote speech, the “rush” towards VoD gold has rather been a slow momentum until now but recent developments, such as the interest in EU content shown by Amazon in Cannes, give reasons to start hoping. “VoD is now ready for real business. How can distributors create a demand for it?” Anna Harding illustrated her Swedish case. Folkets Bio runs 20 cinemas and is a leading company in arthouse distribution, operating in one of the most computerized countries of the world. Today Folkets Bio can count on a website where users can check the schedule of their cinema theatres, shop for DVDs and watch films on streaming, all in the same place. “For us, this solution made more sense because it works both ways: we can promote our VoD catalogs in our cinemas and the other way around but it’s true that, except for a very few exception, when a film flops in cinemas it then flops also on all the other windows.”

I made the case for the importance of understanding data and its relation to increasing sales and establishing a loyal fan base. Netflix or any other big company will ever be keen to give data away. I encouraged distributors to start building their own in house data base, possibly collaborating at a local level with other distributors and other parts of the industry to be more effective. “Even at very small scale data collection can be useful to identify the potential of a film. A certain degree of films success is very hard to predict, the magic of cinema as Anna calls it, will always apply, but data analysis is a science and can help limit the risks.”

The following day I put some of this thesis into practice and trained the members of Europa Distribution in a close seminar on how to create data and use it to predict audience preference and grow sales.

Read the full coverage by Isabella Weber, and the full report on Variety

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