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Rights holders need to look beyond big streaming players Netflix and Amazon to maximise returns from the burgeoning digital market, digital acquisition and distribution strategist Wendy Bernfeld of Rights Stuff told a panel at the Tallinn Black Nights Festival on Friday.

“A lot of film-makers are driving to get a deal with Netflix or Amazon. It’s become the Holy Grail, whereas ironically it’s a different time for them,” said Bernfeld.

“Just when the industry has started to embrace them, they’re less focused on individual smaller indie films and docs and are more into original production of big series. That Holy Grail deal is increasingly rare, particularly with Netflix.”

“Netflix are buying less library in bulk. They’re focused on first-run and Originals so you may see a flow of press releases announcing Originals, particularly as they strengthen offerings in foreign language regions but they’re not out at festivals picking up fifty titles from smaller indies.”

Amazon was still in the market for film festival fare, she noted, and earlier this year at Tribeca and SXSW had started securing major festival titles through its Film Festival Stars Program, offering first up to $100,000 plus royalties, then doubling that by Toronto, to titles in Official Selection in return for exclusive SVoD rights.

“Some film-makers are just grabbing that and other film-makers are playing off what other deals they can get, particularly in international.”

New players

Bernfeld advised film-makers, producers and sales agents to focus on the new digital and hybrid players that are starting to emerge, particularly those paying flat fees and those stepping up to Originals funding.

“It’s more important to focus on who is out there competing head-on or complementing. There are all these other buyers and funders you can go to in addition to, or instead of just the big players. They are not the only game in town anymore.”

“The philosophy has shifted. Now there are a bunch of local competitors that are springing up.”

She noted that a wave of regional players was now coming to the fore, including local broadcasters starting SVoD operations, as well as telecom and cable offerings.

“You have Maxdome in Germany, for example, which competes head on with Amazon and Netflix. It’s not in 20 other countries but within that region it’s big, and emphasises film over series” she said.

“In Australia, sellers know Channel 9 but they’re less aware of its streaming platform Stan. Each have not only bought films but also funded Originals.”

In the UK, Bernfeld highlighted the entry of a number more traditional players into the SVoD market, including Sky, Channel 4 with Walter Presents and the BBC and ITV with their joint platform BritBox.

“They’re all competing with SVoDs of their own now, including in international regions,” she said.

She noted that telecoms, cable and pay-TV operators had also all stepped up their SVoD activity in Europe, citing Modern Times Group’s Nordic streamer Viaplay and Spanish Telefonica’s Moviestar as examples of platforms that were increasingly active and were not just buying but also funding Originals.

European platforms

Another key change, she noted, was the increase in European platforms over the last year.

“It’s really gone up since earlier last year. One third of VOD overall is now European, 20% from the Nordics. One third of the Netflix and Amazon viewers specifically are in the UK, two-thirds are in Western Europe.”

Bernfeld also highlighted another new market niche in the shape of the internet- based content companies that are now crossing over to linear distribution.

“You have Vice which launched Viceland,” she said referring to the youth-skewed platform’s multi-territory TV channel that was launched in 2016. “What we think of as being made for the web has become premium pay-TV now.”

“The key message is go beyond just the big five. Focus on the other Europe, Middle East, Africa, international players paying ‘’flat fees’’, as well as thematics. By thematic, I mean a platform that is kids-only, docs-only, feature-film only. ” 

“You can end up with five or six non-exclusive deals in every region, when going through the various windows of TVoD, SVoD and AVoD in multiple regions or end up with a better exclusive deal. The flat fees are becoming more significant and its more competitive,” she said.

Looking forward to 2018, Bernfeld noted that a number of SVoD and telecom platforms had quietly started buying VR content too.

“2018 should be an interesting year in that sector as well,” she said.

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