Library titles can hold a wealth of hidden revenue potential. Geoffrey Macnab reports

As the economic downturn continues, rights holders are determined to squeeze as much as they can out of library titles. Proactive collectors such as Protocol are especially vigilant about identifying new revenue streams from older movies on behalf of these rights holders as well as assessing where overages are due.

“I think there’s a lot of hidden value in a project,” says Protocol’s Peter Kostense. “That’s not just money that’s outstanding but new rights that develop and need to be exploited. There are additional rights, additional territories, secondary rights, ancillary moneys.”

Kostense ticks off potential earning channels for library titles. “All the time a film is on TV, it is also generating some broadcast-related revenues, such as cable retransmission and blank-tape levy moneys. If there’s music in a film, someone is entitled to money for the music-publishing rights.”

The paradox is that many in the industry believe library titles are declining in value as the industry adjusts to the digital future.

“Businesses are probably underpaying for libraries because of the uncertainty of their future value,” suggests Gavin James of Film & TV House. “Assessing what the digital revenue streams will be is going to take some time to work out. People are going to be saying, ‘Do libraries hold that value?’ Libraries may not ever hold the value they did a few years ago but I don’t think they’re going to go on decreasing, and some of the prices we’re seeing being paid for libraries is relying on the uncertainty about revenue streams in the future. Once digital revenue streams are more certain, library values will increase again.”

Another problem is keeping sight of rights as library titles are sub-licensed and sub-licensed again. In certain cases, no-one is sure who has the right to exploit a film. Protocol’s Rebecca Roffey notes: “It can sometimes be quite a convoluted trail.”

“In some cases you have to invite those who are exploiting it (the film) to prove that they have the right to do so on behalf of the rights holders and work back from there,” notes of the painstaking investigations collection agencies are sometimes obliged to make.