Q&A with Christopher Figg and Kirsty Peart of VOD Almighty

How did VOD Almighty come about'
Peart: Time and time again, I would meet producers whose films were festival hits but they never make it to the UK. We realised that there was a market for a distribution method that could allow us to target those festival hits and bring them to territories where they haven't been seen.

Who is VOD Almighty aimed at'
We are aiming at people who love films. Who go to the cinema already. Who want something which enables them to watch films at home in a simple and accessible way.
Peart: There are a lot of people who want content from different countries, but are not necessarily savvy enough to go hunting for them or go to pirate sites. There are 20 million ex-pat Europeans living across Europe who want to be able to see films from their home countries, but can't get access to them.

What kind of films will you have in your catalogue and how will you source them'
Figg: We are not interested in the big box office titles. The video stores and LoveFilm already have that market covered. We want the smaller titles, the films that people can't get hold of. We will cover TV series, animation, serious art films, Korean classics. A wide range. But of course, until we properly get going, we won't know exactly what people want, so we will adapt as we go along.

Is there a benefit for the film-makers to have their films in your catalogue'
Figg: If a film is on our site, the film-maker gets to find out exactly who is watching their film. They might discover, for example, that their film works really well in Hungary so when they go to make their next film they may try and look for a Hungarian partner, or at least make sure the film gets screened there. The film-maker also gets their own web page, which enables them to promote their films.

What are you gaining from being part of the Take 12 programme'
Figg: When we started out 18 months ago, we had a good kitchen table concept which we were bumbling along with. What this scheme has done is given us the kind of access and imput which when you are having kitchen table chats you would not be able to afford. It is a great opportunity.

Through the research that Huge Entertainment has provided us, we have had to rethink a lot of our original ideas. There is certainly a lot more science to the project now than there was 18 months ago.

What has the research revealed'
Through audience segmentation research we have been able to work out who has a propensity to spend their income on our product.

For instance, we have learnt that the type of potential customer who is least likely to subscribe to an online streaming service is the family and in particular, mums, because they are too busy and may not have the time or inclination to get involved with computers. I was surprised by this because I thought family films would be a good product for us. Still, we will revisit this research in a year.

We have also learnt that the kind of films people want varies from territory to territory. In the UK, people are more interested in whether it is current, or whether it has won an award, rather than the director or the stars. Whereas in Germany, for example, they are more likely to go for recognisable stars.

The information we have received on pricing has also been interesting. The notion that all content on the internet should be free, is beginning to fall away slightly. It is starting to be challenged by license holders and rights holders. Facebook, for example, is thinking about monetising somehow.

Originally we were going to be entirely subscription based, because we had never worked out a way of creating free content. But with Huge's imput we have now worked out a way of giving the potential customer a free experience [a news/features/interview driven site] which may lead to them subscribing and watching the films they have read about.

Has the recession affected your progress'
Yes of course it is difficult raising money. Although it is more fun than trying to raise money to make a film.
The difference is, here we have a proposition, and a set of assumptions that are not unreasonable. It is based on actuarial evidence. Our set of operating costs is not unreasonable. Plus people are looking for something different. The reaction has been very good and we have several investors who are very interested. I am also talking to various film companies to are interested in diversifying into our area. It makes a lot of sense.

What happens if the technology changes' Will you have to rethink your model'
Figg: Of course, tastes will change, technology will change and is already changing. For example, at the moment, we are not developing our own player, we are licensing a third parties player, which is an extremely good bit of equipment and enables viewers to see DVD quality films on 52 inch plasma screens. It is not an area we are interested in developing at the moment, but give it a year and we might think differently.
We will just have to keep adapting.

Have you found acquiring the rights to films a struggle'
I would say that distributors and licensors are coming round to the idea. In fact, the perception has changed enormously. Asian licensors are far more gung ho. And they just get it. The same is true of Scandinavian licensors. The American market and UK are starting to get it very quickly now.

In terms of our relationship with the distributors, it is a partnership and it benefits us both. We are providing a platform, they are coming to us with their product. We are giving distributors the chance to monetise their back catalogue. So even if they were to get £2000 from each territory over a year, they are still better off than if that film was sitting in their library doing nothing.

UK distributor Revolver collapsed the established windows set up by releasing the film Mum And Dad simultaneously on DVD, VOD, Pay Per View and theatrical. Do you think this will become more commonplace'
Figg: It was a really good experiment, because the industry is traditionally so protectionist, and cinemas have their very established windows. But I don't think it is one you can base a business on.

The reality is, there will always be cinema films and studio films, and there will always be windows, although they may well get shorter and shorter.

I think what you will see are films going straight to the internet, in much the same way as films go straight to DVD.

For instance there is a US film out at the moment - Blank [directed by Rick L Winters] which has been distributed straight onto the internet. People can watch it free and pay what they think it is worth. It's an interesting idea.

Surely in order for this to work, there will have to be a shift in perception that if a film goes 'straight to the internet' then it is not a good film'
Figg: It's true, there is an innate snobbery - especially amongst producers - that if their film goes straight to DVD it is a complete disaster. Even though actually, there is a model whereby if it went straight to DVD it could actually make more money.

I don't think the public see it in the same way. It all about discovering things for yourself these days and the fact a film hasn't been seen in the cinema and hasn't had any publicity takes makes it less corporate and more independent, which people may find appealing.

Is VOD Almighty the future of home entertainment'
Films being streamed on to the internet is definitely the future. If you look at The Carter Report [a government report on digital Britain published in January this year], it states clearly that investment has got to go towards increasing broadband. The quality of streaming is only going to get better. TVs are now being made with internet plugs and wireless connections.

Our service will offer people a substitute for TV subscription channels. And I would say we are most certainly a disruptive technology for the DVD market, which is already in decline.

Continue reading Q&A with VOD Almighty's Take 12 partner Huge Entertainment