Abel Ferrara’s ‘Welcome To New York’ Scores VOD Hit for Wild Bunch

Cannes Abel Ferrara Welcome To New

Wild Bunch is considering launching a TWC/Radius-inspired VOD label in France

PARIS– While French industryites are still caught up in a seemingly stalled debate about shaking up the country’s digital-phobic release schedule for movies and implementing a new anti-piracy law, Wild Bunch ruffled feathers with its masterfully orchestrated VOD release of Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York.”

Premiering on May 17, the movie – described by Variety‘s Scott Foundas as Ferrara’s “inimitably lurid yet contemplative take on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair” and “a fraught study of addiction, narcissism and the lava flow of capitalist privilege” — scored over 100,000 views in eight days.

Using the Cannes Film Festival as a launchpad and leading many journos to believe the film would be a late addition to the official selection, Wild Bunch built up a major buzz around the movie and splurged €1 million ($1.36 million) to promote its release on nearly every major platforms in France (Orange 24/24 / FilmoTV / la box de SFR / iTunes / Canalplay / MyTF1VOD / Google Play / Videofutur / Virgin Mega) for a flat rate of €7 ($9.5), bypassing completely the sacrosanct theatrical bow.

“The only platform which didn’t play the game was France Television (the country’s public broadcaster), and it’s not a coincidence,” said Wild Bunch boss Vincent Maraval, a provocateur and film buff with a notorious anarchist streak.

Per Maraval, the movie has already reached a break-even point in two weeks, with four more weeks to go.

No other French players had dared to do it, even though, technically, Wild Bunch didn’t violate any rules. Only movies that have been bought by French TV are subject to the window release schedule, which means that they must open in theaters before playing on pay TV, video and on pay-VOD four to six months later. “Welcome to New York,” however, was neither acquired by pay TV group Canal Plus nor free-to-air TV networks. As a result it had every right to be released directly on digital platforms, points out Maraval.

“Welcome to New York” isn’t the only movie that was released first on VOD in France. But until now, the straight-to-VOD treatment was reserved for lowbrow American movies — not anticipated firstrun pics from renowned helmers.

The Wild Bunch experiment will likely be a game-changer in France: “It has jump-started discussions over day and dating,” explained Florence Gastaud, general delegate of the ARP (authors, directors and producers guild). Pierre Lescure, who is now president of Cannes Film Festival, was appointed by the government to lead a vast industry consultation in 2012 and delivered a year ago a set of proposals – including some aiming to allow smaller films to be released day and date or straight on VOD, and shorten the subscription VOD window down to 20 or 22 months from the current 36 months.

Gastaud explained, “The performance of ‘Welcome to New York’ on VOD has brought the issue back on the table. We’re now hearing that a reform will be proposed later this month and shall get passed by September.”

Maraval says Wild Bunch is now considering the creation of a label like TWC/Radius in France.

“We see platforms like Radius as an alternative,” explains Maraval. “More and more French producers are dependent on Canal Plus to finance their movies, which gives Canal Plus a power on the life or death of movies, which is a burden they should be spared of. Today if this new digital model works, producers can seek private investors to raise the financing for their movies and allow them to recoup on VOD sales.”

With Netflix prepping a launch in France this fall, the issue of digital release windows is dividing many French institutions, TV channels and exhibitors.

Maraval argues arthouse exhibitors are open to day and date. “The ones who really oppose it are Canal Plus and the big circuits, including UGC and the Pathe-Gaumont Europalaces. They are strong lobbying groups and, naturally, they don’t want anything to change in order to preserve the status quo,” says the exec.

“Welcome to New York,” which pre-sold worldwide, will be released day and date in most other territories, including in the U.S. via IFC, by August.

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  1. Ettore says:

    Interesting, at least for the moves / waves it could potentially create (although I’m not that optimist).

    100K is a fat number, but spread across ALL the platforms, on every support and devices, it seems pretty low (especially from big players like Canal, TF1 and so on). TVOD is so archaic (I notice that Universciné is not mentioned as well here, although it’s supposed to be a big fish), and SVOD is not kicking off : FilmoTV and Canaplay failed to accomplish their leading and educating role in France, Jook Video looks unconvincing / Netflix in Purple – Blue with stale content.

    International platforms are already present or coming in, but doing their usual handshakes with nothing more or exciting to offer than raw beef (iTunes, Google), or will be for now blocked either by lack of fresh content (because of the law) or “French attitude” (Netflix, Amazon ?) and marketing (MUBI, VIMEO…).

    It’s really time for things to move in France. The 36 months delay for subscription-based models is outrageous, and prevents any sort of platform or initiative to kick-off new ideas, attract people with Fresh content, or for films that failed or did not hit many screens in theaters to find a second life : who is gonna find that great French pearl who did 5k at the box office among all the Charmed, Hannah Arendt and Louis la Brocante’s posters on TVOD offers really… and pay 5€ for 48h full of DRMs, in SD?

    Regarding the Ferrara, it’s indeed super tricky as Greg highlights to use it as a barometer for VOD operations worldwide, even for France : It’s super French, it’s Depardieu and Ferrara (one of the guys that everybody knows but could not mention two films), and it’s that mix of sex scandal / politics / yellow press marketing-base that made it potentially appealing to the masses, even the persons that never ever used VOD or don’t even know what it is (75% of the French population ?). I however appreciate the move of Maraval, but also other guys has Reijl from Capricci, to try things out and not only lock themselves with the easiest or closest paths (Welcome to New York was not only shown on FilmoTV, although being the “Wild Bunch” platform to say it quickly).

    VOD, especially subscription-based, is not yet / always as profitable as DVDs and TV for many right-holders, even the elephants, besides Netflix establishing licence fee prices that go so high for some titles that smaller distributors get a wrong idea of the market (on top of being disappointed when they receive 10€ from their annual TVOD royalty report). But this is not a generic and established truth, and it’s gonna move very quickly as soon as IPTVs / Connected TVs move from a windows 95 efficiency and consumers learn how to use streaming players more actively, and everywhere besides the living room couch.

  2. greg says:

    it is interesting to see the spend they needed to generate that amount. curious of the splits as well and without lucrative netflix deal how long until they show a profit in france. all and all a good idea for france (and a needed outlet), but like in the states, VOD is far from a financial slam dunk. as an aside my parisian non-film friends turned it off after 15-20 minutes–which is irrelevant as they already paid. I’m not sure something as french-specific as DSK can be used as a barometer for success for all titles. also curious to see if his wife bleeds them in a law suit as she’s suggested.

    • elskes says:

      Hi Greg: Maraval answered all your questions in an interview which will be published as a Q&A in our weekly edition on June 10.

      • greg says:

        maraval has stipulated that he’s immune from guilt on this primarily because of e and o. sadly DSK can sue for the sake of suing and milk a ton of money and time from the production. thanks for the article. while it will change the way certain titles will be held back in france, i think it’s more the paradigmatic shift that is a victory as opposed to calling this film a huge, financial success given a 1M Euro promotional spend. also curious what the fall off was second weekend.

  3. GKN says:

    Bravo! It’s time to shake things up, most definitely, especially the monopolies.

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