Hulu Teams With UniFrance Launch French

The French subgenre project was unveiled at a panel on VOD hosted at Unifrance's RDV mini-mart

PARIS — Hulu is getting ready to ramp up its foreign film offer, teaming with UniFrance to launch a subgenre dedicated to French content during the first quarter of 2014.

The project was unveiled by Justine Barda, topper of Telescope – a U.S.-based aggregator working with Hulu — during a panel discussing international VOD opportunities for French movies.

Hosted at Paris’ Intercontinental Hotel, the roundtable (pictured) gathered Jerome Chung, co-founder of Under the Milky Way, an aggregator with a strong line in French movies, Alexandra Lebret from the European Producers Club, Jaume Ripoll  from Spanish VOD platform Filmin, Nadia Zaionchkovska at Russia’s Megogo and French industry leader Pierre Lescure who is set to become Cannes Festival’s president.

Barda said Hulu was “interested in “becoming a home for international content — which is less true of other platforms.”

Panel participants pointed out VOD had a role to play in spreading the love for foreign cinema now that theaters have for the most part abandoned that arena. But none of them gave a sense of how producers and right-holders can ride the wave and see revenues flow back to them in a significant way.

“In the U.S., VOD is an asset for international because it’s difficult for foreign content to get theatrically released Stateside. Out of the 250 or so French films produced every year, maybe 30 of them access U.S. theaters,” said Barda.

Added Barda, “Hulu gets billions and billions of streams per year mostly with commercial American fare, and a share of that should go to arthouse foreign films. In 1968, foreign film imports represented 10% of the films playing in U.S. theaters. Today it’s less than 1%.”

Zaionchkovska concurred, adding that even in Russia where French films travel reasonably well, very few get wide releases.

“In 2012, 46 French films were released in Russia but how many of them got released on 500 prints or more? Almost none of them,” argued Zaionchkovska.

But in order to build momentum for foreign films on VOD, the aggregator, distributor or VOD platform need to invest in marketing those films.

However, the pie is still not big enough for aggregators to invest big bucks in marketing and pay minimum garantees, claimed Chung. “We’ve been around for three years and we’ve handled about 1,500 films but we’re still not making any profit. Our margin isn’t big enough at this point.”

Zaionchkovska, meanwhile, said that only 30% of French films that are available on Megogo generate a profit.

While all the participants emphasized the importance of marketing, Barda explained that digital platforms like Netflix or Hulu tend to market their own brands rather than individual films, which in turns benefits the films.

And rather than give minimum garrantees, Barda said many platforms opt for revenue-sharing.

Lebret said a survey conducted by European Producers Club found that VOD revenue received by producers and right-holders were inexistent or irrelevant.

Lebret also commented on a recent report on the profitability of French films. “The report showed that international sales and pay TV represent 62.2% of French films’ revenues but the share of revenues from VOD is still extremely small,” said Lebret.

As the VOD market is dominated by multi-territory players like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix, independent players specializing in arthouse films struggle to stand out. In France for instance, only two platforms – Orange and Canal Play – have annual revenues exceeding 10 million Euros.

VOD can still punch in reasonable revs on foreign titles, including those which under-performed in theaters. Jean Dujardin starrer “Mobius,” for instance, brought more coin from VOD than theatrical in Germany, where Prokino handled.

The roundtable barely touched on day-and-dating VOD and theatrical, which is still a burning issue across Europe, and particularly in France where the window release schedule ranks as the less flexible.

Sitting in the audience, Florence Gastaud, the general delegate of ARP (the guild of autors, directors and producers), spoke about the recent Media-backed TIDE experiment launched by several European indie sales agents (notably Wild Bunch, Fandango and Urban Distribution) to release films in five European territories simulatenously in theaters and on VOD.

While the experiment didn’t yield big numbers because not enough exhibitors participated, among other reasons, Gastaud claimed it allowed distributors to mutualize P&A spending across multiple territories.
In France, the window release schedule is currently being reviewed as part of the drafting of a new anti-piracy law.

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