SXSW is many things to many people — a music festival, a film fest, an interactive confab. But for everyone, it’s a hotbed of talk. Each year, industry insiders let loose on a number of lively panels. This year, video-on-demand will be the subject of at least two seshes (“Is It Time for the All-VOD Strategy?” and “Watching Windows: Constructing Your DIY Distribution”).
Michael Murphy, exec VP of VOD aggregator Gravitas Ventures, who conceived the “Watching Windows” panel, suggests filmmakers need to be aware of the new ways consumers are coming in contact with their films.
“It’s paramount that filmmakers understand every single user interface, from the top cable companies to Netflix to Hulu to Apple to Xbox, because that’s the new storefront,” he says. “You’re not walking into Blockbuster anymore; you’re browsing online guides, and if you know each one, you can start to appreciate what we can do to get the equivalent of premiere shelf-space.”
Indeed, panelist Dylan Marchetti, head of theatrical distributor Variance Films, worries about the repercussions of what he calls the new “infinite megaplex”: “If there are going to be hundreds or thousands of indie films available at once, filmmakers (must) figure out how to make their film stand out, so the audience doesn’t get bored scrolling down the list.”
But Diana Kerekes, Comcast’s VP of entertainment services, contends that “90% of everything that’s available is watched.” As example, she notes, “We once offered guitar lessons On-Demand.” Though it was completely buried in the program menu with no promotion, Kerekes says Comcast received tons of email comments about it. “So it never ceases to amaze me how many people spend time on the platform and find everything that’s there.”
“There is a lot of content,” Kerekes admits: 25,000 VOD choices (11,000 of which are movies) from more than 200 programmers on Comcast, the nation’s largest VOD deliverer. But she says Comcast is able to bring certain titles to the forefront through its Top Picks section and its barker window — a promotional video loop that reveals the depth and breadth of what’s available.
Richard Wellerstein, AT&T’s VP of On-Demand programming, says VOD consumption largely adheres to the 80/20 rule, with 80% of the viewing going to new movies and 20% to library titles. “So it is a challenge for us to make sure we present all the titles in the best way,” he says, citing metadata (key art, trailers, etc.) and folders as the key guides for U-verse customers.
But panelist Cora Olsen, a producer of VOD success “Good Dick,” believes filmmakers need to work hard on their own to promote their VOD releases. “Whoever figures out how to market effectively in the VOD space is going to make a lot of money,” she says. “But now I feel like the distributors’ focus is on getting as many titles as they can through the door.”