For many in Hollywood, the shifting landscape of digital and traditional distribution platforms resembles a game of musical chairs.
“The real growth is in the pay TV window,” said Jean-Luc De Fanti, managing partner in Hemisphere Capital Management. De Fanti spoke on a panel on the outlook for film finance during Variety’s Future of Film Summit Tuesday. “We’re seeing that it’s a swap. You’re losing HBO but you’re gaining a Netflix. That’s good news, but it’s really a reshuffling.”
What’s more, those new platforms are affecting the habits of the traditional moviegoing audience.
Young people aren’t seeing films the same way they did in previous generations, and producers are facing increased competition to theatrical fare from alternative content.
“I’m not sure I feel as confident or as successful as I have in the past,” said Michael London, founder of Groundswell Prods, said during the sesh at Hollywood and Highland. “From the standpoint of an independent producer right now, you’re faced with a lot of different impediments. On any given Friday night, there are so many digital platforms, there are so many entertainment options.”
The under-25 crowd hasn’t been supporting youth-targeted pics in their opening frames and in subsequent weeks, often because of ticket prices (Daily Variety, Nov. 8). And that decline is being noticed, both by investors, and by investors with teenage auds in their own homes.
“I have a 16-year-old son, and he’s going to the family room with the big TV and video game console,” said Christa Thomas, managing director and senior film advisor, sports and entertainment group with SunTrust Bank. “He and his friends start after school on Friday and they’re there all weekend.”
All those options, combined with the credit crunch and decline in traditional home video revenue, has spurred the exodus of banks and equity concerns from the film financing market — some of which has only started to trickle back in. Banks, for example, have begun loosening up their purse strings for the right kinds of deals.
“I think it’s a good time for bank financing for certain companies, for companies that have the right ingredients,” Thomas said. “I think there is definitely money and we’ve seen a lot of transactions this year, including several above $500 million.”
New Regency and Legendary, for example, closed credit lines for at least $500 million respectively within the last twelve months. SunTrust took part in both deals, and both deals are good examples of what many lenders want: Strong management teams, a solid slate and studio distribution deals.
Equity, however, is hard to come by, even for the majors. Bizzers just aren’t seeing the same kind of slate deals that the studios assembled between 2005 and 2008.
“We spend a lot of our time at Clear Scope calling equity investors,” said Clark Hallren, managing partner at Clear Scope Partners, in response to a question from the aud about jobs in the film financing sector.
“It’s an industry that has a reputation of being very negative for respecting investors’ money,” he said. “I think there are opportunities, and I know that the tide will turn.”
The slate deals of old are being replaced by patchwork arrangements, often by smaller financing entities who choose a select few pics that the studio opens up for co-financing. De Fanti’s Hemisphere, for example, inked a deal with Sony this year to co-finance tentpoles “The Smurfs,” “Men in Black III” and “The Adventures of Tintin” as well as a deal with Paramount for “World War Z.”
And while filmmakers must battle theatrical hurdles on one front, bizzers must also grapple with emerging revenue streams on the other.
“In order to make the same profit you used to make with a higher ticket price or box office admissions … now you really have to penetrate and get to every user,” said Hallren. “The power of digital distribution allows you to get to every user … but you’ve got to pick up a lot of dimes before you pick up a few dollars.”