TORONTO — Canada’s National Film Board is in talks with potential partners for a global, multiplatform service dedicated to documentary film and content, NFB topper Tom Perlmutter told Variety in advance of the initiative’s official announcement on Tuesday during the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto.
The as-yet-unnamed curated subscription service will launch in 2014 in North America and Europe. Pricing is yet to be set.
Initiated by the NFB, the venture will operate as a public-private partnership with the NFB serving as a minority partner with a longterm interest in assuring high-end quality.
While more participant, financial and curatorial details will be unveiled throughout the year, the overall shape and intention of the new service is in place.
Perlmutter said the NFB brings to the table an approximately $5 million value proposition, the key being major infrastructure investment brought online over the past five years.
“The robust technological infrastructure we created for our own needs has the ability to expand its use,” said Perlmutter, referring to the NFB’s online screening room launched in early 2009 in response to rapid changes in the market and consumer demands.
The 75-year-old NFB has a 13,000-title library, still in the process of being digitized, which contains plenty of appropriate content that will be part of the service’s offering.
“People want a simple experience that allows them to play a film quickly, at the quality that is appropriate to the service they have, and they want the process of curation to be accessible and to allow the ability to search and include customized areas of functionality — like multiplatform adaptability and social network experiences — that other services don’t do,” continued Perlmutter.
The advantage of online subscription delivery means the service can offer a range of docs mostly unavailable on TV. “It can offer short and experimental films and feature docs, as well as interactive documentaries, and we plan to move quickly into setting up a fund for original programming,” said Perlmutter. “The idea is to find the films and respond to their needs, create live events, such as director Q&As for relevant docs.”
While the new service, which will launch in English and French with an aim to expand its language base, adheres to the NFB’s mandate to create and distribute innovative and distinctive audiovisual works based on Canadian points-of-view and values, it also responds to global needs.
“Auteur and POV docs are having a tough time in the current TV landscape, with the shift towards unscripted reality shows,” Perlmutter said. “Anecdotally, we know filmmakers everywhere are finding it harder or impossible to get licenses for one-off docs and there’s an abundance of market reasons for that.
“The irony is that interest in these kinds of docs is growing,” he said, citing the aud growth of the Hot Docs fest and its year-round doc cinema The Bloor, launched a year ago, as domestic examples of the global appetite.
“Television is moving in a different direction and services that exist, such as Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and others, are scattered and are not particularly geared towards doc audiences.
“Our own preliminary research shows there is a global niche audience that is not being served,” Perlmutter said. “This is something the world needs and why shouldn’t Canadians lead the way?”