RIO DE JANEIRO – Under the Milky Way, an international digital film distributor holding preferred aggregator status for iTunes, is rolling out in Latin America.
In a first move, signaling its has significant intentions to exploit the large potential of the region, UMW, which is also referenced by Google as a worldwide aggregator for its YouTube/Android VOD services, has tapped ex-HBO exec Felipe Tewes as its first Head of Latin American VOD.
Tewes takes up his position from Monday.
He enters a largely unexplored field. Also providing cinema contents to Sony Ent. Networks VID services,m such as PlayStation, Amazon Instant Video and Vudu, UMW has grown in Europe, in France and Italy, for instance. But it now wants to make a big move across the Atlantic to Latin America.
Beyond Brazil’s Sofa Digital, run by Fabio Lima, and a preferred iTunes aggregator, very few other companies work as iTunes/Google aggregators in Latin America.
Tewes is now in a driving seat to fire up digital distribution in a region he knows very well.
His mission will be to form long-term relationships with major films rights holders in Latin America – filmmakers, production companies, distributors and sales agents – to further the digital distribution of their movies on global VOD platforms, Tewes told Variety.
As a middle-man between rights holders and VOD platforms, UMW’s role with rights-holders is to arrange VOD distribution and to secure the operational viability and marketing – visibility, positioning – of films on VOD platforms.
“We’re looking to create strong partnerships with people who are constantly creating content,” Tewes said.
Immediately, UMW will very much focus on film. “But the VOD business in constantly evolving. The reality for Latin America is that if there are opportunities, we will explore them,” he added.
Given the complex landscape of exclusivity regard VOD, particularly the non-exclusivity of Electronic Sell-Thru (EST), and the existence of first and second windows, Tewes sees UMW as sometimes working in parallel with established pay TV operators.
UMW will work on a split-revenue basis.
Tewes’ first market will be the American Film Market.
VOD is increasingly cited by execs as one way to cut a decade-old Gordian Knot: Pan-regional distribution of Latin American films, which rarely open theatrically in Latin America outside their country of origin, or are limited to ultra-niche runs.
“One of my personal goals at UMW will be to truly focus on cross-territory collaboration on VOD releases. The Spanish-language asset on a film for a VOD release only has only to be created once,” Tewes said.
He added: “My idea is that we will guide collaboration among distributors and producers distributors to get films out across the territory and share revenues. That’s a challenge that has always been there”.
“But it’s a different story when you’re talking about print than when you’re talking about digital video distribution. Setting up that infrastructure is a real undertaking but it’s a vital one.”
Some markets in Latin America are also grossly under-screened – Brazil, with only 2,500 screens is the major example – priming potential for digital distribution.
Pay TV operators offer pan-regional distribution and big bucks. But they are highly selective in acquisitions and have a limited programming slate. VOD, in contrast, is a volume business. Tewes pointed out.
One challenge for the global VOD operators, however, is simply connecting with local markets: Many just lack the market knowledge and contacts.
By contrast, Tewes is well-known to Latin American producers and sales agents of Latin American films and well-versed in the intricacies of the Latin American movie buying business, having served prior to his UMW appointment as manager of film programming & acquisitions at HBO, where he acquired Latin American films for the U.S. network.
Prior to joining HBO, Felipe worked directly under Focus Features CEO James Schamus, during the company’s release of wide-ranging films such as “Milk” and “Coraline,” and its production and release of Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock.”
Tewes said he felt very strongly about his new position. “We must develop new ways for Latin American films to find their audience and for local content creators and distributors to continue to build towards a sustainable business.”
“I worked under James Schamus at Focus and understood that his incredible career came about by creating something new in a space that enabled growth, specifically independent film foreign sales in the ‘90s. I feel the same and very strongly about my new position. There is so much great content being made out of Latin America, and it is an exciting and necessary space to grow.”
“We share Felipe’s passion for developing the digital distribution space in Latin America, and could not be more delighted that he will join our efforts to build towards that goal,” said UMW co-founder Alexis de Rendinger.