San Sebastian Round Table Focuses on Legal Online

70% of Europeans download or stream films for free, whether legally or illegally

Europa Distribution panel San Sebastian 2015
Courtesy: San Sebastian Festival

SAN SEBASTIAN– Branding, curation, adapted content creation, educational programs and new promotion initiatives are some of the key factors for carving out space and profile in world’s online arena for films, a San Sebastian Fest suggested Monday.

Organized by distributors’ network Europa Distribution, event turned on new strategies to fight piracy and explore possible ways for films to have own legal room online. This was the fifth event included under the European Film Forum banner. Event was hosted by Michael Gubbins, founder of London-based film consultancy outfit SampoMedia.

“A more seductive legal offer and a better enforcement of rights are two sides of the same coin. These complementary aspects are both part of our Digital Single Market strategy,” Lucía Recalde Langarica, the European Commission’s MEDIA (Creative Europe Media) new head told Variety.

Competitive, reduced prices for legal offers is one component to attract audiences to buy films legally. However it’s not enough. As content continues to move to different platforms and players, with more on demand availability, viewers need new filters to discover and experience video content online legally. A combination of discovery, ease of use, and attractive offers are the most essential key factors to take on piracy, said Kobi Shely, from Glasgow’s Distrify Media, an online promotional consultancy, active in 161 territories, specialized in monetizing content via VOD.

Shely told Variety that Distrify has recently secured a VOD deal with China’s state TV service CNTV. The landmark accord sees Distrify Media launching an international Chinese VOD portal to distribute locally produced films internationally.

“An effective enforcement, in particular against commercial scale infringements of copyright, is central to investment in innovation and job creation,” Recalde said. “We also need to clarify the rules applicable to the activities of online intermediaries in relation to copyrighted material. Platforms and other new digital players need to be involved in the creative economy,” she added.

Audiovisual rules will be reviewed in order to find the most appropriate way to promote European works, particularly online.

The good news for content providers is that in some countries, a legal digital market is growing. A 2015 U.K’.s Intellectual Property Office survey noted an increase of more than 10% in the take-up of legal services since 2013. However, 1 out of 5 U.K. Internet users still accesses content illegally.

In addition to regulatory measurements, education and support for film and library distribution are essential. “In a survey, the U.K. Intellectual Property Office found that young people – 15-24 year-olds-  are the most likely to have tried to access content and services available in other countries (almost one in five). There is a real potential,” she said.

Nearly 70% of Europeans download or stream films for free, whether legally or illegally, according to a 2014 European Commission study. It suggests that the European film industry can increase revenues by exploiting different types of profit-making online platforms to increase the availability of films and reach new audiences, Recalde said.

The Creative Europe MEDIA program supports the cross-border distribution of European films through several schemes targeting distributors and sales agents, via both automatic and selective schemes, and a network of cinemas, under the umbrella Europa Cinemas initiative. The same goes for TV distribution.

Media have started to cover online distribution by supporting the activities of European VOD services –Filmin in Spain, UK.’s Curzon or Austria’s Flemmit–, the subtitling and promotional elements ready to be made available on any VoD service, and the deployment of innovative models of distribution.

“While right holders are free to choose the best timing of release of their films, the projects show that their strategies of distribution should not be limited to cinema but rather encompass all platforms of distribution including VOD,” Recalde said.

She added: “It appears that the different distribution forms like cinema and VOD can complement each other efficiently, for example by maximizing the effect of marketing efforts and generating additional word-of-mouth.

Estela Artecho, prexy of Spanish distribution lobby Fedicine, said at the same round table that it would be crucial to receive more hard statistics from all the digital world and viewers in order to overhaul promotion strategies.

Joachim Keil, from Germany’s Daredo, a consultancy agency on implementing new strategies for the exploitation of media content (music, apps, movies, audiobooks…) underlined the need “to build an emotional link to the audience.”

In a similar line, Chris Anderson at Muso, a U.K. antipiracy consultancy company founded in 2008, said that “You need to grow your fanbase and connect with it. It’s a lot more complicated than just finding one fan base and going after. (…) Any illusion of controlling the audience is wrong. The top piracy site in France had 22 million unique visits in July. That is an opportunity if you can tap into that, but piracy is the competitive industry here.” said Anderson pointing out the necessity to roll back piracy.

“The future is here and things will change even faster than the people in the movie biz think. So people who understand that they need change things fast will have a much more interesting future, also commercially. But in my opinion only one third of companies existing now will exist in five years,” Keil told Variety.