Cannes: Digital Revolution Makes Big Impact on Indie Markets

With advances in digital technology, the buying, selling, financing and marketing of Cannes films has never been faster or easier — but also, in many ways, never more complicated. And this year’s attendees seem most excited about new digital access to information, analytics, dealmaking tools and online screening technology.

In the Cannes Market’s just-relaunched Cinando app, buyers have info on more than 30,000 films and 40,000 execs on their iPhones and Androids, even offline. “Lists of people you want to meet, films you want to see, companies you’re meeting with and notes on them synchronize with your account when you connect to wi-fi,” says Cinando and Market exec director Jerome Paillard.

Improvements in secure screening links are also changing the way attendees do business.

“If you’re screening a movie in competition, trying to sell France and the buyer needs his CEO in Paris to see it, but you also have a studio offer for a worldwide deal, you can tell him, ‘OK, here’s a link for 12 hours.’ That’s incredible,” says Brian O’Shea, CEO of international sales outfit the Exchange. “Making the effort to get them to see the finished film, even if you (end up saying) ‘You didn’t watch and I sold it,’ is an incredibly valuable way to maintain relationships.”

O’Shea, Sierra Affinity international sales and distribution prexy Jonathan Kier and other sellers see the dangers (like distracted buyers viewing films on tiny iPads) but also advantages, especially with outfits like RightsTrade generating reports as valuable as any test screening. “I can see who’s watching the film, where, when and for how long, so it improves my productivity and you can get reactions quickly,” says Kier, who says online screenings have become a more secure, efficient sales tool for catalog titles, plus a few that buyers may miss at the market.

While they potentially could turn sales into a 365-day-a-year business, Paillard observes that almost all Cannes titles screened on Cinando don’t remain in play past July.

Cinando is part of another trend: partnerships with rights management platforms like FilmTrack, Digital Film Cloud Network and Eventival. Alliances between other competing platforms are also in the works, potentially allowing for more synchronization of info between systems. Easier access to data is an increasingly important for buyers and sellers trying to manage their contracts and content in the expanding, Byzantine world of international ancillary rights.

“It’s changed the velocity of dealmaking by arming people with information,” says FilmTrack co-founder Jason Kassin. “So when a guy walks into your room at the Majestic, you can get your entire history over the past 15 years – everything he’s ever done, bought, paid you or didn’t pay you.”

Digital Film Cloud Network launched a cloud-based film rights marketplace at AFM in November (after two years of beta testing) where users can securely search all available assets for a film, including its synopsis, talent information, images, trailers, screenplay, distribution agreements and secure screening capabilities.

RightsTrade CEO Steven Polster and DFCN COO Alfredo Guilbert say that while their services can potentially cut months-long ancillary dealmaking down to minutes, they aren’t a replacement for attending markets. But, Polster notes, “people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and fly 60,000 miles a year to these markets and festivals. They’re now picking and choosing which ones to attend because of budget and time constraints, and if they’ve got a tool like this, it makes that decision easier.”

“Deals can take six to nine months to close, and our mission is to cut that in half or speed it up to weeks, or even minutes,” says RightsTrade CEO Steven Polster. And while he and DFCN’s COO Alfredo Guilbert say their services aren’t a replacement for attending markets, Polster notes that “people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and fly 60,000 miles a year to these markets and festivals. They’re now picking and choosing which ones to attend because of budget and time constraints, and if they’ve got a tool like this, it makes that decision easier.”

Guilbert goes even further, predicting that in the longterm, “you won’t really need to go to a market. You can just make offers online.”

For now, he says, buyers can use DFCN to research projects with their ideal budget range, genre, cast and traction, honing their top pics before a market.

Both platforms are unproven: Rights Trade hasn’t done any online transactions at press time, but currently has 2,100 titles from around 200 sellers and nearly 6,000 buyers. Sellers pay a volume-based monthly fee (ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars) and a 5% to 7.5% transaction fee for closed deals, while buyers pay a monthly $20 search fee for the first territory (and $15 for each additional one). DFCN won’t disclose sales or transaction figures, but boasts some 11,000 titles and more than 1,000 users. It’s free to buyers — sellers pay a 6% transaction fee on closed deals.

Whatever effect these online venues may have down the road, Paillard says in-person screenings are actually increasing in Cannes this year, partly thanks to three new theaters.

But markets can’t ignore the digital revolution.

Logan Mulvey, senior VP of digital distribution at Alchemy, notes that “there’s a lot of new access to data and analytics, even over the last year, that’s changing the way distributors are evaluating movies and sales agents are selling movies.”

Even with only limited reporting of ancillary revenue available, buyers can still analyze an onslaught of data from disparate sources — everything from info on select titles in Rentrak’s Dynamic Studio Share system, to analytics from platforms like YouTube and Vine, to social media numbers. “We’d say ‘Well, (an actor) has 400,000 Instagram followers, and we think we can convert 3% of them to buy the movie on iTunes, so this is worth X amount.’ It’s looking at social/digital presence and digital data Rentrak collects on certain stars’ titles to make a judgment call,” says Mulvey.

The onslaught of data can be from disparate sources — for example, Rentrak’s Dynamic Studio Share system, analytics from YouTube and Vine, and social media numbersFor example, how well a lead actor’s previous project did if VOD data was reported for it on Rentrak’s Dynamic Studio Share system. “We’d say ‘Well, (an actor) he has 400,000 Instagram followers, and we think we can convert 3% of them to buy the movie on iTunes, so this is worth X amount.’ It’s looking at social/digital presence and digital data Rentrak collects to make a judgment call,” says Mulvey.

Where interest from crowdfunders like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been used to identify core fanbases on promising projects, analytics from YouTube, Vine and other online platforms are now being used to finance and greenlight films by identifying stars skewing young. in the in the under-13 set.

“There are entire film slates where the financing is predicated on peppering those titles with online stars,” Kassin says. It’s not just good enough to have 10 million followers, he adds—it’s about using analytics to determine their engagement and see “if they can drive some of the followers to first-week box office.”

Apps are being used to stir up excitement at fests, as DDA PR did last year by using the app Tinder to identify and gather nearby crowds for a last-minute appearance by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman at a free “Pulp Fiction” beach screening. Alchemy is creating Vine videos with Kristen Wiig in character to promote its “Welcome to Me” release, distribs are using quick GIF-making programs like Giffer and newer platforms like Snapchat for campaigns, and DDA digital head Ben Hayes says they’re considering promotions this year with the new live cellphone streaming apps Periscope and Meercat.

WWE Studios prexy Michael Luisi’s outfit has already done a Periscope Q&A for his film “The Marine 4: Moving Target,” engaging dedicated fans of its wrestler talent even more viscerally than popular Reddit AMAs and Twitter Q&As. And with dedicated Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers, “our global footprint is massive,” he notes. Monitoring services like Sysomos and Pulsar are being used more frequently by studios to track the impact of digital promotions.

But the rise of video streaming apps also brings a new problem to fests and theatrical venues worldwide: piracy. Sales agents can send secured video links and watermarked scripts to buyers to avoid piracy by a filmmaker’s rabid fans, but at any screening, films can now be livestreamed to and from cellphones, and many indie titles released in foreign territories are popping up on torrent sites well in advance of their stateside premiere.

The Marche du Film is exploring several tech-related issues at its second annual Next program, from the way VOD platforms are influencing film financing (with keynote speaker Ted Sarandos of Netflix to a Digital Film Cloud Network workshop, even the use of drones in filmmaking.

But the only buzzing will be from the crowds, not from unmanned aircraft. “That’s strictly forbidden,” Paillard says with a laugh. “It’s a no-fly zone.”

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