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International Exec You Should Know: Mubi’s Efe Cakarel

Mubi is on the move.

Earlier this month, Efe Cakarel’s streaming platform inked a deal with producer Dong Ping’s Huanxi Media to launch a Chinese version of the platform, which focuses on arthouse films. Huanxi will invest $40 million in Mubi China for a 70% stake in the joint venture, and a further $10 million in Mubi itself for an 8% stake in the company, valuing it at $125 million.

The deal follows a hectic 2015 in which Mubi had raised $15 million in additional funding, and changed its direction to put a greater emphasis on English-language films. The company also struck a series of deals, including its first Hollywood pacts, with Sony, Paramount and Miramax; signed its first all-rights agreement, for Miguel Gomes’ “Arabian Nights”; and staged the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Junun.”

Turkey-born, London-based digital entrepreneur Cakarel founded the site, originally know as the Auteurs, in 2007; he renamed it in 2010. Mubi specializes in independent, cult, classic and festival films, and, until last year, focused on foreign-language titles, with a subscription fee of $4.99 a month. The company has powerful friends, such as Working Title Films co-chair Eric Fellner, who is an investor and sits on its advisory board.

Cakarel, an alumnus of MIT and Stanford, and a former Goldman Sachs staffer, has lofty ambitions for the site. “We want everyone from Buenos Aires to Tokyo, when they want to watch a movie, to think: ‘What’s on Mubi tonight?’ ”

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Unlike other streaming services, Mubi is focused purely on cinema, and is curated by its staff — there are only 30 films to choose from at any one time in a rotating lineup. Cakarel maintains that consumers feel overwhelmed by the huge number of titles on rival sites, like Netflix, and that the recommendation engines on those platforms don’t work effectively. “There is so much stuff out there; we feel there is a paradox of choice,” he says. “Algorithms cannot figure out what you want to watch. We travel all over the world to watch films so you don’t have to, and then bring you the best of cinema.”

One of the barriers to growth is the difficulty in securing film rights. “I’m not able to show all the films I want to,” Cakarel says, citing “The Lobster” as an example. “The reason I can’t is because of the whole ecosystem, and the way the distribution set-up works, and how conservative it is.”

The exec sees a sea change coming. “What you are going to see increasingly is that the audience decides. The audience is moving very significantly toward consuming media through one of their devices at home, and as this becomes bigger, you are going to see (platforms like us) invest quite significant capital to get all rights to films, so we don’t have to work with a window that someone else creates. We can decide when to show the film — and how.”

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