France’s UniversCine Offers Much More Than Standard Streaming and Disc-in-a-Box DVDs

With accompanying books, box-sets, inspired gifts and careful curation, UniversCine is adapting to an ever-changing market demand

Lumière Festival: France's UniversCine Innovates In

LYON — In 2015, vinyl sales went up 53% to hit a 25-year-high, whatever the low base, while this year physical book sales have overtaken digital. In the world of film, there are still plenty of people who want physical copies of their content, especially if it’s packaged the right way. France’s UniversCine has come up with a new way of satisfying that sector of the market, while continuing to cash in on digital.

In Lyon to represent the company at the Lumière Festival are UniversCine and Blaq Out CEO Jean-Yves Bloch, and head of editions Charles Hembert. The two sister-companies are looking to update the ways that French audiences access classic, arthouse, documentary, short-form and animated films.

In the digital distribution business for nearly 15 years, UniversCine has navigated the ever-changing markets facing digital distributors.

“We’ve spent the last three years renovating and updating our platforms, because we’ve seen a shift in the digital market from transactional to streaming VOD,” said Hembert in a conversation with Variety. “Transactional was always the heart of what we do. We decided we needed to shift from that to subscription VOD and we released our offer called Uncut.”

The VOD service works on a rotating, weekly basis, and is designed to mimic cinema release tendencies with 10 films coming out each week, and ten taken down. The films can come from any time or genre, and are carefully curated from the company’s library of more than 5,200 titles. That number is one third of the legal offer in France in terms of cinema. Of those, 2,226 are of French origin.

It’s not all about streaming for UniversCine however, and Hembert explained why, “There is something still missing with digital. Transmission, the idea of being able to share your passion and love for movies, and nothing in the digital world has replaced giving or lending someone a DVD and we think that’s a perfect gift. You aren’t going to give someone a streaming subscription for their birthday.”

To that end UniversCine offers a service called Blaq Out, a branch focused as much on publishing as on DVD sales. Each DVD purchased from Blaq Out comes with a book somehow related to the film. Upcoming titles include “Endless Poetry” by Alejandro Jodorowsky, “Wrong Elements” by Jonathan Littel and “Emily Dickinson” by Terrence Davies.

Finally, the company has taken another step forward in the physical DVD market. UniversCine is now offering a service called La Cinébox. Knowing full well that a standard disc-in-a-box isn’t going to cut it with many DVD buyers anymore, La Cinébox offers much more in an affordable subscription style method.

For €35 ($41) every three months, or €120 ($140) a year, subscribers will receive a box including: Two DVDs, a magazine – featuring interviews, analysis, games and recipes – a fun extra gift, and a-three month subscription to the UniversCine VOD service.

The inaugural version of La Cinébox will include Raoul Walsh’s “White Heat,” staring James Cagney, and Anurag Kashyap’s “Gangs of Wasseypur.” This quarter’s gangster themed extras will be a poster, a card of stickers and a deck of poker cards featuring famous gangsters.

According to Bloch, their companies are not content to rest on their laurels by confining themselves to France. “Our primary goal within a five-to-seven year window is to become at the European level, or even beyond, what we’ve created in France over the last 10 years.”

He went on: “We want to be the first large online and physical cinematheque of the best of independent cinema. Our joy and goal is to work on our films as a 360° publisher from DVD to 4K BluRay, to books – both e-books and physical – VOD – transactional, subscription or even free VOD – and maybe even collectors items around film and cinema.”