MADRID — A new order of global streamers is powering the biggest revolution in film-TV business models in the last 100 years. COVID-19 merely accelerated that seismic change, which cannot but wreak a disruptive effect on sales agents’ traditional business.
Spain’s top sales companies are adapting their strategies to a more competitive and complex market, in which a massive closure of theaters, a consequent bottleneck in film releases and the reformulation of festivals have multiplied challenges.
In the best of cases, indie distributors are cherry picking, waiting for larger visibility on a post-pandemic landscape.
For some Spanish agents, standout deals with global streamers takes up much of the slack. “We’ve sold many important titles to Netflix, which has given us a certain peace of mind,” attests Vicente Canales, CEO of Film Factory Entertainment.
Released on Jan. 29, Lluís Quílez’s action thriller “Below Zero,” a Morena Films and Amorós production, participated by RTVE, Netflix and Film Factory, topped Netflix charts around the globe.
Film Factory also handles Jayro Bustamante’s “The Weeping Woman,” shortlisted for both Academy Awards’ International Feature Film and Golden Globes.
“Under normal circumstances, being on the shortlist would have been incredible, but the market’s still very cautious and theaters can’t fully exploit movies,” Canales laments.
“Indie films need more than ever an international ally to help them connect with their audiences, wherever they may be,” argues Luis Renart, Bendita Film Sales CEO.
Some sales agents are redefining their roles, operating as a filter for OTTs for talent and quality films, leveraging close connections to local producers.
“Below Zero” represents a line in Spanish genre auteur movies which already lit a fire on Netflix: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s dystopian allegory “The Platform,” sold by Latido Films, was one of the streamer’s most popular 2020 movie titles.
OTTs tend to negotiate directly with producers. However, there are many producers that don’t have a hotline with so many VOD operators.
“Our work is even more important now in positioning films on platforms and helping producers make the best decisions on releasing their films. Our experience can be essential,” says Latido Films CEO Antonio Saura.
“We’re increasingly important as interlocutors. In this way, our position’s been reinforced,” he adds.
OTT player proliferation has escalated. 460 VOD platforms operate in Europe alone, according to a recent European Audiovisual Observatory study.
“There’s a brutal proliferation of VOD platforms but not all of them buy original content, so they need a lot of catalog titles,” says Geraldine Gonard, sales agent and Conecta Fiction co-production forum creator.
“Sales agents are positioning as wholesalers, placing content packages on these platforms,” she adds.
Gonard’s Inside Content recently teamed with producer Luis Collar’s The Circular Group to launch Feel Content, a dedicated sales company aimed at exploiting new market opportunities, targeting Spanish-language and European films.
Market fragmentation and a bigger number of small clients is driving an evident fall in rights prices.
“In the past, you made a sale for a completed film’s rights, earning $150,000; now you need to make 10 sales and collect $15,000 for each deal,” Gonard explains.
Some years ago, mini-major Filmax decided to focus on Spanish films rather than international acquisitions for theatrical distribution in Spain. Now it often signs both Spanish distribution and international sales rights with local producers.
“Our bet on Spanish films allowed us to continue releasing movies and producing, having a fairly healthy year,” says Filmax head of international, Iván Díaz.
This strategy has helped Filmax to present to buyers at 2021’s EFM four new projects while it screening five completed market premieres.
At a moment marked by the pandemic and a subsequent insatiable appetite for content from OTTs consumers, Filmax has seen a considerable increase in the market value of its huge film catalog.
Another pillar in Filmax’s strategy is remake rights sales. Its recent hit, Cesc Gay’s comedy “People Upstairs,” is sparking international remake interest given – among other reasons- its low number of locations and actors.
Meanwhile, animation features are benefiting from new business opportunities. “Our main clients are the same as before plus the platforms,” argues Tania Pinto Da Cunha at international distributor Pink Parrot Media.
And, despite a general decline in movie pre-sales, toon projects such as Pink Parrot’s “Butterfly Tale” has gotten into production, boosted by deals with Wild Bunch in Germany and France, Front Row (Middle East), Monolith (Poland and Romania) and Blitz (Former Yugoslavia).
Tenerife-based Bendita sells and manages films festival runs – crucial to positioning indie movies at the market.
However, “with festivals’ reformulation and the lessening of their media impact,” says Renart, “we’re taking advantage of our boutique profile to adapt each film’s distribution strategies.”
The good performance of Jonás Trueba’s comedy “The August Virgin,” an Outsider Pictures U.S. pickup and best foreign film candidate for France’s upcoming Cesar Awards, validates Bendita’s strategy.