As theatrical markets find surer footing after nearly 18 months of stops and starts – with the threat of further lockdowns still present – industry pros now face a set of concerns quite different from those of last year: How best to build on the the recent gains in VOD models while incorporating them into more traditional frameworks?

Indeed, the stark difference between the distribution landscape of 2020 and that of 2021 was nowhere more apparent than at a recent IDFA VOD panel that brought back the same participants from a similar focused panel last year, short of one big difference – this time all but one was there in person.

“Last year we were all trying to figure out the technology,” said Modern Films CEO Eve Gabereau. “[Then,] it seems everyone had a platform. Now we need to start standardizing it, [and asking different questions:] Who is it for? How to access it? What are their benefits? Right now we need to talk about marketing, and giving it a real value.”

Since March 2020, the London-based production and distribution outfit has released more than 75 films through its PVOD model, while forging 100 virtual cinema partnerships. The film exec noted that her company’s four music docs found particular success in the online market thanks to exclusive, targeted partnerships with brand-name festivals like Glastonbury and Isle of Wight, success it could then build on for the titles’ subsequent theatrical rollouts.

Citing those examples and others, Gabereau stressed the value of partnerships with cultural organizations or thematically linked companies and brands when positioning upcoming releases.

For her part, Neon distribution chief Elissa Federoff argued for greater “fluidity and flexibility” when considering theatrical windows. “No film is one-size-fits-all,” said Federoff. “There are different audiences who want to see films different ways, and there are different ways of capitalizing our films.”

The American exec offered three different case studies from her company’s recent lineup, citing “Pig,” “Titane” and “In the Earth” as examples of genre and younger-skewing fare that benefited from 17-days of theatrical exclusivity before hitting PVOD services, the IDFA-programed “Flee” as a title that would need a longer theatrical window, and the upcoming roadshow release of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memoria” – which will only play in one theater in one city at a time, “like a band touring” – as a kind of extreme of the theatrical model.

“This movie is not an online experience, and we have not made it available online,” said Federoff. “We’ve really missed cinemas for the right kind of film.”

Picl co-founder Anke van Diejen rounded out the panel by explaining her company’s method. The VOD service shares revenues with exhibitor partners, making selected titles available during a limited window, intended to fill in the gaps for customers still invested in the theatrical experience.

“These two models can co-exist,” said van Diejen. “Maybe they can even become collaborative. [We need to start] comparing our partners’ physical data to our online date, to see if there’s something like a hybrid consumer.”

“My dream is that next year hybrid or online releases aren’t second best,” van Diejen added. “But can be recognized as a really good addition to what we’ve been doing before.”