Service providers in the short film sector – vertical integration among online suppliers

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Screenshot Eventival 12-2019

 

For some time now, we have been observing a trend among what were once specialized platforms to offer more and more additional services that are not part of their original core business. This applies in particular to the dissemination and distribution of films, and more recently even to their financing and production.

 

All of this is made possible by advances in digitalization. As soon as sufficient data is available and an integrating application – a so-called framework – is running in the background, new possibilities suggest themselves. An inventive spirit along with economic pressure or simply the urge to make money take care of the rest: Whatever is technically feasible is put to the test and then into practice.

 

Typical services that can be combined on a single platform include festival submissions, licensing, film marketing and streaming. In the following I present some of the players that are of particularly relevance to short film. This list should not be misconstrued as recommending these service providers, however, which is why I present the examples largely in alphabetical order in order to avoid the impression of value judgements.

 

 

discover.film – Lizenzhandel + VoD + Filmfestivallicensing + VoD + film festival

 

Discover.film sees itself as a technology and entertainment platform for short films (“The Home of Short Movies”). The company acts as an OTT/VoD provider, a film distributor and a festival organizer.

 

It has its own catalogue of short films hosted by Vimeo’s over-the-top platform vhx.tv. The films can be watched via the company’s apps on almost any digital end device: a desktop browser, mobile device or smart TV. After a user registers for a free, streaming is likewise free of charge! A search for short films produced in Germany resulted in only one match: “Touch Me” by Eileen Byrne (First Steps Award 2018).

 

Discover.film’s distribution business is primarily aimed at onboard entertainment suppliers for airlines and railways. The company is also the organizer of the Discover Film Awards (“one of the biggest short film festivals in the world”). Awards in more than 30 (!) categories are presented once a year in a venerable arthouse cinema on London’s Leicester Square.

 

The business model is not easy to pin down. There is no information on the website about the rates charged for the various services. In addition to income from license sales, it can be assumed that submission fees for the “Festival” (“over 4,000 annual submissions”) are another source of revenue.

 

The platform is operated by Discover.Film Ltd (London, UK). The company was founded in 2016 by Sarah Jane Thomson (market researcher) and Steve Harmston (economist, e-commerce) as an IT service provider.

 

URL: https://discover.film/

Filmplattform: https://bestshortfilms.discover.film/browse/

 

 

Eventival – Veranstaltungsmanagement + Sichtungsplattform + Networking

 

event management + preview platform + networking

 

Eventival is an event management platform based in Prague (“The World’s No. 1 Film Festival Management Software”). Its predecessor was a simple application for managing data for film festivals (“DataKal”), which its founder and current CEO Tomáš Prášek developed with the help of a programmer after working in guest services at the Karlovy Vary Festival.

 

Eventival is in the meantime so complex that it would go beyond the scope of this article to list all its features.[1] At the core is still an application for managing guests and their accreditation, accommodation and travel plans, as well as a contact database.

 

The part of the frontend visible to guests is a form called a “Visitor Page” where festival guests can enter their coordinates (address, photo, CV, appointments, etc.). Links then allow those using this Visitor Page to do much more, for example send emails, reserve tickets, organize transport, and network and correspond with other visitors.

 

In the backend for festivals, the platform manages film submissions and information and materials on the films as well as programme planning including even a programme calendar and festival catalogue. The platform also offers an online preview and rating system for programmers. But this is not yet a unique selling point, because there are comparable providers such as Filmchief, FestiCiné, Mr. Schilling, Zone Festival etc.

 

What really distinguishes Eventival from the others is in particular its cooperation agreements and links with other platforms. There are for example interfaces with content providers and media databases such as Cinando (Cannes film market) and Vimeo and also with submission platforms (Festhome, FilmFestivalLife, Docfilmdepot, Moviebeta). And there are also links to ticketing platforms and communication services (Mailchimp etc.). Finally, the platform offers so-called payment gateways to payment services providers.

 

Eventival is based on a PHP framework and is hosted by Czech suppliers on servers in Prague.

 

Although “only” founded in 2009, Eventival has 440,000 Visitor Page users to date in 45 countries and is also deployed by 135 organizers. Eventival is “domiciled” in the Palais Lucerna, the largest Art Nouveau building in Prague. In Germany, Eventival is currently deployed by the Braunschweig International Film Festival, Film Festival Cologne, goEast and the Hof International Film Festival, among others.

User tip: Anyone who has been accredited or registered with a festival once via Eventival and does not want the data to be retained and used for other purposes can have it deleted by the platform’s operator. (Neither the user nor the festival can do the deleting.)

 

URL: https://www.eventival.com/

 

 

Festhome – submission platform aggregator + VoD + subtitling + DCP creation

 

The multilingual Spanish platform FESTHOME gives festivals a way to aggregate submissions made via almost all film submission platforms. Registration is free of charge for festivals, but 10% is charged for the handling of entry fees. Filmmakers can either subscribe for €50 a year for unlimited submissions or collect credit points for individual submissions as soon as the amount exceeds €9. A single submission costs €2.

 

Each filmmaker can present herself on a web page with linked or uploaded films. Festhome manages the submissions up to the point of acceptance or rejection by the festivals. It also takes over uploading and managing screeners up to 20GB.

 

Festhome says it works with more than 3,000 festivals (mainly short film festivals) and that some 90,000 films have passed through the platform to date.

 

The aggregator has now also launched the VoD platform indiehomeTV for independent films. The platform can be used via pay-per-view (starting at €0.99) or monthly (€4.99) or annual subscription (€49.99). I only found four German productions in the catalogue, including “Bis wir bluten” (Until We Bleed) by Rico Mahel. Filmmakers receive 85% of the proceeds from pay-per-view and, on a minute-by-minute basis, 70% of the take from SVoD, minus administration fees.

 

As a side-line, Festhome offers a translation and subtitling service. The platform also works with a partner for the production of DCPs, with prices starting at $52 for a short film.

 

FESTHOME LTD. was founded in 2010 by Catalan filmmaker Moisés Tuñón, Belgian media designer Daniel Fenaus and IT expert Victor Gonzalez. The head office is in London.

 

Worthy of note is that Festhome is committed to fair business practices and is recognized by both UFFO and Fair Submissions (of which it is a founding member). According its own information, its employees have refused to work with 1,400 festivals that were deemed fraudulent.

 

URL Vod:  https://indiehometv.festhome.com/ondemand

URL FAQs: https://filmmakers.festhome.com/ondemand_films/ondemand_help#28

URL FAQs Festivals: https://festivals.festhome.com/faqs-for-festivals#1

 

 

Shortfundly – one platform for everything

 

In a rather exotic and seemingly makeshift manner, the Indian start-up Shortfundly combines several services for short filmmakers on its “one-stop platform”. The main services or features are a kind of social network similar to LinkedIn, a submission platform, a streaming platform and a crowdfunding platform.

 

Filmmakers can use Shortfundly to plan their new projects and, for example, find team members, present their films on the internet platform or via app on mobile devices, find funding for their projects, promote their films and submit them to festivals. These basic services come free of charge for filmmakers. Shortfundly is financed by advertising revenue and percentage fees from film festivals.

 

The service has an online shop that offers users the opportunity to spend money on a colourful palette of extras. These include festival promo kits (589 rupees), film posters (399R), film trailers (399R), cinema releases (6.490R – in Bangalore 😉 and a professional film review for 599 rupees, along with plenty of other items both useful and superfluous.

 

Shortfundly claims to have more than 900 short-film makers registered and says it clocks 15,700 page views per month.

 

Shortfundly is based in Chennai (in the state of Tamil Nadu) and was founded in 2014 by IT engineers Selvam and P Maharajan.

 

URL: https://www.shortfundly.com/howitworks

 

 

The Film Festival Doctor – festival agency + event management + sales and marketing management

 

The British company, whose name merits a little smile, was founded by Dr. Rebekah Louisa Smith, who has a PhD in Film and Audience Research. The Film Festival Doctor may be the first enterprise of its kind and is definitely one of the pioneers among film agencies. Today, there are dozens of agencies that help filmmakers submit films to festivals for a fee and a cut of the profits. But the spectrum of what this “help” may entail is broad, ranging from simple festival applications to referral systems to personal advice. As these are usually stand-alone functions, these agencies do not however belong in this list.

 

Dr. Rebekah, by contrast, is on the verge of vertically integrating additional services and is in this respect as well blazing new trails in the field. Under the umbrella term Management Services, she has already expanded her service range beyond mere film festival management. Filmmakers can book so-called Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum Packages with staggered prices and services. This includes, in particular, having film sales organized via the platform and also the development of distribution strategies. Furthermore, The Film Festival Doctor will also organize advertising campaigns, manage events and has recently even started offering filmmakers assistance with managing their films’ theatrical release on their own. Script consulting, workshops and seminars on festival strategies as well as a shop with audio and e-books round off the offerings.

 

Originally specializing in short films, the agency now also offers its services for feature-length films. It is perhaps also worth noting that the management team consists entirely of women, with one exception.

The agency was established in 2011 as a Limited Company and is based in Pershore, Worcestershire (UK).

 

URL: https://www.thefilmfestivaldoctor.com/

 

 

Seed&Spark – crowdfunding + distribution + VoD + training

 

The US platform Seed&Spark comes to the field from a completely different “quarter”. Based on positive experiences in financing a film production through private supporters and donors, two female filmmakers founded the company as a crowdfunding platform for films. Today, the platform claims to have a success rate of 80% – putting it far ahead of Indiegogo and others.

Its recipe for success consists of consulting, seminars and workshops to help filmmakers prepare for production and launch crowdfunding campaigns, which the company offers nationwide.

 

The former core business is now flanked by a video-on-demand portal, where producers pay a small membership fee of $3, after which users are urged to support their streamed films with voluntary donations. In addition to films in the classic genres on quite diverse themes, the VoD offering also include curated playlists.

 

The video-on-demand platform is itself part of a distribution platform for finished films by Seed&Spark members. The filmmakers receive a 50% share of sales. The distribution services include project-related marketing strategies based on analyses of “deep audience data”.

 

Just which algorithms are applied here remains a company secret. For the collection of user data, only the usual queries about the user’s mood are visible in the frontend, along with a rather cool quiz,[2] which my browser with its strict anti-tracking settings refused to let me take.

 

The Los-Angeles-based company was founded in 2011 by Emily Best and Erica Anderson. Seed&Spark is financed mainly via venture capital and angel investors – among them an Advisory Director at Morgan Stanley, Jack Wadsworth, who sits on the supervisory board of Seed&Spark. The annual turnover is estimated at around €3 million. According to the company, more than 150,000 donors have spent around $24 million on more than 1,800 film projects to date.

URL: https://www.seedandspark.com

VoD: https://www.seedandspark.com/watch#overview

 

 

Vertical integration – risks and side effects

 

All in all, the importance of internet-based platforms that offer intermediary OTT services meeting the diverse needs of different user groups is growing.

 

Many of the new services seem plausible and helpful at first glance. The operators of these platforms act as integrators who take on and coordinate tasks that filmmakers usually view as onerous necessities – for example festival submissions, film mailings and marketing.

 

The extreme case would be full vertical integration on a single platform. In the business world, vertical integration is when a company tries to expand its fields of business until it controls the entire value chain. Undesirable dependencies may arise, however, if the whole cycle of production, marketing, transport logistics and sales is all in one hand.

 

What’s more, new ways of collecting and consolidating structured data create considerable potential for players outside the industry. Caution is always advised when people who do not come from the film world but perhaps from the e-commerce or IT sector instead start to enter the market.

 

I would advise filmmakers to check carefully whether such offerings are really reputable, and above all to weigh in each case whether the cost of committing to a service provider is worthwhile. Because what always amazes me is that, for all the money that is apparently made with short films, it seems not to benefit their makers so much but to instead come out of their own pockets.

 

Reinhard W. Wolf

 

 

[1] Full list of features: https://www.eventival.com/en/features/film-festivals

[2] https://www.seedandspark.com/watch#discover