March 2011 saw the debut of “Oberhausen Films Online”, a new video-on-demand platform that functions as the virtual video library of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. On offer are films that were shown at the Oberhausen festival. Moreover, the site also functions as sales platform for the authors and producers of those films.
To get started, over 250 films were digitized and integrated into the existing online database operated by the festival’s archive. The spectrum of titles ranges from short fiction film to music video. Films from the festival’s own distribution catalogue are included along with award-winners from the competitions and works featured in special programmes at Oberhausen by for example Mariola Brillowska, Thomas Draschan, Jeanne Faust, Ken Jacobs, Mara Mattuschka, Lola Randl, Jennifer Reeder and Bea de Visser.
Users access the Oberhausen video library through search queries in the festival’s online database. By clicking on the query filter the search can be limited to films that can be viewed online. A clip of at least one minute in length of every digitized film can be viewed free of charge online. There is also a short synopsis with details on cast, format and availability of prints.
What’s special about “Oberhausen Films Online” is that the filmmakers or producers can use it as a sell-through platform. Once the rights owner has released a film, it can be downloaded in full for private use. Filmmakers decide for themselves whether to charge for their films or make them available for free. They also name their price for a download-to-own.
In order to provide this functionality, Oberhausen is cooperating with ONLINEFILM AG, which has propagated this type of distribution model for years and also has the requisite organizational and technical experience at its disposal. In association with the foundation Kulturserver.de gGmbH, ONLINEFLM AG has developed the project www.onlinefilm.org, which supplies the technical groundwork for the offering. The consortium has committed itself to making digital sales technologies available to filmmakers so they can tap into the online market for films and create legal offers.
Users who would like to view films in full length and higher resolution than in the one-minute Flash preview can register in an interface provided by Culturbase, the technical platform of the Kulturserver Foundation. The prerequisite for subsequent payment processing is an account with PayPal. Users also need a BitTorrent client, an application that is available as freeware for many operating systems.
Web distribution is achieved using the peer-to-peer model, originally notorious due to its use for illegal distribution methods. As this technology enables every computer on the Web to function as a server, the server bandwidths and costs for distribution can be kept extremely low – ultimately to the benefit of the filmmakers. However, no digital rights management is then possible. The downloaded films can be used without restriction. The operators rely instead on the integrity of the users (and the low price for the legal purchase of a film).
Of the income generated, 51% goes to the film’s author and 49% to ONLINEFILM AG for setting up and maintaining the digital infrastructure. Once the films have been put into the system, they can be embedded via links in any number of additional websites, for example those of film festivals, distributors or galleries as well as the filmmaker’s own homepage of course. This considerably increases the film’s reach.
Customary at present are fees between one and five euros for the purchase of a film. Some filmmakers waive the fee though, for example for older works. One example of how to take advantage of these options provided by Oberhausen Films Online is demonstrated by Austrian filmmaker Mara Mattuschka. Four of her films are listed in the video store. The newer films “Burning Palace” and “Running Sushi” can be acquired for 4 euros apiece. For “Part Time Heroes” there is only a one-minute clip available, and “Comeback” can be had for free!
But Oberhausen Films Online is not only a platform for self-distribution on the Internet. The initiative is also viewed as a strategic partnership between filmmaker and film festival. It is hoped that the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen brand will function as a seal of quality and an orientation aid amidst the plethora of films circulating on the Internet. This is why the offerings are limited to films from the festival programmes.
For the festival itself, the platform serves as an extension in the direction of a yearlong film market. This is made necessary by the fact that most short film festivals are today no longer sales markets but solely screening platforms for films alongside cinema or television.
Currently some fifty films are available in the video store in full length for sell-through. In future, new films are to be added from the current festival programmes as well as from the festival archive, beginning with the competition selections at the 57th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, which takes place this May.