In 2005, that is, before the launch of YouTube, various departments at the BBC founded the BBC Film Network online platform to enable short-film makers to present themselves and their films to the public. Aiming ‘to showcase new British Filmmaking’, a portfolio platform with networking functions was created in a trustworthy public broadcasting environment. In 2012 the platform was shut down for various internal reasons, but then it was taken over by the founding team and continued as The Film Network.
With its relaunch outside the BBC, the platform was able to develop beyond the borders of the UK, which makes the portfolio platform interesting not only as a model but also for use by international filmmakers.
In contrast to advertising-financed streaming platforms or fee-based commercial platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo, The Film Network requires a reference testifying to filmmakers’ credentials before they can set up an account. Only films that have previously been recognised by credible organisations are accepted. Such recognition consists of participation in well-known festivals or the selection of the film by curatorial organisations.
Filmmakers are provided with free web pages where they can publish information about themselves and their films. An upload function makes it possible to embed trailers or entire films for public or restricted viewing. The films are hosted on YouTube. Although they are not listed, meaning they are protected from unrestricted access, they are still subject to the YouTube content ID filters, so that some works unfortunately end up being blocked (example).
In the section ‘Films’ even non-registered visitors can find what interests them by searching by category, running time, year of production, country of origin or language. Categories include Animation, Artist’s Moving Image, Comedy, Drama, Documentary and Music. There are also curated channels set up by partners. Current partners are the Encounters Festival in Bristol and the short film festivals in Clermont-Ferrand and Tampere.
On the members’ page, filmmakers, authors, producers and editors can introduce themselves. Organisations such as film festivals, television stations and distributors can also present what they do.
The added value of the platform, namely networking with the industry, is only revealed to registered users: accredited persons and organisations can connect with others on all pages of the platform, i.e. send messages or chat. Members can manage their own networking activities in the ‘My Network’ section. Registration is not open to everyone – only industry professionals are admitted.
The platform currently has nearly 200 members with a catalogue of just under 300 films. Only two countries (UK, USA) are represented according to the search filter. That could certainly be expanded on! The Film Network plans to add more features in future to increase its attractiveness. This includes subtitles in multiple languages, a way to find out who has watched your film, and other cross-platform analysis features.
The platform is operated by The Film Network Ltd. The company is based at the Aerian film and television studios in the idyllic town of Box (near Bath), located by the way in the immediate vicinity of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Real World’.
The portfolio idea is promising, but there is much room for improvement in the network’s execution and reach. There is a noticeable lack of strong support – including the kind of financial backing previously provided by the institution of the BBC. As praiseworthy as the endeavour is, it is unlikely that it will be possible to offer such services free of charge in the private sector in the long term. Not least in view of the recent scandals over advertising-financed platforms and the dubious nature of their web policies, public broadcasting companies would certainly be the right partners for setting up reputable online infrastructures for filmmakers and artists.