By Isabella Weber
Continuing its long and fruitful collaboration with the MIA – Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo, Europa Distribution organized in Rome between October 13th and 17th its Annual Conference. The association’s activities started with the gathering of all members present – over 40, coming from 19 different countries – for the annual General Assembly and it continued the next day with a private workshop where participants were divided in different groups to discuss in depths some of the “trending topics” most relevant in today’s market.
Resuming the discussion held with their group about “Innovation tools”, Kim Foss from Camera Film (Denmark) and Europa Distribution’s Christine Eloy stressed the importance of not confusing the tool with the goal: innovation must always be considered an end to reach the audience, and not the ultimate goal. Also, innovation does not only apply to digital and VoD. Throughout the conversation different tools were discussed, analyzing their potential impact on different areas of distribution: from acquisitions, with the integration of artificial intelligence tools that offer script analysis and predict the potential revenue of a certain film, to marketing, with online community platforms for audience engagement, to tools to manage data analysis or apps easing the access to film in theatres to sight impaired citizens. For VoD a range of services were discussed: joint platforms, anti-piracy tools, decentralised blockchains. Testing new tools is always important but, as the participants remarked, this kind of experimentations require time and resources. It’s all about planting the seeds and seeing which ones will find fertile ground to grow and become real alternative solutions.
Laure Caillol from Haut & Court (France), Johanna Mayer from Jour2fête (France) and Europa Distribution’s Lucrezia Staccoli summarized the discussion their group had about “Green Distribution”. From the brainstorm several interesting aspects emerged, covering different angles of the topic. On one side there are very practical and day-to-day practices that distribution companies can implement: encouraging smart working, setting clear green standard in the offices, and pushing for more environmental-friendly travelling whenever possible. Close collaborations with exhibitors could also help designing conscious marketing campaigns and reaching out to young audiences interested in the topic . The third aspect is connected with the specificity of the sector. As curators, distributors can have a strong impact on the public debate, selecting films that approach environmental issues.
Another topic picked by distributors for in-depth discussion was that of “Young Audiences”. Stefan Bradea from Bad Unicorn (Romania) and Aiste Racaityte from Kino Pavasaris (Lithuania) collected the results of the discussion and presented their most significant take-aways. It was important for the group to make a distinction between the very different age-segments that fall into this macro-category and that go from young children, to kids, to teen-agers, to young adults up to 25 years old. Each of these audiences requires different strategies to be engaged. Compared to other kind of films, children movies attract more easily commercial partnerships and parents-influencers can be great ambassadors to promote them. Influencers are key also when it comes to attract older kids and teens. The selection of influencers can also be made from the curation level, choosing films that star a new generation of artists and actors who have an impact on young people. For the 18 to 25 years old, the “coolness” of the venue, the “eventification” of the screening as well as the pricing policy have a large impact on the film’s choice, and in some countries, it can make the difference on whether they find worth paying for watching it legally or not. On a more general level the collaboration with educational institutions is considered key everywhere to reach young audiences and, more importantly, to educate them to the cinema experience.
Olivier Van den Broeck from The Searchers (Belenux) and Marek Bien from Gutek (Poland) presented the outcome of their discussion on “Impact of the Streaming Platforms on Releases” that was closely connected with a larger reflection about the windowing system, still very different from one country to another. The members of the think-tank agreed that flexibility is key, now more than ever, as for each title the windowing strategy could work differently. At the same time, it is important to look beyond this historic phase and make sure that theatrical gets supported and, where needed, protected. In terms of commercial relationships with the major global platforms, things have been moving at great speed since 2019, when the Netflix release of Scorsese’s “The Irishman” was disrupting licensing agreements everywhere in Europe. Now big platforms show a greater understanding of the role of local distributors and of the value of theatrical exposition for certain of their bigger titles. This has opened room for interesting collaborations that could be further explored in the next future.
The last group presenting its conclusion about “Media Financing Schemes” was represented by Huub Roelvink from Cherry Pickers and Laurent Dutoit from Laurent Dutoit (Switzerland). The participants compared the experiences of their companies with Selective local support schemes and discussed about the key elements required to make such supports most effective. The think-tank focused especially on the mechanisms that allow distributors to experiment and to take risks, which also translates in supporting the circulation of diverse European films.
On October 16th a public panel addressed to all professionals attending the MIA market brought together Thania Dimitrakopoulou, Head of Sales for The Match Factory (Germany), Eve Gabereau, CEO of the distribution company Modern Films (UK), Catalina Iordache, PhD Researcher at the SMIT-VUB university (Belgium), Olivier Van den Broeck, Managing Partner of the Benelux distribution company The Searchers, along with moderator Michael Gubbins (UK), to discuss what could be the future of distribution through the panels’ series “Everything you always wanted to know about distribution (but were afraid to ask)”.
Starting by giving some general context to the discussion, researcher Catalina Iordache analyzed data on VoD growth over the past three years that show a polarization between the ongoing expansion of US giants on one side, and the positioning of some local and independent streamers that are finding their niche markets. Trends show a widening gap between large and small markets, higher levels of competition for rights acquisition, an explosion of produced scripted content and clearly a strong pressure on exhibition windows. Consumption patterns continue to shift towards cross-media video, and screens keep getting smaller, going from TV to mobile devises. Iordache stressed the need for more audience research and collaboration between the industry and the academic world to fill the data gap and help policy makers to make decisions based on facts. In the dynamism of the current market, she identified interesting opportunities for independent players that could find strength in diversity and collaboration.
Looking more closely at the arthouse film market two years into a global pandemic, Thania Dimitrakopoulou from The Match Factory clearly stated that the market is not recovering yet, or at least not going back to what used to be, and the industry need to embrace the idea of moving into unknown territory indefinitely. The immediate problem everyone is facing now is the (too) high number of films crowding for releases while cinemas, although open, are not attracting the same amount of viewers as they used to. For Dimitrakopoulou the challenge is how to operate in the new market without compromising on the quality of films’ selection and without stopping taking risks worth taking.
Olivier Van den Broeck from The Searchers argued that today it’s not the most “obvious” titles that are necessarily succeeding. According to him the market is going to award more and more on one side big blockbusters and on the other edgy independent films, while the middle ground will progressively lose space. Looking at the current situation of the market Van den Broeck remarked that the drop in cinema attendance has a huge impact on arthouse distribution because of its smaller scale, where a 20 to 30 % drop means a much stronger hit than it would mean looking at the overall market.
Regarding the theatrical attendance over the last few months, Modern Times’ CEO Eve Gabereau pointed out that indeed film goers seem to need some “extra” reason to buy their seats. While in the UK a large degree of flexibility with windows has become normal over the past ten years, now the measure of flexibility applies more and more to the reaction time distributors have in facing the latest development. Long term planning is no longer viable and companies need to adapt to situations that change from one week to the next, while knowing at the same time that experimentations and innovations, like the creation of a new online platform where revenues are shared with cinemas, take time to show their results.
Throughout the different activities held at MIA by Europa Distribution the key words that clearly emerged, and that seem to define the attitude European independent distributors are having towards the crisis, are: quality, flexibility, collaboration and innovation. While it seems clear that the “New Normal” will not look like the old one, distributors are determined to continue their job as curators, bringing quality films and unexpected gems from a new generation of European and World talents for the audience to discover on screens, big and small.