Day & Date article 1: Audience demand in a digital world by Birgit Heidsiek

The Tide Experiment, Speedbunch, EDAD

“Audiences are living in a world where everything is available now and everywhere. The major challenge for audiences is just how they work their way through everything“, stresses Madleine Probst, programme developer at the cultural cinema and digital creativity centre Watershed in Bristol. “It’s also worth noting that despite the digital revolution, we cinemas are also still operating in an environment where traditional models of industry practice (around terms, windows, etc…) still apply which limits our ability to respond to audience demand. This is very much a live conversation we exhibitors are having with other parts of the industry. How can we work together across production, distribution and exhibition to respond to audience demand and behaviours?“

This is a key issue that also will be addressed by the MEDIA-aided development for the simultaneous distribution of films across different platforms. The purpose of the scheme is to investigate innovative strategies for the dissemination of European films (cinema screenings, DVDs, video-on-demand, festivals, television channels etc), so that they might cross national borders and reach wider audiences more easily.

In the first year three projects are backed with a total of two million euros by the European Parliament: Speed Bunch by Wild Bunch (€500,000)‚ the TIDE Experiment that is coordinated by the French producers and directors association ARP (€800,000) and EDAD (European Day-and-Date) by the coordinator Artificial Eye (€695,500). In addition,The Match Factory Project 2.0 is experimenting with a group of sales agents, distributors, festivals, etc. on new ways to reach audiences more effectively.

While some European distributors and exhibitors already gather experience with new distribution models and marketing strategies, other distributors fear that the day-and-date release could lead to an irreparable harm of the cinema as one of the main monetizing distribution channels.

“What we are trying to do with the preparatory action is to de-dramatize the situation and see if there is room for experimentation and flexibility“, explains Aviva Silver, head of the MEDIA programme. “Those who want to try it should be able to try it and we can draw conclusions afterwards on the basis of the experiences we will have received. We are planning a big conference in May 2014 at the Cannes film festival to talk about the results of the day-and-date projects that we have supported.“ Silver is hoping that by then 80 to 100 films will be distributed generating experiences on territories, languages and types of films that can be shared.

The first initiative that kicks off a European day-and-date release is the TIDE Experiment, composed by The Société civile des Auteurs, Réalisateurs, Producteurs (ARP), four European sales agents, Europa Distribution, Under the Milky Way and The Film Agency. Between April and July the Franco-Swiss documentary „Viramundo: a musical journey with Gilberto Gil“ by Pierre-Yves Borgeaud will be released simultaneously or quasi-simultaneously in theaters and on VoD in  ten European countries.“The aim of the TIDE Experiment is to release four films in about five European countries”, says Lucie Girre, coordinator of the TIDE Experiment. “Having convinced ten territories (seven distributors) underlines how this experiment will be useful for all of the European industry.” the TIDE Experiment will coordinate the ten releases not only in theaters but also on global and local VOD platforms and cover local and international P&A costs. Transversal marketing services will be organized by the Madrid-based promotion company The Film Agency.

Participating distributors are Brunbro in Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg, Urban Distribution in France, Soda Pictures in Ireland and United Kingdom, Nomad Films in Italy, Kaunas in Lithuania, Gutek in Poland as well as Alambique in Portugal. The local distributors hold local VOD and theatrical rights for two years without paying a MG. Also the P&A costs are covered a 100 percent by the  support. Therefore, the sales agent Urban Distribution International will recoup from the first euro.

The TIDE Experiment regulations guarantee 60 to 75 percent of all theater revenues as well as 75 percent of the global and local VOD revenues for sales agents. Above that, the TIDE Experiment is not interfering in commercial relationships between sales agents and local distributors. The framework has to be respected, but both of them are free to establish their own scale. “As traditional economic relations, the percentage is dealt case by case, between both economic actors. They just need to acknowledge the TIDE Experiment and respect the operating rules”, emphasizes Girre.

The sales agent is the licensee for the global VOD exploitation and is supported by ‘Under the Milky Way’, a VOD aggregator, working with global platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Sony, etc.. “The global platforms will manage VOD exploitations by geo blocking and geo localization, in order to respect media chronology and rights of national licensees”, adds the TIDE coordinator. The local distributor will hold the local VOD exploitation rights and is therefore only dealing with local platforms. The global and local VOD platforms will have the same release calendar.

“More than ever perhaps, we believe that the cinema programmers and the cinema (both the venue and online) can play an important role in how audiences navigate the space“, comments Probst. “We believe that we need to stay very much open and alert to the possibilities and responsibilities of having an ongoing dialogue with audiences, of offering routes into films in a world where everything is available and of making the shared cinema experience unique in a multiplatform environment.“