by Jesús Silva
Continuing with its annual festival tour —after its latest stop at Sofia Meetings back in June (see news)—, Europa Distribution resumed its partnership with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2022. The European network of independent film distributors organised the first edition of the Film Distribution Innovation Hub, a new programme for distributors in partnership with the KVIFF Eastern Promises Industry Days (3-6 July). The initiative included both a public showcase and a private session for distributors, which revolved around different innovative tools with a potential application for their business, particularly in terms of planning and supporting their releases, reaching their audiences and building a community around their brands. These tools ranged widely from the use of AI to analyse data and predict campaign outcomes, to cutting-edge technologies such as NFTs or even the metaverse.
Hosted by journalist and consultant Michael Gubbins, the public event was held in the newly inaugurated KVIFF.TV Park venue on 5 July, where representatives of different tech companies from all over Europe had a chance to present their work. “This innovation hub is going to focus strongly on what I think is the key change over the last few years: the transformation from a concentration on audience —getting people into your world— to audience engagement. It’s the bit that turns a transaction into a relationship. And in a world where there is ever more noise and content, it’s simply unavoidable that you find mechanisms for creating those relationships”, said Gubbins, before opening the floor to the speakers.
First off was Vít Krajícek, co-founder of Czech outfit Artinii, who presented their Artinii.Pro set of tools, which provides “simple, fast and secure” solutions for film delivery and digital distribution, offering a cheaper and comprehensive alternative to DCP. According to Krajíček, their technology is based upon two main pillars: simple usability and a strong commitment to security when uploading, storing and delivering films through their proprietary system. Krajíček highlighted some specific advantages for independent film distributors, especially when it comes to handling non-theatrical rights and delivering films to small venues and event screenings, which are becoming increasingly important for the distribution of arthouse films. He also presented some case studies on their experience implementing the technology in countries like Nigeria, while admitting the complexities of expanding in Europe. “We go country by country. The industry in Europe is older and more established, so it is difficult to change it from day to day, even with new technologies, but we’re trying to do so”, in Krajíček’s words.
Next up was Lorena Amaral, from France’s Cascade8 (tech branch of French media group Logical Pictures), who presented their NFT Lab, a hub for creative NFT campaigns in the film industry. After providing newcomers with a concise explanation of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) —unique certificates of authenticity that guarantee exclusive ownership of a digital object—, Amaral went on to share some of the applications this technology could have for distributors when launching marketing campaigns. These include communicating with their communities in different ways, offering new experiences to fans or creating monetizable digital assets linked to the films (such as exclusive promotional materials), thus generating additional revenue sources for the projects while fostering community engagement. “NFT is all about community. It is a property that brings you closer to the community and gives you the possibility to meet not only people that like the same content, but also the creators, the talents behind the product”, as explained by Amaral.
Sami Arpa from Largo.AI also took the stage to explain the usage of AI in film production and distribution. The Swiss company provides artificial intelligence support for distributors, offering instant results based on the script or rough cut of a film. According to Arpa, AI can play a significant role in assisting with decision-making for a distribution strategy, “because it can learn from huge amounts of data available and get very strong insights that we can utilise”. As an example, Arpa showed some statistics obtained through their platform, such as genre analyses of various titles and their connection to financial results. Largo.AI’s technology can help establish patterns based on previous releases and predict the expected box office revenue for a specific film, country, and distribution strategy. However, he also warned the audience that relying exclusively on the data without applying an expert look might be “very dangerous”. “AI can’t tell us which pattern is better, but it can empower your gut feeling as a distributor. You are the experts, so you will be the best ones to actually drive conclusions from these patterns”.
Ireland’s Oliver Fegan, co-founder of Usheru, showcased their marketing platform for distributors, focused on building long-term relations with their audiences, taking customers through an “e-commerce journey”. “In a nutshell, what we want to do as a company is bringing an e-commerce mindset to the film space”, said Fegan. Recent changes in the marketing landscape, such as rising costs, lower conversion rates and limitations in third-party cookie tracking (which used to allow distributors to better target their audience), have called attention to the importance of building first-party data. “The future of e-commerce, especially in the film space, is thinking long-term and cultivating relationships to reach audiences cost-effectively”. To achieve this, Usheru helps distributors to host the communication for all their films under the same umbrella, with custom designed pages for each release (rather than building stand-alone websites where most data is lost after the campaigns). The aim of this approach is to lower costs, build sales predictability and maximise data gathering.
The metaverse and its potential for distribution was the subject of the last intervention. “The line between the real world and the artificial world will become much thinner”, proclaimed Laura Olin, CEO at Finish outfit Zoan, a virtual studio with experience in creating gaming engine-based content. Olin presented the newest project of their company: Cornerstone, a photorealistic metaverse to be officially launched at the beginning of 2023. As part of the web 3.0 evolution, a set of decentralised digital ecosystems built on blockchain technology (like NFTs and cryptocurrencies), metaverses offer a new world of possibilities for the film sector. “The most interesting thing about the metaverse for the film industry has to do with marketing, building community and engaging with the fans”, said Olin, who illustrated different ways of using gamification to create experiences around a film release, such as adding bonus materials, Easter-eggs and different content for the fans to explore and purchase, and even allow them to create their own.
The public showcase was followed by a closed session for Europa Distribution participants, who had the opportunity to gather in small groups and interact directly with the speakers. The aim of these round tables was to allow distributors to raise questions and get a better understanding of the projects, discussing how to apply the different technologies to the particularities of their companies and markets. Finally, during the last session of the Film Distribution Innovation Hub, some members presented their own innovative projects in front of their colleagues. Ivo Andrle, CEO of Czech distribution firm Aerofilms, opened up about their merging with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the launching of KVIFF.TV, a VOD platform with films curated by the festival team as well as bonus content, behind the scenes and sneak peaks to the film world. In a few months, this platform will replace Aerovod, Aerofilms’ VOD service, combining all sorts of possible offerings to the customers: from free content to TVOD and SVOD options, and even gift vouchers to attract subscribers. “The plan is to become the number one place for arthouse movies in the region”, in Andrle’s words, who also explained their goal to establish KVIFF as a constant label throughout the year, creating synergies with other events and eventually expanding to other territories in Central and Eastern Europe.
Likewise, Machteld Schulte Nordholt and Seppe Vanhaecke from Cinéart (The Netherlands and Belgium) shared their company’s strategy to strengthen their brand through expanding three different labels: Cinéart EQUITY, a distributor-driven development fund launched in collaboration with two other independent distributors (UK’S Curzon Artificial Eye and Australia’s Madman Entertainment), in order to position themselves in an earlier stage of the distribution journey; Cinéart CLUB, a set of initiatives and strategies with a focus on digital B2C, to build their social media community and promote the Cinéart brand as quality and recognizable label, which includes their own Amazon Prime channel and Director’s Collection; and Cinéart INTERACTS, an all-in-one platform where they can host on-demand screenings for schools or different organisations, and moderate ensuing Q&As.
At the end of the day, regardless of the newest terminologies and specific tools, the work of independent film distributors remains the same: connecting films and ideas to people in an ever-changing environment. Once again, Europa Distribution distributors proved their motivation and commitment to finding new, innovative ways to reach their audiences and improve the circulation of independent films in Europe. With this goal always in mind, the network will continue its activities in upcoming meetings like in Haugesund and in San Sebastian, with more workshops and panels for professionals.
The recording of the public showcase is available at the KVIFF.TV website.
With the support of the Creative Europe MEDIA Programme of the European Union