Citing accessibility to its content as its prime motivation, the National Film Board of Canada has entered the mobile space with a bang. It’s launched its first iPhone application this week, offering up hundreds of NFB films for streaming. The NFB says it’s a first in terms of mobile content distribution in Canada, and it’s an innovative approach on an international scale as well.
The app, developed with Montreal tech company Alamanga, is part of the NFB’s plan to make its content ‘accessible to the greatest number of Canadians via the greatest number of platforms,’ says Stéphane Bousquet, director of digital enterprises for the NFB. ‘Canadians pay for these films, so they have a right to see them in as many manners as they choose.’ Bousquet says that while the NFB would’ve liked to have entered the mobile space sooner, the arrival of the iPhone upon the Canadian market in 2008 provided the catalyst, as, according to Bousquet, ‘it is the first handset that is truly media-ready.’
NFB docs, animated features and trailers are streamed to the iPhone over WiFi, 3G and EDGE wireless networks, and yes, they’re free to view. Indeed, the NFB content accessible via the application is not geoblocked, so users from around the world can search through the film database available via the app and NFB.ca, and watch their choices of films on their own time via progressive download. Films selected by users can be viewed over a 24-hour period. ‘If you’re going to be in a zone where there’s no access to wireless or 3G, you can browse through our collection beforehand, identify a film, and instead of watching the film from the get-go, you can store the film for a later viewing,’ explains Bousquet. ‘You can watch it under any circumstances – you can put your iPhone in airplane mode, cut off the wireless access and watch it because it’s stored locally on your phone. After 24 hours, the film is wiped from the handset.’
Bousquet says that while both the iPhone app and NFB.ca offer films up for free viewing via streaming, the NFB is also exploring business models that involve monetizing online and mobile distribution of content. ‘At this point in time, there are no business models that are set in stone – we’re all exploring,’ he says. ‘What’s been frustrating in regards to mobile for North America and especially Canada is that we’re lagging behind Europe and Asia. Elsewhere, they’ve already had the time to tinker with the technology and the business models. But here, we’re in this nascent stage where we have to develop markets and models before we can exploit them properly.
‘We’re aware that we’re not in the same position as private producers or distributors that are primarily driven by profit – we do have this luxury of experimenting and trying our different models,’ he continues. ‘But we do operate with players in the private sector so we are preoccupied with figuring out how to monetize the means of delivery. At this point, I can’t share what we have on our table but it is something we’re exploring and that we’re willing to share with our partners in the private sector once we’ve gone ahead with our experiments.’
Bousquet says the app will be updated and modified over time: ‘We’re already working on it as we speak. This current iteration is a true ’1.0.’ We’ve been getting a fair amount of praise but we’re also expecting a fair amount of criticism, and we’re hoping for it, as that’s the best way to improve its functionality.’