MIPDoc ’14: Digital Sunday tackles VoD, transmedia

The "Digital Sunday" series of panels on the second and final day of MIPDoc explored everything from innovative transmedia projects to DIY distribution platforms, while raising questions about the future of VoD.
April 6, 2014

The “Digital Sunday” series of panels on the second and final day of MIPDoc explored everything from innovative transmedia project Fort McMoney to do-it-yourself distribution platform Distrify, all while raising questions about the future of VoD and how to connect with niche audiences.

The sessions – all moderated by Jason Daponte, MD and executive producer of UK digital company The Swarm – included Crowdfunding Meets Distribution; Transmedia and Storytelling in Documentary: Fort McMoney; VoD for Success: How to make the right deals; and VoD for Success Case Study: Vimeo.

Crowdfunding Meets Distribution

Kicking off the panel series was Andy Green, COO of UK digital distribution platform Distrify, who said that although crowdfunding can be used to generate money as well as gauge interest, it should be used selectively.

The exec described Distrify as an “e-commerce solution meets YouTube,” which allows users to upload and self-distribute their films through the web-based tool and linked social media. But Green warns that “we cannot replace the skills and expertise of the [traditional] distribution industry by using new technologies.”

The Edinburgh-based Green told audiences about two similar projects that used Distrify two years back. While one had a €1 million (US$1.37 million) budget and extensive resources,  the other was made for only £500 (US$828), but it was the cheaper film that made thousands more sales on Distrify. Green said that when his team analyzed the data, they realized it was because it was the better film.

“You’ll have access to a big enough Facebook page, and have a big Twitter following, and access to the right journalists, but what people will say is, ‘That’s not a good film. Don’t buy it,’” said Green, urging producers and filmmakers to consider whether they’re making a “vanity project” or a really good film.

“With all the effort people take to get their films out there, they should put more effort into making films of higher quality.”

Transmedia & Storytelling: Fort McMoney

Next up in the series was a discussion (pictured above) of transmedia project Fort McMoney, an international copro between the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Montreal creative agency TOXA, and Franco-German net ARTE.

The project is a web documentary and strategy game played over four weeks that tackles the controversial oil sands of Alberta, Canada, and allows users to explore a virtual representation of Fort McMurray – the city at the heart of the oil sands industry – and decide on its future after interacting with residents and key industry players. Fort McMoney, which launched last November, took 60 days to shoot and features 50 characters from the town.

Director David Dufresne was on hand to show audiences how to navigate the three-year project, which he calls “SimCity for real.” Drufresne – who brought along a long poster detailing the structure of the online portal – says the project tried to combat Canadians’ “green fatigue,” referring to a weariness of environmental issues.

“I said, ‘Let’s do a game. A tool to learn,’” explains Dufresne. “They came for the game, and stayed for the subject. It’s very important to use web tools to change storytelling.”

Gilles Freissinier, head of ARTE France’s web department, added: “It wasn’t a web doc as usual, but it was a new way of getting people to debate.”

VoD for Success: How to make the right deals

Greg Moyer of Brooklyn-based digital media company Blue Chalk Media teamed up with Nic Wistreich of indie film resource Netribution for a session on the future of VoD platforms and the partnership potential in the field.

Moyer launched Blue Chalk Media – which he describes as a “digital-first proposition” - in November after leaving Scripps Networks International, where he has served as president since 2009. He said his company has had great success teaming up with companies such as Nat Geo Creative, NPR and The New York Times for VoD content.

“We’re beginning to see brands take an interest in video beyond illustrating a reporter’s story,” he said, speaking for the partnership with The Times.

The exec predicted that there will be a number of successes on VoD platforms in the next year, particularly for documentaries that can’t find broadcast partners and will instead look to digital platforms.

Wistreich echoed Moyer, pointing out that the digital pay-to-view industry made US$6.3 billion in 2013, with subscription-based streaming V0D services taking a 49% share.

“Our business models as an industry have been built around scarcity,” said Wistreich. “But online, there is no scarcity. You have infinite space.”

VoD for Success Case Study: Vimeo

When it comes to connecting creators and audiences, Sam Toles, VP of content acquisition for Vimeo, told the MIPDoc audience he likes to think of his brand as the Bloomingdale’s of video, while “YouTube is the Wal-Mart.”

The newly appointed exec joined Daponte in a discussion of the brand’s year-old Vimeo on Demand initiative, which involves a recent US$10 million investment in the US$500,000 crowdfunding program announced at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The program allows select titles that have raised $10,000 or more through a leading crowdfunding platform to receive an exclusive window on Vimeo On Demand.

“What we do is if someone proves they have a real audience, we’d like to give you real dollars to market to a bigger audience that will watch on VoD,” said Toles. 

Toles said that as we move into a digital age, producers must ask themselves who their audiences are and cater content to a specific end-user, whether that’s a network or a particular demographic.

“It’s about finding those enthusiast niches and serving them with your content,” the exec told the audience. “If people are willing to fund something they haven’t seen, you can bet they will invest in something that’s finished.”

Toles added that he is focusing on Vimeo’s acquisitions strategy, and working on getting certain categories of content to fit very defined niches that have been previously ignored, such as hiking, sci-fi, fantasy, yoga and personal fitness.

“If you can connect with an audience of 100,00 people, but they’re rapid fans of something, you can make a lot,” Toles advised. “Tap into those audiences and give something special to them, and they will respond.”

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