Day One of this year’s Australian International Documentary project saw the launch of beamafilm, a video-on-demand (VOD) platform focussed on Australian documentaries.
At the launch session, co-founder Gil Scrine of Antidote Films described how the documentary distribution business has changed in the decades that he has been a part of it. Before the Internet, a crucial part of his business was getting documentaries into cinemas. Cinema owners, whom he described as “benevolent dictators”, used to embrace these documentaries, and worked hard to make their theatrical releases successful.
And then theatrical distribution of documentaries crumbled, and DVD sales became the most important part of the business.
But DVD sales are falling. Fast.
Scrine met his partner Louise van Rooyen, and they decided to get into the digital distribution space. Screen Australia approved their application for Innovative Distribution funding, and the money helped them set up a VOD platform that will let them compete with other VOD operators like Fetch TV, Quickflix and Hulu (coming soon to Australia).
The result is beamafilm.
Van Rooyan provided a lot of statistics to support their foray into VOD. A few examples: long-form video is worth $7.5 million, up from zero two years ago; expected growth is supposed to be around 49% year-on-year for the next three years; and $4 billion worth of advertising is migrating online.
So the launch was part trend-spotting, and part appeal to producers to consider beamafilm as a platform for their documentaries. While details were light, the company hopes to get worldwide exclusive rights to docos (including back catalogue), although they are open to non-exclusive and non-worldwide deals. In return, they will promote and provide a curated experience for doco watchers, directing them to films that match their interests, while providing study guides, links to filmmaker web sites, and other supporting material.
One of the interesting things Scrine said about VOD was what he expected it would do to broadcasters. He described how he used to have to wait six months to get a “yes” or “no” from them about a documentary. That was half a year that the project could have been earning money.
Scrine expects that broadcasters will be “knocked off their perch”. The potential for disintermediation is huge, and it will become less and less appealing to producers to sign a three-year exclusive deal with a broadcaster, only to have the doco screen a handful of times. He expects to see the broadcaster acquisition models also break down.
So in that way, beamafilm is a shot across the broadcaster’s bow. Or perhaps simply a herald of what is to come.
If you have a doco that needs a digital platform, beamafilm hopes you will consider them.
Welcome to the VOD fray, beamafilm. And good luck to a new Aussie company.