"Show Me the Money," Asian Producers, Sales Agents Tell Netflix, iTunes

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Apple CEO Tim Cook

They say a lack of transparency and advances makes them reluctant to provide content to digital platforms.

Digital platforms, such as iTunes and Netflix, are undeniably here to stay, but Asian producers and content owners on Friday said returns are not known in advance and there is a lack of transparency.

Panelists during a discussion at the Udine Far East Film Festival industry section said they want to see some dollars.

"Show me the money," said Gilbert Lim of Thailand's Sahamongkolfilm. Lim cited iTunes' proposed deal with the company, the Thai film producer and distributor with the largest content library, before the Apple unit ended up saying that it has a policy of not going into exact details of how much of a return there was for the producer.

"They said, 'Give us your content, we're charging this amount of money, we'll send you the revenue and let you know how much we've made,'" said Lim. "I said, 'I'm not interested in that. I just want to know how much money we can make. Give me information about which films have done well — you don't even have to be specific, just give me an average.' But they said, 'We don't tell.' So, okay, if you're going to be private about it, I'm going to be private, too, and you're not going to get my films as well."

Online VOD platforms such as iTunes want film producers and distributors to deliver them content, but they are not willing to share information that they need, said Lim. "I'm not going to waste my time for $200 over two years for a title," he added.

The VOD platforms' policy of not giving producers and content owners an advance is making them reluctant to give them content, and the VOD platforms' promise of revenue sharing doesn't sit well, either. "I remember in mathematics, zero times zero equals zero," said Michael Werner of Fortissimo Films, which was the first art house film agent to license 60 titles to Netflix in 2012. "Show us some examples of films you've distributed where revenue was generated, and there's not. If there are zero transactions or zero subscribers, what we get is zero."

And once a film is off of the front page of the digital platform, there is almost no way to get traffic to the movie, left in the stacks with million other pics just as in a library. "That's a key issue," said Werner.

For low-budget flicks by unknown directors, the deals with digital platforms might be a way to go, but filmmakers have to create their own social media strategy, said Justin Diemen of Singapore's Aurora Media Capital. For big companies, licensing films to a digital platform is a business transaction, but for indie producers, they can wait to see the revenue. "It's a case of matching expectation levels," he said.

And VOD hasn't bridged the gap left by the decline of DVDs. Producers and distributors used to receive presale revenue from DVDs in big markets like Germany, the U.K. and Japan. "DVD was the real bread in the sandwich," said Lim.

Werner concurs. Sales agents and distributors used to curate films and build up a collection from the same directors to create DVD box sets. Now audiences are becoming their own curators, creating a collection by downloading online. "We were in nirvana before, and now we're in hell," he said.

 

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