WME exec addresses TIFF doc confab

Copland: Uniform pricing is essential to specialty fare

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TORONTO -- Feature documentaries and other specialty films can boost their theatrical to digital revenues by introducing a staggered and uniform pricing window, WME's Liesl Copland told the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.

Copland, part of WME's entertainment global finance and distribution unit, called for a new distribution model for specialty docs that includes a descending cascade of pricing windows.

"Wherever films could be found when they premiered, even if everywhere, they would be the same premium price," she said. The price would then fall as docs went to the subscription platform, then rental, and finally to free.

"Don't turn on cheap or free until you have milked a little stint at premium," she said.

Copland gave the keynote addressed at TIFF's Doc Conference, where filmmakers grappled all day Sunday with how to finance and distribute product after the Internet upended traditional business models.

A former Netflix and Cinetic Media executive before joining WME, Copland said specialty filmmakers need to follow broadcasters and studios and mine audiences online willing to pay more for premium content.

The key was identifying who is watching documentaries, where, and how much they are willing to pay.

Copland added filmmakers need to identify when audiences will pay more for premium content and when they prefer to pay less.

She warned chaotic pricing windows confuse consumers.

"Across digital and on-demand platforms, after a movie leaves a theater, you can often find movies free with ads in one place, part of your subscription in another, while it costs $14.99 to buy and $2.99 to rent both on the same platform," Copland said.

Other new pricing strategies might include lowering theatrical ticket prices and allowing exhibitors to keep more. "They (cinema chains) might play us longer," Copland said.

The bottom line, she added, was doc makers and distributors need to come together to create a uniform pricing window for product to stop confusing consumers.

"We would need the theaters to understand we want their seats to be full, and maybe we are open to new business models. Keep all of the boxoffice, or share in our DVD and digital revenue. We need your screens. Let's all be friends," Copland told the Doc Conference audience.
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