Sales Agents to Become Global Distributors, Predicts Industry Guru

Angus Finney told the Abu Dhabi Film Festival crowd "sales agents could take control of all rights" in some instances.

Abu Dhabi – Film industry expert Angus Finney told a gathering in Abu Dhabi Film Festival that producers and sales agents will work much closer together as the internet revolutionises the movie business. Finney, who runs the annual Production Finance Market in London, told his Abu Dhabi Masterclass audience that producers and sales agents will share revenue. Right now, sales agents charge a fee for each territory sold then often walk away. In the future sales agents and filmmakers will work together throughout a film’s lifespan, “especially with video-on-demand,” he said.

Finney said: “Sales agents will be aligned with producers ... the market is changing so fast that sales agents could take control of all rights. The right sales agent will become increasingly able to control internet release.”

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The internet has destroyed Hollywood’s “push economy” -- studios dictating when and where customers can see films – in favour of a “pull economy.” Catch-up TV and on-demand streaming have put the customer in the driving seat, something which Hollywood has been slow to accept. Studios have not helped themselves by erecting walled-gardens around their content, making movies harder to access. This goes against the grain of the internet. They are also terrified about plummeting DVD revenue, which has accounted for 60% of a movie’s earnings. The user is the new king, Finney said.

Finney quoted Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who said the question is not what is going to change in the next 10 years, but what’s going to be left standing by the end of the decade? Disney, he noted, has reacted to the new horizontal world we all live by getting rid of its silo mentality, tearing down walls between theatrical and home entertainment.

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He was upbeat about prospects for theatrical though. Exhibition will become even more important, he claimed. “Watching films in a cinema is a unique experience that will not be completely replaced by watching films on cellphones or tablets,” he said. This is despite the growing importance of handheld devices, which, Finney said previously, will take over as the dominant screen “within months, not years”. He said: "Exhibition rights will continue to be sold territory-by-territory, while internet rights could be sold as a single block.”

Finney was sceptical about independent producers handling the release of their own films. He poured cold water on evangelists for self-distribution, pointing out how hard the sales business is. Finney was managing director of sales agent Renaissance Films, which went bust in 2005. Movies that Finney handled sales on included The Mother and The Luzhin Defence. “As a producer you may think you’re in control of your film’s release, but you have to deal with the same battle for eyeballs which everybody else is dealing with. Distribution is a full-time job.”

This year’s Production Finance Market takes place October 17-18 in London.